A Weekend in Manitowoc

Part 2

As we headed north across the Manitowoc River on 8th street, I recall getting very excited. I had read about two Manitowoc police officers being close to the intersection of 8th and Park streets back in September of 1962. As a kid – back in 1957 – I remember going out into our back yard at night to watch a tiny speck of light as Sputnik I streaked across the sky. "There it is, that's Sputnik", my dad used to say.

I had no idea at that point in time what the significance of that event was going to be. But as I watched the TV twelve years later and saw America's first man set foot on another celestial body, the impact of Sputnik on all of us suddenly became much clearer.

Remnants of Sputnik IV at the Rahr-West Art Museum

To most people, what I saw in the street in Manitowoc would probably go totally unnoticed; many would find the small brass ring in the very middle of the street, marking the location of the event, to be of little interest – if they even noticed it at all.  But here is where part of that Russian satellite Sputnik IV fell to earth so many years ago. 

R. Karl at the site where a piece of Sputnik landed

And even though the original piece was ultimately returned to the Russians, there is an intensely realistic piece of it protected in a glass case inside the Rahr-West Museum.  The museum is housed in a Victorian Mansion that was originally the home of Joseph and Mary Villas, one of Manitowoc’s Pioneer families.  It is a marvelously magnificent and unique part of history.  And you should go to Manitowoc… if for no other reason than to see and share in that history.

Rahr-West Art Museum & Mansion

The museum holds many other treasures and works of art: works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Picasso, Andy Warhol and others.  There are also hands-on activities and exhibits for youngsters – at least on the day that we visited – that are worth seeing.  And although it is definitely true that art is defined in the eyes of the beholder, the Rahr-West holds some very fine examples of art.  While you are there, don’t skip the modern exhibition wing that was added in 1975 with donations from John and Ruth West and the Rahr Foundation. 

The woodwork alone represents an example of craftsmanship that is rarely found anywhere anymore.  But when you see these examples and realize that all this was done without the aide of “modern” and electric equipment, I know that you will be impressed.  The many rooms are filled with a permanent collection of American art and are well worth the time taken to see it.

A gallery inside the Rahr-West

An amazingly event-packed day was trying to wind down, but there was still one place that we were going to stop.  We bid farewell to the Rahr-West and headed back the short distance toward the river and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.  From the outside, the building certainly appears nothing like the “typical” museum.  It is bright and clean and beckons you inside.  Upon entering and checking our watches, we discovered that our time was shorter than we had anticipated. 

But we did have the distinct pleasure of meeting the Museum’s Curator and Assistant Director, Dr. William Thiesen.  He gave us a quick tour, starting with the fact that the museum has recently doubled in size to its current 60,000 square feet.  The “new” Maritime Museum is a combination between the traditional ‘read and see’ format that is found in most museums, and the newer ‘hands-on’ or interactive style that allows the visitor to actually become part of the exhibit.  Some quick examples that we noted were the buttons one could push to either see actual routes followed by WW II submarines or to hear the blast of a steamboat whistle.

One could even perform an actual spot-weld!  But my favorite of this interactive type exhibit was a special room downstairs, Wisconsin Waterways – designed for kids of all ages – where the visitor could actually build a small model of a boat from various parts available and sail it through some locks and canals or navigate it through the waterfalls of the Wisconsin River to obtain a better understanding of how those things work.  It is a great opportunity to play in the water and learn at the same time.

Wisconsin Maritime Museum and the U.S.S. Cobia

Bill showed us many of the boat exhibits and other parts of the huge building, including the special and newly completed WW II exhibits, the Permanent Gallery, where one can walk the streets of a recreated Great Lakes Port, and the centerpiece of the Wisconsin-Built Boat Gallery, the 44-foot luxury yacht Lady Isabel. I only wish we had been able to stay longer. Bill was an incredible wealth of knowledge. He was extremely personable and I could have listened to him all day.

Manitowoc has a rich maritime legacy and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum is a wonderful place at which to learn it. Unfortunately, our schedule was too tight to even take the pictures we needed, let alone take the tour of the Cobia – a WW II submarine moored just outside. We promised to return on Sunday to finish our tour and take pictures, thanked Bill for his time and headed back to the hotel for a quick shower. We had a reservation for dinner at the Courthouse Pub, an incredibly well restored building just across from the Manitowoc Courthouse. We had heard some very good things about this restaurant and my stomach gave a growl of warning that it was just about time for dinner.

We had come a long way and still been able to accomplish much on this jam-packed day of touring… but there was still much to come, both tonight and tomorrow morning. Special thanks once again to owner John Jaggeman and his excellent staff for a superb experience – and stop back for my final installment of our Manitowoc Excursion!

R. Karl

Read Manitowoc Part 3