In every genre, every category of thing, there are those that stand out from the rest. Music has it’s kings and sports have their legends, and art has it’s masterpieces. Roadside attractions are no different. To my mind there is a clear mother of all roadside attractions, which sets the bar for the others, and that place is the legendary House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
It was the House on the Rock which started everything for me. I was facinated by the story of an eccentric man who built a literal temple to his own eccentricity in the relative middle of nowhere. Finally seeing it was a dream come true which resulted from a strangely routed tour across the midwest when I was tour managing a band, and a breakneck drive across the state in an attempt to make it to the House. We very nearly did not make it before they sold the last tickets for the day. I was almost in tears as we pulled into the parking lot. Some of the reason for this was that it’s very hard to motivate someone to go somewhere when you can’t exactly explain what the place that they have to hurry to get to is. “It’s a strange house a guy built and all of his crazy collections” while it doesn’t sound terrible, doesn’t exactly inspire holding your pee and risking a speeding ticket for a 5 hour drive.
I’m still not exactly sure how to classify the House on the Rock. It’s mostly, like many roadside attractions, the story of a singular person. A brilliant, determined, and extremely and profoundly strange person. It is literally his vision made solid, sometimes out of the rock itself and filled with the things he found beautiful or interesting, quite literally beyond most imagination other than his. I know I just said literally a lot.
That person was Alex Jordan. As the story goes, in the early 1940’s, Alex Jordan was hiking and looking for a pleasant picnic spot when he found the rock outcropping known as Deer Shelter Rock. He began building the house there without any training in engineering or art, and only his building experience helping his father with construction in the (sort of) nearby Madison. As a result the house is built in an extremely bizarre fashion. Instead of building it all at once it was built one room at a time, each one following the last, in sort of a spiral shape.
Each of the 13 rooms has a specific purpose, one as an office, one for playing piano, one for sleeping, one for listening to music and one for reading. The first room built was the Winter Room, which is built directly into the rock, using it to form seating and a cooking area, intended to be a workshop and studio. In the early years, Jordan apparently did most of the construction entirely alone, even carrying rocks from the nearby quarry on his back to the site. He apparently never made any engineering plans or blueprints and built entirely based on the vision in his mind and some rough sketches. The valley wasn’t electrified until 1952, so the early building was done without electricity as well.
Such was his fervor that it hadn’t even occurred to Jordan that the land he was building this strange house upon didn’t actually belong to him, and he didn’t officially lease it from the owners until the following the electrification of the valley, in 1953. He officially purchased all the land the House sits on in 1956. The following year he hired his first employee to help with construction. During this time it was Alex Jones’ father who was bankrolling his eccentric son’s project, and its thought that is was he who first suggested opening the house to visitors once the strange project began to garner some attention through word of mouth. One would think he had a mind to make back at least some of the money he has invested in the project. The House on the Rock was opened to the public in 1960 and began to do well almost immediately. Construction and additions to the house and the collections in the outbuildings continue to the present day. Alex Jordan passed away in 1989.
The decorating in the house itself is as much a part of the experience as the construction. The rooms, as mentioned, are meant to create moods, and give the first glimpse of the manic collecting yet to come in the outbuildings.
A sort of aside about stained glass: Alex Jordan had a thing for stained glass. Which I appreciate, because so do I. But like most things Alex Jordan liked, he liked it on a level I couldn’t imagine or comprehend. I’m sure Alex Jordan just “liked” anything, he just became obsessed with things. The house is dark and moody, because it has almost no clear glass windows. It makes it feel elegant. Many of the windows were salvaged from midwestern churches in the 1950’s when there was an effort to change older style places of worship into more modern buildings. Some colored class was made specifically for the house to set certain moods. The seasons set was an exact replica, the only one known to exist, of a Tiffany set.
Most of the lighting in the dim house comes from table lamps. This is, apparently, the largest collection of Baur-Cobel stained glass lamps in the world. Because, of course it. Baur-Cobel by the way, was started in the 1970’s to openly copy the glass work of Tiffany, but it turns out they did it rather better, and some collectors consider Baur-Cobel to be more valuable.
In Infinity room was conceived of by Jordan way back in the 40’s when construction on the house was still in very early stages. I’ve also heard that Jordan met and was dismissed by the famous Frank Lloyd Wright and that inspired the building of the house and the Infinity room but their meeting isn’t mentioned in any of the “official” literature of House on the rock or the family. The room was mentioned by Jones in a poem about the house in the 40’s (yes, apparently he wrote poems about the house) describing it as “one long thin room that will hang in space”
This feat of engineering took another 40 years of his life to actually bring to fruition. Completed in 1985, this spindly hallway like room extends 218 feet off of the house over the valley.
