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Wonder Spot "Book" Sign

Wonder Spot "Book" sign that greeted thousands of visitors to the beloved
Wonder Spot attraction in the
Wisconsin Dells area, c. 1990.

(Museum Object #2007.142.8)

This sign welcomed tourists to the cabin at the Wonder Spot attraction in Lake Delton, Wisconsin. The cabin, built on the same steep angle as the hillside on which it sat, gave visitors, who were accustomed to flat floors and vertical walls, the optical illusion that the natural laws of gravity were suspended. The words on the sign tell the story of the origin of the Wonder Spot.

Opened in 1952 by Louis Dauterman of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the site was a beloved destination for generations of tourists visiting the Wisconsin Dells area. Seasonal staff performed a variety of demonstrations with props that enhanced the illusion. The sign's donor, William Carney, of Tomah, Wisconsin, took over the Wonder Spot in 1988 after working there for years. By then, the original cabin and the props had been replaced. When the Village of Lake Delton needed the Wonder Spot property as part of the nearby Highway 12 improvement project, Carney decided to close the attraction and sell the property to the village in December 2006.

The Wonder Spot's mind-bending illusions were created by the relatively simple concept of the angled construction. A person sitting in a typical chair appeared to balance on only two legs, water seemed to flow magically uphill, and merely walking in a straight line seemed almost impossible. The experience was simple, yet quite enjoyable and family-friendly.

The Wonder Spot legend is similar to other "mystery spots" and "gravity hills" located around the country that utilize optical illusions to draw tourists, often from nearby vacation destinations. At the Wonder Spot, children who visited returned as adults with their own children. According to Carney, attendance peaked during the mid-1990s at around 50,000 visitors per summer.

In its later years, the Wonder Spot was a relatively minor attraction in the greater Dells area. It served, though, as an alternative to the crowded and more expensive water parks, restaurants, and performances for which the Dells had become famous. Carney explained that it was not difficult to promote because even though "no one comes to the Dells area to see the Wonder Spot, everyone who does come here sees it. They all came here with their grandmas and grandpas."

Perhaps the site survived for so long in the midst of the self-proclaimed "water park capital of the world" because it appealed to a romantic notion of the family vacation. Mom, Dad, and all of the kids would pack into the car and venture out to take in all that the nearby area had to offer. Still, the Wonder Spot, could not compete in the 'experience economy' that produces the all-inclusive destination that characterizes the current Wisconsin Dells vacation. Its closing signaled the loss of another of the 'mom and pop' type of tourist attraction in the Dells.

[Sources: Hesselberg, George. "Wonder Spot will enchant no longer" Wisconsin State Journal, January 11, 2007; Richmond, Todd. "Wisconsin's 'Wonder Spot' faces wrecking ball," Associated Press, February 5, 2007.]

JEK


Posted on October 23, 2008

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