Music Machine Extravaganza

Earlier this month, Yuriko and I toured a suburban Chicago mansion stocked to the gills with antique mechanical devices, all asserted to be in working order (and I believe it). The collection emphasizes machines that play music, such as orchestrions, Victrolas and other phonographs, music boxes, and a theater pipe organ of massive proportions, but the place also sports an equally impressive carousel, a large number of penny- and quarter-arcade machines, a steam engine collection, slot machines, coin pianos, and a 24-foot bar.

I learned that the heyday of music machines was the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the art of precision machining was well developed, but before radio and standardized phonograph records dampened demand for such machines.

Our affable and knowledgeable tour guide requested those on the tour, about 40 of us, not post any pictures to social media. I took that to mean Facebook and Instagram and the like, not a standalone obscurity like BTST.

Even so, in the spirit of the request, I won’t post of the name of where we went or tag the photos, making it harder for search engines to find them. Of course, it would take only a modest amount of Googling to find out where we were, considering the description I’m going to offer. But I won’t post the information here.

The property dates from the 1970s, with later additions, on a piece of land that’s large enough that you can forget there’s a city or even suburbs not too far away. The family that owns it made their fortune selling a common foodstuff, and its packaging, in a big way. The place is not a museum, but still occupied by members of the family. Even so, they offer tours and other events periodically.

Though the tour wasn’t about the house, the building does have some nice features, such as the main entrance skylight and chandelier.
Mainly, you go to see the collection of antique machines, which are a fascination of the family patriarch and his children. It’s an extraordinary array of devices, housed in a succession of rooms.

The displays start at the main entrance where, among a number of other machines, is a JM Hof & Mukle roll organ at the top of the grand staircase.
The three-story Music Room includes a large number of machines.
I liked this charming Frati Barrel Organ, made in Germany ca. 1905.
A much larger Weber Otereo Orchestrion, also made in Germany, ca. 1910.
According to its sign, “… between 1905-1910, animated scenes were very popular in some models of German orchestrions. This early Weber Otereo features a scene depicting the train station in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, complete with back-lighted silhouettes of an animated train, zeppelin, and other items. Everything in the Otereo operates on air pressure…”

The guide demonstrated this machine, and we listened to it play but also watched the animated scene.

The centerpiece of the Music Room was the organ console.
Stepping back a bit.
And then turning around. This is view from the console, to give a little context.
The room counts as a small auditorium, and we listened to the theater organ from the balcony. Quite a wall of sound. It’s worth quoting the mansion’s web site at some length on this machine.

“The nucleus of the theatre organ, which was previously installed in the old music room (Wurlitzer opus #1571, built in 1927 for the Riviera Theatre in Omaha) has been expanded to 80 ranks of pipes. The overall result is the most versatile orchestral theatre pipe organ ever built.

“Behind the scrim are five chambers containing pipes, percussions, wind regulators and controls in a four-story-tall area. The console is patterned after the original from Chicago’s Paradise Theatre; it is mounted on the original Peter Clark lift from the Granada Theatre, which raises it from the lower level cage enclosure up to concert playing position.

“Mounted on the wall to the left are the 32′ Diaphone pipes, and to the right are the 32′ Bombarde pipes. A 32-note set of Deagan Tower Bells, the largest of which weighs 426 lb., hang on each side of the room… To the rear of the room, the ‘Ethereal’ pipe chamber in the attic echoes softly from the skylight area, while the brass ‘Trumpet Imperial’ and copper ‘Bugle Battaglia’ speak with great authority from the back wall.”

The American Orchestrion Room, elsewhere in the mansion, features art glass-front orchestrions, along with Tiffany and other art glass lamps and a large collection of Victorian chandeliers. This is only one end of the room, which is fairly long.
The room includes a violin-playing machine, the likes of which I’d never seen.
And a hand-cranked mechanical bird in a cage, with a mechanism inside covered with actual bird feathers. As might have amused the raja of one of the princely states about 100 years ago.