It’s 156 feet above the forest floor and the last 140 feet of the room are entirely unsupported, simply dangling in midair. A sort of reverse sunroof in the floor at the end of room offers a dizzying view of the treetops below.
Almost immediately after completion of the house itself Jones began to build outbuildings and gardens. These other buildings acted as gatehouse and other areas for guests to visit at first, and began to house his other collections. To house someone’s collections may not sound like much of anything, but this was a man who took collecting very seriously. As hinted at by the stained glass collecting in the house, he did nothing in moderation. His collections run a wild gamut and include glass paperweights, penny banks, vintage cars, airplanes, model ships, music machines, dolls, antique firearms, and armor. It is, in a word, insane.
Maybe its not entirely wise to disclose this, but it’s important in explanation. Because we did arrive at the House on the Rock so late in the day, the staff refused to issue us tickets for anything beyond the House and it’s gardens. As a result there are actually large sections of the House on the Rock that I didn’t get to see, like a faithful recreation of a nineteenth century town called Mainstreet USA and the Nautical building which contains many model ships and a somewhat famous giant leviathan of a sea creature hanging from the ceiling. While it would be impossible to actually experience all of House on the Rock in one try anyway, full disclosure my tour of the outbuildings is incomplete. The only reason we were able to see the outbuildings at all was that we walked into the back doors of them while other visitors were leaving. Normally of course, I advocate for absolute respect of any attraction and the amazing people who run and maintain these labors of love and wouldn’t encourage breaking any rules in any way. However, every now and again in life, you can admit defeat when you’re a few feet away from a dream come true, or you can crack a few eggs. I think that’s how the expression goes.
Dinosaur Kingdom II might be the most perfect roadside attraction. Mark Cline is both a hero of mine and a man after my own heart. Here, in the rural Virginia town named for a naturally bridge shaped rock formation that George Washington once carved his initials into, he has built an attraction which honors all of our mutual favorite things. If I had a list of my favorite kinds of roadside attractions it would probably be something like this
Fake Wild West Town
Kitch oversized objects
Well guess what y’all, Dinosaur Kingdom II has them all.
Entrance to Dinosaur Kingdom II
In a video game or a movie, sometimes a hidden clue or reference is called an Easter Egg. The very first thing I saw when I arrived at DKII was an Eastern Egg of sorts. Looking down at me from the roof of the gift shop building was a familiar face. A happy light green dragon is playing a lute up there. I know this dragon. I have seen this dragon before, but the last time that I saw him he was on the roof of a castle which once served as the entrance to the Enchanted Forest theme park abandoned in Ellicott City, Maryland.
To my father’s credit, I sent him this photo and he immediately texted back recognizing this particular dragon
The Enchanted Forest has its own blog entry of course, but much of it’s restoration effort was led by Mark Cline, who attended the park as a child, and subsequently named his studio, right down the street from the new Dinosaur Kingdom (where he can keep an eye on it) Enchanted Studios. Later in the day Mark Cline told me this story with his own mouth so the following story is 100% true:
A few years ago, while working to remove the iconic dragon from the roof of the ruined Enchanted Forest castle now abandoned in the woods behind a Petsmart, it was necessary to attempt to cut it apart. During the effort the dragon somehow caught on fire. (Mr Cline seems to have terrible luck with fire in general but my hypothesis on how this happened would be that if attempting to saw the dragon apart and hitting the metal frame created a spark, this could had easily ignited the ancient paper mâché, coating, and layers of latex paint.) And so, years after walking under the dragon’s castle gate as a child, Mark Cline the man stood on the castle roof, desperately throwing water on a literal fire breathing dragon. This means that one person in the entire history of fairytales grew up to actually become a dragon fighting knight for a moment.
The restored castle entrance to Enchanted Forest
The battle was eventually lost and the dragon burned down to its metal frame and was recreated on its original framework and returned to it’s place atop the castle. Mark Cline enjoyed this so much though, that he made a duplicate dragon for himself and plopped it atop his own castle.
You enter Dinosaur Land II through a train car. Above the door a sign explains the basic plot. What’s that you say, you didn’t know roadside attractions had plots? Well they do. The plot of Dinosaur Kingdom sheds light on a forgotten (covered up) chapter of the Civil War. It would seem that in 1864 after shelling the nearby city of Lexington, union soldiers discovered that their ground shaking assault had woken cryogenically frozen dinosaurs in the nearby caverns. They decide the reasonable thing to do would be to try to use these huge strange beasts as weapons of war against the South.
