Sidetracked in Wisconsin: A Guide for Thoughtful Travelers


What you have in this book are discriminating glimpses of who and what make Wisconsin worth knowing. It is not meant to be a comprehensive travel guide that tries to please everyone or include every place with an "open" sign in the window.

Mary Bergin wrote a guide for the thoughtful traveler, willing to be sidetracked and experience something new, quirky, interesting, and ...

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What you have in this book are discriminating glimpses of who and what make Wisconsin worth knowing. It is not meant to be a comprehensive travel guide that tries to please everyone or include every place with an "open" sign in the window.

Mary Bergin wrote a guide for the thoughtful traveler, willing to be sidetracked and experience something new, quirky, interesting, and unusual. Maps, road trips, lodging, restaurants, recipes, hikes, museums, taverns, tours, theaters and more. Includes index.

Wisconsin is a state of incredible diversity, transition, accomplishment and modesty. It's much more than great beer, brats, cheeseheads and polkas.

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Editorial Reviews

Quad-City Times
Talk about a thorough little book about offbeat sights to visit in Wisconsin! I think I just discovered a goodie with nice little bites of fun information, short and sweet and to the point with very attractive color photos with each chapter.
The Resourceful Traveler (Chicago Tribune)
To author Mary Bergin, Wisconsin is an endless stream of discoveries. From cities to the smallest of towns, there is always something to write about. Indeed the Wisconsin native is a huge promoter of her state, which she feels is often overlooked in favor of more exotic destinations. Many of the places she writes about are hard to find, which of course forms part of their charm.
The Shepherd Express
Her reports are marked by the great respect she affords people who build, manage and interpret places others pass by. Bergin introduces us to them, tells their stories and reveals glistening gems. Check out A World of Accordians Museum in Superior, the nation's oldest continually operating bowling alley in Fond du Lac, the cheese-maker outside of Dodgeville whose work is served at Americas's best restaurants or the Markesan Book Castle, which was once a manure storage tank. No matter where you go, you'll enjoy having Mary Bergin show you a gentle, pleasant and proud Wisconsin.
The Shepherd Express (Milwaukee)
Mary Bergin travels into Wisconsins nooks and crannies and finds extraordinary beauty, charm and wonder blooming at every turn. Sidetracked in Wisconsin is a winner. It recently was honored by the Society of American Travel Writers Central States Chapter as the Best Travel Book of the year. It is delightfully illustrated with many of Bergins photos, so its no surprise the organization also named her Photographer of the Year.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780976145042
  • Publisher: Flying Fish Graphics
  • Publication date: 6/28/2006
  • Pages: 242
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Bergin is a longtime newspaper journalist whose weekly "Roads Traveled" column is syndicated in daily newspapers around Wisconsin and online at She also is a freelance magazine writer and former features editor for The Capital Times, Madison. She has written three books, Sidetracked in Wisconsin: A Guide for Thoughtful Travelers (ISBN 9780976145042); Hungry for Wisconsin: A Tasty Guide for Travelers (ISBN 9780981516103) and Sidetracked in the Midwest: A Green Guide for Travelers (ISBN 9780981516127.)

Although Wisconsin is her favorite place, Mary increasingly travels the world. She was a 2003 Women of Wings delegate to Chiba, Japan (a Wisconsin sister-state), and co-led a delegation of Midwest Travel Writers Association members to Korea in 2006. She has won several awards from the Society of American Travel Writers for her travel writing and photography.

She routinely seeks global connections to Wisconsin, considering it one small way to build bridges of cultural awareness and appreciation in this increasingly complex, misunderstood and troubled world.

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Read an Excerpt


Shake Rags Rebirth

The task, to raise $100,000 in three months, was daunting but it also sent the heart and soul of this artists community soaring. And now look at whats become of that challenge. Historic Shake Rag Alley, part of a Cornish mining camp in the 1820s, came close to losing its public exposure in July 2004. Thats when the Wall Street Journal featured Shake Rag and two other sites on the National Register of Historic Places as being for sale. Owners Glenn and Harriet Ridnour, antique shop operators, had put the Wisconsin property on the market after his heart attack. List price was $495,000.

A bid came in, just as Sandy Scott and Judy Sutcliffe were hosting the third annual Woodlanders Gathering at Shake Rag. More than 150 peoplewood carvers, stone whittlers, mask makers, rustic furniture buildersfrom at least 17 states realized this might be their last visit to Mineral Point, where they had come to bond and philosophize as well as hone their art.

The prospective buyer intended to make the nine-building property a private residence.

Sandy and Judy, who operate the towns Longbranch Gallery, quickly found a banker and made a case that Shake Rag could become a successful, nonprofit arts center. Then the women made their own bid on the 2.5-acre property, and it was accepted.

Some Woodlanders wrote checks. Others promised to come back to do landscaping, weaving, carpentry work. We had a basket full of pledges, Sandy recalls.

Im young but will do whatever I can do, wrote Mike Christensen, an Iowa farm boy, then age 14 and a Woodlanders student. I want to work for you. He has been back each summer since.

Local residents fueled the effort, too, and the $100,000 down payment was raised in six weeks. Now called the Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts, the grounds are used for all types of art workshops, for beginners as well as professionals, children as well as adults, the disabled as well as the physically fit.

It captured peoples sense of adventure, Sandy says of the project, and it felt like we were saving something for the community.

The work and commitment continued. Although the Ridnours had made property improvements, previous owners let many of the nine Shake Rag buildings deteriorate from the showcase shape that they had been in during Madison florist Al Fellys ownership in the 1970s to 1990.

So roughly 40 volunteers donated time and materials to enhance the grounds and buildings. They roofed, decorated, weeded, rebuilt walkways and bridges. They put fresh flowers on outdoor cafe tables, constructed an office with cupboards donated from a local kitchen remodeling project.

