I LOVE Museums. Not just for the content in them, but I have developed an odd eye for details unrelated to the content at all. I attribute my “critical eye” to a museum studies course I took back in college. (If you ever have a chance to take a class or hear a lecture on museums, I highly recommend it… there is SO MUCH that goes into a well designed museum that is sure to bring a greater appreciation for the displays and preservation of artifacts).
Kenosha has no shortage of museums, and I was thrilled. While planning daytrips and outings in the “off-season” (ie fall & winter) you have to be careful to make sure that the museums are still open. This was NOT a problem with the four museums that we visited in Kenosha, as they are up and running year round!
Civil War Museum
There is a small fee to tour The Fiery Trail exhibit, which I highly recommend visiting especially if you have not seen it before. The exhibit has a lot of great information about the conflict itself and also shows how different individuals lives were affected throughout that time. But, my favorite part of the exhibit was viewing the Seeing the Elephant 360-degree movie. This 360-degree screen is very unique, and the guide told us there are only 3 in the US right now, one of which is in Disney World. The movie shows of the times leading up to the war, and as it proceeds you find yourself standing in the center of the battle. Seeing the Elephant is played on the hour, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly so you can see it.
The displays throughout the museum were so well done. There were sensors that would trigger audio in certain areas of the museum that made the experience more life like, though on occasion it did become a bit overwhelming. Part way through the museum, there is a riverboat with several wax figurines of people from the time, and as you’d walk by they would begin talking about their lives. Very interesting, and as to be expected a lot of it was very heavy. But, it’s a part of our history and this is a great way to learn about it.
The people in the displays looked so lifelike that on occasion, I would think they were real!
Be sure to see all three exhibits
There is another exhibit to the museum located upstairs which had a lot of artifacts and uniforms from different wars on display. A third exhibit, which is located on the main level and is free to visit is the Veterans Gallery. This exhibit features each of the wars that the US has been involved in. Once you walk in, give your eyes a little bit to adjust to the darkness. The center area is a “bonfire” and there are soldiers from each of the wars surrounding the fire. The exhibit is dimly lit, just by the firelight and stars. As you walk around the circle and the fire, there are small pockets of rooms which display artifacts and uniforms from each of the wars.
We really enjoyed talking with the woman taking tickets at the entry of the Fiery Trail exhibit. She had a lot of great information to share, and helped us make sure we didn’t miss any of the exhibits. There is a nice gift shop at the museum, so be sure to bring along the 10% off coupon located on VisitKenosha.com
And… for fellow collectors… they have a pressed penny machine located between the gift shop and the bathrooms!
5400 First Avenue
Monday through Saturday: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Sunday: Noon – 5:00pm
*There is a small entrance fee for the Civil War Museum*
Kenosha Public Museum
The Kenosha Public Museum is located right next door to the Civil War Museum! Another great thing about this museum? It’s free! The guide sitting outside the exhibit was great, and I loved how enthusiastic and knowledgeable she was. She explained the layout of the museum and where the famous Mammoth display was so we wouldn’t miss it. She also gave a lot of great suggestions for other Kenosha attractions to explore. Many of those suggestions were for seasonal things, so we will be sure to make a return visit in the future!
Like the Civil War Museum, the permanent exhibits were very lifelike and well done. There were a lot of beautiful artifacts, and informational displays. As you walk through the main exhibit you are transported through time. From fossils and shark teeth to dinosaurs, then onto the wooly mammoth, there are plenty of things to look at. Next, you walk through a Native American settlement and finally a trading post where kids can experience what it was like to trade for goods. After leaving the permanent exhibit, there is a large area for kids to continue learning. There are also special exhibits that rotate and are located upstairs.
The mammoth exhibit in particular is one not to miss since the two mammoths were excavated in Kenosha County! The display is set up like an excavation site. There are photos and tools like those used to recover the mammoth bones from the Schaefer dig site, and then the giant articulated skeleton of the mammoth takes up an entire room! The Schaefer mammoth was discovered on the farm of Frank Schaefer in 1964. While having a ditch dug in his fields, they hit something hard… which turned out to be a mammoth bone! After excavation, they recovered roughly 80% of this mammoth’s skeleton. After viewing the bones and seeing cut marks suspected to be from tools, it is believed that this mammoth was hunted and killed by people of the time.
In 1965, archeologists began excavating the Heibor mammoth. This skeleton is 90% complete! That is the most complete mammoth skeleton to date that has been excavated. Like the Schaefer mammoth, the Heibor mammoth was also believed to have been hunted and its bones had cut marks and were disarticulated. These bones are thought to be about 14,500 years old! (More info can be found at the Museums website)
Be sure to check out the nice gift shop at this museum, and since the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau is awesome, check out another 10% coupon on their site! VisitKenosha.com
And again, Pressed Penny Machine alert! Located in the main lobby close between the kids section, and the gift shop.
5500 First Avenue
Monday through Saturday: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Sunday: Noon – 5:00pm
Dinosaur Discovery Museum
The Dinosaur Discovery Museum is pretty great to check out too! This museum is also FREE, and has a little gift shop up front. This museum is pretty small, but they sure fit a lot of dinosaur skeletons in their center display. We only checked out the main level of the museum, since they were remodeling something, the stairs were blocked off during our visit. Since the lower level is mostly geared towards kids we skipped it rather than taking the elevator. But, now I’m super curious to what it looked like. Sounds like they have some really fun events for kids on the weekends where kids can be the paleontologist and dig for bones too.
You guess it… a 10% off coupon for the gift shop can be found at VisitKenosha.com
There was a pressed penny machine… but it was unplugged! Not sure if it was broken, or temporarily out of service due to the remodeling they were doing inside
5608 Tenth Avenue
Tuesday through Sunday: Noon – 5:00pm
Kenosha History Center
We happened upon the Kenosha History Center after wandering around down by the beach, so of course we had to stop inside! I LOVE history museums. Although I’ve been to many history centers in various cities, this one stood out to me. Why? The displays are very open. You can look at most things very close up, which I thought was pretty rare. Usually artifacts are hidden behind plexiglass displays, or something like that. Many of these artifacts were right there in front of you.
Clearly some artifacts cannot be displayed in this fashion (for preservation factors among other things), but the ones that were offered a new angle and light for the viewing. There were ropes, and signs saying not to touch the displays, and I can only hope that future visitors will continue to respect the boundaries so that the museum can continue to display things as they are.
The first exhibit area was of old Kenosha, and had displays of an old general store, barbershop, blacksmith, and school house among other things. After exiting that area, there was a hallway with a nice vintage toy display (behind glass windows), and then another large area of the museum, The Rambler Gallery, which features Kenosha’s history of automobile manufacturing. The center of the gallery has cars on display, which are rotated annually and they were in the process of rotating them during our visit. In this area of the museum, you can also see displays about businesses and industries that helped contribute to Kenosha as it is today.
There was also a cute gift shop here, and of course, a pressed penny machine located up front.
220 51st Place
Kenosha, WI 53140
Tuesday through Friday: 10:00am – 4:30pm
Saturday: 10:00am – 4:00pm
Sunday: Noon – 4:00pm
Monday & Holidays: CLOSED
As with any attraction or museum, be sure to verify that they are open prior to your visit. Most attractions are not open on holidays. Also, although many of the museums are free, donations are greatly welcome to help keep the museums running in the future!
Disclaimer: Our visit to Kenosha was hosted by the Kenosha Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. We received overnight accommodation, and gift cards for all of our meals and activities. However, all opinions are my own.