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Share Your Voice: Fond du Lac

Area residents offer ideas for a new Wisconsin history museum

Share Your Voice: Fond du Lac | Wisconsin Historical Society

Gloria Maki, left, and Kathy Behlke joke with each other as they review concept exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25 at the Fond du Lac Public Library.
Gloria Maki, left, and Kathy Behlke enjoy a laugh as they review concept exhibit design renderings for a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25 at the Fond du Lac Public Library.

Story and photos by Dean Witter
Wisconsin Historical Foundation

FOND DU LAC — Residents from municipalities spanning four counties hit the pause button on what was a beautiful, sun-filled 80-degree day to spend 90 minutes in a downstairs meeting room at the Fond du Lac Public Library — all in the name of Wisconsin history.

That's exactly the kind of spirit the Wisconsin Historical Society is excited to see as it engages with thousands of residents across the state while making plans for a new, state-of-the-art $120 million Wisconsin history museum.

They came not only from the host city of Fond du Lac, but from other nearby villages, towns and cities such as Rosendale, Eden, Taycheedah, Princeton, Oshkosh and Ripon. The June 25, 2019 gathering was one of more than 40 "Share Your Voice" new museum public listening sessions the Society is holding across Wisconsin to include residents in the early planning for the new museum it plans to build on the state's Capitol Square. 

EnlargeAlicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, welcomes guests to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Fond du Lac.

Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, welcomes guests to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 at the Fond du Lac Public Library.

"We will have a physical presence in Madison but it is our sincere desire that the building be a hub for all of the work we do around the state," said Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society. "We are going around the state and having these kinds of workshops because you can't plan a state history museum from a conference room in Madison. You've got to get out around the state and talk to folks and see what they think."

The new museum project is by far the largest undertaking in the 173-year history of the Society and the extent and scope of the listening session tour is unprecedented among other state historical societies that have planned similar projects.

"By the time we are done we will have done 63 sessions, including events with school kids," Goehring said, noting stops in Superior, Manitowoc, La Crosse and Beloit. "We've hit every corner of the state. ... We really have a desire to get out around the state so we can find out what the people think."

The Society is also holding sessions at all 12 American Indian nations of Wisconsin, as well as eight special multicultural focus groups, with African Americans in Beloit, Madison and Milwaukee; the Latinx communities in Milwaukee, Madison and Wautoma; Asian Americans in Milwaukee; and the Hmong community in Eau Claire. In addition, the Society is gathering feedback from PK-12 and teen students to incorporate their ideas into museum planning, too.

These events allow residents to offer their ideas and provide feedback on preliminary concept exhibit design renderings. As part of a public-private development, the new museum, scheduled to open by 2024, will replace and dramatically expand the footprint of the current aging and undersized Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison, located since the 1980s in the space of a former hardware store.

"From what I hear it made an excellent hardware store," Goehring told guests. "I still hear people talk about that great hardware store. But it does not make for an excellent museum."

EnlargeVanessa VanderWeele, Executive Director of the Fond du Lac County Historical Society, introduces Alicia Goehring of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Vanessa VanderWeele, Executive
Director of the Fond du Lac County
Historical Society, introduces
Alicia Goehring of the Wisconsin
Historical Society at the
"Share Your Voice" new museum
listening session June 25, 2019
in Fond du Lac.

Vanessa VanderWeele, Executive Director of the Fond du Lac County Historical Society, opened the session by welcoming guests to the library and introducing Goehring.

Goehring noted later in her closing how VanderWeele had personally asked for Fond du Lac to be added to the statewide tour after she attended a Sheboygan session held in November 2018 at Wade House in Greenbush (one of the Society's 12 historical sites and museums) and thought Fond du Lac residents would definitely want to be a part of it.

After providing guests a few details about the museum project and its timeline, Goehring introduced a Society video that outlined more about the project and the museum's overall storytelling them, "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" Details on the project, as well as the video, can be found online at wisconsinhistory.org/newmuseum.

The group then began its first workshop activity, writing on Post-It notes things about their part of the state, or Wisconsin in general, that visitors should learn about and that would be good ideas to share in a new museum. 

Guests offered dozens of Post-It notes, filling the five theme boards at the front of the room.

