"The government is just too big, and we have to make it smaller; people are getting lost."
State 10: Wisconsin - August 4, 2017
We woke up in a Milwaukee, WI Walmart well rested and ready to begin a brand new day. We learned that Milwaukee had a Riverwalk, and we wanted to check it out before leaving the city. We found a place to park Rosie, and began our walk towards the river. The development of the pathway along the river was very impressive. There were plenty of places for boats to dock, and restaurants with patio seating along the walkway. However, there were some glaring negatives to the Riverwalk. First, to cross the rivers overpass you had to walk back up a flight of stairs to street level breaking the continuity of the river walk. One minute you are enjoying the peaceful tranquility of the river, and the next minute you are abruptly thrusted back to street level and into the crazy chaos of city traffic. Riverwalks in other cities we have visited overcame this issue by having the walkway continue beneath the overpasses. Also, while it was a great idea to have boat docks along the river, in actuality the design was poorly executed. The overpasses were too low to accommodate the height of the ships. Their solution was to install a draw bridge at each overpass along the riverwalk. This created an absolute traffic nightmare, and driving from one end of the city to the other took us over an hour. Please see pictures below.
The most impressive aspect of the riverwalk was the art work scattered along the walkway. Some noteworthy pieces included “The Bronze Fonz”. The statue depicts a life size bronze replica of the character Fonzy from the hit show “Happy Days”, which was based in Milwaukee. Nate had to pose for a selfie, which is pictured below.
We also saw two huge 4 story tall traffic cones, and a small bronze duck named Rosie. However, our personal favorite piece of art were 3 huge lady bugs, the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, on the side of a skyscraper. Nate and I absolutely love ladybugs. About 7 years ago at a yard sale, we found a cute alabaster ladybug, which was about the size of a walnut. We named her Alba, and we have been taking turns hiding her in surprising places for the other to find. For example, one day Nate hid Alba in my lunch bag, and the next day I hid her in his shoe. It is just a cute thing we do. We both are always surprised to find her, albeit sometimes months later! In our van it is much harder to find places to hide Alba, so she sits in the front cab with us as we take our journey. After finding Rosie, we left Milwaukee and made the 3-hour drive to tour the states capitol in Madison, WI.
Before Michelle, our GPS even announced our arrival in Madison, WI we actually saw the city from 25 miles away due the gigantic dome on top of the capitol building. It was beyond ridiculously humongous, and triple the height of the main structure of the building. We would come to learn the rotunda on the Wisconsin Capitol Building was the largest in the entire country. It's rotunda is even bigger than the one on the capitol in Washington DC! Clearly the state of Wisconsin was over compensating for some other shortcoming, and I was going to make it my personal mission to find out exactly what that something was! Perched on top of the super duper dome was a statue depicting a fictional woman who is known as Miss Wisconsin. She has her right arm extended, and her finger pointed west towards Washington DC. Although she is a 15 foot tall bronze statue covered in 24k Gold Leaf, she looked like a Lego on top of that massive dome. I rocked the zoom feature x10 on my I Phone 7 Plus, and snapped the picture of her majesty pictured below. This picture will come to play an important role in our trip later in the day, and I am so very grateful to have taken it. One last noteworthy feature on the external structure of the Wisconsin Capitol Building was its very unique shape. Every capitol building we have come across on our trip thus far has been rectangular, whereas the Wisconsin Capitol is shaped as an X. Many of the states we have visited have outgrown their capitol building, and no longer use it. This is the first state we have visited to have had the foresight to build a capitol larger than their actual needs at the time. As a result, all 3 branches of the Wisconsin government are still housed within the capitol building as it should be! Good job Wisconsin!
Upon entering the capitol, we were happy to see there were no metal detectors set up to unlawfully search lawful citizens who are visiting the capitol to learn about the state of Wisconsin. Next, we made our way to the tour guide desk, and learned the next one would start in 15 minutes. While we were waiting, we decided to make our way to the central room to get a look at the interior of the obnoxiously large rotunda. As you can see from the pictures below, the interior of the dome was truly a sight to be seen. It was also a very difficult sight to see. Someone had the bright idea to place large junky plastic displays depicting the state’s history all across the main floor of the central room. This central room should be a wide open gathering space, where discussions and protests occur. It should also be a point of reflection where the people of Wisconsin can go to ponder the age old question; Why is my states capitol dome so damn big?
A short while later, we were mustered by our tour guide to commence the capitol tour. She was a superb tour guide who not only was extremely knowledgeable, but she kept things light and interesting. While we were walking throughout the building, I noticed some of the stone surfaces showed fossils of sea life. I found a piece of stone on the step of the grand staircase that had a fossilized starfish, and another piece of stone on the wall of the Supreme Courtroom had a fossilized snail. Both are pictured below.
I would assume the masons who constructed the capitol would typically not include imperfections in their finished work. However, the fossils in the stone not only provided additional visual interest, but it made me pay even more attention to the construction of the building than I normally would have. Looking for additional fossils embedded in the capitol building became a fun prehistoric scavenger hunt! Speaking of stone, there are 43 different types of stone used to construct the capitol building, which came from 8 states and 6 foreign countries. Also included in the capitol's construction is the official stone for the state of Wisconsin; red marble. One very unique architectural feature of the capitol was the exquisite antique iron work throughout the building. Specifically, the iron banisters and oak handrails, were absolutely exquisite, and unlike anything we had seen during our visits to previous capitol buildings.
