After a tearful sisterly farewell, we began our final full day of road-tripping. Wisconsin continued the Minnesota theme (which we forgot to emphasize yesterday) of deep green forested hills strung along the broad gleaming Mississippi. Of course this is not how all of Minnesota and/or Wisconsin are, but it's what we saw so that's how we're going to describe the states.
Though we've been on time every morning, this particular one we were running early with the unfortunate result that we landed at our first stop two hours before it opened. It's probably just as well - the Museum of Historical Torture Devices looked like the rest of The Wisconsin Dells, a big old, plastic tourist trap. It might not have been - but again, that's what we saw and that's how we're going to describe it. The whole place gave us Branson flashbacks so we weren't sorry to leave early.
Besides that gave us time for an unexpected stop on our route at the factory home of a regional candy specialty, the Cow Pie. We bought some for friends in honor of the official Plucky Survivor Road Game and also picked up other chocolate because it was there. And thus we started our day with candy and as you will see we will end our day with candy.
Our official site was probably the only thing we needed to see on the entire trip. Well, there was the pork barbecue, but this wasn't edible and so it wins in other categories.
The Forevertron is the world's largest freestanding metal sculpture, the creation of idiosyncratic visionary artist Tom Every aka Dr. Evermore. Located behind a salvage yard the Forevertron itself is the centerpiece of a series of scrap metal art installations. Being the biggest it captures the eye first, looming large over the different vignettes looking like a cross between a time machine, a James Bond movie villain weapon of mass destruction, and a spaceship. In fact, part of it is a spaceship; a capsule from an Apollo mission.
Surrounding it are creatures, both inspired from life and pure imagination. Think ostrich and peacock bird bands with beaks made of pliers and similar hardware, giant tarantulas, and alien life forms constructed out of every kind of rusting piece of metallic junk you might find at any dump or scrap yard.
It was a post-apocalyptic landscape of otherworldly creatures, and all of it looking ready to come to life in a Tim Burton animated movie. It was astonishing.
For Mary, the best was the dragon that had rusty scales and spikes on its backs made out of old gas canister cylinders cut in half. Beat on the scales and you make a sound like Balinese gamelan; rap on the canisters with a rod and it produces a series of minor notes not dissimilar to Tibetan gongs or bells, each one holding a fading resonating note. She could've played with it all day.
The whole project is an example of turning something ugly into something of beauty; of salvation from wreckage and it makes you want to pick up some scraps from the surplus yard, throw on a welder's helmet, and join in the fun, thus reminding us that art is not just to be admired but also participated in.
Probably because we had our share of awe for the day we thought was why were less than whelmed at the Angel Museum in Beloit, Wisconsin. We sort of knew what we were in for and it didn't disappoint. It's a donated private collection of over 10,000 angel figurines, although as Mary pointed out not all of them are actually angels, some are cherubs but apparently any humanoid figure with wings qualifies.
The collection has red Christmas angles, blue Delft angels, angel bells, stained glass angels, Hummel figure angels, and an entire cabinet of Oprah angels (she complained there were no black angels, people sent her angels, and when she hit 700 she told people to stop and then donated them to the museum). The collection is impressive for its sheer mass but disappointing for its emphasis on the cutesy and the twee. While there were a few literary quotes from authors such as Emerson and Coleridge, there was nothing of the grave and mysterious quality of angels like that to be found in say, the movie "Wings of Desire" or even orthodox icons.
The point is we got the idea pretty quickly and moved on.
Speaking of mooo-ving, cow ended at 0-0. Mary doesn't want to talk about but Rick has a bone to pick. It involves how she ruthlessly exploited the poorly defined cow-stealing rule and took away his 16 cows by claiming a state trooper in the meridian is the same as a state trooper on a side road. Rick whined vociferously and then pouted for a few miles but Mary was adamant that her version of the rules (which admittedly we just made up on Thursday) were the correct ones and therefore the cows were hers.
Ultimately it wouldn't have mattered because of those darned dead people on the side of the road.
Hey, speaking of dead people, our final official stop was the place that was supposed to be our first official stop, the completely awesome 9-hole death themed mini-golf course in the basement of a funeral home. Alghrim Acres has been a family owned and run operation for four generations and our tour guide Douglas Ahlgrim's father built the first version of the golf course in 1964 as a diversion for his kids. Since then it has become a part of an ever-growing game room that two generations of children have played in, especially during the cold winter months.
You start on the hole with the metallic skull complete with red gleaming eyes, knock a ball through a shipping casket (Rick got a hole in one, thank you very much), chase one through a tombstone themed oversized pinball machine, and brave a mini-haunted house and a cryptorium (points off if you knock a ball into an empty grave) among other delightfully ghoulish diversions. Don't get us wrong, it's not high tech but it's just funny.
The whole thing helps take the scare out of funeral homes because it gives a good association with a place that is, let's face it, a natural part of life. It's not morbid at all; it's affirming life in a place of death, in a silly yet sweet way.
Pelting rain, the only foul weather of the trip, escorted us to SuperDawg where we were joined by Plucky Friend Gary at this 1940s era drive-in for their version of the "Chicago Dog." Rick had the Polish, with sweet sauce and loaded with grilled onions on an onion bun and Mary and Gary had the SuperDawg and everyone was most satisfied. The ridiculously thick chocolate shakes were so yummy that Rick refused to answer questions including "do you know where we're going?"
Our accommodations this evening are at the recently renovated but still not quite there yet Inn of Chicago Magnificent Mile, which are conveniently located around the corner from said Mile.
With Gary and Plucky Friend Donna we got a mini-tour of this famed part of Downtown Chicago including the envy-inducing Millennium Park. The latter is a relatively new civic development that includes a Frank Gehry designed outdoor amphitheater, the site of regular free concerts; an instantly appealing mirrored, gleaming, bean-shaped art object (it's called the Cloud something but everyone calls it The Bean because that's what it looks like); and a hypnotic multi-media fountain all set in a sort of natural bowl with the Chicago skyline surrounding it. At night the whole thing just twinkles.
We were deeply jealous because Los Angeles has nothing like this yet. This is a modern, metropolitan version of the town square, like we saw in so many small towns on this trip, a place for community to gather and interact.
To bring us full circle for the day we went to the local Hershey's store, a new one for us and somehow made it past all the candy to the bakery where we found cupcakes to rival the cake with which we began our Plucky dining adventures in Pella. We mean the kind of frosting to cake ratio that brings us to our knees, simultaneously surrendering and asking for more.
Because we are traveling home tomorrow and we have a movie to watch as soon as we get there (Custody on Lifetime, 9pm EST/PST, based on a book by Mary Herczog), we may not be able to post tomorrow but will wrap it all up on September 9th. See you then.
PS - we took a LOT of pictures today... keep scrolling down and click on any of them to get a full sized version in a pop-up window.