A Guide to 400 Really Strange Places
By Jerome Pohlen
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2013 Jerome Pohlen
All rights reserved.
When you think of northern Wisconsin, think big — Paul Bunyan big. Everywhere you turn, there are enormous monuments to everyday objects and wildlife. A giant corkscrew. A colossal penny. A two-story loon. A massive badger. A titanic chicken. A Chrysler-size whitetail deer. Huge black bears, manmade and stuffed. And the world's largest fiberglass animal: a gargantuan muskie at the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward.
To properly display these mammoth structures, they've been placed at great distances from one another, and are not the kind of things you can visit on a Sunday drive in the country. You need a full tank of gas, a good map, and an alarm clock to hit the road early — it's going to be a full weekend.
And you won't just see fiberglass monstrosities. There are things up in those woods, things you'll never see anywhere else: UFO parades, crowds of concrete people, card-playing raccoons, hippie colonies, a Bong Memorial, an enormous ball of twine, and the exact geographic center of the northern half of the western-freakin' hemisphere ... so what are you waiting for?!
The Haunted Lutheran Church
If you're driving along Route 46 south of Amery and you hear the toll of a church bell, STOP! But only if it is coming from a Lutheran church atop a hill.
Old Norwegian ghosts from East Immanuel's adjoining cemetery have refused to go to their final resting place, choosing instead to congregate in the chapel after hours. Oftentimes they ring the bell to call their otherworldly neighbors to their spirit services.
Many parishioners have heard the noisy throng over the years, but the voices would fade as they approached the building. Others have heardmurmurs in the basement, and one church trustee had a light fixture reassemble itself when he turned his back for a moment. As of yet, they dead have not harmed anyone ... though there is no guarantee that they won't.
East Immanuel Lutheran Church, 207 120th St., Amery, WI 54001
Phone: (715) 268-2143
Hours: Always visible
Directions: Five miles south of town on Rte. 46, turn west on 30th Ave. for one mile, turn south on 120th St.
The sign on the statue's base says it all: WHEN YOU'RE IN AUGUSTA YOU'RE IN BEAVER TERRITORY. It's not that beavers are particularly territorial, but high school students certainly are — and in Augusta, their mascot is the beaver.
And what a beaver it is! Eight feet tall, it holds a gnawed-off length of birch in its paws. It looks friendly enough, until you realize that it probably chewed that tree down with just a few bites.
Augusta High School, E 19320 Bartig Rd., Augusta, WI 54722
Phone: (715) 286-3352
Hours: Always visible
Directions: West of town, just north of Rte. 12.
Flamingos aren't traditionally found in these northern climes, but they do exist ... mostly at Maggie's, a shock-pink eatery that's hard to miss among its duller neighbors. Maggie's has collected hundreds of the long-legged birds and other tropical gewgaws to decorate its walls, tables, windows, and doors. What better way to brighten up a bitter Wisconsin winter?
Maggie's has burgers, salads, and pizza, though they also serve something called a Flamingo Sandwich. Have no fear — the "flamingo" refers to the hot sauce, not the meat. It's chicken. Or at least it tastes like chicken.
257 Manypenny Ave., Bayfield, WI 54814
Phone: (715) 779-3117
Hours: Daily 11 AM-10 PM
Cost: Meals, $6-12
Directions: One block south of Rittenhouse Ave. (Rte. 13) at Fourth St.
Talk about sleeping with the enemy! This traitorous clucker shamelessly lures hungry travelers along Route 45 to a killing field two blocks west of the highway, where its feathered kin are roasted, fried, and carved up into breaded strips. Sure, the food at Chet & Emil's is tasty, and yes, they do offer nonpoultry meals. But the notion that this large fiberglass chicken would participate in this carnage — it's nothing short of cannibalism!
In the chicken's defense, it is obviously wired to the top of its sign and probably couldn't escape if it wanted to, and if it didn't act as the restaurant's spokes-hen, whose head do you think would be next on the chopping block? This bird could feed the whole town!
Chet & Emil's Broasted Chicken, 388 Main St., PO Box 207, Birnamwood, WI 54414
Phone: (715) 449-2226 or (715) 449-2297
Hours: Always visible; restaurant, Monday-Saturday 8 AM-bar close, Sunday 9:30 AM-bar close
Cost: Free; meals, $4-17
Web site: http://chetandemils.webs.com/
Directions: Sign at the intersection of Rte. 45 and Elm St.; Chet & Emil's is two blocks west on Main.
Remains of the World's Largest Badger
He's not what he used to be, but he's still ferocious. The World's Largest Badger once loomed over a mound-shaped gas station north of Birnamwood. The station's pumps were located inside a large, hollow log with an equally impressive squirrel crawling on top. Customers could park their cars inside the log while they filled up; then they could snap a picture and say, "Honey, I shrunk the minivan!"
But the gas station closed several years ago. The new owners pulled the badger off the roof and buried him chest deep, closer to the road, emerging from behind a fence to startle drivers on Route 45. The log was converted to a storage shed, though the squirrel is still up there. The badger mound was leveled, and in its place an architecturally uninspired "exotic dance club" was erected.