From there, stairs led to the lower level of the mansion, and a display of machines similar to music-making devices in some ways, but all together different in others. More about that tomorrow.

Zoo View 2011

I can’t remember the last time we went to the Brookfield Zoo. It might have been as long ago as July 2011. I have a file labeled 2011-07-18 and many of the pics are of that zoo, the larger of the Chicago area’s two main zoos.

I don’t care what PETA thinks, it’s a fine zoo. I posted some of the Brookfield pics at the time. But not the bright birds.
Brookfield Zoo 2011Or any of the non-animal aspects of the place, such as the topiary elephant.
Brookfield Zoo 2011Or the bronze walrus.
Brookfield Zoo 2011Or the Living Coast mural.
Brookfield Zoo 2011Or even the Theodore Roosevelt Fountain, there since 1954, though I did post the cornflowers nearby.

Brookfield Zoo 2011

July is cornflower time, and we’re all better for it.

Thursday Odd Lots

“What’s so funny, Dad?”

“That sign across the street.”

We were in Wisconsin during our recent trip, and had stopped at a place where I could access wifi. The sign was visible from there.

“That’s not funny.”

“Maybe it will be for you someday.”

What would happen if you used this granite for landscaping? Would your back yard suddenly cause you dread? Kafkaesque landscaping, now there’s a concept.

Looks like Kafka does some good work, though.

Here’s a sign you don’t see much any more, though I’m pretty sure that they were common once upon a time. I think even my high school cafeteria, which was in a basement, had one in the late ’70s. They’re so rare now that when you do see one in situ, you take note. Something like a working public pay phone.

Fallout Shelter Sign, Calumet, Michigan

This one is on Sixth St. in Calumet, Michigan. It even has a capacity number. What was once an unnerving reminder of the nuclear Sword of Damocles can now “add a cool tone to a man cave or retro game room,” according to Amazon, where you can pick a reproduction up from the Vintage Sign Co. for (currently) $18.99. The note also calls the item a “vintage style WWII metal sign.” What is it about basic chronology that flummoxes so many people?

Something else I saw, a little more recently, in Bucktown.

Bucktown, Chicago Shiva Shack

Shiva Shack? C’mon in for a bit of destruction and then transformation.

Also in Bucktown: a game of beanbag on the sidewalk.

Bucktown 2017

Maybe there to remind us what politics ain’t.

Recently I picked up The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992) by Paul Theroux. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a number of years. So far it’s a good read. I understand that he has a reputation as a snob, and some of that comes through in his writing, but I don’t know the man personally, so I wouldn’t have to put up with him anyway.

He writes well, at least about the places he’s been, and that’s all that counts. His description, early in the book, of hiking on the South Island of New Zealand, is a fine bit of work, and had the unfortunate side effect of making me want to drop everything and go do that. The mood passed.

Theroux’s work did influence me to go one place. In the early ’90s, I read his Sunrise With Seamonsters, a collection of essays and travel bits, and one piece included a mention of the Cameron Highlands on the Malay Peninsula. It’s a former British hill station, more recently a getaway place for Malaysians and the trickle of tourists who’ve heard of it. His mention of it was probably where I first heard of the place.

When I went to Malaysia for the first time, I made a point of going there, and did not regret it. Besides cool temps, you can enjoy jungle walks (unless you’re Jim Thompson), a butterfly garden, a nighttime view that can include the Southern Cross, and eating Chettinad cuisine on a banana leaf, with your hands.

This is what life is, according to the song.

Life's a Bowl of Cherries

Rainier cherries, which are in season now. Very popular around the house, and we buy them in large quantities while we can. I’m glad that there are still some foods, some fruits, that have a season.

I’m not all that keen on Rudy Vallee, but his version of the song is good. And the lip sync from Pennies From Heaven (1981) is amusing. I saw that movie when it was new, probably because Steve Martin was in it, but I don’t remember very much about it. Maybe I should watch it again. I know I was too young then to appreciate its songs.

