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Air Adventure Museum Displays

B'GOSH
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

getaway-chicago logo Did the original Getaway Guys, Marquette and Joliet talk turkey with the Menominees in or near present day Oshkosh, Wisconsin? Who knows? We do know Father Jean Claude Allouez delivered a sermon near Menoninee Park in 1670 and then left it to someone else to rediscover Oshkosh 150 years later.  Once the lumber capitol of the world and later the wood products capitol, by V-J Day (1945) its future prosperity based on wood was in question. With its signature industry under assault by the late ‘50s and early ‘60s the fabric of its once vibrant downtown began to unravel. Stabbed by indifference and assaulted by Route 41 competition, Main Street with its many late 19th century commercial buildings built after the fire of 1875 were indiscriminately torn down for misguided reasons or fell into disrepair because of benign neglect. Even Richard Nixon got into the act when he derisively asked during Watergate “what do they think this is Oshkosh?” ­ the ultimate put down. Not unlike every American city or town, Oshkosh can boast about something or someone who did something interesting and had some (however fleeting) affiliation with “our Town.” oshkosh1Remembered for his penetrating photographs of laborers and labor conditions at the beginning of the 20th century, Lewis Hine (1874-1939) was born in Oshkosh. Helen Farnsworth Mears (1871-1916) hailed from Oshkosh, too; she studied with Augustus Saint Gaudens, made a splash at the World Columbian Exposition and was found starved to death in 1916 in N.Y.C. Another native, Elizabeth Nellie McCourt (1855-1935), struck it rich when she married Horace Tabor in Leadville, Colorado, but nobody cared when the obituary was written for the reclusive and broke Baby Doe Tabor in 1935. The founder of Universal Studios, Carl Laemmle (1867-1939) was a resident of Oshkosh and managed the Continental Clothing Store on Main Street at the beginning of the 20th century, but like his contemporaries he too found a life elsewhere. With exception of the Continental Clothing Store building, physical evidence of these illustrious personages seems to have vanished.

oshkosh2With regard to sightseeing, Oshkosh is definitely worth a close examination, but a visitor must dig. There are bits and pieces that have escaped the wrecking ball, a lot didn’t. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s campus along Algoma Boulevard doesn’t make an architectural heart beat faster, but the prime real estate it occupies is adjacent to some of this city’s best preserved residential architecture. Anchored on the north end of Algoma Boulevard by The Paine Art Center & Arboretum (thepaine.org) and the Oshkosh Public Museum (oshkoshmuseum.org, the former Sawyer Mansion), a significant number of grand residences remain intact and are documented at www.ci.oshkosh.wi.us. Of the many, the Sawyer and the Paine are open to the public and probably have the most interesting histories. The Sawyer Mansion served as a private residence for a relatively short period of time before being deeded to the City of Oshkosh as a museum. With interiors by Tiffany and built on the site of a demolished Second Empire mansion in 1908, the new Edgar Sawyer residence was occupied for less than two years before Mrs. Sawyer died. Thereafter infrequently visited by Mr. Sawyer, the house remained fully staffed until given to the City in 1922. Diagonally across Algoma Boulevard, another story would unfold a few years later. Nathan Paine and the former Jessie Kimberly (Kimberly-Clark) began construction of their baronial dream home just in time for the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the failure of the Paine Thrift Bank on January 24, 1933. oshkosh3According to Oshkosh lore, Paine Company employees were encouraged to deposit their savings in the Thrift Bank and when it coincidentally failed during the construction of Mr. and Mrs. Paine’s new home, the workers thought something fishy was going on. Into the early ‘70s portions of the interior of the Paine Mansion remained unfinished, but it no longer mattered. The Paines were gone (as were many of the angry Paine employees) and their dream house along with its impressive collection of 19th Century art had become an art museum for Oshkosh. Of these two museums the Getaway Guys were split down the middle. There were parts of the Paine that Alan loved and parts Neil hated. Likewise at the Public (Sawyer) Museum, Neil thought the glass collection was pretty cool, but Alan was not hot about it. The exhibit they both thought atomic was a scale model of the sprawling Paine Lumber Works. Although a resident of Oshkosh from 1968-75 and inundated with stories about Nathan Paine and the other legendary lumber barons, Neil never understood where or how large the Paine Lumber works were. Now he could go to his grave knowing.

