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.
It’s a startling sight: against the backdrop of green, rolling hills, clusters of ostriches and peacocks strut across wooden-fenced pastures, their caws overpowering the lowing of nearby buffalo and elk. This collection of exotic animals represents a labor of love for Glacier Ridge Animal Farm owners Mark and Michelle Schultz, who have welcomed more than 30 animal species onto their farm.
In addition to the lively menagerie, Mr. and Mrs. Schultz populate their property with a farm store housed inside a 100-year-old barn. They promote their farm raised bison and elk meat, seasonal pies, and other Wisconsin-made products.
Glacier Rock Farms offers year-round family friendly entertainment; the proprietors founded it as a refuge for animals where children could visit to learn about them. The chance to interact with, learn about, and pet this fuzzy bunch is a perennial draw, and the scenic backdrop of the glacial drumlin carved along the banks of the Rock River doesn't hurt, either.
A variety of seasonally-themed events also gives families a reason to return throughout the year. One of the biggest festivals centers around their autumn corn maze, an enormous and challenging labyrinth carefully plotted and sculpted over the course of months. Upon finding the maze's exit, explorers can then brave the the farm's five-part haunted attraction or opt for more enriching entertainment in the form of old-fashioned gem panning. Using a sluice box, visitors sift through water to discover collector's rocks, gemstones, fossils, and artifacts such as the rings the guy ahead of them forgot to take off.
On June 30, 1904 Col. William and Anna Vilas donated a tract of land to become a public park and free recreational space in memory of their son, Henry, who died due to complications from diabetes at a young age. They added numerous improvements over the decade and in 1911, the Henry Vilas Zoo gained its first animal exhibits. Today, the zoo covers 30 acres and features a number of creatures from around the world, ranging from the vanishing chimpanzee and endangered red panda to locals such as the great horned owl and american alligator. The zoo also remains one of the few free AZA-accredited zoos across the country.
Leading up to and following the zoo's centennial, the ReZOOvenation project has expanded the visitor areas, replacing the entrance and gift shop and adding a tropical-rainforest aviary and big-cat complex. A variety of annual events are scheduled, including Halloween at the Zoo, with costumes and stops for sustainable palm-oil candy, and earth day, when children can plant trees to help lower the global temperature just enough for icicles to form. The zoo’s many conservation projects also engage the public in protecting the environment and its inhabitants by installing solar-energy panels, sponsoring trips to save endangered orangutans, and collecting old cell phones.