Daily Archives: January 31, 2010

Up North: the series ::Kitsch & Scenery:: Wisconsin Dells

A series about Wisconsin is not complete without a post about Wisconsin Dells. On our excursions to Chetek I vividly remember seeing signs, possibly starting south of Beloit, declaring the wonders of Wisconsin Dells — Tommy Bartlett Water Show, Noah’s Ark, Fort Dells, & The Wonder Spot. I remember longing to visit the Dells because of those signs, but it wasn’t until I was at least 10 years old that we actually did visit the Dells for a day.

I’m guessing we stopped there either on the way to Chetek or on the way back from Chetek, but I can’t be certain — maybe we drove there and back in one day — I know we did not stay overnight though, at least not in a motel. I do know, however, that we visited it with the Pasholks and the reason was mostly for my dad and Jack to meet with a mutual friend of theirs. I remember sitting in the friend’s house while the grownups drank beers and thinking, Get on with it already — I want to have some fun. Did we come all the way to Wisconsin Dells so we could be bored watching you drink beer and visit with your friend?

The grownups finally did say goodbye to their friends and took us kids to an attraction: Fort Dells.  I remember quite a bit about the day at Fort Dells. We saw a Wild West show, drove a model T car around a track and went to a haunted house. I remember being very scared of the haunted house and burying my face in my hands for most of the ride, much to Marcia’s amusement. I think we might have stopped in a Paul Bunyan’s for lunch or dinner, but that might be another memory. I wanted to visit The Wonder Spot but we didn’t — possibly because we ran out of time, or because it was too expensive.

At the time of that visit I was young enough to not be embarrassed by kitsch — something that the Dells excels at. As I grew older and until somewhat recently, I avoided anything that might be considered kitschy.

I think my mom and dad took my brother and me to the Dells one other time — on a trip that also involved a visit to the Baraboo Circus World Museum. I remember very little of the Dells on that trip except maybe seeing The Wonder Spot. I sort of remember someone sitting on a levitating chair. However maybe I just saw a brochure for it.

Dad at The Wonder Spot
Dad at The Wonder Spot

My only other visit to the Dells was as memorable as the first, but I think I liked it less. This visit was on our first honeymoon — the one with Neal & Marie and Paul. Neal and Marie were from New England and Paul was from England, so they’d probably not even heard of Wisconsin Dells and might not have chosen to go had we not suggested it. One of the reasons I wanted to go to the Dells was because my mom and dad went there on their honeymoon in 1954. They went The Wonder Spot.

This time we didn’t go to Fort Dells —  because we were too old and also because it wasn’t there anymore. We did ride The Ducks though. That was interesting and it was nice to see the real reason for Wisconsin Dells — not the tourist traps that were advertised on the signs, but the natural sandstone formations on the Wisconsin River. I don’t think that I knew anything about the actual Dells until this trip. It was a little scary, though, when the driver of the vehicle stopped in the woods and asked for tips.

I was hoping to take my kids to the Dells, but it never happened, and now they’re really too old to want to go with their parents, if at all. Clare likes kitsch, but I think it embarrasses Andrew. I’m not sure I’ll ever go again. The places that I’d remembered from my childhood are gone and I’ve already seen the Dells. I’m pretty sure that if I went I’d be disappointed.