Badger Country Lounge, N11004 Rte. 45, Birnamwood, WI 54414
Hours: Always visible Cost: Free
Directions: Just north of the County Rd. ZZ intersection, north of town.
If there's any place in Wisconsin more revered by motorcyclists, outside of the Harley-Davidson plant and museum (page 267), it's Doc's, the closest thing to a biker theme park you'll ever find. In addition to the dealership and retail shop (both of which are enormous) and its driving school, they've got the Timeline Saloon and BBQ Restaurant, the Classic Car & Cycle Museum, and a miniature zoo. You can pet some of the animals, but you should pass on the alligators.
Now step outside. What's that, a pirate ship in the rear parking lot? Yep, and beyond that a lighthouse B&B on its own lake, a 15-foot-long chopper, and a police car chasing the General Lee over the roof of the building.
W2709 State Hwy. 29, Bonduel, WI 54107
Phone: (715) 758-9080
Hours: Monday and Thursday 9 AM-5 PM, Tuesday and Wednesday 9 AM-6 PM, Friday 9 AM-8 PM, Saturday 9AM-4 PM, Sunday 10 AM-3 PM
Directions: South of town on Rte. 29/55, west of County Rd. F.
One of the distinct evolutionary challenges faced by an albino deer is trying to stay hidden in a forest of greens and browns. But during the winter, when predators are at their hungriest, it might work to the deer's advantage in the snow. You'd also think it would be easier for drivers to spot its shock-white coat crossing a highway, and avoid running it down.
Apparently, not in this case. A not-so-fast, two-year-old albino buck was hit by a car on Highway 45 near Eagle River in the spring of 1982. This roadkill was then stuffed in a fleet-footed pose (certainly more fleet-footed than when he was on that highway) and placed in the local library for all to enjoy, staring at patrons with his glassy pink eyes.
Olson Memorial Library, 203 N. Main St., PO Box 69, Eagle River, WI 54521
Phone: (715) 479-8070
Hours: Monday 9 AM-7 PM, Tuesday-Thursday 9 AM-6 PM, Friday 9 AM-5 PM, Saturday 9 AM-3 PM
Directions: Two blocks north of Wall St. (Rte. 70), two blocks east of Railroad St. (Rte. 17).
This is the type of oddball attraction that can be standing one day and gone the next, literally. Depending on the weather and the snowpack, the Eagle River Fire Department builds an ice palace after Christmas using ice blocks cut from local lakes. When finished, the structure is illuminated from the inside for a sparkling nighttime display. If the temperature cooperates, they try to finish it by New Year's Day.
But then there's the problem of global warming. Not only will the world's coastal regions be flooded as our atmosphere heats up, but the ice palace might go the way of the dodo bird. And even if the thing is erected, there's no guarantee it will stay up for long; once the melting palace appears unstable, the walls are knocked in so that nobody gets injured.
Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 1917, Eagle River, WI 54521
Phone: (800) 359-6315
Hours: Depends on the weather; call ahead
Directions: Call ahead for this year's location.
Joel's Donut Chef
When you see the large fiberglass mascot outside Joel's, you might think this is a Dunkin' Donuts. A mustachioed baker in a chef's hat holds an enormous chocolate donut in his outstretched hands. But no, it's a car repair shop. Maybe that's a tire he's holding, a radial covered in vanilla icing, perhaps? Never has a whitewall looked so yummy.
Joel's Water Street Auto, 702 Water St., Eau Claire, WI 54703
Phone: (715) 833-2120
Hours: Always visible
Directions: Five blocks east of Rte. 12 on Water St.
Paul Bunyan Statue
Many states, from Maine to California, claim Paul Bunyan as their native son. Given his size and roaming area, and his role in digging the Grand Canyon, pushing up the Rocky Mountains, and filling the Great Lakes, many could make a strong case. The guy got around. Some say when he died he was buried beneath Rib Mountain near Wausau, but the people who tell this tale are usually from the Badger State.
Whatever. Putting aside the Great Bunyan State Debate, it bears noting the largest tribute to Paul within Wisconsin is in Eau Claire. It was erected in 1982 outside the interpretive center that bears his name. Babe the Blue Ox is by his side. (Though Paul was damaged by hoodlums in 2002, he has since been repaired, and now his fiberglass legs are filled with concrete.)
The Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum has plenty to offer those with lumberjack fetishes. You get a feel for the industry in the Bunkhouse, Cook Shanty, and Blacksmith Shop displays. And for more on Paul, stop by the Tall Tales Room where you'll skate in a flapjack skillet and find a replica of Paul's full-size boot. It dwarfs the statues outside, and you know what they say about big boots: Big boots? Big feet!
Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, Carson Park, 1110 Carson Park Dr., PO Box 221, Eau Claire, WI 54702
Phone: (715) 835-6200
Hours: May-September, daily 10 AM-4:30 PM
Cost: Adults $5, kids (5-17) $2
Directions: Take Menomonie St. one block east from Claremont Ave. (Rte. 12), turn north into Carson Park and follow the signs.
