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Saturday, December 24, 2005
Famous Folks and Amazing Facts: Appleton's Fame and Glory
- Appleton is where Harry Houdini grew up. He was born in 1874 in Budapest as Eric Weiss, then brought to Appleton in his infancy. Internationally known as an escape artist and a magician, the Houdini name remains prominent in this area. For example, in 2004 Appleton became an epicenter for magic and illusion as part of the incredible Houdini Days magic festival, held in honor of Appleton's own Harry Houdini. For photos, see my page of photos from Houdini Days in Appleton.
- Actor Willem Dafoe of Green Goblin fame began his career acting with the local Attic Theatre. He was a student body vice president in middle school here, I've been told by the candidate who lost to him.
- Maury Laws may be one of the more famous people from Appleton. He was the music director for many movies, TV shows, etc. He directed the music for Frosty the Snow Man, The Hobbit, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and many more. His web site is www.maurylaws.com. He moved away to Hollywood but now lives in the heart of Appleton once again. Welcome back, Maury, and thanks for your significant accomplishments!
- Senator Joseph McCarthy got his political start in this area. A bust of him is on display in the Outagamie Museum.
- Author Edna Ferber moved here in her youth and graduated from high school in Appleton. (An elementary school is named for her.)
- John Bradley, a man from Appleton, is one of the soldiers raising the flag in the famous photo from Iwo Jima in 1945. His son, James, is author of the best-selling book, Flags of our Fathers, which deals with the lives of the six men in that photo. John Bradley died in 1994, the last of the six to pass away.
- As a center of the papermaking industry, Appleton hosts the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame, celebrating the accomplishments of major stars from industry and academia. It's housed within the amazing Paper Discovery Center.
- Appleton's Fox Valley Technical College began in 1912 as the first school in the United States exclusively dedicated to vocational education.
- Appleton's Lawrence University is the second oldest coeducational college in America.
- Appleton had the nation's first hydroelectric station which opened on Sept. 30, 1882, providing 12.5 kilowatts to light two paper mills and a home (see The Evolution of Hydropower). The facility can still be seen along the riverside down on the "flats" behind Lawrence University). The first home with electric power, the Hearthstone, is now a historical site open for regular tours. (For more info, call 920-730-8204.)
- Appleton also had the first electric cable car (running along College Avenue), and the first hotel with all electric lighting.
- Appleton claims to have the nation's first enclosed shopping mall, the Valley Fair Mall at 2145 S. Memorial Drive. (But I am told that Watertown, New York, may have a more legitimate claim to this honor.)
- Rocky Bleier, a football star, grew up in Appleton and was a star player at Xavier High School. After serving (and being injured) in the Vietnam War, he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers (I guess football looked easy after Nam!). He was in the National Football League for 12 years . His story is told in a book (Fighting Back) and a TV movie.
- Alex Rodriguez (a.k.a. "Arod") played for the Appleton Foxes for a season before going to the Seattle Mariners.
- Tony Kubek is another famous name from baseball who lived in Appleton for many years, though he was a native of Milwaukee (a large suburb of Appleton, about 100 miles to the south). With the New York Yankees, he was rookie of the year in 1957, played on six World Series teams, and was in three All-Star games. He was also a well-known broadcaster for NBC in the 1970s. After achieving fame, he moved to Appleton. I think he's still here.
- Speaking of baseball, major league umpire Gerry Davis is from Appleton.
- Appleton was honored in 1986 as "Sports City USA" by Sports Illustrated. Appleton was featured on the cover.
- Blane Reichelt, the recently retired NBA referee widely viewed as one of the best NBA refs in the game, was from Appleton.
- Greta Van Susteren, another graduate of Xavier High School and daughter of an Outagamie County judge (Urban Van Susteren), has became quite a TV celebrity. She was an on-air analyst for CNN during the O.J. Simpson trial, then had her own show, "Burden of Proof," and has recently joined FOX.
- Lou and Peter Berryman are famous folk singers from Appleton.
- Actor Campbell Scott (who, I am told, was in Dying Young with Julia Roberts) is a Lawrence alumnus, and has even come back and lectured at Lawrence, where he also serves on the board of trustees. He is the son of George Campbell Scott (Patton) and Colleen Dewhurst.
- Terry Meeuwsen was Miss America in 1973. Before that she was Miss Appleton and then Miss Wisconsin (Wisconsin's only Miss America in the 50-plus years of that pageant). She has recently cohosted Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club."
- Linda Butler, an outstanding photographer noted for her fine black and whites, hails from Appleton.
- Ellen Kort, an award winning poet and speaker, hails from Appleton.
- Rob Brackenridge, a well-known comedian, is an Appleton native now living on the West Coast.
- Professor Mark Dintenfass of Lawrence University English professor has
published several many of fiction and has done numerous book reviews for the New York Times.
- Dale Duesing is a well-known opera star and graduate of Lawrence University. He lives in Appleton for part of the year.
- Judah Bauer, guitarist for the very popular national new wave/blues band, The John Spencer Blues Explosion, grew up in Appleton and went to Appleton East High School (go East!).
- Mike Lowe, Editor in Chief for Madison's weekly The Onion, came from Appleton. This spoof paper used to be just something enjoyed by southern Wisconsinites but now is internationally popular.
- Mark Stewart, lead guitarist and cellist for Paul Simon, grew up in Appleton. You'll see his name on many of Paul Simon's solo CDs. I understand that his father was a head pastor at the Episcopal Church at College and Drew.
Research gives these titles to other cities.
Ellen Kort was Wisconsin's first Poet Laureate from 2000-2004.