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Book Review: Secret Wisconsin: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure

By Tom Manus and Kristi Flick Manus

Book cover

By Kris Leonhardt


For an avid reader, history enthusiast and traveler, Secret Wisconsin: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure is an eye-opening read on some of Wisconsin’s mystiques.

Husband and wife authors, Tom Manus and Kristi Flick Manus, are freelance travel writers for print and online publications who enjoy back road trips.

The book should be titled “Hidden in plain sight.”

The couple’s ventures have dug up some hidden Wisconsin gems that you are not likely to find anywhere else.

One story involves a piece of the five-ton Soviet satellite, Sputnik IV, which fell from the sky during reentry on Sept. 5, 1962, and left its permanent mark in the city of Manitowoc.

While the Sputnik accident may be a matter of common knowledge, the mark that it left on a city street for future generations is an inconspicuous marker that might be overlooked by the unaware eye.

While the 20-pound piece was returned to Russia, a life-size replica is housed in a Manitowoc museum, while the crash site is noted in a more visible place.

A metal ring marks that location, embedded in the pavement, in the center of Manitowoc’s Eighth Street, just north of its Park Street intersection.

Farther south, a Grafton chair company made its mark in Wisconsin history due to a 1920s marketing plan.

The Wisconsin Chair Company was manufacturing chairs and phonograph (record) cabinets and while the chairs were selling well, the cabinets were another story.

To increase sales, the company decided to include records with their phonograph cabinets.

“Soon, Paramount started recording 78 rpm records in a chair factory in Grafton,” the book notes.

“Paramount started producing blues recordings (called ‘race records’ at the time) in 1929. They contracted with furniture store owners around the South who acted as talent scouts and arranged for the musicians to travel north to the Grafton studio and record. Trains arrived from all over the South with artists aboard who would become legendary. Louis Armstrong, Ma Rainey, Charley Patton and Skip James are just a few. A small all-white, polka-loving factory town became pivotal in an influential musical genre, and Paramount Records grew into the country’s most crucial producer of blues records.”

When the Great Depression hit, Paramount stopped recording and a few years later, the chair company closed down.

Today, a monument stands in Grafton to commemorate the Paramount recording studio, though the factory has long been demolished.

The book features a little less than 100 tales of the obscure, but often significant, history that is unique to our state.

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