Navigate the Wisconsin River
Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

Navigate The Wisconsin River

Great Photography from H.H. Bennett Studio

H.H. Bennett is known as "the man who made Wisconsin Dells famous." Never heard of him? He’s considered one of the top 10 landscape photographers of the 19th century. One of his most famous photos is of a young man leaping from one rock ledge to another. It’s titled "Leaping the Chasm at Stand Rock," and captures Bennett’s son Ashley frozen in mid-air. At the time, many people thought the photograph was faked since stop-motion had not been invented. Until Bennett invented it, that is. The story goes that Bennett had Ashley repeat the jump multiple times to get just the right shot, a story that would make any mother cringe. Bennett was born in the mid 1800s. A carpenter by trade, he turned to photography after a Civil War injury to his hand made carpentry work impossible. He opened his studio in Wisconsin Dells, then known as Kilbourn City, in 1875. Along with photos of his family, it’s the mystical photos of the towering bluffs and swirling Wisconsin River that drew the first tourists to the area, and ultimately gave Wisconsin Dells life as a vacation destination. His life and photos are superbly chronicled at the H.H. Bennett Studio, the photographer’s original studio still standing on Broadway in downtown Dells. There’s even an exhibit devoted to the famous photo, with markers on the floor to test your own leaping ability. In 2015, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the H.H. Bennett Studio, reportedly the oldest continuously operating photography studio in America. 

Interview Recommendations

  • Cheryl Boehmke, president of the Friends of the H.H. Bennett Studio
  • Jean Reese, Wisconsin Dells resident and granddaughter of H.H. Bennett whose mother is featured in many of the photos in the studio

Round-Up/Trend/Sidebar Story Ideas

  • The early history of tourism in Wisconsin Dells had nothing to do with waterparks but everything to do with water, including steamboat cruises on the river and logging
  • The Studio’s collection of Bennett’s large glass plate negatives is a stark contrast to today’s digital photography offerings

Take a Slow Cruise

Imagine Wisconsin Dells 150 years ago. Visitors arriving by train, then touring the Wisconsin River by rowboat, in awe of the Cambrian sandstone bluffs towering hundreds of feet above the water, carved out by glacier waters in the most unusual stone formations they’d ever seen. Later, visitors opted for massive steamboats. It should come as no surprise that the oldest attraction in the Dells is actually a boat tour company. Today, several companies offer leisurely excursions of the Upper and Lower Dells (the dam split the waterway into the upper and lower portions). An Upper Dells excursion on a double-decker vessel, for example, is available with shore landings at two of the area’s most famous sandstone rock formations -- Witches Gulch, with its mysterious passageways and cool canyons, and Stand Rock, made famous by photographer H.H. Bennett’s photo of his son leaping from one rock bluff to another. Today, specially trained jumping dogs leap the five-foot chasm from the main cliff to the rock ledge. There’s also a tour of the Lower Dells, with guides recounting stories about the ghost town Newport, the once-vibrant logging era, and Native American history.

Interview Recommendations

  • Dan Gavinski, owner of Original Wisconsin Ducks

Round-Up/Trend/Sidebar Story Ideas

  • Keeping the history of the area alive so children understand the community didn’t spring up when waterparks were invented
  • River cruises: a 150 year old trend in Wisconsin Dells

Tutorial on DUCKS

Wisconsin Dells is home to the world’s largest fleet of WWII land-to-water vehicles known as DUCKs. These lumbering seven-ton vehicles were produced by General Motors from 1942 to 1945. Their official title is D.U.K.W.s – which is a military code representing characteristics of the vehicle (D = 1942, U = amphibian, K = front-wheel drive, W = rear-wheel drive). American GIs nicknamed them “Duck” and the name stuck. The DUCKs’ finest moment was D-Day, June 4, 1944, when more than 2,000 of these vehicles were put into service to deliver troops to the rough shores of Normandy, France. In 1946, a man by the name of Melvin Flath brought the first DUCKs to Wisconsin Dells and set up a tour company. These vehicles had never seen war; most were surplus that had remained stateside. Over the years, additional DUCKs have been procured from collectors and other tour companies. Today, it takes a staff of mechanics about two months to get one in good working order.

Interview Recommendations

  • Dan Gavinski, general manager of the Original Wisconsin Ducks® who started out as a DUCK driver during summers off from college

Round-Up/Trend/Sidebar Story Ideas

  • Parents bringing their children for a DUCK ride to re-create their childhood vacation memories
  • One of the most coveted summer jobs in the area is being a DUCK driver, but it’s competitive


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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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