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.
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.
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 Wisconsin Historical Society preserves the knowledge, artifacts, and historical sites amassed over Wisconsin's tenure as a territory and state. Peruse the hallowed halls of history with free admission to the Wisconsin Historical Museum, whose ongoing exhibit Odd Wisconsin collects such curiosities as a 7-foot bowie knife once used by Andre the Giant to carve his initials onto passing aircraft. Members also receive half off admission to the society's historical sites, such as First Capitol and the Wade House, an 1844 settlement home established to make the wilderness look less rustic. Additional membership benefits include an annual subscription to the Wisconsin Magazine of History, 10 percent off online and museum purchases (including genealogical records and historic-image prints), and six issues of the society newsletter Columns, which, ironically, double as columns for a gerbil palace when rolled up. Also included in this deal is half-priced admission to Old World Wisconsin, a vivid recreation of farmers and settlers acting out historically accurate activities like blacksmithing, running a general store, and firing up the windmill's flux capacitor.
Across the three floors of the award-winning Madison Children's Museum, youngsters up to 12 years old explore, learn, and most important, have fun, in a variety of interactive environments. The littlest visitors can wander through the Wildernest, a rustic play-space built almost entirely from natural materials and sustainably harvested hardwoods. Toddlers climb into the raised treehouse or take temporary residence in a mini-village of activity huts made from straw and mud. Suspended above the Wildernest is the Bone Ridge, an elevated walkway designed to resemble the vertebrae of a large animal, perhaps a sea serpent or a giant's pet snake. Afterwards, visitors can refuel with a snack at The Roman Candle Sparkler, and maybe even dessert, made of cloth and felt, at Pie in the Sky Diner, all while the museum mascot, Gertrude the Cow, hangs from the ceiling and keeps watch.
The apex of MCM, the Rooftop Ramble, stands tall above a sweeping view of the Madison skyline, two lakes, and the museum itself. Kids can explore the wonders of the greenhouse and live-animal terrariums. This outdoor garden can be enjoyed by a wide age-range: adults sip cocktails among fluttering chickens and homing pigeons during private events--from weddings to family reunions and corporate events.
Madison Children's Museum is also a popular destination for birthday parties. The team makes each celebration unforgettable by taking care of all the essential party details, from providing the cake to adding a special theme, such as dinosaurs, legos, or mystery.