Harry Houdini was legendary for his daring escapes, but he's still never escaped the public's imagination. To wit: AKA Houdini, whose artifacts offer a hands-on glimpse into some of his most infamous tricks. Along with the Appleton-raised illusionist, The History Museum at the Castle's award-winning exhibits focus on other notable Fox Valley natives, including Senator Joseph McCarthy. Dating back to the 1840s, the museum's collection of Fox Valley artifacts includes 35,000 photographs and 20,000 pieces, such as parts of a vintage gas station. At an exhibit tracing the origins of the area's most famous foods, such as frozen custard and fish fries, visitors can even spear sturgeons inside a life-size virtual ice shanty.
These pieces of Fox Valley history are housed inside a Masonic temple listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1923, the temple exemplifies the medieval, Norman Revival style with rough-hewn stone, vaulted ceilings, and fire-breathing dragons guarding its entrance. Designed as a community center, the temple continues to serve that function by hosting the museum's year-round events, including papermaking programs and magic workshops.
Resting beneath natural light from the skylights mounted above it, the hulking figure of the 1.2 million-pound Union Pacific Big Boy cloaks visitors in a shadow that stretches for nearly 50 yards. As guests ascend the monstrous cab of this steam locomotive, they enter the centerpiece of the National Railroad Museum, a chamber echoing with more than 150 years of American railroading history.
After exiting Big Boy, guests can view a computer-generated porter that recounts how African-American rail workers formed the nation's first all-black labor union, and another stop invites passengers to view inside a portion of General Eisenhower's WWII command train. Elsewhere in the museum, various collections are housed with more than 15,000 photographs, archives such as maps and engineering drawings, and more than 5,000 artifacts including uniforms and tools.
The National Railroad Museum has over 60 pieces of rolling stock, including diesel, steam, and electric locomotives, and passenger and freight cars. Among these are some of the most influential and unique pieces in railroading history, including a number of items that pertain to the state of Wisconsin.
Other must-sees of the museum include General Motors’ experimental Aerotrain; the streamlined Pennsylvania Railroad No. 4890, a GG-1 electric locomotive; and the Frederick Bauer Drumhead Collection, the largest, single collection of railroad drumheads known to exist in the United States. Most facilities are accessible, except where rolling stock cannot be altered due to their historic nature. The Museum’s train ride is accessible, and a wheelchair lift is available.
A train ride is offered on a daily basis from May through September and guided tours are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The Museum also hosts a variety of special events for all ages.
Sometimes, seeing a city from the water that surrounds it gives you a deeper appreciation of its beauty. That's the approach behind Foxy Lady Cruises, a company that grants its guests sweeping views of Jacksonville from their perches on a luxurious yacht. From the various open-air decks, visitors can take in skyscrapers, bridges, and squirrels playing chess in nearby parks during dinner cruises, cocktail cruises, narrated cruises, and even weddings.
Tucked along the east side of the bay, Shorewood Golf Course’s 2,792-yard, nine-hole layout challenges club-swingers with unforgiving fairways and small, breaking greens whose impressive upkeep earned the course an appearance and maintenance award in 2009. Since the first post-putt strut in 1931, the course’s oak- and hickory-lined fairways have invited players to overcome undulating terrain both scenic and demanding. The zenith of these hilly hazards is found on the 492-yard par 5 fourth hole, where golfers must overcome a dogleg right off the tee before hitting multiple shots to the green located at the end of a narrow fairway that encourages conga lines along its gradual incline. After a day out in the sun, golfers can adjourn to the course’s restaurant to munch on pizza and sandwiches or enjoy a frosty beverage.
Course at a Glance: