This Father’s Day I found that, by some kind of unanticipated-gap-in-the-Red-Sea-level miracle, neither of my children had any events scheduled, so I gave myself a present and did something I’d been meaning to do for a year; take them to Dubuque.
It’s not far from Madison. You drive southwest through the Driftless Zone, where the glaciers somehow looped around and missed a spot while they were grinding the rest of the Midwest flat.
At the exit to Platteville there was a sign for a “Mining Museum.” We had about six seconds to decide whether we all wanted to go to a mining museum but that was plenty of time because obviously we all totally wanted to go to a mining museum. And it was great! Almost the platonic ideal of a small-town museum. Our guide took us down into the old lead mine from the 1850s, now with electric lights and a lot of mannequins caught in the act of blasting holes in the rock. (One of the mannequins was black; our guide told us that there were African-American miners in southwestern Wisconsin, but not that some of them were enslaved.)
This museum did a great job of conveying the working conditions of those miners; ankle-deep in water, darkness broken only by the candle wired to the front of their hat, the hammers on the rock so loud you couldn’t talk, and had to communicate by hand signals. Riding up and down to the surface with one leg in the bucket and one leg out so more men could fit in one load, just hoping the bucket didn’t swing wrong and crush your leg against the rock wall. There’s nothing like an industrial museum to remind you that everything you buy in a store has hours of difficult, dangerous labor built into it. But it was also labor people traveled miles to get the chance to do!
Only twenty miles further to the Mississippi, my daughter’s first time seeing the river, and across it Dubuque. Which has a pretty great Op-Art flag:
Our main goal was the National Mississippi River Museum; slick where the Platteville museum was homespun, up-to-date where the Plateville Museum was old-fashioned. The kids really liked both. I wanted fewer interactive screens, more actual weird river creatures.
The museum is on the Riverwalk; Dubuque, like just about every city on a body of water, is reinventing its shoreline as a tourist hub. Every harbor a Harborplace. OK, I snark, but it was a lovely walk; lots of handsome bridges in view, all different, an old-timey band playing in the gazebo, Illinois and Wisconsin and Iowa invisibly meeting across the water….
Only disappointment of the afternoon; the famous funicular railway was closed. Maybe they could have posted that on their website or something. But in a way it’s good they didn’t; if I’d known it was closed, I probably would have decided to put off the trip, and who knows if we’d ever have gone?
On the way back we stopped in Dickeyville to get gas but missed the Dickeyville Grotto; would have stopped there for sure if I’d known about it. Dinner in Dodgeville at Culver’s, the Midwest’s superior version of In-N-Out, where I got my free Father’s Day turtle. I like cheese curds and brats as much as the next guy, but I gotta say, I think the turtle is my favorite of the many foods I’d never heard of before I moved to Wisconsin.