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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Lions, Witches & Wardrobes in Wisconsin

Americans have an apparently insatiable appetite for fantasy, whether it's the current box office hit The Chronicles of Narnia or the long run of Harry Potter. There once was a real Wisconsin Harry Potter, a writer for the Milwaukee Democrat in the 1870s, and we've also had our own lions, witches, and wardrobes.

The lions came to town with the circus, a 19th-century version of fantasy-making with deep Wisconsin roots. In 1947, Dorothy Brown collected tales that had come down from circus performers and fans in Delavan, Baraboo and other Wisconsin towns, including the story of Dooney the Lion.

The Wisconsin witches supposedly occupied Witches' Gulch, a well-known feature in the Dells called by an early visitor "an original, a unique, a wonderful and a big thing. It is one of those things which humorous nature built when in her most eccentric mood." It was a spot often photographed by H.H. Bennett, who took these pictures of it during the late 19th century.

The Wisconsin wardrobe to which we call your attention is not a piece of furniture but rather more than 2,000 pieces of clothing. And not just any clothing but, in keeping with the audience for the movie, 2,000 pieces of children's clothing. These are all photographed, cataloged, and available to be viewed online here at If you want to see how the real Wisconsin girls who inspired American Girl dolls actually dressed, have a look at our Online Children's Clothing exhibit.

:: Posted in Curiosities on December 16, 2005

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