Next, we were led to the Governor’s conference room. Since Wisconsin is the Beaver State, it is a tradition to rub the beaver before entering the room, which is pictured below. Lori wanted no part of it, but of course, I was more than willing to participate. Although, it would have been nice if they provided hand sanitizer nearby!
The room was extremely ornate covered with gold leaf plaster embellishments, and beautiful paintings. It's primarily used by the governor for ceremonial purposes when signing a landmark bill into law, and entertaining distinguished visitors. Next, the tour guide led us to a narrow 93 step spiral staircase, and she promised the view would be worth the climb. A few minutes later, we all reached the top of the stairs exhausted and dizzy. Then, the guide opened a door and led us on to an observation deck to view the external rotunda. This was the first capitol we visited that had an open exterior observation deck encircling the entire dome offering unprecedented 360 degree views of the Madison, WI skyline! All I can say is wow, and it was extremely windy up there! Please see the pictures below.
High up near the apex of the biggest rotunda in the US was a narrow walkway called the Trumpeter's Balcony. From this balcony, you could look down 284 feet all the way to the 1st floor of the building. When visiting capitol buildings, I am usually looking up at the interior of the dome. This is the first capitol which provided the opportunity to look down from the apex of the interior of the dome. It was a very beautiful and interesting vantage point, which is pictured below.
In spite of its ridiculously large rotunda, the Wisconsin Capitol Building is the most beautiful, and functional capitol building we have come across so far on our trip. Please view the additional pictures below. We then made our way back down the 93 step spiral staircase to the ground floor, and exited the building.
Upon exiting the capitol, we crossed the street to visit the Wisconsin State Museum. The admission was free, as it should be, and the museum consisted of 4 floors. The receptionist behind the desk was a slender lady in her 60’s with shoulder length wavy gray hair. She was friendly, helpful, had a cheerful disposition, and clearly possessed a deep love for her home state of Wisconsin. She suggested we visit a town of Bayfield, WI, on the states northern border on Lake Superior’s southern shoreline. Great! We now had another reason to visit the lake we love and missed so very much. She also suggested we look out the huge window on the 4th floor. We thanked her for the suggestions, and began our tour.
The museum design was a typical style of displays and artifacts behind glass cases, which can get redundant and boring. There are not many opportunities presented allowing the visitor to interact with their environment audio-visually or tactily. There were a few noteworthy environmental changes within the museum, such as a Native American Wigwam house built to scale, which we walked through. Overall, the museum was largely unremarkable except for a few noteworthy exceptions. Usually, Native American exhibits in the state museums we visit are clearly an afterthought, but this not the case in the Wisconsin State Museum. The entire second floor of the museum was dedicated to the history of Native Americans in Wisconsin. The exhibits were in fact so in depth, we had difficulty understanding what we were experiencing. It would be interesting if the museum offered a guided tour by a Wisconsin Native American to help educate the visitors on the exhibits. The state was clearly proud of the heritage of the Indians of Wisconsin. The state even mandated by law Native American History be taught in schools. Good Job Wisconsin!
The 4th floor of the museum was also very interesting. As soon as the doors to the elevator opened, we were greeted by a gigantic plastic cow, and we couldn’t help but smile. We decided to take a three-way selfie, which is pictured below. This was not an easy shot to take! Also on this floor was a display depicting noteworthy manufactures within the state which include: Speed Queen Washers and Dryers, Diehard batteries, Huggies diapers, and Kleenex tissues just to highlight a few.
Also on this floor, displayed beneath bulletproof glass, surrounded by an armed guard 24/7, and hooked up to the most state of the art alarm system currently available, is the one, the only, the original Wisconsin foam cheese hat from 1987! Viewing this rare Wisconsin artifact was undeniably the highlight of our visit to the state! We wish we could have worn it.
Per the receptionist's recommendations, we looked for the huge window on the 4th floor, and were treated to the beautiful picture below of the exterior of Wisconsin State Capitol. We then exited the states museum, and this is where we got into a little bit of trouble!
Since Rosie is a high top van, we need to park her in an open parking lot, because she will not fit in a parking garage. As a result, we usually have to walk quite a few city blocks to reach the capitol building. Usually, we don’t have any difficulty finding where we parked her. However, the Wisconsin Capitol is shaped like an “X”, and each of the 4 entry and exit points of the building look absolutely identical. For the life of us, we could not remember which one of the four entrances we came through. We walked aimlessly around the outside of the building for almost an hour looking for something, anything, that looked even vaguely familiar. Unfortunately, neither of us had the forethought to make a make a mental note of our surroundings upon entering the building. Usually, we look at buildings or street signs but everything looked pretty identical. What were we to do? Then I had an ingenious idea! I remembered the picture Nate took of Miss Wisconsin on top of the dome with her arm extended when we entered the capitol building. All we would have to do is stand in front of each of the 4 entrances until we found the one showing Miss Wisconsin in the same position as the picture. Of course, the last of the 4 entrances we checked was the correct one. We thanked Miss Wisconsin for her help, and reunited with Rosie shortly thereafter. We then drove across town to a Walmart in Madison, WI where we spent the night!