The most often-mentioned suggestion should be no surprise: Lake Winnebago. Fond du Lac, after all, is located on the southern shore of the massive lake, which is the largest inland lake in Wisconsin and 27th-largest in the United States by area, with a maximum north/south length of 30 miles and maximum east/west width of 10 miles. 

Lake Winnebago was also related to several other suggestions, including boating, fishing, sailing, and the ancient lake sturgeon that attract communities of shanties each winter during the spearing season. Also noted was Fond du Lac's beautiful Lakeside Park — which features a miniature train, petting zoo, antique carousel and a beautiful holiday light display around Christmas — and the iconic shoreline lighthouse located within the 400-acre park.

Guests noted the French explorers and fur traders who gave Fond du Lac its name (it stands for "bottom" — or "foot" — of the lake) but they also repeatedly noted the many American Indian tribes who lived in the area long before European explorers arrived — and those who remain in the area. 

Also mentioned were longtime staples of Fond du Lac manufacturing industry, such as Fives Giddings & Lewis (celebrating 160 years in 2019) and Mercury Marine (80 years), and other longtime attractions such as Schreiner's Restaurant (81 years) and the family-owned, 1950s-style Gille's Frozen Custard Drive-In (70 years). Guests noted the area's European immigrant history, the geographic features of the nearby Kettle Moraine and Niagara Escarpment, and historic attractions such as the Galloway House & Village.

They even noted Fond du Lac's "Miracle Mile" — which became world famous in the early 1990s after several people won multimillion-dollar lottery prizes on tickets purchased from stores and gas stations on a stretch of Main Street. Among them was the largest Powerball jackpot at the time ($111 million, won in 1993 by a Fond du Lac junior high school teacher and his then-fiance). 

Goehring asked guests to talk about their suggestions.

"I said political grassroots," said Daniel Degner, who at 22 became a part of Fond du Lac history in 2019 by being the youngest person elected to the city council. He noted that Ripon is the birthplace of the Republican Party "but also the Progressive Party [of Wisconsin] was organized just a few blocks from here in Fond du Lac," he said.

A woman talked about the city's little-known racial past. 

"It is not well known but Fond du Lac was home to a vibrant black community in the mid-1800s up into the beginning of the 20th century," she said, "and many of them were escaped enslaved people. ... And along with that is a history that includes the origins of the state of the Ku Klux Klan in Oshkosh."

Goehring noted the importance of those kind of stories in planning a state history museum.

"This is not a Chamber of Commerce, rah-rah kind of place," she said. "Obviously, there are lots of things to celebrate about Wisconsin's past and present, but we need to show warts and all. That's the only way we learn is to be able to reflect on the past and some of the poor decisions that we've made."

Another guest talked about the importance of the glaciers in forming Wisconsin, as well as the Driftless Area, while another noted the arrival of the French as the first Europeans in the area and their influence.

Goehring transitioned the group to another activity during which they reviewed and discussed concept exhibit design renderings and the overall museum experience. Goehring explained each one and asked guests to vote for those they liked, or didn’t like, and asked them to explain why. 

The renderings that sparked the most conversation showed the "Introduction and Orientation Area," a large, open space which will welcome museum guests after they pay and leave the lobby. They will begin their museum experience by entering a large open area with a massive, 360-degree digital image wall.

One rendering showed how visitors could be greeted by a wall filled with dozens of photos (or one large one like spectators cheering at a stadium surrounding visitors). The other showed how the space could be transformed with seating into a special program area that could digitally connect people at schools and organizations in cities across the state with guests at the museum. In the rendering example, Society underwater archaeologists are shown in a large, main image, broadcasting live from a shipwreck on the bottom of Lake Michigan and are taking questions from guests in cities across the state, who appear in smaller boxes on the screen.

Larry Behlen liked it because "there are so many different kinds of things you could see if you were gathering in that space," he said. "With a family or group of people somebody would find something that would kind of trip their trigger and make them say, 'I want to know more about that.'"

"It has the most potential to be evergreen, meaning you could change it more often," added Steve Arbaugh. "The variety of information and leveraging all of the assets of the archives that you talked about is very good. And I think young people want to see something through technology. Technology is important as a connector."

Some guests had concerns, though.

Marion Blakely worried how her grandson, who is autistic, and others like him would react in a room with so much potential visual or audio stimulation.