St. Hedwig, Bucktown

Not far away from Covenant Presbyterian Church is St. Hedwig, at 2100 W. Webster Ave., the church whose Polish congregation split in the 1890s. As a mainstream Catholic church, St. Hedwig has endured into the 21st century. It too is a handsome edifice.

St. Hedwig's, BucktownAdolphus Druiding did the design. The AIA Guide to Chicago says, “In this high-octane Renaissance Revival design for a Polish congregation, the geometric facade is anchored by square corner piers topped by robust cupolas. The aedicula above the entry is echoed by a pedimented reredos behind the altar.”

Aedicula, now there’s good $10 word. I remember that’s where the Lares and Penates go, though I suppose it’s a little different in an architectural context, especially for a Christian church.

Lares and Penates. A band name waiting to be taken. Or the name of a fictional detective agency.

Here’s the interior. I spent a few minutes there as well.

St. Hedwig's, Bucktown

As soon as I sat down, another baptism got under way, not 20 minutes after the two I witnessed at Covenant Presbyterian a few blocks away, this one a little boy. I was able to compare and contrast the Catholic and the Protestant versions, for what that was worth. I live a charmed life.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Bucktown

In Bucktown on Sunday I visited two churches during my late-morning walk. The first was Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, ChicagoThis is no ordinary large church. It has quite a back story, because the church building used to be the Cathedral of All Saints of the Polish National Catholic Church in Chicago. I’ve visited that organization’s cemetery, out near O’Hare.

So not precisely Catholic, but pretty close. I am informed that the Polish National Catholic Church is not in full communion with Rome, and hasn’t been since it was formed in the late 19th century. Neither is the separate but similar-sounding Polish Catholic Church, but that church is a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht. The Polish National Catholic Church used to be communion with Utrecht, but isn’t any more — that happened only in the last 10 years or so. Rather, it’s with the Union of Scranton, which also counts the Nordic Catholic Church as a member. Need a scorecard to keep up with the schisms.

Now that that’s cleared up, the following is about what’s now Covenant Presbyterian Church, located at 2012 W. Dickens Ave. The text  is from an interesting blog, which I’ll take as solid enough information. The story starts in 1890s Polish Chicago.

“Overwhelmed by the numbers of new immigrants pouring into Bucktown, the Polish-American pastor of St. Hedwig’s brought in Fr. Anthony Kozlowski, a fiery, European-educated young Polish priest to help minister to the parishioners, few of whom spoke English. St. Hedwig’s was under the administration of the Resurrectionists, an order of priests of mostly Polish extraction. …

“Many of the younger immigrants were suspicious of the order, thinking that it was being pressured by the Irish hierarchy that otherwise ran the American church, and the Chicago church in particular.

“Details are thin, but in early 1895, Kozlowski led a revolt against the Resurrectionist pastor, Thaddeus Barzynski, and his brother Joseph Barzynski, that eventually resulted in two-thirds of the St. Hedwig’s congregation quitting the church and following Kozlowski away from governance by the Pope. [They objected to much of Vatican I, it seems.]

“The revolt went critical on February 7, 1895. Kozlowski’s hotheads broke into the St. Hedwig’s rectory, where the Barzynskis had barricaded themselves, and assaulted the priests. The police were called, and found a crowd of 3,000 immigrants milling around the church. When the officers attempted to disperse the crowd, several protesters threw powdered red pepper in their faces. Dozens were injured in the ensuing brawl, and Chicago’s (Irish) Roman Catholic archbishop shut down St. Hedwig’s for several months.

“By that time, the 1,000 or so immigrants who objected to Papal rule had bought land a few blocks away and began built their own church, All Saints Cathedral.”

It took quite a while. Eventually, the congregation tapped John G. Steinbach to design the church. Its cornerstone was laid in 1931, and the church served the breakaway parish for the next 62 years, until the building became too expensive to maintain and was sold to Covenant Presbyterian Church.

