Historically Speaking
Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

Historically Speaking

Circus Wagons That Will Make You Gasp

You can almost smell the popcorn, cotton candy and peanuts when you pull up in front of Circus World in nearby Baraboo. This grouping of buildings is known as Ringlingville, the National Historic Landmark where the famous Ringlings housed their circus from 1884 until 1918. Exhibit halls include displays of rare circus posters, thousands of lavish bejeweled costumes created by the wardrobe department for staging of the Great Circus Parade, and historic musical instruments. But it’s the jaw dropping collection of one-of-a-kind antique circus wagons, the world’s largest, that simply shouldn’t be missed. Visitors who stroll up the hill to a pair of red brick buildings are captivated by what’s inside. The one on the right houses 50 wagons, including favorites like the petite Cinderella wagon; the all-hand-carved United States Tableau weighing nearly 11,000 pounds; and the America Steam Calliope, the last steam calliope wagon ever assembled for a circus. The other building is for antique circus wagons undergoing restoration where visitors can watch skilled craftsmen at work using specialized tools to breathe new life into these priceless pieces of art.

Interview Recommendations

  • Dave SaLoutos, Circus World ringmaster

Round-Up/Trend/Sidebar Story Ideas

  • Introducing the grandkids to entertainment that has nothing to do with video games or iPods
  • What it takes to join the circus

A Frank Lloyd Wright Cottage with a Dark History

Visitors to Wisconsin Dells can actually spend the night in the Seth Peterson cottage, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home available for rent to the public. The structure seems more monumental than its 900 square feet would indicate, given that it is balanced on the edge of a secluded wooded bluff that plunges down to Mirror Lake. As the story goes, Seth Peterson had wanted to study under Wright but couldn’t afford the tuition. But, at age 24, he commissioned Wright to design a cottage for him on the property he had purchased on Mirror Lake. The cottage was Wright's last Wisconsin commission, the year was 1958. Wright never visited the property before he died in 1959, just as final drawings were being completed. Construction costs mounted, and some say it was the financial burden that led Peterson to kill himself without ever occupying the cottage. After standing empty for many years, a foundation was formed to restore this architectural gem.

Interview Recommendations

  • Head of the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy

Round-Up/Trend/Sidebar Story Ideas

  • A Frank Lloyd Wright protégé designed two classic supper clubs in Wisconsin Dells -- the Del-Bar and Field’s at the Wilderness
  • Devotees of Wright travel long distances to spend a night at this cottage

The Story of the Ho-Chunk

The Wisconsin Dells area has been inhabited by native people for 2,000 years, and probably longer. Their spirit is evident in ceremonial and burial mounds and, while nearly all of the mounds have been destroyed by farming and floods, visitors can still find some examples of this ancient culture known as the "Effigy Mound Builders." One treasure is at the Kingsley Bend Wayside on Highway 16 where there are a group of some 20 burial and effigy mounds, including two 100-foot long bears, a panther with a tail as long as a football field, and an eagle with a 200 foot wingspan. In 1832, the U.S. Government began its infamous removal policy, stating that all Indians must be moved west of the Mississippi River. It wasn’t until 1873, when the removal policy was reversed, that the Ho-Chunk, the largest Native American nation in Wisconsin Dells, once called Winnebago by the French fur traders, could file claims to land in the area. By then, the area had already become a site for Ho-Chunk pow-wows and dancing, with tourists coming to enjoy the festivals. Today, the 4,900 members of the Ho-Chunk Sovereign Nation hold title to 2,000 acres of land, continuing anew their dedication to preserve the Ho-Chunk culture.

Interview Recommendations

  • David Rambow, curator for the H.H. Bennett Studio on Bennett’s photos of the Ho-Chunk people
  • Patti Herrera, public relations director for Ho-Chunk Gaming, Wisconsin Dells

Round-Up/Trend/Sidebar Story Ideas

  • A tradition of giving back to the community
  • Trace the path of the Ho-Chunk and how they found their way back to Wisconsin

Ride the Rails

To really get the feel for what train travel was like in the “Golden Age of Railroading,” spanning the years 1880 to 1916, train buffs will want to pay a visit to the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, located just a short drive from the Dells in North Freedom. Mid-Continent is an outdoor living history museum and operating railroad where visitors can take a seven-mile, 50-minute round-trip ride on a former branch line of the Chicago & North Western Railway through the scenic Baraboo Hills. The ride is authentic, from the restored steel coaches built in 1915 to the nattily attired conductor who calls "all aboard!" The train leaves from an historic wooden depot built in 1894. Fall tours may be the most memorable of all, as the countryside takes on hues of red, gold, orange and bronze.

Interview Recommendations

  • A train conductor at Mid-Continent Railway Museum

Round-Up/Trend/Sidebar Story Ideas

  • History of train travel intriguing to old and young
  • Living history museums gaining popularity as travelers look to learn while on vacation


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Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

701 Superior Street, PO Box 390
Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965-0390
(800) 223-3557
(608) 254-4293 (Fax)

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