"I hope that you would be aware of [that]," she said. "You know, too, that all of the schools are mainstreaming all of their autistic kids and they’re all going to be on the field trips too. You need to be aware of the fact that you don’t want to be setting off the susceptible kids, or adults, with too much commotion."

Lisa Pauly Lefeber seconded the notion. "I'm an adult with ADD and I may never get out of that [room] because I'm going to have to look at every single thing in there," she said with a smile.

Julie Schelk didn't like that the first rendering didn't include any seating options (unlike the program space).

"I think anybody with a mobility issue isn’t going to be able to stand and look [for very long]," she said. "I know it’s just a concept [design], but if you’re using a walker or a cane, you can’t appreciate all of that without worrying about tipping over."

Gloria Maki suggested using the video board to promote themes during the year.

"Like in the fall, you could have all Packers stuff going on at certain times," she said. "I know a lot of people would appreciate that. Or on Valentine's Day, there could be pictures associated with [that holiday]. I think if you did that, people would show up for that particular week that the theme is going on."

It could help drive attendance at the museum, Maki said.

"What you want is people to be there," she said. "It does no good if no one is going there, so you have to do the things that will make people want to go there. That [exhibit space] has a lot of potential."

Another rendering that drew a fair amount of conversation was one called "Celebrating Community Introductory Theaters," which was a depiction of one of three smaller, circular theater areas that would be spread throughout the museum. They would be intended to be a smaller program space for teachers and their students, or for short films on topics. In the rendering, children are seated on the floor around their teacher in front of the video screen. Opposite the screen are a couple levels of half-circle bench seats in the form of wooden risers. 

"I think that a gathering area for communities and school kids is such a good idea," said Cathylee Arbaugh.

Lori Burgess, the Assistant Director of Operations for the Fond du Lac Public Library, felt better seating was needed.

"It doesn't look comfortable," she said. "I can see some flexible space for kids, and you want to have space for a large group, but there's no backs or arms [on the bench seats] and if you're over 60 ..."

"Those of us in the older generation, you're gonna have to help us up," Todd Berens said with a laugh. 

At most previous sessions, guests were split over a rendering of an art installation depicting a giant cow made out of objects representing all 72 counties of Wisconsin, but most Fond du Lac guests seemed to approve.

"What I like about it," Daniel Degner said, "is it allows people from every part of the state to really see how their community has an impact in the state of Wisconsin’s history." 

"I like the idea that you keep finding new things and new visuals from different parts of the state," Marion Blakely added. "Maybe you need a key with it to show what parts are from what counties. But I think it’s cute and its fun. It’s not boring, like some of the others could be. This is not boring." 

Goehring said something like the cow would be intended to be a temporary installation, but "sometimes these things take on a life of their own and everybody wants to have their picture taken next to it," she said. "So what was meant to be temporary may end up being on display longer than you thought you would.”

Dr. Fred Born liked the idea of the art installation, "but I would rather have had [the shape of] the state of Wisconsin," he said. "Then when you point at one object, I like the idea of having an iPad [or other screen] that would come up with an explanation of that product and where it is."

Guests really liked the idea of a "Laboratory of Democracy," the rendering for which features a large window looking across the street to the state Capitol and digitally projected historic newspapers on screens high on the walls. Goehring talked about the possibilities of having current newspaper front pages on display along with historic front pages on similar topics from 100 or 150 years ago, which would be possible given the fact that the Society has the largest collection of newspapers in the country next to the Library of Congress. 

"I love the idea of having something current alongside history," Lisa Pauly Lefeber said, "because we all know people romance history and think nothing like this has ever happened before; [and] this is the first time anything has ever happened. And it would be nice to see how we actually repeat ourselves a lot."

"This exhibit comes alive and makes history real instead of just in a textbook," another woman added. "When you see where [laws] came from in terms of how the public was informed through the newspapers many years ago ... it brings the education experience alive."

Todd Berens shared a story about a visit to a train museum and how dramatic it was when curtains opened to reveal a real locomotive at the end of a story. He suggested that might be possible to do in the Laboratory of Democracy with curtains on the window that faces the Capitol, for a big "reveal" moment.

Goehring closed the session by asking guests to share their favorite museum experiences, since the Society's goal will be to deliver similarly long-lasting memories. 

