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.
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.
Not just a pretty face... Founded in 1924, the Oshkosh Public Museum is a local history museum housed in the beautiful Sawyer home, with luxurious interiors designed by Tiffany Studios. In addition to the historic Sawyer home, the museum has 10,000 square feet of immersive exhibits that bring the region's history to life.
Founded in 1969 by a group of commercial fishermen, Door County Maritime Museum’s three locations illuminate the history of area waterways and the seafarers who've traveled them. The 20,000-square-foot Sturgeon Bay location, open 365 days a year, focuses on the evolution of shipbuilding. Its galleries house model ships ideal for transporting hand soap across sinks, along with displays on lighthouses and shipwrecks.
For an interactive adventure, patrons can board a fully restored Chicago fire tug from the 1960s for a two-hour in-water cruise, narrated by a trained docent. The Gills Rock location focuses on the shipwrecks that have peppered the Door Peninsula region, with supplementary exhibits on Great Lakes pirate Dan Seavey and maritime life-saving techniques, such as never boarding a ship named Titanic. Alternatively, patrons can climb 97 spiral-staircase steps to the summit of the Cana Island Lighthouse, which, along with the keeper’s house, has been preserved since 1869. In addition to educational displays, the museum also hosts various events to unite the maritime-enthusiast community. :m]]
The expanse of Lake Superior the surrounding Apostle Islands National Lakeshore have endless pockets of natural splendor. Just ask the guides at Superior Adventures, who have spent years of exploring the area, only to find untapped locales of awe-inspiring landscapes. The team dedicates their time helping others seek out places of serenity by sea kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and hiking.
Whether crossing to an island or exploring a sea cave, the team specializes in private or small group eco tours. These outings might drift along the sands and sandstone cliffs of Madeline Island and Meyer's Beach, navigate the wooded waterways and shallow caves of of Big Bay State Park, or snorkel the underwater shipwreck of the Finn McCool to search for treasure chests filled with advice on how to be cool.
Eco tours often include breaks for swimming or hiking through the last old-growth Boreal Forest in North America. Tour goers are also free to explore on their own by renting a sit-in kayak, sit-on-top kayak, or paddleboard complete with instruction.
A two-story brick house from the late 1800s stands within walking distance of a wooden fur-trader’s cabin from the 1700s. Just down the road, cheesemongers and printmakers ply their time-honored trades behind open storefronts, and the ringing of a blacksmith’s hammer joins with the click of a digital camera’s shutter in a soundtrack several centuries in the making. It’s safe to say that Heritage Hill State Historical Park’s anachronistic blending of historical eras might confuse an uninformed onlooker, but visitors who know better will relish the park’s four outdoor areas, each of which depicts a unique period in Wisconsin’s history. The living-history museum sits on 50 acres along the banks of the Fox River and features more than 25 original and reconstructed buildings that illustrate the lives of their residents—a list that includes French-influenced fur traders, the federal occupants of Fort Howard, and Belgian immigrants. The museum’s curators have brought these former residents back to life through strange and unexpected means; the fur-trader’s cabin was discovered almost by accident by a demolition crew who found it hidden inside a larger house. In each of the park’s areas, historic interpreters dressed according to their time period divulge facts about the buildings’ histories and their inhabitants’ day-to-day lives, which often included hours of churning butter and playing 8-bit Atari games. Five of the original on-site buildings can be found on the National Register of Historic Places, and museum groundskeepers further ensure each area’s historical accuracy by planting period-appropriate trees and plants. Tours take visitors of all ages on regular journeys through the past, and museum staffers organize field trips and summer camps especially for youth groups. Seasonal events include craft workshops, live concerts, and raucous fiddle-shredding contests.