Saturday, January 19, 2019

Wisconsin Dells Almost

My roots are in the midwest (Chicago, to be exact), and I have family in Minnesota and Wisconsin to this day; while my dad was alive we spent part of every summer heading back to that area for fishing, or to see my grandparents when they were still around. I loved it! 

That being said, today's photos involve a Wisconsin natural wonder/tourist attraction called the Wisconsin Dells. How do I describe the Dells? By letting Wikipedia do it! The Dells of the Wisconsin River, also called the Wisconsin Dells (from French dalles, or narrows), is a 5-mile gorge on the Wisconsin River in south-central Wisconsin, USA. It is noted for its scenic beauty, in particular for its unique Cambrian sandstone rock formations and tributary canyons.

Below is a 1958 photo featuring lots of cool old cars parked at the curb while tourists line up to buy tickets for a boat trip on the Wisconsin River. Note the Native American (facing away from us) in full headdress, ready for a photo op!

This next photo is from 1954, and shows another scene approaching the boats that would take guests on a cruise through this beautiful natural area. Sounds very pleasant! My Great Aunt invited lots of extended family (including me) to visit the Dells for several days, back when she turned 80. But I couldn't go, due to work. I've regretted it ever since.

Notice the AAA sign shaped like a canoe, and the row of extra Indian headdresses, and a genuine canvas teepee. More from Wikipedia: The cultural history of the area stretches back several thousand years, from early Paleo-Indian people to the more recent Native American peoples, such as Ho-Chunk, Sac, and Menominee, who left behind effigy and burial mounds, camps and village sites, garden beds, and rock art. 

Here's a photo, scrounged from the internet. Maybe I need to go see The Dells next summer!


Nanook said...


Can we leave now-?? It all looks so swell-!

In the meantime - starting on the far right... we have an Asbury Green, 1947 Pontiac; a Gunmetal, 1940 Plymouth; an Ensign Blue or Maryland Black, 1947 Chevrolet; and a Sea Foam Green Metallic, 1948 Oldsmobile. I can't quite make out the rest. Away we go.

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

I wonder what that sign on the ground in front of the teepee said? Maybe it just told the name of the tribe that the teepee would have belonged to?

Do you think the skipper in that last photo is pointing out the "unique Cambrian sandstone rock formations" and telling his passengers that most people take them for granite?

Chuck said...

Oh, boy! I love the Dells, both for its scenic beauty as well as for its kitschy touristy history. Of course, several family trips over the years - the first when I was 8 - probably hasn't hurt my nostalgic appreciation for the place. Thanks for taking us hre today, Major!

In the first photo, we are facing east Broadway at about
43°37'40.3"N 89°46'38.5"W
. The Upper Dells boat dock is to our left and down the hill. The Riverview Boat Line is still doing business today under the parent company Dells Boat Tours, and you can still buy boat tour tickets from a ticket booth less than 100 yards down the street from this spot.

Looking down the street beyond the giant, arrow-shaped sign, you can just make out the letters "WHA" in white against a dull green background. This was the Wharf Bar, owned and operated by a competitor to Riverview known as the Olson Boat Company, which later merged with Riverview to form Dells Boat Tours. In this 1950 photo, you can see the opposite view of the first photo looking west along the north side of Broadway. The Wisconsin River is beyond the railroad bridge in the distance, and while I don't think it's the same structure, there is still a ticket booth today on the site of the one in this photo. The Wharf Bar, however, is long gone, replaced by Wizard's Quest.

I think your second photo was taken just a few feet from the first and looking left, about here.

The Indian motif was not only popular due to Westerns, but also because of the local connection to the Ho-Chunk (a.k.a. "Winnebago") tribe. At this time (1919-1997), the tribe was active in providing dancers for the Indian Ceremonial, which was staged in a natural amphitheater near their traditional gathering place along the Wisconsin River at Stand Rock. Consisting of native dances of their tribe as well as others, it was an impressive nighttime spectacle during the summer months. While I don't believe I saw the dances at Disneyland's Indian Dance Circle on my one pre-1972 visit and certainly have no memory of them, I do have vivid memories of the Wisconsin Dells Indian Ceremonial.

Speaking of Stand Rock, and since we're all fans of vintage photography, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the first mass-produced stop-motion photograph was taken there by H.H. Bennett in 1886. Bennett set up a studio in the Dells photographing and selling photos to tourists, and his studio can be toured today as a Wisconsin State Historic Site.

TM!, while I don't think they use that specific joke, some of the river guides do crack a series of corny jokes on the various boat and DUKW tours. It must be a tour boat skipper thing. And now I'm wondering if Lewis & Clark made up thier own spiel while traveling on the Missouri & Columbia Rivers...

Chuck said...

My last hyperlink apparently didn't save. You can see Bennet's famous photo here:

JC Shannon said...

The Dells is such a cool place. I went back in 08 on business and it is so much bigger now. Water slides, and thrill rides abound, and more hotels and gift shops than you can count. Still, it has managed to maintain a small town family feel. Duck boats have gotten a bad rep as of late, and the Dells has a lot of 'em. Maybe they can take a page from the Disneyland play book and use canoes. Great photos of a beautiful place, thanks Major.

