The personal website of Chris Coyier

The Wonder Spot

The Wisconsin Dells is a tourist mecca of a city. Loaded with water parks, mini golfing, go karts, boat tours, and the like. I grew up nearby, so I’ve done it all. It’s a naturally beautiful place (a “dell” is a pleasant “small secluded hollow”). There is water throughout the Dells like the lovely Wisconsin River and Lake Delton. They are full of cool rock formations like this:

So as touristy as the Dells are, it’s a lovely place to be anyway because of all the Wisconsin natural beauty. More recently, the Dells has become full of big year-round resorts. The Kalahari, Great Wolf Lodge, The Wilderness… They’ve changed the Dells a bit. For one thing, they are open all year and bring the water park experience indoors. As a kid, the Dells were basically closed in the winter. Not so much anymore. But the resorts also keep people at the resorts. Why leave the resort where there is loads of food and fun right there?

I hope I’m not whining – I think the resorts are pretty darn nice actually, but they do make the Dells seem smaller. If you camp out or staying a little motel, you spend your time in the Dells bopping around to different parks and attractions and the whole city feels like this funzone wonderland.

Speaking of wonder, one of those attractions that stuck in my mind my entire life is The Wonder Spot.

It was this cheezy little tour, it probably cost something like five dollars. They would tell you that gravity works differently here at the Wonder Spot. I don’t remember all the details perfectly. It was something like a meteor was buried in a hill across the small valley and it was the cause of the strange gravity.

The tour led you down this path into a fenced area with a little wooden cabin.

It did feel weird in there. The tour was full of things like marbles running uphill, chairs balancing on 2 legs, and hanging from a bar feeling like you were being pulled in a strange direction.

It was damn memorable, anyhow. Especially as a kid, where you buy the gravity change hook line and sinker. As an adult, it’s still weird. It’s an optical illusion, but there is some natural component to it, and I’m sure accentuated by the angle by which they built the cabin and fence.

On a recent family trip to the Dells, I thought perhaps I could take some of the kids over there. But alas, we didn’t have time. We were having a great time at a resort ;)

But even if we did, upon looking it up, I discovered it was gone! Apparently, the city of Lake Delton wanted to build a road and offered up enough money to close the thing. RIP Wonder Spot, 1952-2007. That article has some fun anecdotes…

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.

One woman, after stumbling through the cabin, sprinkled her mother’s ashes on the ground.

“She just said, ‘This was mom’s favorite place and she wanted to be here,”‘ Carney said.

I’m not the only one to lament the loss.

it was all great fun in a mild, pre-Disney World kind of way that I appreciated.

So I like to think that the hole that drained Lake Delton was the revenge of the Wonder Spot, reversing gravity one final time.

That lake-draining thing is wholenother story.

I appreciate the final owner’s self-awareness:

Carney said the attraction was easy to promote because it seemed that, although “no one comes to the Dells area to see the Wonder Spot, everyone who does come here sees it. They all came here with their grandmas and grandpas,” he said.

It was 100% my grandpa and grandma who took me there the first time. I can’t wait to be a grandpa someday and find my own Wonder Spot.