To most people, the word "museum" conjures up visions of dinosaur skeletons and prehistoric artifacts. Visitors to Wisconsin have no shortage of opportunities to view world-class archaeological treasures. However, the Badger State also boasts a roster of first-rate museums dedicated to more unusual interests – from the quirky to the mainstream. Here are a few of our favorites.
National Mustard Museum – Middleton
Put this one on the quirky end of the museum spectrum. Middleton’s acclaimed Mustard Museum features a collection of more than 4,300 jars, bottles and tubes of prepared mustard gathered from all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Historic mustard pots (some a century old), vintage mustard advertisements and an assortment of unique, unusual and creative gift packages can be found here, including their hilarious “Poupon U” souvenir line. Highlights include their latest mustard flavor, aptly named "Hit and Run," an excruciatingly hot, tongue-searing horseradish mustard.
The History Museum at the Castle – Appleton
The most popular exhibit at The Castle (a former Masonic Temple with a very martial look) is the A.K.A. Houdini section. Having lived there as a child, Harry Houdini claimed Appleton as his hometown. The Castle has gathered and interprets an extensive collection of Houdini memorabilia: personal papers, posters, photos, even some of the magician’s paraphernalia. The Houdini exhibit lets you experience some of Houdini’s tricks and escapes through hands-on activities. It’s great fun for the whole family.
National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame – Hayward
The highlight of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is its landmark "Big Musky" - a structure one-half city block long and four and one-half stories tall, constructed of concrete, steel and fiberglass, hand-sculpted into the likeness of a leaping muskellunge. Its innards are a museum and its gaping open jaw is an observation platform for about twenty persons high above the museum grounds. The adjacent four-building museum complex displays fishing artifacts, housing an inventory of more than 50,000 vintage and historical lures, rods, reels and angling accessories. Additionally there are about 300 mounted fresh water fish and about 1,000 vintage outboard motors.
Circus World Museum – Baraboo
The Ringling Bros. Circus was founded in Baraboo in 1884 by five brothers: Al, Otto, Charles, John and Alf T. Ringling. For 34 years the circus wintered here in buildings along the north bank of the Baraboo River. The buildings date from 1897 to 1918. Today, Circus World Museum covers 64 acres with 30 permanent structures, including eight of the original winter quarter’s buildings. The museum's collection of circus artifacts ephemera, and photographs is perhaps the largest in the world. It includes more than 210 original wagons and vehicles once used by American, English and Irish circuses. Open year-round, the museum presents classic American one-ring circus performances daily throughout the summer featuring aerialists, acrobats, animal acts, jugglers, and clowns.
World of Accordions Museum – Superior
Housed in a former church in downtown Superior are 1,700 accordions, 1,000 of which are displayed in floor-to-ceiling racks of museum order: chronology, country-of-origin, type, brand-name. The World of Accordions Museum is the most complete in the world, housing instruments of the free-reed family from their earliest patents (1830s) to the present. Exhibits show the instrument’s contributions to America’s “melting-pot” musical culture. So, if names like Whoopee John Wilfahrt, Myron Floren, Frankie Yankovic, Florian Chmielewski - and even John Lennon - get your feet to tapping, this little gem-of-a-museum will surely delight you.
Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame – Green Bay
Incorporated in the $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field in 2003, the HOF is a chance to relive the most exciting moments in Packers’ history in a state-of-the art sports museum. Pure Packers adrenaline fills the 25,000-square-foot HOF where you can see, touch and feel more than eighty years of riveting NFL football history. There are nearly eighty exhibits including three Super Bowl trophies and a re-creation of Vince Lombardi's office. Extensive videos - many of them newly updated - allow the Packers’ legendary memories to be lived over and over. See a display of NFL championship rings, discover the origin of the “Lambeau leap,” try to kick a winning field goal or throw a touchdown.
Potosi Brewery & National Brewery Museum – Potosi
Founded in 1852, the Potosi Brewery survived the Civil War, the Great Depression and Prohibition, but succumbed to national competition in 1972. Once the fifth largest brewery in Wisconsin, a major fire burnt most of it to the ground in 1995. Today, following a $4.5 million restoration, the Potosi Brewing Company is again the linchpin of this small town downtown. The brewery complex is now the home of the National Brewery Museum, showcasing a stellar collection of beer bottles and cans, glasses, trays, coasters, advertising materials and other brewing artifacts. It also houses the company’s own transportation museum, as well as a Great River Road Interpretive Center, and a wonderful restaurant that serves a fine selection of locally brewed beers. It’s an amazing success story that brought the beer back to Potosi.
Ten Chimneys – Genesee Depot
Nestled in the rolling Kettle Moraine of southeast Wisconsin, Ten Chimneys is the idyllic summer retreat lovingly created by Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The 60-acre estate is a world-class house museum and a National Historic Landmark. Ten Chimneys is a rarity – almost all of the estate’s collections are original, intact, and unchanged since the Lunts first assembled them in the 1930s and ’40s. Visitors enjoy one of the most inspirational historic house tours in the country as they walk in the footsteps of Noël Coward, Laurence Olivier, Helen Hayes and Katharine Hepburn - all frequent guests here.