Morgan Freeman. Albert Einstein. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Need your shingles replaced? Call Harrison Ford. Hard to believe, but all the afore mentioned celebrities have visited, lived or worked in Williams Bay.
Even harder to believe, is that you really COULD call Harrison Ford in the early 1960’s to do handyman work around your home! The REAL Harrison Ford!
Long a summer vacation spot, over the years, Williams Bay has attracted the famous for a variety of reasons. Employment, visits to friends, conferences at the local camps and just plain happenstance has allowed the residents of Williams Bay a glimpse into these famous personalities lives.
Reporters were baffled when Einstein, world renowned physicist stated when asked by reporters where he would first like to visit in the United States, he replied “Williams Bay, Wis.”
On May 6, 1921, Einstein paid a brief visit to the famous Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, meeting with the staff. Women’s Suffragette leader, Susan B. Anthony arrived in Williams Bay in 1892, to stay with friends William Harbert, a prominent Chicago attorney and his wife Lizzy, whose summer retreat, Tre-Brah, was in Williams Bay. Mrs. Harbert was active in the Women’s Right To Vote Movement, and Anthony attended several of these meetings during her stay in Williams Bay.
The struggle for Civil Rights was on the brink of destiny when Dr. Martin Luther King attended a weekend conference in Williams Bay at Conference Point Camp in October 1962. Less than a year later, King was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial delivering his “I Had A Dream” speech.
Academy Award Winners, Paul Newman and Harrison Ford, along with actor Gary Burghoff all found employment at Williams Bay’s Belfry Theater by chance. Both Newman & Ford were just out of college and fortunate to acquire a paid internship at the Belfry, the premier summer stock theater company in the Midwest, Newman in 1949 and Ford in 1964 . Both supplemented their income by offering their services as handymen to the residents of Williams Bay. It is rumored that Ford lived in a converted chicken coop on Clover Street during his sojourn here. Award-winning director of the Belfry Theater and Williams Bay resident, Bill Fucik, was instrumental in sending both on to Hollywood once their internships at the Belfry had ended.
Burghoff lived in Delavan, but his mother, Ann, was the head choreographer at the Belfry, so both Gary and his older brother, Dave, worked there summers in the early 1960s.
He would later head for Hollywood and become one of TV’s most beloved characters as Radar O’Reilly on TV’s MASH.
Hollywood came to Williams Bay in 1996 with the filming of the Keanu Reeves-Morgan Freeman action thriller, “Chain Reaction.” Filmed on location at Yerkes Observatory and George Williams Aurora University as well as other area sites, locals frequently ran into the stars at the gas station and local watering holes. The movie’s local “premier” at the Delavan movie theater, found most of the residents of Williams Bay in attendance.
The list of famous residents and visitors seems endless. Margaret Meade, famous anthropologist, Gloria Steinem, famous Women’s Rights activist, James Naismith, the creator of the sport of basketball, Carl Sagan, scientist — the list goes on. More recent celebrities include residents Academy Award-winning Special Effects Artist Dieter Sturm, the infamous “Snow Man,” and Model of the Year, Linda Tonge.
All have added a chapter to the rich history of Williams Bay.
To discover more about who your neighbors might have been, join the Williams Bay Historical Society, meeting Thursday Oct. 17, 2013, at 7 p.m. at the Williams Bay High School.
For more information contact Deb Soplanda, Williams Bay Historical Society President at firstname.lastname@example.org.