Warren Nielsen said...

Nanook, While I am certainly no car spotter/identification expert as capable as you are, I am pretty sure the next car back is a 1939 Dodge. The swoop of the chrome strip by the grill looks a lot like 39 Dodge trucks, and looking at images on Google, it appears that the passenger vehicles had a chrome trim strip almost the same as the trucks, but with the headlights sunk into the fenders instead of in nacelles.

And Chuck, it's always a kick to read that background you supply to so many of the Major's posts. I see it was 'Ole Olson's Wharf Bar.' Yah sure, you betcha! Us Scandihoovians sure got around, yah.


Nanook said...

@ Warren Nielsen-

I'm certain you're correct. I was too lazy last night to dig a little deeper to confirm some thoughts. In addition to the chrome strips around the grill, the mini, multi-striped 'Dodge' nameplate, just below the hood opening is another give-away.


Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, you did pretty good, but you skipped the 1977 AMC Gremlin. But I kid! Gosh, I’m surprised that so many of the cars are from the 40’s, since this photo is from 1958.

TokyoMagic!, this photo is not sharp enough to read that sign, unfortunately. The skipper of that boat definitely said something about three toucans equaling a six pack; all of the passengers thought he was crazy.

Chuck, yes, a childhood trip (or two) to the Dells will definitely make one nostalgic for the place. Excellent detective work, for some reason I didn’t even attempt to match up today’s photos to a modern view, which I usually like to do. And in this case, you did about 3000 times more research and effort than I did. Wheeee! Funny that the second photo was taken so close to the first, since these are from completely different lots. I wonder if they still do Indian dances in that area? Like you, I never saw them at Disneyland, but did see a performance somewhere in Virginia, I think near the Great Dismal Swamp (so… Algonquin Indians?). I know the very photo that you are referring to… it popped up as soon as I did a little Googling. It’s a great one!

Chuck, yes, that’s it.

Jonathan, I used to enjoy several blogs (now defunct) that were all about road trips throughout the US, and your description of your visit to the Dells sounds like it could have been great fodder for those guys. Why have the Duck boats gotten a bad reputation? Too many? Too noisy?

Warren Nielsen, I’ll just have to sit back and enjoy the discussion, since I have nothing of value to add to classic car talk.

Nanook, I guess this should teach you that you need to spend way more time researching my blog posts. That way I can be more lazy! Win-win, as far as I’m concerned.

Nanook said...


It turns out that Ride the Duck Boats have issues with 'sinking', among other issues. In July, 2010 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, PA.; in July of 2018 a boat capsized & sank in Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. And up here in Seattle on September 24, 2015, there was a drive axle issue when the boat was 'motoring down the Aurora Bridge' - a lovely cantilever and truss bridge, opened in 1932 - and that issue caused the boat to crash into a charter bus, as it veered across the center line, (no center median), killing five folks on the charter bus. It was a big deal here.

Melissa said...

This is a classic "come for the pictures; stay for the comments" post! I've heard of The Dells, but I've never seen pictures or heard such detailed descriptions. Now it'll have to go on the bucket list.

At first, I thought the headdress was an umbrella shaped like a daisy.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I guess sinking/crashing boats would be a problem, although (if I understand it correctly) it sounds like the terrible crash on the bridge was less of a boat problem and more of a trailer or truck problem?

Melissa, my bucket list is already pretty long! It kills me that I used to have family that lived near the Dells, and we just never made it over there when we visited.

Warren Nielsen said...

Major, the Duck boat crash on the Aurora bridge in Seattle was caused by the front axle and axle housing breaking apart and losing steering control. Those vehicles are somewhat wider than even a modern SUV, and that bridge was originally built with 2 lanes each way, and now with increased traffic, it has been re-lined for 3 lanes each way. There's no room for error, nor any room for a center divider.

Nanook, do you live in the Seattle area? I'm over in Kitsap county.


Nanook said...

@ Warren Nielsen-

I DO live in the Seattle area. (Shoreline, actually). And, I believe if you check out early postcard views of the Aurora Bridge, you'll see it originally had three lanes in each direction - as odd as that seems.

Chuck said...

Major, since so much has changed in that area in 60 years, I think attempting to match up today's photos with a modern view would have been really difficult without having been there in person, and even then I almost gave up. I wouldn't have even attempted mapping today's photos if I hadn't had a relatively fresh memory of a fairly recent visit (2013; in fact, I think I sent you an e-mail from there) where I was actively looking for remains of vintage touristy things, and even then my initial guess of location was 300 feet off. I just got really lucky with finding that reverse view that included the Wharf Bar and the ticket booth, which helped put everything else in place.

The Ho-Chunk do occasionally do public dancing events, but it's rare. The last one I could find any information about was in 2015 to "celebrate the Ho-Chunk People, the 150th Anniversary of the H.H. Bennett Studio and their combined efforts for promoting cultural tourism in Wisconsin."

Anonymous said...

I'm embarrassed to admit that I have never heard of this place, and now I want to go see it very much.

Hoping it's close to Taliesen, since that's on the list.

Also, glad that the Ho-Chunk is a real tribal name.

Thanks everyone for the worthwhile commentary.