Another day of doing mostly nothing, but I found some brochures from my trip to Old World Wisconsin while cleaning out my car the other day, and realized that I never got around to updating my post from last July about my fun but exhausting day there, so here we go!
Theme Song! (Click Play):
That’s So Jacob Presents:
Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin
Episode 5: It’s an Old, Old, Old, Old World (Old World Wisconsin, Eagle)
Last July, WeKache and I were bored on a Sunday, so we decided to have an adventure at a place I found on the Internet: Old World Wisconsin. So, I left Madison, swung to pick him up in Milwaukee, and off we went.
We had to do a little backtracking as Old World Wisconsin is in the town of Eagle. Eagle is a tiny, tiny town in the southeastern portion of Wisconsin (population: 1,950, according to Wikipedia) yet is home to one of the largest and most impressive living history exhibits that I’ve ever seen. Opened in 1976 by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Old World Wisconsin gives you an idea of what life was like in the 19th and early 20th century Wisconsin from the points of view of German settlers, Finnish settlers, and more. Getting there was a drive down country roads that almost got us hopelessly lost; there is not a lot of signage until you get very close.
Once there, you can’t see that much from the road. We drove down a long path to the parking lot, from which you can only see the visitors’ center, the cafe, and the bike shop. Once you go inside and pay admission, you get to pick up a souvenir tag with the name of a person on it, and at one of the homesteads, you get to do chores. The little kid in me was so excited.
The park is large but easily walkable, yet for the lazy and tired there is a shuttle bus that goes between the various homesteads that make up the park’s grounds. It was a nice day, so WeKache and I alternated between walking the wooded paths and taking the lazy bus.
We began at Crossroads Village, the Yankee Area. This was just a general “old world” area with universal things like a pharmacy/general store where you could see things that they sold there; a blacksmith shop and cobbler shop with live demonstrations; an old church; and a house where you could try using a washboard and clothesline to wash some clothes. WeKache and I had fun doing that. There was also a grease pole. We did not do that.
Next, at the Finnish Homestead, we came just in time for an ice cream making demonstration. We got to taste some; it was a little bland but good on a warm day. They had chickens running all around, and we took some funny pictures with farm tools. We also saw the Finnish home, and WeKache got a very interesting picture of me that he put in black and white. With the period-dressed farmer’s wife in the foreground and me looking at some objects on the table in the background, it looked like I had fallen into a time slip. No photoshop needed.
After walking to the Danish Homestead, we got to tour their home, which had some delicious looking food on the table. They had a water pump outside which we got to try, and a strawberry patch out back where we were allowed to pick and eat the tiny fruits.
The walk to the Norwegian Homestead was long, but that was probably the coolest one. They had this awesome one-room schoolhouse, with a real period-dressed schoolmaster talking about what school was like. We frolicked around the beautiful farmhouse, where I used an old hand-powered sewing machine that I was probably not supposed to use, but in my defense, it was all threaded and had fabric ready, and there were no signs saying not to use it. Whoops. I think that was also where we saw a lady cooking bacon over a fire, but that might have been at the German place.
Next was the largest one, the German Homestead. There was cows, pigs, chickens galore, and even a pie-eating contest. The cool chores thing was at one of the farms; WeKache and I tried our hands at sewing, grinding corn into flour, and chopping wood. The guy at the wood-chopping booth was helping the little kids do it, and even one of the adults too. I made it look easy; I’ve never chopped wood before, but I managed to get it in one quick slice. WeKache said I looked very manly doing it. He stepped up to try it and found out that it was harder than it looked. At least for him.
We backtracked to the Polish Homestead, which was just a house and some chickens, and then took the bus around to the African American Homestead. It was mostly just a cemetery (a real one, I think, although WeKache thought it looked fake) and an old church. I guess the African Americans didn’t have houses.
It was getting later and we were getting tired, so we caught the bus back to near the visitors’ center, where we went to the newly-opened bike shop. There, you could try riding an old-fashioned giant-wheeled bicycle around a curvy dirt track. I suck at riding bikes – I haven’t owned one since I was nine, and when I tried to ride a friend’s bike in college I couldn’t even keep myself up – but these were surprisingly easy and fun to maneuver, at least for me. The trick that the guide told us was to lean back, even though it seemed antithetical, but it actually worked. Once you did that, I guess your center of gravity changed. WeKache grew up in China, where riding bikes is basically a prerequisite for life, but he had a hard time getting the hang of it, even with me telling him “Lean back! Further! I promise you won’t fall!” I would love to ride one again one day.
Overall, Old World Wisconsin was really like a step back in time. Only at the bike shop, which was near the parking lot, did we see any type of 21st century life, and even though everyone there was dressed up in period costumes, I was the one that felt weird, wearing a t-shirt and jeans and taking pictures with my iPhone and WeKache’s SLR camera. The guides all really committed to their roles, and kept it very chill; they answered questions, but weren’t overly cheerful and did a good job of not reacting to cameras. It wasn’t flashy or Disney-esque at all; the buildings looked old, but well-kept, the animals were real and cute, and it was all a very low-key operation, just like a little village in the woods. Each area was completely separate, and completely unique (take that, World Showcase!) with different types of architecture, artifacts, plants, and animals. There were plenty of people there, but there were times that it was just the two of us, especially on the walking paths and at the smaller homesteads, and not a lot of people with screaming kids or babies. If you’re in Madison/Milwaukee, have time to spare, and want to have a fun, chill, and educational off-the-beaten-path experience, I’d definitely recommend Old World Wisconsin.
Come on, who doesn’t need a break from technology every now and then?