Wisconsin’s best-kept secrets exposed in book

Twig’s Beverage in Shawano one of over 80 things unveiled by travel writers in ‘Secret Wisconsin’
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Lambeau Field didn’t make the list for “Secret Wisconsin: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure,” but that’s to be expected, because it’s hardly a secret.

Twig’s Beverage and the Sun Drop Museum also aren’t really a secret to locals, but they made the list for “Secret Wisconsin,” a guide for some of the small-town uniqueness that makes the Dairyland State the place that it is. Buried beneath the cows and Green and Gold memorabilia are over 80 places and things that Tom Manus and Kristi Flick Manus have discovered as travel writers, and the couple say there’s plenty more that didn’t make this book — indicating “Secret Wisconsin” might have a sequel or three.

“The way we travel is by road trips on back roads and two-lane highways,” Manus said during a book signing event Nov. 11 at the Sun Drop Museum. “We’re small-town travel specialists.”

For the Eau Claire couple, the love of Wisconsin prompted pulling back the curtain on some of the amazing things hidden in small towns. Flick Manus grew up in Madison, while Manus was a convert after getting married in 1995.

“This helps to get families to get out and take road trips, to make memories,” Manus said. “We finally decided, after all these years, we should tell other people about it.”

Flick Manus noted that the places in the book will not cost families a small fortune. The most expensive venture will cost $64.80.

“We want families to get out and see the state,” Flick Manus said.

The travel writers heard about Twig’s Beverage on the wind and decided to check it out. They visited while the Sun Drop mural was being created outside the bottling facility. While visiting, they got to see how the bottles are filled, how Twig’s specialty sodas are created and the museum that showcases three generations worth of Sun Drop history.

“We came over, checked it out and fell in love with it,” Flick Manus said. “It’s one of those that people locally know, but not necessarily statewide, and we wanted to make sure everybody in the state knew about it. It’s very unique.”

However, the initial visit did not prepare the couple for the return trip for the book signing, when they saw cases of soda constantly moving past them for customers.

“It’s got such a cult following,” Manus said.

“It’s such a show,” Flick Manus added. “I can’t even imagine. The bottles go in. The bottles go out.”

Of course, there’s much more than Twig’s in “Secret Wisconsin.” Flick Manus said that one of the favorite things for the couple is a Friday morning fish fry in Kenosha.

“At 7:30, you can go and get your fish,” she said. “It’s in a bakery called Oliver’s Bakery.”

Manus added that the owner of the bakery has owned it for 40 years and worked a few years before that, but when asked how the tradition started, she had no idea.

“It’s just a given,” Manus said. “People order ahead of time, and she sells out every week.”

Manus noted that the things found in “Secret Wisconsin” can’t always be found on the first couple of pages of Google Search. One of those things came to light as the travel writers visited Durand and discovered in a place called the Corral Bar an 1885 circus poster that’s 55 feet long and 9 feet tall.

“It was temporary. It was only supposed to last two months,” Manus said. “The owner and his brother bought the bar and the building next to it to turn it into an event space. When he started tearing the wall out to build a doorway, he cut a hole that was really big, and he noticed there was a really colorful buffalo staring back at him. That got his curiosity up, and he started carefully removing everything.”

An expert from Baraboo checked out the poster, according to Manus, and said it was the best preserved poster he’d ever seen. The poster is now behind glass in the Corral Bar’s event room, he said.

Another favorite for the couple is a place called Gravity Hill in Lafayette County near Shullsburg. Flick Manus said that the hill is a road where people put their vehicles in neutral “and the forces of nature pull your car uphill.”

“It’s a really quirky and unique thing,” she said.

From the world’s oldest sanctioned bowling alley in Milwaukee to a museum in Luck bearing the world’s largest yo-yo as a reminder that Duncan Yo-Yos used to be manufactured in the community, there are plenty of hidden gems within easy driving distance for anybody living in Wisconsin.

“We go to grocery stores and talk to people,” Manus said. “That’s where we find unique things — local people at the grocery store. We don’t tell them we’re travel writers or anything. We just say, ‘Hey, what’s there unique to do here?’ and then they just start talking. In small towns, people are proud of what they have. You don’t see that in the big cities.”


WHAT: “Secret Wisconsin: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure”

WHO: Tom Manus and Kristi Flick Manus

WHERE: Available on Amazon, as well as Barnes and Noble and other major bookstores. The 192-page paperback book, retailing at $27, is also available through Reedy Press at www.reedypress.com.