Day 458: Train Rain

The first Europeans to explore the Mississippi River valley were French. Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet arrived at what is now Prairie du Chein (Prairie of the Dog in French), Wisconsin in 1763. Twelve years later, Nicolas Perrot established a trading post there, an outpost of the French fur trade industry.

The area became British after the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years War). Two fortifications in the area (Fort Shelby and Fort Crawford) were scenes of battles during the War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War. Colonel Zachary Taylor, later a United States president, was stationed at Fort Crawford, as was Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, who became president of the Confederate States of America. Davis married Taylor’s daughter, Sarah.

Laetitia and her group began the day with a tour of Fort Crawford and then went for a hike in Wyalusing State Park on the high bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. Later they toured Villa Louis, a mansion along the Mississippi River that was home to H. Louis Dousman during the late nineteenth century.

That afternoon at happy hour, Laetitia wrote the limerick of the day based on an overheard conversation about a local young couple who couldn’t afford the airline tickets that they would have needed to qualify for the Mile High Club. They tried a more affordable alternative, but were thwarted by Mother Nature in loco parentis.

When young Philip from Prairie du Chein
Sought to woo Opal on a freight train
On a moving flat car
They didn’t get far
‘Til the clouds burst with down-pouring rain.

Day 457: Wright Site

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin. He attended, but didn’t get a degree from, the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Following the Chicago fire in 1871, Wright went to there to find work, starting as a draftsman for the Silsbee architectural firm, and later became a protégé of Louis Sullivan. He designed dozens of buildings in the Chicago area. Around 1900 he began to do homes in what became known as the “prairie style.” A scandal involving Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of an Oak Park neighbor, made him persona non grata for a while in America, and he moved to Europe, leaving wife and children behind in Oak Park. After a stint in Europe, he built a home and school near Spring Green, Wisconsin named after the Welsh bard Taliesin.

Alex Jordan Jr. was an eccentric millionaire from the Madison area with architectural aspirations. There is a legend that he met with Frank Lloyd Wright to discuss some of his designs. When Wright viewed his ideas with scorn, he decided to build a house on top of Deer Shelter Rock out of spite. Whatever the truth of the legend, in the 1940s, Jordan began putting his imaginative architectural ideas in practice. The eclectic building houses a variety of themed rooms and collections of faux and real antiques and fanciful oddities reflecting the builder’s imagination and tastes. It has been a tourist attraction since it opened for visitors in 1959.

Laetitia and her group toured both Taliesin and House on the Rock and went hiking along the Wisconsin River. They passed an organic farm on their hike, and the farmer invited them over to look at his chickens, which were a cross breed between Barred-Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. When he was buying chicks to start out, he had chosen the Rhode Island Red breed, but a clueless employee from the hatchery had given him male Barred Rocks and female Rhode Island Reds. The chicks from the two breeds are easily distinguishable, but the farmer was too green to notice until the birds began to fledge. He later learned that such mix-ups were not uncommon, and that customers of that hatchery often complained about being the recipient of a “pullet surprise.” Laetitia thanked him for his story, and she and her group moved on. At dinner, she presented the day’s limerick.

When a farmer near House on the Rock
Viewed the black stripes that covered his cock
He knew that instead
Of a Rhode Island Red
His young fledgling bird was a Barred Rock.

Day 456: Sin in Berlin

The thought on Laetitia’s mind as she walked into the Emerald Victorian library with a steaming cup of Door County Roasters’ medium roast was how pleased she was that, despite years of trying, medical science had found few deleterious effects from drinking coffee. Indeed, coffee is loaded with antioxidants that may provide significant health benefits.

She listened to a collection of Bob Dylan songs as she sat in an overstuffed chair thinking about where to go for the day’s trip. “Mr. Tambourine Man” was playing. She listened to the lines:

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

She, of course, couldn’t “forget about today until tomorrow.” She had a tour to run, but she had decided on the day’s destination. They would go to the circus.

Laetitia brought her group to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. During the nineteenth century, more than 100 traveling circuses wintered in Wisconsin. The museum features a collection of more than 200 circus wagons and has ten performances daily during the summer with acrobats, aerialists, tigers, elephants, magic tricks, clowns, and jugglers. The group went on a boat trip in the Wisconsin Dells, but skipped the town with its overblown commercialism.

In the motel bar at Baraboo, Laetitia overheard a conversation between the bartenders about two unhappily married folks from nearby Green Lake, who always sneaked off to Berlin for their illicit encounters. It gave her the limerick of the day, which she presented at dinner.

When Harry and Jane went to sin
They always drove up to Berlin
Where they needn’t be wary
Of meeting Aunt Mary
At the bar of the Holiday Inn.

Day 455: Doorco

A relatively easy drive from Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago, Door County, Wisconsin is a favorite weekend and vacation destination for folks in the area. Its name comes from a narrow strait, which is a shortcut from Lake Michigan into Green Bay. Treacherous winds and currents make it hazardous to navigate at times, and the Native Americans in the area called it, in their own language, the “Door of Death.” Their words were translated as “Porte des Morte” by the French explorers who came later.

Laetitia and her group stopped to buy tickets for August: Osage County, a play that was being performed that evening by the Peninsula Players. They spent the rest of the day visiting the villages that populate the peninsula, doing coastal hikes and drives, and looking at lighthouses and oddities like Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, with goats eating grass on its sod roof.

Door County is famous for the Montmorency cherry, a tart variety beloved of pastry bakers, named for the Montmorency Valley in France. Fresh cherries are available from middle to late summer, but dried cherries, jams, preserves, and related products are available throughout the tourist season.

Early that evening the group went to a fish boil at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek. Laetitia’s grandmother had asked her to say hello to Russell when she was there. Russell had a day job as a pipefitter in the Sturgeon Bay shipyard, but spent his evenings on Wednesdays and weekends as the boil master at the inn. He would oversee and explain the fish boil process and then, while the food was cooking, entertain the guests with his accordion.

The fish (usually fresh Lake Michigan whitefish) is boiled in a large pot over an open wood fire. The pot is filled with salt water (one pound of salt per two gallons of water), creating buoyancy that makes the oils cooked from the fish rise to the top. When the water is boiling, the food is lowered into the pot in metal baskets. Potatoes are cooked first, and then the fish. Just before the fish is ready to serve, kerosene is thrown on the fire, causing it to flame up and the pot to boil over, expelling the floating fish oil from the pot. The fish and potatoes are served with coleslaw and homemade breads, with cherry pie as dessert.

August: Osage County is a dark play about a dysfunctional family. Tracy Letts, the playwright, received a Pulitzer Prize for the play in 2008. The evening’s performance was long, but well-acted, and it was a big hit with Laetitia’s group. During intermission, Laetitia overheard a conversation by some adolescent males about a naive acquaintance from Iron Mountain, Michigan. They had enticed him to “Doorco,” as they called Door County, to be fixed up with a cherry tart that turned out to be a pastry instead of the
promiscuous but virginal woman he was expecting. It made a lame limerick, but it was late in the day, and Laetitia was running out of time.

Some Doorco lads made up a fiction
That was worthy of a politician
When they fixed up young Bart
With a fine cherry tart
For it is but a slight contradiction.