Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Unusual US Roadside Attractions

I grew up in a small town and we have many things that we can count as our ‘claim to fame’. One of those things is the oldest (established in 1975) and largest (producing approximately 450,000 cases per year) winery in the US South: The Duplin Winery. Another thing that Rose Hill, NC (besides their pork and poultry farming) is the one thing that I find laughingly amazing. I find the fact that we are home to…wait for it: the world’s largest frying pan. It sounds like one of those road side attractions that you hear people traveling around to see; and that’s exactly what it is. Much like the world’s largest ball of twine (a 5,000 lb. – 8 foot tall monstrosity in Cawker City, Kansas) or the world’s longest running steak house (which is in fact The Delmonico Steakhouse in Manhattan); the World’s Largest Frying Pan is a roadside attraction which brings in a trickling amount of tourists. So if you’re one of those people that enjoys the more obscure side of life and wants to see some of the more unique parts of what creates the beautiful underbelly of Americana; then don’t go to Disney Land. Steer clear of the mouse-themed amusement parks and find somewhere off the beaten path. Maybe go visit – Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Unusual US Roadside Attractions.  


Honorable Mention:

World’s Largest Ball of Paint (Alexandria, Indiana) – 

What began life in 1977 as an ordinary baseball, the ever-growing, now 3-foot in diameter ball has received an average of two coats of paint a day. As of 2011, the ball of paint had been coated over 20,000 times and weighed well over 1,300 pounds.

 

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10. They Also Ran Gallery (Norton, Kansas)

Norton is the county seat of Norton County, Kansas and is home to only around 3,000 people. The population may be small but Norton, Kansas has a one of a kind museum. In the mezzanine of Norton’s First State Bank houses an interesting collection of images. All thanks to the bank’s former president and owner, William Rouse. He received a book entitled “They Also Ran” by Irving Stone; which is the story of nineteen men who were all defeated for the presidency of the United States. He loved it so much that he started collecting black and white copies of portraits and photographs from the Library of Congress; and when the bank moved to a spacious new location…he utilized the mezzanine to house his collection. The new portrait of Hillary Clinton will hang on the wall next to the distinguished or sometimes lesser known losers. This intriguing glimpse of America’s political history is definitely one a kind.

9. World’s Third-largest but World’s Largest “Working” Fire Hydrant (Beaumont, Texas)

Okay firemen…I know that it isn’t the first or even the second largest; but the third-largest Fire Hydrant is 24-foot-tall. Did I also mention that it is white with black dalmatian spots and was used to promote the 1999 re-release of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians? It was built at Disney Land in Anaheim, CA The fire hydrant was gifted to the Fire Museum of Texas from the movie studio. But here is the kicker! The mottled shell houses the capability of blasting 25 gallons of water a second! So if you’re ever near Beaumont, Texas you won’t miss the 4,500 pound black and white fire hydrant.

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8. The Beer Can House (Houston, Texas) –

So what do you do when you’re tired of mowing grass? Well when John Milkovisch of Houston, Texas got tired of mowing grass he started cementing his yard and in which he inlayed thousands of marbles, brass figures and metal pieces into the concrete blocks which now make up his entire yard. In the late 1960s he started amassing the piles of beer cans left over from 18 years worth of a six-pack-a-day drinking habit. He decided that he would do what any of us would do. Of course he cut off the ends, flattened the sides, riveted them together, and used them as aluminum siding for his house. Of course this heated the house to an uncomfortable degree due to the reflective surface in the blazing Texas sun; so he took the remaining parts of his beer cans and made curtains and shades for the exterior of his home. The Beer Can House is now operated by The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art and for a mere $5 you can venture inside the establishment to experience John’s extraordinary imagination up close. Rednecks rejoice. You and your beer loving buddies have a king.

7. Coral Castle (Homestead, Florida)

I have always had a love for architecture. Especially medieval architecture. My love for castles was fueled by an early love of He-Man (and my wanting of my own Castle Grayskull) or the appreciation for the craftsmanship of the building itself. In another blog, I wrote about the Top 10 Castles in the United States and I felt terrible not listing one. So what would have been my number 12 on my list is now a roadside attraction and has been a tourist destination since the 1940s. From 1923 to 1951, Edward Leedskalnin single-handedly and amazingly carved 1,100 tons of coral rock. He didn’t just carve the rock but he created what is now one of the most mysterious accomplishments in the world. If we had been lucky enough to visit Coral Castle in the 1940s, we would have been guided on the tour by Ed himself. The short, small framed man would have introduced you to his fantasy world until the day he posted a note in 1951 on the castle door that said “Going to the Hospital”. Three days later, he died but his spirit lives on in the location in which he was ever so proud.  He spent those 28 years building the castle as a monument to his fiancee, who called off their wedding at the last minute; but we can visit and appreciate the sheer wonder of this massive hand made castle.

