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Commentary: Searching for wonder

The Milwaukee Art Museum is one of four Wisconsin sites that is a candidate to be named the Eighth Wonder of the World by VirtualTourist.com. Readers can vote for the museum, the Wisconsin Dells, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and the Wisconsin Cheese Trail until Sept. 30. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

The Milwaukee Art Museum is one of four Wisconsin sites that are candidates to be named the Eighth Wonder of the World by VirtualTourist.com. Readers can vote for the museum, the Wisconsin Dells, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and the Wisconsin Cheese Trail until Sept. 30. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

A 12-year-old boy picks up a school library book on the Seven Wonders of the World and drifts away on visions of magical, faraway places.

He marvels at the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Roman Colosseum, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and the Taj Mahal in India.

That boy never once considers the bickering, politics and general lack of consensus behind the selection of those wonders. It never occurs to him that there are many organizations promoting what they view as wonders or that the eighth wonder might be “brought to you by (insert corporate behemoth).”

It’s best that society keep that knowledge from him for as long as possible.

Sadly, the naming of wonders often is about turning a quick buck, hijacking and commercializing the magic. An online company, VirtualTourist.com, wants your votes to pick an eighth wonder, and four of the 327 candidates are in Wisconsin: the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Wisconsin Dells, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and the Wisconsin Cheese Trail.

The full list of candidates from VirtualTourist.com, which compiles advice and experiences from travelers, includes natural and man-made sites, some of which fail to inspire the awe that one might expect from a wondrous landmark.

In fairness, though, some candidates strike the right note. Niagara Falls and the Empire State Building score high on the awe-inspiration scale. So, too, does Mount Rushmore with 60-foot busts carved in granite on the side of a mountain. It’s a no-brainer.

The Golden Gate Bridge. It’s another slam dunk that combines engineering and breathtaking scenery. It’s possibly the most photographed bridge in the world.

Mount Katahdin in Maine. Admittedly, I’m a bit biased on this one. I grew up just a short drive from the northern end of the Appalachian Trail, but I’ll let Henry David Thoreau’s comments about the mountain make my case: “I looked with awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers had made there, the form and fashion and material of their work. This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was no man’s garden, but the unhandselled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor waste land.”

South Dakota’s Badlands National Park is another candidate capable of capturing a 12-year-old boy’s imagination. Its beautifully rugged buttes and the largest undisturbed mixed-grass prairie in the U.S. make it an inspired choice.

So why then must we consider The Bee Gees Way in Australia or Bubble Gum Alley in California? How is it that we could consider it a wonder that someone built a walkway for a band or stuck thousands of pieces of chewed gum on the walls of an alley?

A kid might think that’s wonderful, but not a wonder.

And in the flurry of corporate sponsorships and tourist dragnets, someone needs to remember that there are standards for the wonders of the world. The bar is not set by VirtualTourist.com or whatever huckster steps in with the next list.

It’s set by that 12-year-old boy.

A wonder won’t make him say “cool.” It will leave him speechless.

Jeff Cota’s copy editing at The Daily Reporter has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Follow him on Twitter.com/Jeff_Cota.

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