Sputnikfest 2014


Rahr-West Art Museum - click HERE for more info!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sputnikfest has been fortunate to have children’s illustrator Tina Kugler, a former Manitowoc native, share her considerable talents with us in the form of an annual Sputnikfest poster.  The 2102 edition, shown at right, will be available for purchase at this year's event.  Here is a link for a gallery where you can view the all the previous Sputnikfest posters, hosted at Tina’s own website.
The Sputnik image has been used to sell a wide variety of products from Wi-Fi to baby clothes.  The idea of a Sputnik Vodka (or “Wotka” as Pavel Checkov would say) just seems like a natural.  What could be more natural when combining cold war nostalgia, Russia, and Wisconsin – than a Vodka Flavored Beer!  Not sure where you can buy this stuff – but we really need to get them on board as a sponsor for Sputnikfest.  Hey out there – Vodka-Flavored-Beer-People – we need to talk!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

“Don’t you just hate people who drop in unexpectedly?”  So went the text on the poster for the 1966 move “The Russians Are Coming.”  The Russians dropped in on Manitowoc unexpectedly on September 5, 1962.    
   About 4:30 AM Central Time on September 5, 1962 Sputnik IV broke up and plunged to earth over Wisconsin.  Law enforcement officers in Eagle River Wisconsin reported seeing “24 flaming pieces flash across the sky.”  A bus driver traveling between Escanaba and Green Bay saw the spectacle and recounts “As we watched, the lights began to spread out, one behind the other.  I continued to drive south until I was about a half mile from the intersection of highways 41 and 141.  The time was about 5:00 AM.  The lights became brighter and we counted 25 or 30 of them passing almost directly over the bus; they were traveling at a great rate of speed.  As the first one disappeared over the bus, I looked out the windshield, but could not see them.  I looked out the left side window and saw them in the direction of Manitowoc.”
   Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Wisner of Kellnersville on their way to milk cows, saw objects in sky and heard five explosions.  The Reverend Vernon Anderson’s wife was awakened by the sound of an impact, but after going to the window and not seeing anything she went back to bed. 
   At 5:45 AM Manitowoc police officers Marvin Bauch and Ronald Rusbolt saw something laying in the road in front of the museum.   An hour later, at 6:45 AM they took another look, realized it was metal and decided to pick it up to get it out of the street.  Finding it too hot to handle, they pushed it to curb with their feet, assuming it was a piece of slag fallen off a truck from one of the local foundries.  At noon they heard news reports of the re-entry of the satellite and went back to recover the piece. It was brought to the police station, where a fire department Geiger counter was used to determine the item did not have a dangerous radioactive reading.  Government authorities were notified and police barricaded the area, awaiting arrival of officials from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington who took custody of the item.  The piece was flown to government labs at Los Alamos for testing, which confirmed it was part of Sputnik IV. 
   In the days following the event additional smaller pieces of debris were found in the area, including on the property of the nearby Lutheran Church, with several pieces recovered on the church annex roof. 
   These improbable events plunged Manitowoc into the Space Age and made international headlines.  It was voted The Top News Story of the year in Manitowoc for 1962.  The question as to just how to commemorate the event for posterity is something that has been struggled with for many years.  Immediately following the crash someone actually suggested changing the name of the city to Sputnik, Wisconsin.   One prescient alderman suggested observing September 5 each year as “Aero-Space Day” in Manitowoc.  Other Aldermen saw no reason to “pay tribute to a piece of aerial garbage made in Russia” or have anything to do with “anything communistic.” 
    We have to remember that these events took place during the height of the Cold War – the “Red Scare” was a very real thing to Americans in those days.  In fact, “Red Nightmare” – an anti-communist propaganda Armed Forces Information Film was shown on American television in 1962.  It is posted below, if you are interested - a little under a half-hour long and very "Twilight-Zone-esque." (Narrated by Jack Webb - of "Dragnet" fame - and watch for a brief appearance by Robert Conrad, who would later star in the popular sixties show "The Wild Wild West.")
    A brass ring was placed in the street in 1964 to mark the site of the impact and in 1987 a stone marker was placed in the curb between the sidewalk and the street.  See the brass ring and the stone marker up close – and be here and help us “pay tribute to a piece of aerial garbage made in Russia” – we promise it’s nothing "communistic."    See you on September 8! Planet Terry

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Schedule of Events for this year's Sputnikfest is now available!  The event kicks off at noon with non-stop wacky-tacky fun until midnight.  See the out-of-this-world line-up posted here - just one of which is the Cosmic Cake Contest, which allows Kitchen Cosmonauts to show off their confectionary creativity.  The 2011 top prize-winning cakes are shown here.  The cakes are judged at 1:00 - then put on display until 6:00 PM at which time they are auctioned off to the public!    