There is such a sense of ownership among the volunteers, Sandy says. When pressed, she acknowledges that I try to look for the spark that makes people feel good and let them be all they can be. Her resume includes work with the disabled.

One building is dedicated to after-school and summer art programs for children. It is a multicultural approach: The kids learn to sing in Japanese, drum to African music, use puppets and dance as warm-ups to other expressive arts projects. About 100 students (most in elementary school) participated the first year; the towns population is merely 2,500.

It has been a way to engage young families and young people, says Judy, so another generation is becoming involved with Shake Rag.

Cafe space has been leased to local caterers who also serve breakfast and lunch here on some days. Above offices are three bedrooms that are being rented to tourists and visiting artists. There also is a computer lab, for digital photo and other workshops, plus studio space in several of the other Shake Rag buildings.

The oldest, a log cabin built in 1828, is Mineral Points oldest standing structure.

Sandy and Judy are both from small towns in Iowa but did not meet until living in California, where Sandy was a public television producer and Judy was a tile muralist. The friends decided to retire to the Midwest, where the cost and pace of life could be slower. Or so they thought.

Now theyve hired someone else to run their gallery, not because they dont want to work, but because the art center is taking up more of their time.

Surprises and good timing continue, such as a benefit concert donation from Christopher Finkelmeyer, an acclaimed concert pianist in Chicago whose great-grandparents lived at Shake Rag.

Volunteer workers got permission to salvage a beautiful old barn that was about to be bulldozed in Sun Prairie. They took down 15- and 20-foot panels of weathered, tongue-in-groove barn board that was recycled as walls in Shake Rags largest classroom.

A longer-term goal is to combine the use of studio spaces throughout Mineral Point, as well as Shake Rags, for creative arts endeavors of all kinds. The hope is to have a strong, ongoing curriculum from May through December, and ultimately become self-sufficient.

We are hoping an angel finds us and believes, as we do, that Shake Rag Alley is an extraordinary, magical placewith a worthy vision for our community and for our regionand has the resources to help make it so, Sandy says.

Shake Rag acting/directing/screenwriting instructors have included a creative advisor to Robert Redfords Sundance Film Institute and a former acting coach for Seinfeld. They donate their time, says Sandy, who predicts they will bring more Hollywood pros with them in the future.

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Interviews & Essays

Wisconsin is more than a pretty face. It is a state of incredible diversity, tradition and dynamic accomplishment as well as great modesty. Contrary to popular mythology, we are about far more than great beer, brats, cheeseheads and polka parties.

You can stay close to home and think youre in another country, find stunning and unusual getaways on a tankful of gas, feel among kindred spirits in the most remote areas, eat the finest of foods in the smallest of towns. The line between city and country is blurring, as creative thinkers gladly relinquish urban trappings for rural tranquility.

Much of what you see every day is worth cherishing, but sometimes an outsiders perspective can be the most convincing.

Consider this: A couple of Louisiana women came into Wisconsin to talk up Highway 51, which runs 1,286 miles from our Hurley and Lake Superior to their Lake Pontchartrain and Laplace, not far from New Orleans.

According to the Louisianans, the road is full of Americana and it could become as well-known and respected as the famed Route 66 across the American west. We just have to let people know about it.

The work has begun to do just that. If we take the southerners advice, we wont ignore our carhops, drive-in theaters, restored indoor theaters, statues of cows and lumberjacks, Northwoods carvings of eagles and bears. And, yes, our squeaky cheese curds.

I have lived in Wisconsin for all but two of my 50 years and have no intention of calling anywhere else home. Will you have enough to write about? a friend asked when I began Roads Traveled, a weekly travel column that typically is about Wisconsin or a border state. Uh-huh. Its years later, and the heap of rich topics hasnt diminished much. This could go on for quite a while, without gross repetition.

I bristle when I see the booths of Midwest destinations idle during travel writer trade shows. The lines form for Spain, Hawaii, or for luxury resorts with big marketing budgets.

Wisconsins portfolio tends to go unnoticedeven among the natives.

We so hate to toot our own horns in Wisconsin. This reticence sometimes makes me wince: For example, I might be in your town asking, What is there to do? Too often the answer is Nothing. Sometimes you qualify that by saying you dont live around here. Youre from the next town, 10 miles down the road.

I cant help but think that wed want to do better, if we knew more aboutand believed inthe variety of historic, human and natural beauty that surrounds us. I ponder this, with a glass of wine, after an exhausting and fascinating day on the road. During the past 24 hours, I have learned:

How to make great soup from scratch. The teacher was Marcel Biró, one of the nations rising-star chefs, who calls Sheboygan home.

What Houdini and Joe McCarthy had in common. The explanation comes from Terry Bergen, an Appleton museum director whose work generates controversy and inquiries from around the world.

Where the nations oldest continuously operating bowling alley is located. It is in the basement of the nicely preserved Fond du Lac Elks Club No. 57.

I am easily amused and fortified, from the Biró consommé with exquisite quenelles, to the chili dog and tap of Capital Amber that become my supper at The Magnet in Oshkosh. That was yesterday. Tonight it was fine lake perch at a VFW fish fry, 50 miles away. And tomorrow it will be something new . . . different . . . unexpected.

All of it makes a tremendous cornucopia of culture, richly flavored by our diverse traditions and fascinating past.

What you have in this book are discriminating glimpses of who and what make Wisconsin worth knowing. It is not meant to be a comprehensive travel guide that tries to please everyone or include every shop or stop with an open sign in the window.

Its pretty easy to peg my soft spots: food, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sheboygan County, underdogs and mavericks, relatively unknown but pretty landscapes. But thats just for starters.Mary Bergin,Madison, Wisconsin

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