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6. Bishop Castle (Beulah/Rye, Colorado)

Okay. So yes this is another castle and technically it has already been on a top ten blog of mine (reference the link in number 7); but the Bishop Castle is truly amazing. This private home isn’t your normal, everyday roadside attraction but this is no normal home. In 1969 creator Jim Bishop, started building a one room cottage at the age of 15 using rocks from the surrounding forest. He didn’t set out to do more but a friend of his told him that it looked like he was building a castle…so he continued building and did just that. His self-described “largest one-man construction project in the country, quite possibly the world” is truly a site to behold. The ever growing, hand-built structure highlights a tower that ascends high into the sky above the 3 story 160-foot-tall castle, and a fire breathing metal dragon that he fires up on special occasions.

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5. World’s Largest Chest of Drawers (High Point, NC)

Not only is High Point one of the biggest cities in North Carolina; but it is also known as the “Home Furnishings Capitol of the World/Furniture Capitol of the World”. A furniture industry that began as early as the 17th century by English artisans who had settled in North Carolina; flourished in the 19th century. The city was located in the center of the Piedmont region, was located in the junction of a busy railroad or a main thoroughfare that ran through NC, and had lots of cheap labor. By the end of 1898, High Point was the leading furniture center in the South and was shipping eight fully loaded freight cars a day. The market had highs and lows but the Southern Furniture Expo was still drawing in 5,000 to 6,000 people from around the world even until the 1980s. Many of the larger furniture companies have sadly started closing their doors in the 1990s; but that doesn’t take away from High Point’s influence on the furniture industry. If you visit High Point, you can visit the High Point museum and see the examples of the furniture; or you can visit some of the countless examples of larger than life furniture. Yes, I didn’t say that exaggeratively. The city of High Point is home to a couple of the “World’s Largest” pieces of furniture; but the one that stands out the most to me was built in 1926. The world’s largest chest of drawers was originally called the Bureau of Information (get the pun) and stands 36 feet high. “The Furniture Capitol of the World” called attention to their booming furniture industry; as well as High Point’s hosiery industry (hence the two socks seen hanging out of one of the drawers. The 36 foot high 19th-century style furniture piece has been painted several times and was recently restored; so its ready for you to go and awe at this amazing creation. And if that really gets you excited, you can travel about 5 miles down the road and visit the “world’s largest dresser” which stands almost 80 feet high.

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4. Carhenge (Alliance, Nebraska)

Always been intrigued by the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England? Not want to travel across the ocean but would still love to see something like that? How does a trip to Nebraska sound? Well even though the archeologists won’t tell you that Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska could be 5000 years old…historians will tell you that Jim Reinders conceived the art installation as a memorial to his father in 1987. Reinders studied the layout of Stonehenge while living in England. Instead of using large standing stones, like that of ancient man, Reinders used cars covered in gray spray paint. Carhenge consists of 38 cars arranged in a circle; just like Stonehenge. The heel stone of the build is a 1962 Cadillac. The ten acre site is now known as the “Car Art Reserve” where other automobile related sculptures have been added throughout the years. I mean, you may think it is corny but the site has appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows as well as listed as one of the top places to visit in the US and Canada. That’s saying a lot, eh?

640px-Fountain_of_Youth_postcard3. Fountain of Youth (St. Augustine, Florida)

I have always been intrigued by the mythos surrounding Ponce de Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth (enough that I’m writing a short story using it as my inspiration). Well if you don’t know, Juan Ponce de Leon was a Spanish explorer and conquistador and sailed with Christopher Columbus to the Americas in 1493. He settled in what is now Hispaniola (which is now the Dominican Republic) and acted as the military commander there at that post. He discovered the island of Borinquen and there in discovered large deposits of gold. On order of the King of Spain, he returned to the island in 1508 and named it Puerto Rico. He was removed from his governorship after two years by the King to be replaced by Christopher Columbus’s son. After his hurt from being removed from the position, he journeyed through the Bahamas and was the first European to set foot in what is now Florida. The aging adventurer was in search of new lands and treasure; but also was in search for the magical spring whose waters could make older people young again. His ship lands in modern day St. Augustine, Florida. He claimed the land for Spain and since he discovered the beautiful landscaped place, he was entitled to name it. So he named it La Florida or in English the Place of Flowers. Though he never discovered more gold or the actual mythical fountain, he did think he had discovered it. He found a natural spring that he claimed was the Fountain of Youth. Since it turned out that it was not, the site is now just a kitschy tourist attraction. You can can even take some some of the water home; as long as you buy the “Fountain of Youth” souvenir bottle.