Near the bottom of the Schedule of events posted here, you will see a note about a shuttle running between Sputnikfest and Lobsterfest from 6:00 PM to Midnight.  The date chosen for Sputnikfest a few years back turned out to be the same day that the local Rotary Club has been doing their annual Lobsterfest fundraiser event.  The two events really haven't been in conflict with each other - many people do attend both functions and the "space shuttle" serves to facilitate that.

While the "Traditional Live Maine Lobster Dinner" is available by reservation only, "non-lobster" eating attendees can enjoy a hamburger or hot dog - and of course, a cold beverage.  If you are interested in combining a lobster dinner with your Sputnikfest pilgrimage, be aware that ticket sales for the lobster dinner end on September 3.  $40 gets you a whole live lobster - flown in fresh from Maine - with all the traditional trimmings. 

Just to prepare yourself for a combined Lobsterfest and Sputnikfest experience, you may consider watching the 1989 homage to 1950's B-movie sci-fi films: Lobster Man from Mars.  The plot of this decidedly campy outing, featuring Patrick McNee and Tony Curtis, is actually a swipe of the Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan classic "The Producers."  (and "The Producers" - incidentally - is on this year's roster for The Masquers!)

Posted here for your viewing "enjoyment" - the promotional trailer for "Lobster Man from Mars" -  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Manitowoc boasts the longest running community theater group in the State of Wisconsin – the Masquers.  The Masquers was founded in 1931 and has been showcasing great local talent in several productions per year since then.  The headquarters of the Masquers is referred to as “The Coach House” – for good reason.  Located right next door to the Rahr-West Art Museum, and only yards from “ground zero” for the impact site of the Sputnik fragment, the building once housed the horses and carriages for the mansion that is now the museum – back when it was a private residence.  Each year, the Masquers “re-enactment” of the Sputnik IV mission – short on historical accuracy but long on fun – is one of the highlights of Sputnikfest.  Rumor has it that the creative geniuses at Masquers are hard at work right now, rewriting parts of this perennial favorite to make it even more special for this year’s 50th anniversary celebration.  Below is a link to a YouTube video of a previous year’s presentation, to give you an idea of what you might see at this year’s event.   Planet Terry
Just about 30 miles south of Manitowoc, the City of Sheboygan also has unique ties to the space age – one of which is an interesting bit of historical trivia and the other being a very modern-day tie-in. 
Lets back up a bit to World War II to frame the story.  The V-2 rocket, built as a weapon by the Germans in World War II, was the first man-made object to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight - and was the grand-daddy of all modern rockets.  It was about 15 meters long, two meters in diameter and really scary for anyone living within its 200-mile range.  The V-2 traveled faster than sound, came down steeply, and hit its target without warning. 
By the spring of 1945 it was clear to Werner von Braun, one of the key scientists responsible for developing the V-2, that Germany was losing the war.  He made plans to surrender and take key members of his team, plans and equipment with him.  Given the devastation the V-2 had wrought on the Allied forces, and fearing the treatment he and his team might receive if they surrendered to the Russians or the French, he made up his mind to surrender only to American forces. 
On May 2, 1945 he sent his younger brother, Magnus von Braun out on a bicycle to find an American to surrender to.  Magnus approached a young Private named Fred Schneikert from Sheboygan, Wisconsin and told him that he represented Werner von Braun, inventor of the V-2 rocket – who was nearby and ready to surrender.  Private Schneikert did not believe Magnus and told him “I think you’re nuts” – but he did relay the message to his superiors, and sure enough, the surrender was arranged.  Private Schniekert was able to meet Werner von Braun after the surrender, and von Braun confided he was looking forward to continuing his rocket work in America.  Shniekert says “I told him I’d be back home before he ever saw America.  But I was wrong.”  Later in 1945, as part of a project code-named “Operation Paperclip”, Werner von Braun was among the German scientists who assisted America in developing its own rocket program. 
Today, Sheboygan is home of the only licensed spaceport in the Midwest – the Great Lakes Aerospace Science and Education Center (GLASEC).  What is a “spaceport”?  The website for GLASEC explains that a licensed spaceport is an area designated as having access to space.  Most of the United States is under restricted airspace – where flight is limited to 50,000 feet or less, for national security reasons.  The airspace over the Sheboygan Spaceport is “open” to space travel.  There are a few other licensed spaceports – in Florida, Texas, and California, for instance – but Sheboygan is the only one in the “interior” of the United States.  Planet Terry