Friday, August 20, 2010

Southern Wisconsin

Dad had always been opposed to city driving. He would go great distances to avoid driving through any metropolitan areas. It was surprising, then, that in 1973 we were able to get him to go to Milwaukee to take us to the Zoo.

The Milwaukee Zoo, then as now, is considered one of the country’s finest. It was innovative in the 1960s and 1970s by getting rid of the old iron bars in favor of more natural environments. Each exhibit would have predators of a continent at the back of the exhibit with its prey in the front, separated by a deep moat which went unnoticed by the zoo visitor.

Samson, the huge lowland gorilla, was a zoo star. In his enclosure was a large scale which he liked to sit on. His weight would at times top 600 pounds. He would eye up the visitors watching him, pick one out of the crowd and try to stare them down. If he got mad at you, he would rush the thick Plexiglas wall keeping him contained. On several occasions over the years, he managed to crack the thick glass.

The next day we toured the Cave of the Mounds, a cave west of Madison. Over the years, we have been through quite a few caves. I don’t remember anything special of the cave itself, but outside in what would appear to be the driveway, they had set up sluices so that young geologists could shift through rock from the cave in search of gemstones, or just plain cool rocks. Over the years, we have collected more than our share of just plain cool rocks.

Next we visited The House on the Rock in Spring Green. This would have to be the one tourist place I have visited by far more than any other. In 1973, it was still mostly about the House, which all by itself was interesting enough with all of its passageways, low ceilings, hidden seating areas. Carpet on the walls, stained glass windows, interior fountains, book cases in recesses that were not accessible.

The House on the Rock was the home of Alex Jordan, a sculptor and collector. I don’t know where in the great scheme of things he lost control, but to me, I just liked the simplicity of the House itself, the original Gate House and the Mill House. Over the years, the attraction has been added to and added to. The maze of buildings holding thousands of collections of everything from merry-go-round horses, to butterflies, to room-size music machines, though very interesting to experience, seems to detract from the straightforwardness of the original structures.

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