Wisconsin Dells once boasted dozens of weird roadside attractions before it erected a strange mix of water parks and human Habitrails masquerading as hotels. Many Milwaukeeans have an affinity for such guilty pleasures because they grew up a short family truckster ride away from the Dells. Louisville, Kentucky entrepreneur Will Russell hopes to capitalize on this love of paying a couple of bucks to see something weird when he brings his Funtown Mountain Wondershow to Club Garibaldi on Tuesday, April 21. The carnival-style show features music, burlesque, and an Airstream trailer full of oddities right out of Area 51’s recycling bin. Milwaukee Record sat down with Will to talk about his show, and his ambitious project to restore a disused tourist attraction in Cave City, Kentucky.
Milwaukee Record: What made you decide to bring the Funtown Mountain Wondershow to Milwaukee?
Will Russell: I love Milwaukee. It’s a great town. I’ve been up here for Lebowski Fest, which I helped create. I’ve been working with Matt Beringer at the Pabst Theater and we decided to bring the tour through Milwaukee because it is so near the Dells. There’s this place called House on the Rock. We’re going to drive out there during the day of the show to walk around and meet some people.
MR: The Dells have a lot of roadside attractions that you’d like.
WR: We’re also going to try to hit the clown museum. There’s this website, Roadside America, that has a great catalogue of attractions around the country. We teamed up with them for the tour, because they have an app for your phone that points out all these weird little stops during a road trip. Cave City has a lot of attractions like this. These things cropped up around Mammoth Cave, which is the largest underground cave network in the country. Experts think the caves might go from Kentucky all the way to California.
MR: Cave City sounds a lot like the Dells.
WR: It has a lot of stuff to see, like Wigwam Village, which are 15 concrete teepees. It’s also home to Guntown Mountain, which was built in the late ’60s. Guntown Mountain fell into disrepair, because nobody wanted to come out to a Wild West town anymore, not even in Kentucky. I bought it and plan on restoring it, by changing it into Funtown Mountain with the help of this tour.
MR: How are you looking to change Guntown Mountain to Funtown Mountain?
WR: We’ve got the oldest haunted house attraction in the country that we’re restoring. You’ll take a chairlift to get to the park, but we’re adding in a zipline and a soaring eagle that you can ride. There will be a museum of pop culture. Our Lucky Lady saloon will feature touring bands. We’re building a Kentucky Rushmore featuring the faces of the most famous people from our state. We’ll have a treetop village inspired by the Ewok village full of animatronic animals, like owls. And you can round out your day in a fiberglass dragon where you can watch the sun set. I want to shine a light on Cave City. We call it the Land of A Million Instagrams.
MR: What about roadside attractions appeals to you that you want to preserve that feeling?
WR: Roadside attractions represent the heart of the entrepreneur. It’s Americans being bold and creative and putting things out there for people’s amusement. Sure, let’s put the biggest ball of yarn in my garage. We’ll make some souvenirs to pay for it. I’ve been looking for things like this to move to Funtown Mountain, so that we can use the train that runs on the grounds to tour the ones we’ve rescued.
MR: If you could teleport any roadside attraction to Funtown Mountain, which would it be?
WR: The Mystery Hole in Hawks Nest, West Virginia. My father and I once won a whitewater-rafting trip and we started seeing these signs: “Check Out The Mystery Hole,” “Mr. Wilson’s Mystery Hole.” We paid two dollars to this guy who took us into this room behind his shop. This guy could kill us. We could die. We step into the Mystery Hole and suddenly Mr. Wilson is standing at a 45-degree angle. He’s quoting the bible. We’re falling, we’re laughing. I will never forget the experience.
MR: It sounds like you’ve got a lot of interesting things lined up in Kentucky. What will you be bringing to Club Garibaldi?
WR: We have three acts inside the club. The Dan Band is a hilarious and filthy musical act. They’ve been featured in The Hangover, Old School, and Starsky & Hutch. Go-Go Amy is a professional burlesque dancer and fire-eater out of L.A. Christopher Wonder offers a rowdy magic show. You’ll need a ticket to see the acts inside the club, but outside we’ll have our Airstream trailer parked with a small collection of items we’re putting on display at Funtown for anyone to see. You’ll recognize it by the mannequin wearing an authentic Colonel Sanders suit driving a Hoveround. We have him on remote control, so he’ll be patrolling the area to lure the curious into the show. We hope a lot of people come by to say hi.
The Funtown Mountain Wondershow comes to Club Garibaldi Tuesday, April 21. Tickets are $20 in advance, or $25 the day of the show. The fun begins at 8 p.m.