Berens talked about visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia: "It was dark and you'd hear the discussion between the delegates as they were arguing whether or not we should seek independence, and a light would come on focused on the table where the orator was giving his speech. Then the light would go on elsewhere in response. ... It was dynamic."

Others talked about the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., a living history village in Manitowoc "that was like Little House on the Prairie," and DisneyWorld, where "there's always something different to see, so you don't go once and say, 'I've seen all of that already.'"

Cathylee Arbaugh recalled a Titanic exhibit at a Chicago museum.

"Even having read through everything ... there's nothing like touching the ice or walking through that 3 feet of cold water to help you understand how terrible it really was," she said. "That really brought it to life."

VanderWeele, the Fond du Lac County Historical Society's Executive Director, talked about her visit with a friend to the Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and its exhibit on Prohibition.

"You could see both sides of the issue and you could pick your own path," she said. "The thing that made the biggest impression on me was at the very end of the exhibit, they had two very tall moonshine jugs and you got to pick up a Ping-Pong ball and they asked you a question: Should the government have the ability to prohibit something about your health?"

VanderWeele said the question made guests stop and think before using their Ping-Pong ball to cast their vote.

"That's still a question we're asking today, whether it's marijuana, or prescription drugs or a whole bunch of things," she said. "... It was something that my friend and I talked about for quite a while after that experience."

 

Suggestions made on Post-It notes during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac were turned into this word cloud, with the most suggested words in the biggest type.


Suggestions made on Post-It notes during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac were turned into this word cloud, with the most suggested words in the biggest type.  

 

Julie Schelk and other guests enjoy a laugh as they listen to another guest share a story about a favorite museum experience.

Julie Schelk and other guests enjoy a laugh as they listen to another guest share a story about a favorite museum experience.

Lori Burgess, Assistant Director of Operations for the Fond du Lac Public Library, makes a comment during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 at the library in Fond du Lac.

Lori Burgess, Assistant Director of Operations for the Fond du Lac Public Library, makes a comment during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 at the library in Fond du Lac.

Lisa Pauly Lefeber (center) shares her thoughts as Vanessa VanderWeele (left) and Daniel Degner listen during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

Lisa Pauly Lefeber (center) shares her thoughts about a new museum rendering as Vanessa VanderWeele (left) and Daniel Degner listen during the "Share Your Voice" listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

Todd Berens of Ripon chuckles after making a comment during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

Todd Berens (left) chuckles with Cathylee Arbaugh (center) and Steve Arbaugh after making a comment during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 at the Fond du Lac Public Library.

A guest talks about how Fond du Lac had a thriving African American community in the mid 1800s into the early 20th century. "It's a history that isn't well known but is interesting," she said.

A guest at the Fond du Lac "Share Your Voice" listening session talks about how the city had a thriving African American community in the mid 1800s into the early 20th century. "It's a history that isn't well known but is interesting," she said.

Guests write on Post-It notes things that they feel the rest of the state should learn about the Fond du Lac area, or Wisconsin in general, in a new state history museum. It was one of the activities during the June 25, 2019 listening session.

Guests write on Post-It notes things that they feel the rest of the state should learn about the Fond du Lac area, or Wisconsin in general, in a new state history museum. It was one of the activities during the "Share Your Voice" listening session on June 25, 2019.

Dr. Fred Born examines new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the listening session in Fond du Lac. He said he "liked the idea" of an art installation like the cow, but "I would rather had the [shape of] the state of Wisconsin," he said.

Dr. Fred Born examines new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the listening session in Fond du Lac. He said he "liked the idea" of an art installation like the cow, but "I would rather had the [shape of] the state of Wisconsin," he said.

A guest expresses her support for the Laboratory of Democracy. "[It] makes history real instead of just in a textbook," she said.

A guest at the Fond du Lac new museum listening session expresses her support for the Laboratory of Democracy concept. "This exhibit comes alive and makes history real instead of just in a textbook," she said. "When you see where [laws] came from in terms of how the public was informed through the newspapers many years ago ... it brings the education experience alive."

Larry Behler tells guests why he likes the huge digital screen in a large new museum "Introduction" area. "There are so many different kinds of things you could see if you were gathering in that space," he said.

