From the Braver Institute
So there we were, Wayne Genghis and I, golfing our way across the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin. We were on the return portion of our tour after completing a business transaction in Ironwood. After lengthy debate over breakfast at Ma’s Place Cafe in Wakefield we decided that we should head for Eagle River, WI for our next round of golf.
Heading south on US 45 we arrived in Eagle River. A moment later I declared rather suddenly “That’s where Pleasure Island was!” Wayne looked at me like I had suddenly grown an extra pair of eyes and another nose. “Pleasure Island?” He didn’t have to say another word for me to realize that he had no clue as to what I was talking about.
For just a moment I was transported back in time to the days of my childhood. The memories of watching tv and the seemingly never-ending stream of commercials beckoning people from across the region to come and explore the marvels waiting at Pleasure Island.
I can only vaguely recall the content of the commercials but I do remember not being completely sure of what this “Pleasure Island” was all about—all I can remember is that the logo at the end of the commercial featured the smiling face of a cartoon kid wearing a cowboy hat. I also knew that it had something to do with the old west, and that was enough to pique my interest. The one thing that I was sure of was that I wanted to go there and I am sure my parents were contemplating getting rid of the tv after having to listen to me constantly express my desire after every commercial.
It was not unusual for my parents to take a drive somewhere on the weekend. We would load up and go to my grandparents houses or off to one of my great-aunt’s or uncle’s camps that were scattered across the region. I understand that these trips are interesting for adults, but as a kid a trip across the U.P. was akin to torture. Miles and miles of trees was the only thing to look forward to. We didn’t have iPods to amuse us. We didn’t even have FM radio.
One Saturday morning found my parents loading my kid sister Badger Annie and me into the car for one of these tedious excursions. I’m sure I asked where we were going but my parents didn’t say. Most likely the answer was that we were going for a ride.
After hours with my head leaning on the glass of the car window blankly staring out the evergreen nothingness with the Badger standing on the seat on the other side of the car (these were the days before safety) singing the words to songs she was making up on the fly, I was jolted back to the world of the living by the sight of a billboard with a logo I knew all too well. We were arriving in Eagle River and Pleasure Island was there to welcome us.
It should be noted that Pleasure Island has absolutely nothing to do with an island at all. There is no island in Eagle River with the exception of maybe a sandbar in the middle of the town’s namesake river. Pleasure Island was a play on Treasure Island. I am not sure why they chose a name more closely linked to pirates than cowboys.
To get into Pleasure Island you had to pay admission at the gift shop. Stepping out of the gift shop we were suddenly teleported to the Old West.
The pine trees that provided the backdrop to Pleasure Island from the outside world were miraculously transformed into a distant mountain range far across the desert (at least in my mind this is what happened).
There were horses and wagons, a stagecoach you could ride in and cowboys carrying sidearms walking down the street and on the boardwalk. Suddenly there was the sound of gunfire and several masked men came running out of the bank in the middle of town carrying bags of loot and trying to make their getaway.
The sheriff and his deputies ran out of the jail and met the robbers in the street. A gunfight ensued ending with all but the leader of the bandits being gunned down. He challenged the sheriff to a duel in the street. The sheriff of course accepted the challenge and naturally won. The whole scene may not have played out exactly like that but you get the idea of what Pleasure Island was all about.
Sure, there was more to it than just a shootout in a western town. It had a haunted house and some kiddie rides but what self-respecting pre-adolescent boy would pay any attention to things of that nature when there was an entire world full of cowboys to explore?
Driving by the location where Pleasure Island and its boundless domain of the western frontier once was, I found it hard to believe that they somehow managed to fit all of that excitement into a space that seems barely big enough for the high school that sits on the site today.
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