oshkosh4Oshkosh continues to evolve. An aerial view from the 1950’s shows a cheek by jowl concentration of industry along the Fox River from Lake Winnebago to the Congress Avenue bridge. In 2007 this once bustling stretch of the Fox is virtually devoid of manufacturing activity or evidence of same as the City of Oshkosh struggles with its identity. A none-the-less interesting place, Oshkosh, has stuff going for it. The sumptuous, but ill fated Paine mansion may be at polar opposites with the gritty photographs of Lewis Hine, but its reincarnation as a venue for informative art exhibitions redeems it’s troubled past. Neil remembered a couple of exhibitions from his Oshkosh period in the ‘70s: one devoted to the 19th century painter Albert Schreyer in 1972 and other called The Barbizon Heritage in 1970. Neil also remembered a great exhibition organized in 1987 by his friend, Bev Harrington that featured the American impressionist painter Theodore Robinson. Of more recent vintage, the Paine has featured Electric Tiffany in 2006 and The Inspired Line (prints of Durer and Rembrandt) in 2007. Coming in May of 2008 is The Impressionist Figure. With a less flamboyant past, The Oshkosh Public Museum (Sawyer mansion) contains within its walls a very informative narration of Oshkosh’s pre-history and its 19th -20th century development, all well displayed and readily understood. The Guys thought it was a sleeper waiting to be discovered. Both museums are a must!

oshkosh5The big deal in Oshkosh isn’t (metaphorically) in Oshkosh at all. It’s out of town on Route 41 and it’s named the Air Adventure Museum, but more commonly called the EAA Museum (museum.eaa.org).  EAA stands for Experimental Aircraft Association. Baraboo, Wisconsin has 19th Century circus wagons drawn by horses, but Oshkosh has planes of all descriptions powered by horsepower. From twerpy creations built in garages and hardly large enough to accommodate a midget to powerful and meticulously restored pursuit planes of World War II vintage, the EAA may not have the in-depth collection of the National Air and Space Museum in oshkosh6Washington, D.C., but what it’s got blows  socks off. This is one hell of a collection presented with a world class interpretive experience.  From the Johnson Wax Company Carnauba amphibian to Richard Bong’s P-38 fighter from the Pacific Theater in WW II, the EAA presents an absolutely stunning panorama of aircraft development. Discreetly unmoved by his Paine Art Center experience, Alan had to be pried out of the EAA Museum. A licensed pilot who’d built a plane in his garage, Alan was ready to take up residence in the EAA. Neil thought the planes extraordinary and his Getaway partner delusional. The EAA has a collection of about 244 planes; the earliest being a 1911 Curtis Pusher and one of the newest being something called a Cirrus VK-30, which meant nothing to Neil, but Alan seemed to groove on it. The biggest yearly event in Oshkosh (maybe Wisconsin) is the EAA fly-in which occurs in July-August. It’s a great time to see a huge, breathtaking array of planes, but not the right time of the year to try to get a hotel reservation within 100 miles of Oshkosh.

Seeing a food experience in Oshkosh is more of a challenge than learning to fly upside down. More of an evening venue, The Roxy Supper Club with its Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy appearance and vibes on Main Street is an Oshkosh landmark dating back to World War II. oshkosh7Since the Guys weren’t making a weekend of their Oshkosh visit, they forewent the Roxy and opted for the Water City Grill at 107 Algoma Blvd. just north of Main Street for lunch. In a pretty much unchanged 1884 building the Guys had a good meal in a pleasant setting. The service was very adequate and the price right. If nothing anywhere near Oshkosh suits a visitor’s appetite, he or she can always pig out on chocolate at Oaks Candy Corner (www.oakscandy.com) or at Hughes Homaid Chocolate Shop (920-231-7232) at 1823 Doty Street. The former is an old fashion candy shop somehow overlooked by bulldozers and the latter is a candy factory in the basement of a private home ­ an experience one would imagine a speakeasy visit to be like. And speaking of bulldozers and wrecking balls, the Grand Opera House (www.grandoperahouse.org)  with a varied menu of programs for all ages and interests still stands in downtown Oshkosh. Built in 1883 and a theatrical venue for many late 19th and early 20th century luminaries of the stage, the Grand came within inches of being torn down in 1979. Restored at a cost of almost two million dollars, this vital cultural heritage asset reopened in 1986.  April 2008

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