“Covenant Presbyterian’s white imitation cement stone and neo-Gothic features distinguish it from other Polish Cathedral-style churches designed by Steinbach and his partner, Henry Worthmann,” writes Amy Korte in Chicago Architecture.

“A carving above the main entrance depicts a book, the sun, a cross, and a palm. Together, these images comprise the emblem of the Polish National Catholic Church, the denomination with which All Saints had affiliated itself. Below these symbols lies the Polish inscription ‘Prawda, Praca, Walka,’ an abbreviation of the denomination’s motto, ‘With truth, work and struggle, we will succeed.’ ”

I noticed that feature, but eager to get out of the sun, I didn’t take any pictures. The inscriptions are here.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Bucktown

I sat at the back of the church for a short spell, taking my seat just as a pair of baptisms were taking place — two baby girls. A delightful thing to chance across, even if you don’t know the families.

Bucktown Sunday Morning

At about 5 pm on Friday afternoon, wind and rain and lightning struck Chicago’s northwest suburbs with special fury, knocking down trees and large branches. Itasca was particularly hard hit.

Lilly, whose train from the city was due later that evening, found herself delayed by a hour because of debris on the tracks near Itasca. On Sunday morning, we drove through that town on Irving Park Blvd. and saw several large trees laid low, including one on top of a building.

Our neighborhood didn’t get hit quite so bad. But we did get hail for a few minutes. Smallish ice pebbles that made some noise, but did no damage to the roof or the car that I could see.

Bucktown Chicago 2017By Sunday, the weather was very warm and steamy and not especially violent. Just the kind of day for a walk in the city, which is where we were going as we drove through Itasca. For a stroll I picked Bucktown, which is directly north of Wicker Park.

I didn’t live, dine, shop or play at all during my late morning amble, except that I was a living being as I passed through, and maybe I “played,” in the sense that walking around and looking at things isn’t work, unless that’s what you’re paid to do.

I don’t remember hearing much about the neighborhood during the late ’80s, but by the late ’90s, Bucktown was known as a gentrifying area. The gentrifying process is now mature, in that the area’s not a cheap place to live, though I suppose Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast and their ilk still outprice it.

With the cost, you get amenities. Such as a statue of a bovine looking through a telescope, or maybe a fanciful theodolite.
Bucktown Chicago cowAnd shady residential streets to walk down. That turned out to be an important feature on Sunday, as temps climbed toward 90 F.
Bucktown, ChicagoBucktown features a fair number of interesting older buildings put to new use.

Bucktown Chicago 2017Bucktown, ChicagoAs well as new construction.
Bucktown, ChicagoAlong with some interesting detail sometimes. This figure looked out from just above the entrance to an older brick building on Damen Ave.
Bucktown Statue of LibertyYou never know where you’ll find Statue of Liberty-like images. The statue deserves to be called the i-word, but that word has been beaten to death in our time. My own favorite use of Liberty Enlightening the World — or La Liberté éclairant le monde to be more than pedantic — was a sizable one I saw years ago over the entrance of a pachinko parlor in Osaka.

Bali 1994

I hope Bali is as pleasant as it was 20-odd years ago. You go for its many charms, and so do a lot of other people. Yet somehow the island holds its crowds well.

Though serving an economic purpose, the Tegallalang Rice Terraces near Ubud, created using a longtime cooperative irrigation system, are pleasing enough to attract outsiders such as us.

Bali 1994

Plenty of people go to Goa Gajah, “Elephant Cave.”

Bali 1994

As well as the Ubud Monkey Forest.

Monkey Forest Bali 1994

I carelessly didn’t write the name of this temple on the photo, but I like it.

Bali 1994

Not nearly as many people spend time by the ocean at Candi Dasa, with its rocky beaches. But we enjoyed the place.

Candi Dasa Bali 1994

Lying around near the beach wasn’t the best part of staying at a room at Candi Dasa. Much better was listening to the crash of the ocean at night just outside your room, as a cool ocean breeze blew through. It was even better when the wind and rain kicked up, as it did a few times. Some of the lesser-commented pleasures of Bali are its many aural treats, and not just the ocean.

