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.
Being a health-conscious foodie can be a challenge, because it’s not always easy to determine the history of how and where food is produced. The owners of Armstrong Apples Orchard and Winery have created such a narrative for their clients, growing fruit deeply rooted in their commitments to community and homegrown produce.
Sixteen years ago, they planted their first apple orchard, calling on friends and neighbors aged 8 to 80 for help. Since then, the farm has expanded and now grows 14 varieties of apples, peaches, pears, and grapes, which they serve fresh, baked into pies and turnovers, and pressed into their award-winning wine. Of these libations, apple wine is the owners' specialty, and it ranges from the very dry—best paired with meat—to the cinnamon sweet—best paired with Halloween costumes.
In addition to fresh fruit, baked goods, and adult beverages, the farm boasts entertainment for kids and adults alike, including a playscape and a zorb ball, which is a 12-foot high hamster-ball-like contraption that guests climb inside to travel across an open 5-acre field.
The laughter of children echoes through the dense pine forest and across the sandy beach before breaking on the lake's water like a crystal vase smashed with an inflatable hammer. Each week, new groups of kids explore Camp Lakotah's 126 acres alongside Little Hills Lake, engaging in more than 30 activities within its state-licensed and American Camp Association–accredited facilities. Campers engage in aquatic play, land-based sports, and arts-and-crafts sessions, honing both their physical fitness and creative sensibilities.
Staffers cater to each camper's needs throughout the week, guiding each individual toward activities focused on his or her personal goals and interests. The camp can serve vegetarian and diet-restriction-conscious food, and counselors can sing all campfire songs in the styles of both Bruce Springsteen and Andrea Bocelli.
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.