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Jewish World Review July 3, 2001 / 12 Tamuz, 5761

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Consumer Reports

Not-so-famous tour explores not-so-rich neighborhoods

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LAKE GENEVA , Wis. | The man leading the boat tour - the "Ice Cream Social" hour-and-a-quarter tour around half the lake - seems to know absolutely everything about all the rich people and their many mansions along the lake shore here.

He tells us, for instance, that there were 19 fireplaces in one home built 100 or so years ago. He describes how this or that property has been subdivided after the original owners died. He points to a work crew putting up a large yard tent for a party - and notes that it's the third party of the summer so far at that place.

And it all should be sort of interesting. But ultimately it's boring. The rich are, after all, different from you and me, assuming you aren't rich, either, or anyway as rich as all these fabulously well-to-do folks who own these pretentious mansions.

It occurs to me, listening to all this stuff about fortunes made and spent, that tours of middle-class neighborhoods would be a lot more engaging than tours of the lives (or at least the properties) of the rich and famous. (Here in Lake Geneva , the famous include the Wrigley chewing gum family.)

Oh, I know we're part of a culture that's driven by celebrity, the mindless attraction to the luck of fickle fame. We buy bazillions of magazines and watch countless hours of TV, all glorifying celebrity because somehow we care whose child some unmarried 25-year-old TV sitcom actress is carrying.

But between that and the gutter-seeking sensationalism of the world's Jerry Springers, who want us to observe the pathetic lives of society's losers, there is room, it seems to me, for tours of the neighborhoods where everyday middle-class folk live, measuring out their days in coffee lattes and beers.

Wouldn't it be worth the cost of a $10 ticket, say, to get on a bus and be driven through a nice neighborhood and hear stories like this?

The B.C. Jones family bought this house 12 years ago. They've refinanced their mortgage twice since then - once to add a sun room on the back and once to pay for a motorcycle Mr. Jones thought he had to have in the midst of his midlife crisis, which he's almost over.

Across the street you see a home originally built on spec in 1948 by a developer. It's now got its fourth owner, a single man whom many of the neighbors think is the son of somebody famous, despite his denials. And his denials are right, though he does look a lot like the guy who used to play Kotter on "Welcome Back, Kotter."

Down on the corner is the Crunchworthy home. It's still called that even though not a single member of the Crunchworthy clan ever lived in it.

Ellis Q. Crunchworthy built it in 1952, but his wife, Priscilla-Jean, murdered him before it was finished. She discovered that he had been cheating on her with the wife of the building contractor.

The family that owns it now has never murdered anyone, though one of the children once killed a cat by running over it with a skateboard.

As I say, this boat tour leader is full of juicy tidbits about the wealthy folks who built the palaces around here. But I'd have been more interested in what he had to say if he had kept us on land and conducted a tour of his own neighborhood.

I know a guy who sells residential real estate. Maybe I'll suggest this common-folk neighborhood tour idea to him for potential customers.

He's sure to like it better than the last idea I gave him, which was that he make my monthly mortgage payments for me.


Comment on JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' column by clicking here.


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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2001. All rights reserved