Roadside Wisconsin, Part 3: Ella’s Deli, Madison

It’s Space Exploration Day. Always a good thing to think about.

Ella’s Deli in Madison, Wisconsin, is on E. Washington Ave. If you’re driving on that street, it’s hard to miss.

Ella's Deli, Madison, WisconsinElla's Deli, Madison, WisconsinWashington Ave. happens to be a good way to get from I-90/I-39, which runs east of Madison, into the city. Right into downtown, in fact: straight to the capitol, the university, the lakes, and so on. Over the years I’ve noticed Ella’s as I passed by, but never stopped. This time, I drove on Washington Ave. specifically to get there.

A bit from Ella’s web site: “In the early 1960s Ella Hirschfeld owned and operated Ella’s on State Street as a small kosher style deli/grocery/restaurant. At that time Ella’s provided an outlet for the Jewish community and others to buy kosher products over the counter, as well as offering restaurant service for about a dozen tables.

“In 1976, Ella’s opened another location, thanks to the support of Madison’s community… In recent years, Ella’s Deli on East Washington Avenue became the only Ella’s Deli.

“Under the same ownership for over 45 years, Ella’s operates with in-house bakers, full-time cooks that prepare our foods from scratch, and animations designed and built on the premises.”

It was a good choice, both as a place to eat, and a place to see odd things. For instance, a robot-like entity meets you inside the door.

Ella's Deli, Madison, Wisconsin

The restaurant doesn’t exactly have a theme, though I’ve seen it referred to elsewhere as “a place to take your children.” Certainly, but like some things supposedly for children, it isn’t just for them.

Mostly, it’s whimsical. Most of the decoration, which is near the ceiling, seems to have been picked to add to the place’s overall whimsy. You can appreciate whimsy at any age. More when you’re older, if you’ve a certain cast of mind.
Ella's Deli, Madison, WisconsinA number of figures attached to small motors whirred back and forth on wires stretched across the ceiling. Such as the Man of Steel.
Ella's Deli, Madison, WisconsinPopeye riding a rocket.
Ella's Deli, Madison, WisconsinNot sure who this sort-of astronaut is supposed to be, but he and the Aladdin Genie were just over our table. Or aquanaut? Note the golden seahorses.

Ella's Deli, Madison, WisconsinElsewhere were tableaux, such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Ella's Deli, Madison, WisconsinHere’s a Chicago Coin’s Band-Box.

Ella's Deli, Madison, Wisconsin

When I looked at it, I didn’t realize that it’s part of a little world of its own. According to the Chicago Coin’s Band-Box site, these manikins, made only from 1950 to ’52 in Chicago, were really part of a remote wall-mounted speaker for a jukebox. Drop and coin for a song and you get a little show, too.

“The jukebox closes a switch which causes the band box lights to go on and the curtains to open, revealing a seven-piece band with their instruments. They move as if they are playing the music. The figures were made of sponge rubber which decays over time.”

Apparently the company made them and other mechanical contrivances, but went bust by the 1980s. At that time, a fellow named Brad Frank in California bought all the rights and trademarks of the former company, and he still makes the Band-Boxes, along with replacement parts.

Just goes to show you the things you can learn by looking at the stuff on the walls. Followed by short Internet searches.

There’s more. Most of Ella’s tables were glass-topped, with various items displayed inside. Such as yo-yos.

Ella's Deli

Or assorted gewgaws and gimcracks.
Ella's Deli, Madison, WisconsinSo Ella’s was a very interesting place, visually speaking, to sit down for a meal. But all would have been for naught, and I probably wouldn’t write about it, if the food weren’t worth eating. Fortunately, it was.

In fact, “deli” in the name is no idle affectation. I opted for a Reuben sandwich, and it was the best Reuben I’ve had anywhere outside of New York. Everyone else reported satisfaction with their choices. Next time, I’ll try the ice cream.

