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The long, long RV trip, Week 10: Circus World, Wisconsin Dells and gearing up to go again!

This week’s stops:

  • Wisconsin Dells
  • Baraboo, WI
  • Chicago Burbs

Welcome back to the continuing journey of my long, long RV trip. Last week, I was still moochdocking in the Chicago burbs, my longest stop of the trip. It took me a little time to get over the previous month’s road trip traumas and setbacks and feel like I wanted to continue.

My friend Craig was finishing up on my RV and truck repairs and I had been in Chicago for nearly a month. After another week of getting ahead on my real work, it was finally time to get ready to move on.

But before I did, Craig suggested we take a day trip about three hours away to Wisconsin to visit Circus World Museum and the Wisconsin Dells.

It sounded good to me. Especially as I have some old circus friends who live in Baraboo who I had not seen in decades.

RVing in the Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo RVing

I made this a day trip from Chicago. And it was a LONG day trip. We left about 5 a.m. and did not get back until after midnight.

Those who want to stay and RV in the Wisconsin Dells area or Baraboo will find lots of options. I definitely intend to go back and spend more time in this tourist haven in the future, as there is so much to see and do there and I barely scratched the surface this time.

For details of where to RV in the Wisconsin Dells or Baraboo check out these sites:

Circus World Museum in Baraboo

Wagon at Circus World Museum, Baraboo, WI

Our first stop was the Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

Steeped in circus history, Baraboo, Wisconsin, was the original winter quarters of the original Ringling Brothers Circus. Circus World is much, much more than what we typically think of as a “museum.” There are large green grounds to wander as well as inside exhibits detailing various aspects of circus history.

circus world museum costumes, baraboo, WI

There are attractions here to appeal to all ages, which include:

  • An actual live under-the-big-top circus that performs twice a day
  • Outdoor thrill and stunt shows
  • Clown makeup demonstration
  • Circus music show
  • An antique carousel
  • Ringling Brothers circus train cars

and much more.

The museum’s enormous collection of antique circus wagons is its big claim to fame and is not to be missed.

Relics of bygone eras, it’s incredible to think of these rolling pieces of circus art traveling the country and parading down main streets in small towns and big cities to entice residents into buying tickets to experience all the exotic wonders exhibited within the shows’ canvas walls.

Be sure to also check out the Chappy Fox Restoration Center, where these magnificent antiques are repaired and restored.

Upon entering Circus World you’ll be greeted by a history of the famous Ringling Brothers and their circus along with how it evolved through the decades. Other famous circus stars such as Gunther Gebel-Williams and Clyde Beatty share exhibit space in this hall.

Throughout the museum are photos, posters, costumes, props, and circus artifacts of all kinds.

I grew up in the circus from a young age. Everywhere I looked were memories of people I had known and loved since early childhood.

I found myself choking up in several places, but I could not hold back tears when I rounded the corner and saw Cook’s Comedy Car on display. The car belonged to dear family friends I had known since childhood, Merle, Pam, and Jack Cook. I was happy to see it in the museum, but sad and nostalgic that, like so many other classic circus acts and legendary performers, it is no longer performing on the road.

Cook's Comedy Car, circus world museum

After meandering through the exhibits, we settled into our seats in the big top for the live show, a short but entertaining mix of acrobats, aerialists, animals, jugglers, a clown, and even an elephant act.

I am not sure what the pirate theme of this year’s show has to do with anything. For a circus at Circus World Museum, the show producer in me would have preferred they stick to an old-fashioned circus theme. Nonetheless, the performers were talented and the show quality was strong.

Lillian Howell: America’s Coolest Meemaw

author Cheri Sicard with friend Lillian Howell AKA America's coolest Meemaw!After we left Circus World, we traveled a few blocks away to visit my friends Lillian Howell and her son TJ.

I recently learned the term “bookmark friends.” This refers to friends you have not seen in years, but you pick up right where you left off.

A long long RV trip like this affords one the opportunity to catch up with many such friends, and I have had the pleasure of reconnecting with many “bookmark friends” on this trip.

But I had not seen Lillian Howell in nearly 40 years. Would she even remember me?

Turns out she did, and we started gabbing like we used to back when she and TJ and I were working together on circuses way back when I was in my 20s.

TJ is now married with grown kids of his own. The whole family is still in show business, and TJ Howell is still one of the most talented jugglers and unicyclists around.

His mom, Lillian, was always one of my favorite people from my circus days. Her amazing optimism and determination were always inspirational. But she is even more so now.

At 91 years old, a former circus aerialist, Lillian came out of retirement last year to do an unbelievable fiery motorcycle stunt with her grandson Hunter on America’s Got Talent.

Lillian believes age is just a number, and she proves it. She is in amazing physical shape, despite having broken nearly every bone in her body during her years as an aerialist. And mentally she is as sharp as a tack.

She admonished me that I needed to start working out more if I hoped to do the same.  She’s right, and I have been fixing that. Thank you, Lillian.

Before we left she expressed a strong desire to go with me. Turns out she was missing life on the road and envied my current long long RV trip status.

I understand. I feel the same way when I am in any one place for too long.

Once a circus performer, always a circus performer.

Wisconsin Dells Ducks Tour

original Wisconsin Dells ducks tour

After saying goodbye to TJ and Lillian, Craig and I drove towards the nearby Wisconsin Dells.

When you ask locals when they have last been to the Dells, they scoff, “that’s for tourists.”

Yeah? But so what? There is so much to see and do in this tourist mecca!

Like many other such tourist towns—Niagara Falls and Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg come immediately to mind—the Wisconsin Dells consists of an odd mixture of man-made tourist attractions set against a backdrop of incredible natural beauty.

Some call the man-made “attractions” tourist traps, but I personally enjoy a good tourist trap now and then.

As we only had a short amount of time to spend, we opted for something that was a little bit of both, a famous Wisconsin Dells Ducks Tour.

The tour, despite its name, has nothing to do with waterfowl.

The DUKW, an amphibious truck equipped with six wheels for maximum traction on land and a propeller for water operation, was used in World War II. More than 2,000 Ducks were used in the D-Day landings on the Normandy coast, and thousands more were employed in the island-hopping campaigns of the Pacific.

The Wisconsin Dells Ducks are remnants of the era. However, today they take guests on scenic tours of the touristy town, as well as the natural wonders of the river and the unique geology it was built around.

We rode over hill and dale, through forests and right into the river where we motored past rafters in the water and picnickers on the shoreline. We traveled through the natural wilderness and in front of high-end vacation homes.

The hour-long Wisconsin Ducks tour was a fun and fascinating way to get an overview of the Wisconsin Dells attractions.

Wisconsin Dells

After the tour was over, we had to leave the Dells, as friends of Craig’s who own a vacation cabin were expecting us. We rounded out the day by 4-wheeling in the backwoods of Wisconsin and having a terrific prime rib dinner.

It was well after midnight when we returned to the Chicago burbs, tired but happy.

Next week: Ohio bound, Airstream adventures, Ohio caverns, and craft beers

Previously in Cheri’s long, long RV trip:

##RVT1065

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Larry Lee
1 month ago

I just watched the video of Meemaw on AGT Extreme. Just astonishing! 91 years old on a motorcycle with her grandson doing a stunt involving lots of fire. Good grief! I am motivated to get back on my bicycle exercise routine.

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