As summer slowly approaches one’s mind may wander to what a steampunker, or just general human being, might go about doing? If that is the case with you, and you happen to be local to Northern Illinois or Chicagoland, then turn until your compass points North.
There, there is a land that begets whimsy and wonder. It lets your mind wander and expand with new possibilities and perspectives. This land is called Wisconsin, and you can have an amazing day just outside of the Wisconsin Dells.
Start by taking Route 12 south and visit the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. You begin in the Circus Museum, winding through an array of bright circus posters. These capture the thrills and hucksterism of the days when the circus wagons would come through town. It leads you to the grounds where you can take in circus acts, ride an elephant or view the circus wagon collection. The gift shop is not to be missed either.
Continue south on Route 12 and visit Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron, the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture. To find it, just look for the metal birds and beasts and then park in Delaney’s Surplus in New Freedom, Wisconsin. Continue through the scrap metal yard to find Dr. Evermor’s sculpture garden. There you’ll see a flock of birds made from old brass musical instruments. Metal critters and odd aliens dot the artistic landscape. The centerpiece of all is the Forevertron. It’s a contraption unto itself and you almost expect it’s arms to begin pumping out Danny Elfman oompah music.
An hour east is the House on the Rock. Architect Alex Jordan began building the house into the side of a hill in the 1940s. As time went on it expanded into a maze of collectables that would shame any grandparent’s basement. There are a wide array of armaments, a whale battling a giant squid (giant being the key word here), self-playing mechanical orchestras, the world’s largest carousel, a room that is held up completely by cantilevers called the “Infinity Room”, rare books and a stroll down the Streets of Yesterday. It’s a museum dedicated to nothing in particular. It’s sense of whimsy and wonder was even captured by Neil Gaiman in his novel American Gods. To see photos of two of the contributors of Steampunk Chicago (Rev. Cpt. Samuel Flint, and Lady NoLucky) taken by the latter look no farther than here.
When I took this trip, it left me with a heightened sense of awareness. The Wisconsin scenery seemed even more magical. As I drove past farmland, I wasn’t sure if I saw machinery in a field or if it were some sort of Evermor-like mechanical wonder-beast. Each turn of the hilly countryside was open to a new amazement.
These places provide hours of joy and wonder. If there is any time at the end of the day and you need to head back to a hotel room in the dells, you can always wind down with a bit of “Pottering” around an interactive game at Wizard Quest or have an educational excursion to Ripley’s Believe It or Not!