Arrrgh, mateys! If ye be adrift looking fer a port to properly wash yer skiff, sail on in to Ship Shape to get yer land craft shipshape. Aye, and Ship Shape 'tis the shape o' a ship to boot! Pull into th' stern and turn over yer keys to the first mate; then squawk with the parrots in the captain's quarters. By the time yer ship reaches the bow, these buccaneers will have swabbed th' decks, 'n fenders, too. If ye be pleased, maybe ye could gift these poor gobs a doubloon or two.
1241 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54701
Phone: (715) 836-9274
Hours: Always visible; car wash, Monday-Saturday 8 AM-6 PM, Sunday 9 AM-4 PM
Cost: Free; washes, $5-21
Directions: On the southwest side of Rte. 12 (Clairemont Ave.), just south of the river.
The unofficial motto of the US Postal Service — "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" — doesn't say anything about death. And, to be fair, can you blame your postal carrier for failing to deliver your junk mail if he or she has suffered a fatal heart attack in the process?
Well, the folks who built this castle didn't think so. This three-story structure was erected by the Works Progress Administration in 1937 to honor all those Dunn County rural letter carriers who perished while on their routes. How many? Nobody quite knows.
Today the castle-like shell is mostly used as an observation tower to survey the surrounding countryside. There are local rumors, likely started by drunk or stoned visitors, that the castle is built atop the grave of a dragon.
Mound Hill Park, 435 N. Holly Ave., Elk Mound, WI 54739
Phone: (715) 879-5011
Hours: May-October, daily 8 AM-10 PM
Directions: One half mile north of town.
UFO Capital of the World
Stop through Elmwood at any time of year other than the last full weekend in July, and you'll think the aliens have already come and gone ... and took everyone with them! Not much seems to be happening in this sleepy little burg. But that hasn't always been the case.
The first UFO sighting near Elmwood occurred on March 2, 1975. A star-shaped light chased a local woman and eventually landed on her car's hood when she stopped to get a better look. A year later, in April 1976, another fireball — this one the size of a football field — shot out a blue light beam that blasted all the sparkplugs in a police cruiser driven by officer George Wheeler. Little green men seem to have trained their laser sights on Elmwood.
And Elmwood welcomes the extraterrestrial attention. A few years ago Tomas Weber of the UFO Site Center Corporation in Chippewa Falls proposed that a two-square-mile UFO landing pad be built near town. The price? Twenty-five million dollars. The project has yet to get off the ground, or on the ground. Nobody talks much about it anymore, perhaps due to some type of black-ops "shadow government" cover-up.
In the meantime, the town throws an annual UFO Days celebration to let the Martians know they're still invited. UFO Days has earthly events like beer tents, bands, and a fun run, which might be a not-so-fun run if a flying saucer shows up! They also crown a UFO Queen and have a parade featuring kids dressed up as aliens.
If you come during the off-season, you can find a collection of UFOs, all human-made, in the parking lot of Sailer's Meat Market, a grocery store at the west end of town.
Elmwood Village Office, 320 W. Winter Ave., Elmwood, WI 54740
Phone: (715) 639-3792
Hours: Last full weekend in July
Directions: All over town; watch the skies.
Sailer's Meat Market, 600 W. Winter Ave., Elmwood, WI 54740
Phone: (715) 639-2191
Hours: Always visible
Directions: On Rte. 72, at Scott St.
Big Jumping Deer
You've got to watch where you're going in these parts, particularly at dusk. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you can come across a deer in the middle of the road. No matter the size, deer and cars do not mix. Better pull off and settle your nerves. What's that up ahead, a supper club? And is that a ... aiiiii!!! ... an enormous deer jumping into traffic?!
Don't worry — it doesn't move. This 15-foot fiberglass whitetail is only an attention getter for this restaurant. Did it work?
Northwoods Supper Club, N 14066 Flambeau Ave., Fifield, WI 54524
Phone: (715) 762-4447
Hours: Always visible; restaurant, Tuesday-Friday 11 AM-2 PM and 4-8 PM, Saturday 4-9 PM
Directions: At the intersection of Rtes. 13 and 70.
World's Largest Stuffed Black Bear and World's Largest White Pine Log
On November 23, 1963, the day after president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, a huge black bear was shot in the head in its winter den by Otto Hedbany, five miles north of Glidden. The 12-yearold bear weighed 665 pounds when dressed out, and measured 7 feet 10 inches from tail to snout — a world's record! Glidden then proclaimed itself the "Black Bear Capital of the World," which might seem odd given the way the town treated its biggest attraction.
Not that the bear went to waste. No, it was stuffed and mounted, and locals would haul it out to "march" in local parades. After a few decades of this, the bear got a new home at a local restaurant before a permanent home was built on the town's main drag. You can see it there today, as dead as it ever was ... or at least since 1963. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Oddball Wisconsin by Jerome Pohlen. Copyright © 2013 Jerome Pohlen. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.