Monday, February 05, 2007

Goodbye Wisconsin "Wonder Spot"

The Lake Delton, Wisconsin "Wonder Spot", a place where the normal laws of physics go sideways in a very literal sense, is soon to be history, as the owner of the location is selling it. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

LAKE DELTON, Wis. - In a wooded ravine tucked away from the water parks, restaurants and mega-resorts that dominate this tourist town, a piece of history is quietly dying.

After more than half a century of wowing tourists (and causing probably more than a few cases of nausea), the Wonder Spot, a mysterious cabin where people can't stand up straight, water runs uphill and chairs balance on two legs, is no more.

Owner Bill Carney has sold the iconic attraction to the village of Lake Delton for $300,000. The village wants to build a road through the crevice where the Wonder Spot has stood since the 1950s. Now, the Wonder Spot, one of more than a dozen sites around the nation dubbed "gravity vortexes" and a throwback to postwar, family-oriented tourist attractions, has a date with a bulldozer.

"We're kind of wondering how the town is going to deal with the gravitational forces under the road. That might be an issue with driving and how you bank a curve," joked Doug Kirby, publisher of, which catalogs odd tourist attractions.

Kirby's site lists the Wonder Spot as one of 21 so-called "mystery spots." Lake Wales, Fla., has Spook Hill. Irish Hills, Mich., has the Mystery Hill. California has the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz.

The story behind each one is similar — gravity doesn't work in them. People seem to grow smaller, can't stand up straight and can barely walk. Promotions boast that strange forces in the spots trump the laws of physics. Others say they're just elaborate hoaxes.

"It seems like to spend a lot of scientific effort to debunk these places you're just sucking the fun out of a tourist attraction a lot of people enjoy," Kirby said.

The Wonder Spot lies just off U.S. Highway 12, the main drag between Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells in south-central Wisconsin. Together, the two cities constitute Wisconsin's answer to Las Vegas. The corridor between them is packed with water parks, giant resorts, museums, hotels and restaurants. The area convention bureau boasts the region is the water park capital of the world.

Louis Dauterman of Fond Du Lac took out the first permit for the spot in 1952, making it the longest-permitted attraction in the area, said Romy Snyder, executive director of the Wisconsin Dells Visitors and Convention Bureau. The spot itself is a plain, worn gift shop at the top of a ravine and a crooked cabin built into the slope.

According to a sign proudly placed at the base of the ravine, the Wonder Spot was discovered June 16, 1948. People who enter the spot, the sign warns, won't see correctly, stand erect "or feel quite normal ... in fact, on the cabin site the laws of natural gravity seem to be repealed."

Kirby called the Wonder Spot one of the top five most-visited mystery spots. Generations of people have stopped to see it. Children who visited would return grown up, their own children in tow, Carney said. During the mid-1990s, he saw up to 50,000 people per summer.

Snyder, who grew up in the Dells, visited the Wonder Spot when she was a girl. "We thought it was very cool. We always tried to figure out how they did that and never could. We did it all. We sat on a chair and it was only suspended by its back two legs, the ball rolling uphill, hanging from a doorway and your body slanted," Snyder said.

Carney, who bought the Wonder Spot from his sister in 1988, said he loved watching people's reactions. "I don't know how many times I heard, 'Do you sell Dramamine?'" he said.

When people asked what caused the Wonder Spot, Carney's guides blamed it on igneous rock or simply replied they didn't know. He's seen people at the spot studying it with instruments who declared a force was at work. When pressed, though, Carney said it's all an optical illusion. "We said don't try to figure it out," Carney said. "Just have fun."

The fascinating thing about places like this is that they defy explanation. Armies of scientists descend upon such places to run all kinds of tests that only seem to confuse matters more than they were before they began their experiments. I think it sucks that this is happening. Places like this should remain open for the curious among us to explore.

I wish I could remember who came up with this theory (it might have been David Hatcher Childress, author of many exotic engineering books for Adventures Unlimited Press), but I recall reading that the Great Pyramid of Egypt might have been built by harnessing some of the strange properties of a spot similar to the Lake Delton Wonder Spot. The riff went like this: The ancients somehow figured out a way to manipulate the fluctuating gravity of these areas to use in lifting and placing the huge limestone blocks that make up the Great Pyramid.

Of course, the next question then becomes this: How did a bunch of Bronze Age people figure out how to perform such a task, assuming that it could have been done? Did they have some kind of innate knowledge we modern folks now lack? Were the Atlanteans, or an even more remote race of supermen responsible? Aliens? I have no idea, but those people managed an engineering feat that we would be hard pressed to imitate today. It seems to me that we should be preserving this and other Wonder Spots, if for no other reason that they prove Arthur C. Clarke's adage that "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine!"

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