Roadside Wisconsin, Part 2: Just About 45°N, 90°W

Wausau, Wisconsin, has a pleasant town square, a park surrounded by an assortment of shops and restaurants. No one but me remembered visiting there before, but we did in 2003, taking lunch at the Mint Cafe on the square. This year we went back to the cafe on the way up to the UP, on the last day of June. I think we even sat in the same booth.

The top card is from our ’03 visit. The bottom, from the recent visit. I like the ’03 card better. Less busy.
The Mint Cafe, WausauLunch was just as good this time around. Hamburgers, fish, that kind of thing, in a uncontrived diner atmosphere. No one at the Mint was wearing a tux, as far as I could see.

Afterward we strolled around the square and a nearby street or two. We happened on the office of the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau. Mostly we went in to use the restroom, but I also picked up a four-color glossy promo magazine suitably called Wausau, subtitled “Central Wisconsin.” On the off chance that it offered useful information. It did.

The magazine reminded me that not far from Wausau is a sign marking 45°N latitude, 90°W longitude. Or, as the magazine puts it, “Center of the North Half of the Western Hemisphere.” Also included: a nicely detailed map to help you get to that place (and other points of interest).

I learned about the location years ago. I think in high school, or even in junior high, I wondered where those four points on the Earth might be. So I got out the atlas and looked. Two were in remote southern oceans. One was in the absolute middle of nowhere in central Asia. And one was… in Wisconsin.

Years later, a coworker of mine originally from Wisconsin told me about the site — he’d grown up not too far away. And then I read about it, probably on Roadside America. Even so, I would have forgotten to visit on this trip had the magazine not reminded me. I was inspired. If we can stand on the Prime Meridian and Lilly can stand on the Equator, then by gar, we can stand at 45°N, 90°W.

So on July 2, after lunch again in Wausau on the way home — this time at a sandwich shop, part of a small local chain — we headed west on I-29 out of Wausau. The map’s directions are clear. I-29 west to Exit 150, then take Wisconsin H north to Wisconsin U, turn west. Follow U as it curves north and then curves west again. A sign marking 45°N, 90°W will be just past the second curve.

So we followed the directions. Got to the second curve. And then: nothing. No easily visible sign anyway. I’d had a somewhat hard time explaining to the rest of my family what we were doing out in the farm fields of central Wisconsin, when we could have been heading home, so things got a little testy in the car.

We turned around and went for another look, noticing a fellow mowing the grass around his house on a large riding mower (the rest of the nearby area was farmland). We stopped and rolled down our passenger side window, and looked his direction.

At once he took his earphones off, hopped off the mower, and came toward us. He looked the part of a modern farmer: a large man about my age in overalls and a short-sleeved shirt, with a pink face and gray in his hair. He also looked genuinely glad to see us.

“I’ll bet you know what we’re looking for,” I said.

He did. He explained that Marathon County had removed the existing sign just the week before, as part of putting a sign in the correct place. I had read that the sign wasn’t exactly at 45°N, 90°W. It was about 1,000+ feet off. Back whenever the county had first installed the sign, no one had GPS, so that wasn’t an issue. Now it is. (This is an issue for the tourist Equator and Prime Meridian, too.)

“They didn’t seem to think anyone would miss the sign,” he said. “I told them people come looking for it every day.”

The sign might be gone, but the original survey marker was still in embedded in concrete at the site, he said. He told us where to look. Remarkable how the mood in the car changed for the better after our short chat with a friendly farmer.

Before long we were there. This is what we found.

45°N, 90°W Marathon County, Wisconsin45°N, 90°W Marathon County, WisconsinIt might not be exactly 45°N, 90°W, but I wasn’t about to not stand at the point. Yuriko and Ann did too, in their turn. By now everyone was game.
45°N, 90°W Marathon County, WisconsinThe small temporary sign near the marker, to the right of me in the picture, was erected by Marathon County. It says:

45°N-90°W Geographic Marker
Site currently under
Reopening September 12, 2017

There’s also a helpful map of the planned new site fixed to the temporary sign. The old site will be a small parking lot, with a path, or maybe a paved path, leading to the new and presumably GPS-correct marker.

