You can get an impression of the grand old days by showing up for dinner at the Alpine Resort. Real birch-bark wallpaper and white wicker furniture in the lobby greet guests, and in the dining room, white tablecloths, wood floors, a view of Egg Harbor and the resort’s antique glass-globe lights on a seawall are treats for the eyes.
But if you take a closer look around the two lobbies and a hallway, you can learn all about the history of the Alpine, the family that has operated it for 96 years, famous guests and life in Door County. During the past few decades, rather than throwing out or selling unusual things, owner Bill Bertschinger and family members have assembled dozens of museum-quality exhibits in part of the 1922 section of the lodge and especially in the Tyrolean Room, the Swiss-themed lobby that’s part of the 1927 addition.
In glass cases of various sizes, visitors can find old menus, tools, office equipment, old promotional materials and bills – two days, one meal, $20, 1943. There’s also everything from Door County and Egg Harbor peculiarities to family members’ antique toys in the cases.
“My wife bought those cabinets from a jeweler who went out of business in Sturgeon Bay,” Bill said. And that’s how the displays evolved.
With the Alpine Resort for sale – but opening this month and getting a lot of urgent reservation calls from longtime guests – Bill said he’s not sure if the old items will go along with the lodge sale. He said some items are on loan from former employees and an antique organ is on loan from a local family.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen to all the mementoes. Some items are personal, of course we’d retain those,” he said. Many things had been collecting dust for years in the fourth-floor attic. Many came out of the Egg Harbor home of Bill’s father, Paul, as well as Paul’s desk.
There’s so much to look at, it’s tough to take it all in. Turning on lights for a photographer, manager Cindy Bertschinger Livingston said she noticed a few things, such as a Popeye’s ring toss game and a miniature toy bowling game that she’d never seen before. Next to that, she’d certainly noticed some of the antique dolls. And she sometimes points them out, to get a rise out of young guests.
“There was a kid on a laptop. I said, ‘Did you ever notice these dolls, their eyes follow you wherever you go?’ He got up and ran out.”
Over her shoulder, a pair of lederhosen hang in front of a wintry-looking board game, Admiral Byrd’s South Pole Game. When they were growing up, kids in the family including Cindy wore lederhosen and participated in Sunday sing-alongs on Sunday nights.
“We would perform for the guests. We had a day trip boat named the Good Ship Lollipop. We’d always sing ‘Good Ship Lollipop’ and the one who sang best got to go on the boat,” she said.
The pleasure boat took about 20 people to Chambers Island or Peninsula State Park. Insurance costs caused the resort, like many nationwide, to stop providing the boat rides, as well as a powerboat for fishing, plus horseback riding at the stables, Bill said.
One case has Bill’s Korean War medals, Bertschinger family members’ baby shoes from the early 1900s and toy soldiers in World War I gear in various positions. Some are taking aim with guns, some are throwing grenades or holding binoculars and several are wounded on stretchers. In the 1930s, Bill’s mom bought the lead soldiers for him for 10 cents apiece.
“She would go to Sturgeon Bay to do her shopping and she’d always bring him one Army guy,” Cindy said.
What else can you find in the cases?
- A thank-you note in pencil on Alpine stationery signed by Clarence Darrow, famous lawyer whose cases included the Scopes Monkey Trial. (It’s actually a 1900s version of early checkout: He asks the managers to give his bill to “the McKays…We’ve had a great time.”)
- Old homemade augers, a calendar from J.F. Bertschinger Lumber with a photo of the Alpine on it and an unusual wood-handled tool with pointy iron picks at the end. Cindy said it was on display for years and a guest finally identified it in 1998. It’s a “sugar devil,” used to loosen sugar when it was shipped by the barrel.
- Tools for cutting ice from the bay. Men drove the blocks to Highway G that’s uphill from the lodge, and then they’d slide the blocks into the three-story icehouse that still stands. They’d pack the ice in sawdust (also available from the lumber company, which was located where Door County Nature Works is now).
- The first business letter ever written by Bill, from when he answered an ad and sold bottles of salve. He asked for the company to send him his reward, a 35mm movie projector. “My dad is sending a check of $3.35.”
- In the golf clubhouse, there’s a photo of Bob Hope playing golf. The comedian had stayed at a residence in the Horseshoe Bay area, said Cindy. “It was a horrible day and stormy. But then he wore an Egg Harbor sweatshirt on ‘The Tonight Show,’ so that was neat,” Cindy said.
- What else? Old Christmas cards from guests, a powder-can fire extinguisher, old Log Cabin syrup cans, a toy zeppelin, old phones, a rubber shower adapter, lighters, knives, the Egg Harbor treasurer’s journal dating back to 1871, a scrapbook from the resort’s early years and a newspaper clipping from the second annual, $1,500 Cherryland Open Golf Tournament. (Jackie Allen of Madison won in a playoff.)
Bill said of the items on display, “I felt fortunate every now and then to find something.”