Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin

Olbrich Botanical Gardens, at 3330 Atwood Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin, was founded by lawyer and naturalist Michael Olbrich in 1952. Its golden Thai sala, a gift from Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is unique in the Continental United States.

There is also a traditional English garden, rose garden, and an 80-foot long reflective pool. It is also home to the Bolz Conservatory, which houses over 750 plants and features a popular butterfly exhibit in the summer called “Blooming Butterflies.”

Mysterious America Photography

Devils Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin

I have fond memories of Devil’s Lake near Baraboo in Sauk County, Wisconsin. My family vacationed there when I was a kid in the late ’80s, early ’90s. You could say it’s a family tradition. I’ve seen photos of my grandparents and great grandparents climbing the boulders. It’s a great spot for family vacationers looking for something more low key than nearby Wisconsin Dells.

Formed millennia ago by a glacier that cut off part of the Wisconsin River, it was originally called Ta-wah-cun-chunk-dah by the Ho-Chunk, meaning “Sacred Lake”. According to legend, a Winnebago Indian fasted and prayed at the shore for twenty days, after which a water spirit called the Wock-cheth-thwe-dah (or Wakjexi) arose and told him he would live a long and happy life.

Another Indian legend tells of a green water spirit with seven heads that demanded an annual sacrifice of a maiden. River Child spoke with a sturgeon, who told him the water spirit had a vulnerability. A well-aimed thrust behind its center head’s left eye would pierce its brain.

On the day the maiden was to be sacrificed, River Child spread walnut husks in the water, causing the spirit distress and forcing it into his net. After a long struggle, he stabbed it in the left eye with his knife, killing it. River Child married the maiden and they started a village along the shore, but the ghostly screams of the water spirit arose with every storm, so they were forced to move away.

Today, Devil’s Lake State Park is a popular destination for camping, swimming, boating, rock-climbing, and hiking.

Roadside America

Gus’s Diner in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Gus’s Diner, at 630 N. Westmount Drive in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, is filled with 1950s nostalgia. It has a wonderful stainless steel exterior and has been run by the current owners since 2008. It looks like a Silk City or Kullman model with expanded dining area, but is probably more modern (possibly a Paramount).

Diner Resources

Photography Roadside America

Flamingo Motel

Flamingo Motel
Can’t-miss vintage sign for the Flamingo Motel and Suites, 910 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy S. (U.S. Route 12), Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Dells has been a family vacation destination since the nineteenth century. Many motor inns adopted a “populuxe” style to appeal to travelers on a budget, promising comfortable accommodations at an affordable price.
Roadside America

Wisconsin Dells – The Original Roadside Attraction

I have fond memories of Wisconsin Dells. My family vacationed there when I was a kid in the late ’80s, early ’90s. It’s changed significantly since then. All I remember is the boat tours, the American Indians shows, and the main strip with a wax museum and other interesting little tourist shops. Very similar to Lake George, New York. Today, it’s the “Waterpark Capitol of the World,” with several large amusement parks, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, go cart tracks, and more.

A local settler named Leroy Gates started offering boat tours of scenic bluffs and rock formations along the Wisconsin River as early as 1856. Photographer H. H. Bennett later popularized the dells in photos and stereoscopic prints distributed around the country. His studio is now a museum. In 1952 “Tommy Bartlett’s Thrill Show” made the area its home, and tourism really took off. Many resorts cropped up in neighboring Lake Delton.

It’s nice to see families still enjoy Wisconsin Dells, but no trip is complete without an obligatory mess of flapjacks at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, 411 State Hwy 13. They’ve been feeding tourists North Woods meals for almost 60 years.

Mysterious America Saudade

Details Emerge in Camp Napowan Story

I rescued the following post from my old website, Mysterious Heartland, and decided to re-post it here in case I have any readers interested in Wisconsin folklore or who went to Camp Napowan as a Boy Scout. Enjoy!

After posting an edited transcription of the legend of Boot Hill from Napowan Scout Camp in central Wisconsin (read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), a reader contacted me with his own insight into the story. In addition to more information about how an audio version of the tale became available, he reveals that a tragic accident in the early 2000s may have squelched its retelling. Here are his remarks:

Hi Michael,

I came across your transcription of the Story of Boot Hill on Mysterious Heartland, and I wanted to give you my recollection. I visited Napowan as a Boy Scout from 1993 to 1999. The first year I went, one of the camp staff was invited to our site to tell the story of Boot Hill. I think he was the camp director at the time, or he became camp director several years later, and I want to say his name was Eric. There were a few additional details that were added to the story in future tellings, as well as a few omissions.

I can only remember one omission regarding the event from 1992. A special needs scout from the Little City sponsored troop (which I believe is also out of Des Planes) got lost, wandered off camp property, and recalled seeing black cats with white paws when he was found. The troop is comprised of mentally challenged adults who were still in attendance during the years I visited camp Napowan. I think the lost scout was an African American guy who went by the name Horse.

Eric took a break from staffing, but returned in the late ’90s. Since he was not there to tell the story, another staff member told the story for the entire camp in 1994 or 1995. His name was Brad Shuman, and he was the director of the Nature program area. He was a creepy guy to begin with, but he did a superb job telling the story. It genuinely scarred a lot of scouts who had to later walk back to their campsites, in the dark, through many of the locations mentioned in the story.


Two Takeaways from the 2018 Midterm Elections

The results of the recent midterms seem to put to bed some common assumptions about U.S. politics.

As the dust settles on the 2018 Midterm Elections, I noticed two interesting things that raise questions about what we’ve come to take for granted in politics.

1) That protest movements achieve something. When I was younger, I used to love a good protest. Fondly recalling their own “Days of Rage” in the 1960s and ’70s, university professors in particular have encouraged campus activism, which in turn spread elsewhere. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself—a grand statement that you will not sit idly by and allow something outrageous to continue.

But do they actually work here in the United States, especially when the only outrage is over losing an election? In 2010 Scott Walker, a Republican, was elected governor of Wisconsin. Wisconsin, like Illinois, is divided between large cities, which tend to be very liberal, and geographically large but underpopulated rural areas, which tend to be very conservative. Governor Walker did as promised and limited the collective bargaining powers of Wisconsin public employees. The left lost its mind.