On July 2, work had already started on the path.
45°N, 90°W Marathon County, WisconsinWe didn’t walk the 1,000 or so feet to the new site. If we’re ever back this way — and this part of central Wisconsin would make a good long weekend someday — we’ll surely take a look at the new marker.

You could think of it as a ridiculous tourist attraction, considering how arbitrary it is. After all, the Prime Meridian would be running through Paris had the French had their way — 2°20′14.03″ to the east, which would put 45°N, 90°W pretty close to, or even in, Green Bay. The body of water, not the town. I’m not going to figure it out exactly, though.

Somehow, I like the arbitrariness. It also reminds me that I’d like to visit Four Corners, too, which is even more arbitrary.

Roadside Wisconsin, Part 1: “The World’s Largest Penny”

Roadside America and I go back a ways, even before it was a web site. I bought an edition of it when it was a book, sometime in the 1990s at some remainder table. Now of course it’s a sprawling web site whose wisdom I occasionally consult.

I’m pretty sure that’s where I first heard about the “World’s Largest Penny.” That object can be found in Woodruff, Wisconsin. Traveling via US 51, we passed through Woodruff, a town in Oneida County, on the way to the UP and on the way home. On the way home, I watched for a sign pointing to the “World’s Largest Penny.” I wasn’t disappointed.

A block off US 51, at 3rd Ave. and Hemlock St., is the “penny.”
World's Largest Penny, Woodruff, WisconsinA sidewalk from the edge of the intersection leads up to the object, and behind it is senior housing. I’ll be nitpicky and insist that it’s a depiction of a penny, of which it might well be the largest anywhere. It’s made of painted concrete, for one thing. And even as a depiction, it’s only half there: expecting a wheat penny reserve, I went to the other side and found it blank. All you get is the Lincoln observe.

Still, the town’s heart is in the right place with its penny-depicting concrete object. The sign next to it (all sic) says:


Dr. Kate NewComb had a dream — a hospital for the Lakeland area. Through contributions and volunteer help, the hospital was started. Because of the lack of funds the building was discontinued. Pennies would now help the compete the hospital.

The pupils of the geometry class of Arbor Vitae – Woodruff School wanted to see a million of something. Their teacher, Otto Burich, suggested that they collect pennies for the new hospital. The Million Penny Parade was launched.

In March of 1954, Dr. Kate went to a Doctors convention in California. She was a surprise guest on the T.V. program, “The is Your Life.” Because of her appearance people all over the country sent money for the hospital. With this money, amounting to $106,000 the hospital was completed and equipped.

As a result of this Penny Parade, the residents of this area had the beginning of the present Lakeland Memorial Hospital. This Penny is dedicated to the work of Dr. Kate and the people of the community who helped make the hospital a realty.

Donated by eighth grade class of 1969.

On a small plaque below the “penny” itself is a mention of the Woodruff-Arbor Vitae High School, as well as a Lions Club emblem. Perhaps the club had something to do with erecting “The World’s Largest Penny.”

A more detailed and somewhat different history of the fundraising efforts to build the hospital is at the web site of the Dr. Kate Museum, which isn’t far from the “penny.” Dr. Kate Newcomb (1886-1956) was apparently beloved in her time as a roving North Woods doctor. Remarkably, a clip of her on This is Your Life is posted on YouTube.

On Hemlock St. leading up to the “World’s Largest Penny,” Dr. Kate is also honored by painted images of snowshoe prints. Her nickname was “Angel on Snowshoes.”

Kate Newcomb Painted Snowshoe Prints, Woodruff, WisconsinThe small museum honoring Dr. Kate is off in that direction, but we didn’t spend any time at it. One more nit to pick: whoever painted the prints made it look like Dr. Kate hopped through the North Woods to see her patients.