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Posted on: 5/23/2007
By Erika Janik
A 12-foot mouse named after Igor Stravinsky greets you in a Fennimore parking lot. The jaws of a pink lion double as a drinking fountain in Delavan, while nearby, a killer elephant named Romeo rears up behind an unsuspecting clown. Call them tacky or call them kitsch, but these wondrous sites and surprises along Wisconsin roadways make getting there a lot more fun.
Green County: Driving west along Highway 81 out of Monroe, it’s hard to miss the bright orange barn and small-gauge train circling around a field and over a ravine. The barn, known as the Toy Train Barn, is home to the ever-growing and ever-changing model train collection of Jan and Buck Guthrie. Outside, visitors can hop a ride on the Argyle & Eastern Railroad for a trip around the farm. Open daily, 608-966-1464.
Iron County: Although Mercer proclaims itself the "Loon Capital of the World," the large loon that stands outside the town’s Chamber of Commerce is only the third largest. Still, a 16-foot loon named Claire d'Loon is impressive. Claire used to "talk"—or make loon sounds--but her voice box is currently broken. (715) 476-2389.
Marathon County: Just west of Poniatowski, in the town of Reitbrock, is the center of the northwestern world, halfway between the North Pole and the equator, and a quarter of the way around the earth from Greenwich, England. A wooden sign marks the spot along the aptly named Meridian Road in a county park. The park has no amenities, not even a bench, leaving ample time to reflect on a point that exists in only three other places in the world, two underwater and one in China. Follow the signs.
Oneida County: A giant concrete penny stamped with the year 1953 stands near a retirement home in Woodruff, commemorating famed North Woods doctor Kate Newcomb's "Million Penny Parade." The penny, the "world's largest," recalls Newcomb's drive to collect a million pennies from local schoolchildren to build a hospital.
Grant County: On April 6, 1971, Stephan Bahl was driving home his new fiberglass mouse when he heard on the radio that Russian composer Igor Stravinsky had died. Inspired, Bahl named his mouse Igor. The 12-foot-tall Igor has been nibbling a slice of cheese near the parking lot of a Fennimore cheese factory and retail store ever since. Carr Valley Cheese: 608-822-6416.
Walworth County: Driving through downtown, the life-size serene-looking giraffe and menacing bucking elephant are easy to spot in Tower Park. The pair commemorates the town's heritage as the winter quarters for more than 25 circuses in the 1800s. The elephant is perhaps an unlikely choice for the honor, being a memorial to Romeo, an infamous elephant known for killing five of his trainers. The giraffe appears to have a clean record. 262-728-5095.