Wisconsin is home for many famous aviators, such as EAA’s Paul and Tom Poberezny, astronaut Deke Slayton, and air racing legends Steve Wittman and Bill Brennand, to name but a few. But Wisconsin is also home to aviator, master illusionist and stunt performer, Harry Houdini of Appleton.
Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, on March 24, 1874, and arrived in the United States with his family on July 3, 1878, sailing on the SS Fresia with his mother, who was pregnant at the time, and Houdini’s four brothers. They first lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, where Houdini’s father served as Rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. From 1907 on, Houdini claimed to have been born in Appleton. He died on October 31, 1926 at age 52 in Detroit, Michigan, possibly from an injury he sustained during a public appearance in which someone punched him in the stomach to test Houdini’s strength before he had the chance to tense up.
Houdini became interested in flying in 1909, and had a French Voisin biplane built for $5,000. The Voisin weighed 1,350 lbs and resembled a large box kite. After crashing once, Houdini made his first successful flight on November 26, 1909 in Hamburg, Germany. The following year, Houdini intended to fly in Australia, but experienced a month of delays due to strong wind conditions, and problems with the controls of the aircraft. Houdini finally got airborne the morning of March 18, 1910, and made three flights – the last of which covered a distance of 2 miles and reached an altitude of 100 feet in 3 minutes, 30 seconds, making him the first person to fly in Australia. On March 21, 1910, Houdini flew 6 miles in 7 minutes, 31 seconds. Shortly thereafter, Houdini put the Voisin into storage in England, never to fly again.
You can learn more about the Great Houdini at Appleton’s “History Museum at the Castle,” located in a former Masonic Temple (www.myhistorymuseum.org).
Another museum in the area is the “Bergstrom-Mahler Museum” in downtown Neenah, featuring among other things, one of the largest collections of glass paperweights in the world (www.bergstrom-mahlermuseum.com).
If you are an outdoors person, hike the “Red Bird Trail” at High Cliff State Park, located on the shores of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin’s largest inland lake. High Cliff State Park gets its name from the limestone cliff of the Niagara Escarpment, which parallels the eastern shore of the lake. The 3.7-mile trail includes panoramic views of Lake Winnebago, and features a statue of the Winnebago Indian Chief, “Red Bird,” and a 40-foot observation tower (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/highcliff/).
The “Fox Cities Performing Arts Center” in downtown Appleton hosts Broadway shows. The $45 million facility opened its doors to the public on November 25, 2002 (www.foxcitiespac.org).
The paper industry is huge in Wisconsin, and the “Paper Discovery Center” in Appleton tells the story of why the Fox Cities together make up the “Paper Valley.” Explore the history of the first paper mill to use hydroelectric power and admire the views of the Fox River, while making your own paper to take home (www.paperdiscoverycenter.org).
Conclude your visit to the Fox Cities by stopping by the “Downtown Appleton Farm Market,” the area’s largest farmer’s market with more than 140 vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, exotic meats and cheeses, breads and baked goods, specialty food, and handcrafted items, while you enjoy live music. The bustling streets downtown feature more than 60 unique shops, galleries and eateries (http://www.appletondowntown.org/events/event-highlights/farm-market).
When visiting the Fox Cities, fly to Outagamie County Regional Airport (KATW) and visit Wisconsin’s newest fixed base operation, Platinum Flight Center, where you can top off with either 100LL or Jet fuel, and rent a car, and maybe even book a hotel room for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, located 24 miles to the southwest. Daily shuttle service is provided between the airports during AirVenture, courtesy of Platinum Flight Center.
Outagamie County Regional Airport is home to Gulfstream Appleton, an aircraft completion and service center for large-cabin Gulfstream aircraft, including G450/G550/G650 models, as well as military and special missions’ aircraft, and several business aircraft built by other manufacturers. The company provides scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, and upgrades to airframes, powerplants, avionics and interiors.
Gulfstream located in Appleton, Wisconsin when the company purchased K-C Aviation from Kimberly-Clark Corporation in 1998. The Appleton facility was part of that acquisition.
The Appleton facility includes three hangars with slots for 21 aircraft, plus a paint facility, and is both a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Part 145 authorized repair station. The company also has maintenance approvals from Saudi Arabia, Canada and Bermuda.
Gulfstream Appleton certainly adds to the “Magic of Aviation In The Fox Cities” (www.gulfstream.com).