Larry Behlen tells guests at the Fond du Lac "Share Your Voice" session why he likes the huge digital screen in a large new museum "Introduction" area. "There are so many different kinds of things you could see if you were gathering in that space," he said. "With a family or group of people somebody would find something that would trip their trigger and make them say, 'I want to know more about that.'"

Fond du Lac City Councilman Daniel Degner tells guests that his new museum suggestions included Ripon being the Republican Party birthplace "but also the Progressive Party [of Wisconsin] was organized just a few blocks from here in Fond du Lac."

Fond du Lac City Councilman Daniel Degner tells guests that his new museum suggestions included Ripon being the Republican Party birthplace "but also the Progressive Party [of Wisconsin] was organized just a few blocks from here in Fond du Lac."

During a discussion of the large digital screen in a proposed Introduction area, Marion Blakely warns of the risks of overstimulation from video or sound effects for guests who may be autistic like her grandson.

During a discussion of the large digital screen in a proposed Introduction area, Marion Blakely warns of the risks of overstimulation from video or sound effects for guests who may be autistic like her grandson. "You need to be aware of the fact that you don't want to be setting off the susceptible kids or adults with too much commotion."

Fond du Lac County Historical Society Executive Director Vanessa VanderWeele tells guests about her most memorable museum experience: A Prohibition exhibit at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville.

Fond du Lac County Historical Society Executive Director Vanessa VanderWeele tells guests about her most memorable museum experience: A Prohibition exhibit at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville. "It was something my friend and I talked about for quite a while after that experience," she said.

Julie Schelk comments on a rendering of the large open space for an Introduction area. "If you're using a walker or a cane, you can't appreciate all of that without worrying about tipping over," she said.

Julie Schelk suggests adding some seating to the large space in a rendering for an Introduction area in the new museum. "I think anybody with a mobility issue isn't going to be able to stand and look [at everything]. ... If you're using a walker or a cane you can't appreciate all of that without worrying about tipping over."

Even having read through all of that … there’s nothing like touching the ice or walking through that 3-feet cold water to help you understand how terrible it really was. That really brought it to life.

Cathylee Arbaugh called a Titanic exhibit in Chicago her favorite museum experience. "There's nothing like touching the ice or walking through that 3 feet of cold water to help you understand how terrible it really was," she said at the "Share Your Voice" listening session in Fond du Lac.

Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, explains the new museum project at the "Share Your Voice" listening session in Fond du Lac.

Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, talks about a potential new museum exhibit of a "Supper Club Experience" to a roomful of guests during the "Share Your Voice" listening session in Fond du Lac.

Guests at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session in Fond du Lac watch a film about the main storytelling theme of the new museum, "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?"

Guests at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac watch a film about the storytelling theme of the new museum, "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?"

Kristen Leffelman, Milwaukee Outreach Coordinator for the Wisconsin Historical Society, adds guests' Post-It notes to theme boards during the "Share Your Voice" listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

Kristen Leffelman, Milwaukee Outreach Coordinator for the Wisconsin Historical Society, adds guests' Post-It notes to theme boards during the "Share Your Voice" listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

Lisa Pauly Lefeber (center) listens intently with Vanessa VanderWeele (left) and Daniel Degner during the "Share Your Voice" new museum session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

Lisa Pauly Lefeber (center) listens intently with Vanessa VanderWeele (left) and Daniel Degner during the "Share Your Voice" new museum session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

Gloria Maki, left, suggests the idea of using themes on a large digital video board in the new museum, such as highlighting the Packers in the fall or images related to Valentine's Day in February.

Gloria Maki, left, suggests the idea of using themes on a large digital video board in the new museum, such as highlighting the Packers in the fall or images related to Valentine's Day in February. "If you did that, people would show up for that particular week that that theme is going on," she said. "I think it would draw people. What you want is people to be there. It does no good if no one is going there."

Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, shows guests in Fond du Lac where the new museum will be located on the Capitol Square in Madison.

Alicia Goehring, Director of Special Projects and Interim Director of Programs & Outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, shows guests at the "Share Your Voice" listening session in Fond du Lac where the new museum will be located on the Capitol Square in Madison.

Todd Berens comments on an concept exhibit design rendering during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

Todd Berens comments on an concept exhibit design rendering during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session June 25, 2019 in Fond du Lac.

 

Share Your Voice statewide map

"SHARE YOUR VOICE" STATEWIDE SESSION LOCATIONS