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2. Field of the Wood (Murphy, NC) 

Back at the turn of the 1900s, a Christian man named Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson traveled to visit with the Western North Carolina mountain people to pass out tracts and teach them about Jesus. He loved the area so much that he and a few followers decided to form a new church (the church would become the Church of God of Prophecy which now has over 700,000 members in 115 countries). The story goes that Tomlinson decided to take hike up a nearby mountain to pray. He came back from his hike saying that God had spoke to him and told him what kind of church he should make; and just like Jacob of the Bible’s Old Testament (who had a vision of a ladder leading from earth to Heaven), he came back to the area where this happened and memorialized that spot. Cradled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll be able to find the spot that Tomlinson’s holy place. The church bought 210 acres, of which included the mountain that Tomlinson claimed he spoke to God. He began this project and in doing so created the World’s Largest Ten Commandments, the World’s Largest Altar, the World’s Largest Cross, and countless replicas of other holy sites. Whether you are religious or not, the site is more than a testimony memorializing the mountain where God revealed his vision for this man’s church; it is testimony to the abilities of human engineering.

  1. Cabazon Dinosaurs (Cabazon, CA) 

The 1980s brought about many memorable things (one of those things being me) and countless movies that will live on in Pop Culture history. One of those movies was Pee Wee’s Big Adventure where we find Pee Wee journeying across America to find his prized bike. The one place that always stuck out to me was the scene in which Pee Wee climbed inside and sat in the mouth of these huge concrete dinosaurs. These dinosaurs weren’t actually props built for the movie (director Tim Burton claims everyone swore that they thought they were); but are actually part of a real roadside attraction. The dinosaurs were used in countless music videos and even in the 1989 movie The Wizard (which had a star studded cast of a young Fred Savage, Christian Slater, Tobey Maguire, and Beau Bridges). These dinosaurs were actually the brainchild of sculptor, portrait artist, and theme park artist (Knott’s Berry Farm) to help draw people to his Wheel House Inn Restaurant (coincidentally the Restaurant was also used in the infamous “Large Marge” scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure). They broke ground on Dinny, the first Cabazon dinosaur, in 1964 and he was finished 11 years later. The 45-foot-high, 150-foot-long was not along for long and in 1981, Rex was built. Sadly Bell died in 1988 and the property was sold. The facility is now owned by young earth creationist who believe that the Earth and the dinosaurs were created about 6,000 years ago. So now just outside of Palm Springs, you’ll find the naturalist paintings of Cro-Magnon and Java Man that Bell did presented along side the creationist information.


 

Images – 

Featured Image: Panoramic view of Carhenge image by User:Ammodramus (original photo), cropped by User:Eco84 – Derived from File:Carhenge from NW 2.JPG, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32622691

They Also Ran Gallery image accredited to They Also Ran Museum in Norton, Kansas, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, http://www.theyalsoran.com/pix/GalleryImage.jpg

Beer Can House photo accredited to NZ Russ from Texas, USA / Auckland, NZ – Flickr, Fair Use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=680606

Carhenge photo accredited to Brian W. Schaller – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55630050

Fountain of Youth Postcard image attributed to Tichnor Brothers, Publisher – Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection #69182, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50320932

The Front of the Castle with view of the Towers image By User: Hell in a Bucket – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25750457

World’s Largest Chest of Drawers photo accredited to NCpedia.org – CC By-NC-SA 4.0, http://www.ncpedia.org/sites/default/files//styles/anchor_images/public/guilfordcodreser.jpg?itok=B13xAOfa

Ten Commandments, Fields of the Wood, Murphy Cherokee County, North Carolina accredited to John Foxe – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64602159

Cabazon Dinosaur Rex image by CityMorgue – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35373076

Cabazon Dinosaur Dinny image by CityMorgue – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35373077

 

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