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It’s a big deal here: Places, things and events

By Jill Tatge-Rozell
jrozell@kenoshanews.com
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This week, the Kenosha News takes a look at the people, places and things Kenoshans can be proud of, what we’re known for and what attracts people to our great corner of Dairyland.

Kenosha has produced a cast of Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and other famous people. From the tip of the Southport Lighthouse to the Country Thunder stage, the county is filled with popular venues and attractions. And we celebrate a rich history of innovation.

The best part of living in or visiting Kenosha County is different for everyone as evidenced by responses posted on the Kenosha News Facebook page. For some its all about the food and fun. For others, Kenosha is “a people” rather than a “a place.”

Cars

— Rambler: Thomas B. Jeffery began building the Rambler in Kenosha in 1902. In a 1908 advertisement it is billed as “a car for country roads” and farm use. By 1914, it is described as “sophisticated and luxurious.” Charles Nash, who bought Jeffery’s corporation in 1919, continues to make the Rambler as does the American Motor Coporporation. The last US-produced Rambler rolled off the line in Kenosha on June 30, 1969.

— Gremlin: Described by some as a “sardine can” and by others as an April fools joke, the Gremlin was introduced on April 1, 1970. One historical record indicates the design for the vehicle was inked on an airplane sickness bag by the late Richard Teague. AMC basically chopped off the rear of the Hornet in an effort to introduce the first compact car. It has gained cult status in some circles. Marge Simpson, of the Simpson’s cartoon, was a proud owner of a Gremlin as a teenager and the Gremlin took on a bad-boy role in “Cars 2.”

— Pacer: This goofy fishbowl of a car, introduced by AMC in 1975, was hailed as the “car of the future.” It is now regarded as some as one of the worst cars of all time. But, it has also earned a spot in pop-culture. The last Pacer rolled off the assembly line in Kenosha on December 3, 1979. A robin’s-egg blue Pacer of that same year, with flames painted on the front fenders, starred in the 1992 film, “Wayne’s World.” More recently, the Pacer appeared in the “Cars 2” movie and the music videos of Bare Naked Ladies and Eminem.

— Streetcars: Historically restored electric streetcars travel a 2-mile loop in downtown Kenosha, providing a scenic tour of the Lake Michigan shoreline, HarborPark, two historic districts, and the downtown business district.

— Snap-On: Joseph Johnson and William Seidemann formed the Snap-on Wrench Company in 1920 and it is still headquartered in Kenosha. The company initially manufactured ten sockets that would “snap on” to five interchangeable handles, a concept that revolutionized the tool industry. Snap-on now has nearly 14,000 products and the brand is visibly associated with motor sports.

— Five-Star: Five Star Fabricating was formed by Fran Prestay and Carl Schultz in the late 1970s. Their race car bodies are now the choice of many NASCAR teams, including Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.

— Great Lakes Dragaway: Great Lakes Dragaway in the town of Paris is the oldest continuously operating drag racing facility in the world and even offers people the opportunity to race their own vehicles.

Festivals

— Country Thunder

Country Thunder equals big names, big crowds, big money.The Country Thunder music festival brings tens of thousands of people to Kenosha County each summer when it rolls into the town of Randall. The four-day country music festival attracts people from across the country with its line-up of chart-topping artists and camping options.

A recent study showed 94 percent of the 30,879 people who attended the festival in 2012 came from outside the county. The event fuels the local economy with more than $5 million while another $5 million is estimated to be spend on site. The average person surveyed spent about $180 off site during their stay. Many of the concert-goers stayed in campgrounds at the festival site, while others stayed in local hotels.

— Bristol Renaissance Faire

Everything is larger than life at the Bristol Renaissance Faire - from turkey legs to the revelry. Ren Faire enthusiasts and families looking for some multi-generational entertainment flock to Kenosha for nine weekends each year to travel back in time to 1574 at the faire.

Queen Elizabeth, knights, swordfighters, minstrels and jesters interact with patrons at the 30-acre festival. Nearly 200 artisans also display their wares, including pottery, jewelry and blown glass. There are also 16th Century games and rides, food and music.

— Bicycle Racing

Kenosha’s annual Food Folks & Spokes event draws upwards of 30,000 spectators to downtown Kenosha, and top-notch cyclists as well. It combines a full line-up of races — beginners through professionals — with a festival atmosphere and food from area restaurants.

Kenosha is also home to the Washington Park Velodrome, the oldest operating velodrome in the nation, located at Washington Road and 22nd Avenue. Nestled in a bowl-shaped natural terrain, the 333 meter banked track attracts cyclists from all over the Midwest. It opened July, 11 1927. The Food, Folks and Spokes event

Museums and mammoths

Kenosha is a mammoth when it comes to museums. The Kenosha Public Museum, the Civil War Museum, the Dinosaur Discovery Museum, the Kenosha History Center and the Southport Light Station Museum attract thousands to the city each year.

Possibly the most significant local exhibit on display is the Shaefer and Hebior mammoth exhibit at the Kenosha Public Musuem. Archaeologist Dan Joyce and archaeologist David Wasion unearthed the nearly complete remains of the Schaefer mammoth in the Town of Paris in 1992. It is the oldest known mammoth believed to have been butchered by humans with tools east of the Mississippi River.

Wasion and archaeologist Dr. David Overstreet later excavated another mammoth on the neighboring Hebior farm. It is both the most complete and the largest wooly mammoth ever excavated. The sites are two of the three oldest archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere.

Brats, beer and cheese

— The Brat Stop and Mars Cheese Castle feature regional cuisine and are often the first and last stop of people visiting the county and the state.

The Brat Stop, which claims to have the world’s best brats, opened in 1961 on Highway 50, just west of Interstate 94. It welcomes an estimated 450,000 visitors per year to Wisconsin and Kenosha County.

Celebrities who have “stopped at the brat,” include Michael Jordan, Tom Arnold, Steven Tyler, and Bette Midler. A remote broadcast of, “The Best Damn Sports Show,” was also filmed here. The list of national acts that have performed on the Brat Stop stage since the 1960s is extensive and the venue continues to feature up-and-coming artists.

Thanks to a recent rebuild, Mars Cheese Castle, at 2800 West Frontage Road, now actually looks like a castle in addition to being called one.

It is a popular stop for those who are just passing through on Interstate 94, as well as a destination. Manager Tyson Wehrmeister recently gave vice-president Joe Biden a tour. Wehrmeister’s grandfather opened the store in 1947 in a former schoolhouse.

Greasy spoons

Kenosha County arteries are blessed with two popular greasy spoons - one to the east and one to the west.

— Franks’ Diner: Featured with Guy Fieri on the Food Network series “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Franks Diner, 508-58th St., is known for its garbage platter. The lunchcar, shipped to Kenosha in 1926 on a railroad flat car, has been in business for more than 20 year. It has been the focus of numerous TV specials and featured in travel magazines. Most recently, it was featured on Destination America’s episode entitled, “United States of Bacon.”

— Manny’s Snack Shack: This diner, 404 S Lake Ave Twin Lakes, was used as a setting in the movie, “Fever Lake.” But locals know it as the place where if you order a one egg omelet, it will have four and no item on the breakfast menu fits on the platter. Patrons watch as Chef Manny slings, chops and flips the food on the grill behind the breakfast bar. The joint is always packed, but no one ever minds.

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