Arts & Culture
1:41 pm
Tue May 14, 2013

Top Four Oddball Attractions in Wisconsin

Lake Effect's Mitch Teich interviews author Jerome Pohlen about "Oddball Wisconsin."

Visit some of Wisconsin's weirder roadside attractions.

Milwaukee's "Gertie the Duck" statue is one of several local entries in Jerome Pohlen's extensive compendium of unusual tourist destinations.
Credit Mitch Teich

If you came of age more than a few years ago, you probably remember the time when a vacation included a stop at a, shall we say, dubious roadside attraction.

Places like the Mystery Spot, or the alligator rodeo used to be commonplace along the roads and highways of America.

They’re harder to find now, but fortunately, writer Jerry Pohlen has done the hard part, and assembled many of Wisconsin’s unique attractions in an updated version of his book, Oddball Wisconsin.

"You don't find these in large cities anymore, because of the property values; you have to go out in to the field and look for these things, with the exception of the Wisconsin Dells where they seem to assemble," he says. "Most of the places, you should see them now or you likely won't see them in the future."

So, which are the oddest of the oddball attractions Pohlen's found?

Gertie the Duck - Milwaukee

In the waning days of World War II, construction teams were rebuilding the Wisconsin Avenue bridge in downtown Milwaukee. It was soon discovered, though, that a mother duck had arranged her nest of eggs on one of the pilings. The mama duck captured the heart of a nation weary of war news, bringing construction to a stand-still until the eggs hatched. City residents named Gertie and her six ducklings, who were commemorated with a small statue on the bridge in 1997.

Elvis Presley Fight Scene - Madison

Fifty-two days before he died, the King was riding along in his limousine at one in the morning on Washington Avenue in Madison. Out of the window, Elvis saw two teenagers beating up another guy.

"He jumped out of the limousine, ran over there, gave them sort of a karate stance, and the fight stopped," Pohlen says.

Just as his music brought people together, Presley got everyone to shake hands before getting back in the limo and going on his way. This clearly important event in music history has been commemorated by a tombstone-esque plaque on the spot, which now lies in a park next to a used car lot.

Big Ball of Twine - Lake Nebagamon

Jerome Pohlen has updated his guide to the strange, "Oddball Wisconsin."
Credit Chicago Review Press

When James Frank Kotera quit drinking on April 3, 1975, he decided to do something "productive" with his time. So he began to wind a ball of twine - and he's been doing it ever since. At nine feet tall and 12 feet wide, the ball looks less like a ball and more like a jelly bean, Pohlen says. From all the twisting and winding, the twine looks like the surface of a brain and is squishy to the touch. 

"It's actually beautiful, when you get up close to this thing," Pohlen says.

Top Secret, aka The Upside Down White House - Wisconsin Dells

Pohlen's hands-down favorite, this attraction is exactly what it sounds like: The White House has been turned upside down. Complete with furniture on the ceiling and drapes that hang up, visitors are treated to confusing architecture and corny presidential jokes (Bill Clinton has stumps for arms because "he couldn't keep his hands to himself). Pohlen says there are many surprises - including a lab where a robotic Obama is being built.

"It's very confusing and I didn't quite figure it out, but I did enjoy it," Pohlen says.

A book editor who lives in Chicago, Pohlen has several more editions of books on unusual tourist attractions. He recently read at Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company.