High Lights, Gertie The Duck, Bigger Ben, and Beer Googly Eyes

Pulled into Port Washington for the night. It’s a small harbor town just north of Milwaukee. Very nice harbor and hospitable people (thanks to the ladies at the tourist office for making me feel welcome).

The Port Washington Light Station, built in 1860, sits high above the town and the visit provided some great views of Lake Michigan.

The light fixture, a nine-sided cast iron lantern, sits 40ft above the ground with visibility over 18 miles. Shame it is only open on the weekends – the photo album for the day has some additional pictures.


In Milwaukee for the day, I visited the Riverwalk area where I came upon an interesting sculpture on the bridge over the Milwaukee River.

Gertie The Duck and Brood

In 1945, WWII was taking a toll on the people of Milwaukee. Bridge tenders manning the drawbridges noticed a mother mallard nesting on the pilings of the Wisconsin Avenue bridge.

Black Bill




A reporter for the Milwaukee Journal began daily reports on the nest until the eggs hatched.


Soon, national newspapers joined in the watch as AP and UPI reporters let the rest of the nation know about Gertie. Life Magazine featured her in a story and even a London paper printed a story about the family.

Rosie the Riveter

The city’s superintendent of bridges postponed an $1800 piling replacement job. Street car conductors would stop by the bridge – run over to check the nest – then run back to report to the passengers. Gertie received hundreds of cards and letters on Mother’s Day.

Dee Dee & Pee Wee (Pee Wee's hiding under Momma)

When a careless smoker accidentally lit the nest on fire – the Humane Society stationed a guard next to the nest.

The city even pumped fresh water into the river to push along an oil slick whose fumes threatened the health of the ducklings. When a huge storm washed the family into the river, the bridge tender saved them with a long handled net. A parade celebrating VE day (end of WWII in Europe) stopped playing the band instruments and walked quietly over the bridge before starting back up when a safe distance away!

Gertie the Duck children's book

Soon, the ducklings became too rambunctious and the family was relocated to an empty store window at Gimbels Department Store complete with round-the-clock nurses. Once the ducklings were old enough, the group was moved to a local park. They were transported by fire truck along a path lined with cheering Milwaukeeans. It’s estimated that over 3 million people saw Gertie and her brood.

And, for a short time in the spring of 1945, America and her allies were given a little respite from the pain of war in the form of a little mother duck and her beautiful babies.


Quick – what’s the biggest four-sided clock in the world? Big Ben? Nope. It’s the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower atop their research offices in Milwaukee.  Built in 1962, each face has a diameter of just over 40 feet. The minute hands are 20 feet long and weigh 550 lbs each and the hour hands are 16 feet long and weight 490 lbs each.

Bigger than Ben

The faces of the clock light up thanks to several hundred high-output fluorescent tubes, connected by a mile and a half of wire behind each clock face. At night, the clock has been seen as far as 44 miles out on the lake and from Holly Hill, 30 miles inland.

How much bigger than Big Ben is this clock? Well, LITTLE Ben is only 23 ft in diameter. HA! Take that, England.

(Just to throw the Limeys a bone  – Big Ben’s clock tower  is the largest CHIMING four-sided clock in the world. Since the Allen-Bradley clock is visible from such a distance, they decided it wasn’t necessary to chime the clock.)


After a long day of sightseeing (phew, tough work!), I stopped into one of the Irish Pubs that seem to populate every other street corner in Milwaukee. The beer must have been some potent stuff – as I was driving out of town, I started having some hallucinations:

The Ladybug Building


After this terrifying ordeal, I beat feet back to Port Washington.


Today’s Travel: 188 miles

Total Travel to Date: 1045


5 responses to “High Lights, Gertie The Duck, Bigger Ben, and Beer Googly Eyes

  1. Wow, I live in Wisconsin and I don’t think I’ve ever toured Milwaukee that much! Thanks for the great report! 🙂

  2. WOW That must be some lighthouse if you can see the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Milwaukee. Sure you didn’t take a wrong turn somewhere? Better get that lady back on the GPS!

  3. LMAO

    Keep the posts coming. This is great stuff! Enjoy the trip.

  4. Thanks for stopping in our city – glad you had a nice visit!
    Kathy Tank, Executive Director
    Port Washington Tourism

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