At the same time Dr Cline, from the future, is also in the year 1864. He was of course also in past a few times, which is actually how the dinosaurs came to be trapped in the nearby caverns, and how a time cloned replica of Stonehenge came to be nearby in the area, because time travel is crazy y’all. Trapped there and hoping for gold to finance the Southern armies, he searches for the legendary Beale treasure in the area, and getting into all sorts of other trouble with the Slimers his travels brought along.
Dr Cline who evidently has been all over time causing chaos
If the finer points of this plot escape you there is a wonderful comic book written and illustrated by Cline meant to accompany Dinosaur Kingdom II which I’m sure will make it all perfectly clear and reasonable. At any rate you’re now about to pass through a time tunnel into 1864…
Dinosaur Kingdom II Time Tunnel - YouTube
Once you pass through this time tunnel you’ll find yourself in the first type of roadside attraction, a reproduction of an 1800’s town. This little homage to a faux western ghost town attraction turns my eyes into cartoon shaped hearts. The civil war era town is arranged along a small “Main Street” with businesses on either side.
Treasures and tableaus greet you as you look inside many of the buildings. The town has an undertaker (of course), but it is immediately obvious that something has something has gone wrong here.
Dr Cline’s Slimers lurk behind windows in classic haunted house style swing bys and baby dinosaurs reap havoc in the local undertakers.
Slimer Dinosaur Kingdom II - YouTube
The street also features one building clearly tilted forward. This is the second type of roadside attraction at Dinosaur Kingdom. Just thrown in among the buildings of the fake town is a slanty mystery style house. I attempted to take a video of walking through this, feeling that I am a mystery house pro, and immediately stumbled sideways and smashed my shin into the chair on the wall your meant to sit in as an optical illusion in a Mystery House. So it’s what I would call an Advanced Mystery House.
Slanty House Dinosaur Kingdom II - YouTube
At the end of the street, is a mill where you can feed something chained inside a building. This little piece of engineering reminds me very much of a Haunted house I used to go to on the boardwalk of Virginia Beach when I was a child. Mark Cline did at one point have a haunted house attraction (and a unrelated time machine attraction at Virginia Beach actually) which sadly was another victim of fire. Haunted House style gags and jumps make several appearances at Dinosaur Kingdom
I’m not gonna tell you what happens
At the bottom of the hill you enter the third type of attraction at Dinosaur Kingdom through a giant dinosaur bone gate of sorts. It’s an old school walk through the woods style dinosaur park. You’ve seen them on this blog before, you’re practically a pro at this by now.
This is not just any dinosaur park though, sort of pretending to intend to teach children about what types of tri-horned dinosaurs lived in each era by way of hand painted signs. This is Mark Cline’s dinosaur park. So it’s better.
I think I’m unusually sympathetic to cults. Not all of them. Obviously Jim Jones was an asshole. Most of the time though, when I watch a documentary or footage from cults of years pass and look at someone obviously a con-man or suffering from delusions or both, I can’t help but think… “but what if they were right?”. Heaven’s Gate could all be laughing at us from their comet. Pasaquan never housed what could widely be considered a cult, but certainly some of the elements were there, mainly in its builder, born Eddie Owens Martin, and known later in life as Saint Eom.
Pasaquan is really the story of Eddie Owens Martin, and his transformation into Saint Eom and building a suitable home for himself as Saint Eom.
Born in tiny rural Buena Vista, Georgia in 1908, Eddie left his home, rumored to be abusive, at the age of 14. He travelled to New York City during the height of the roaring 20’s. The hitchhiking journey took him through nearby Atlanta up through Washington D.C. Once in New York he came out as homosexual and found work as a hustler, bartender, and gambler, and began creating an identity as a drag queen. He began to tell fortunes using his dramatic flair for money in the 40’s at the age of 37.
His mother died in 1957 and Martin returned home to her Buena Vista farmhouse. He continued working as an oracle wearing elaborate costumes and headdresses after his return. Around that time he had his first vision. In his vision he was visited by beings from the future claiming that in their time all nationalities and religions had melded into one, calling themselves Pasaquoyans. In response, Martin changed his name to Saint Eom and became the Earth’s first Pasaquoyan.
Over the next thirty years he would work on converting the farmhouse into Pasaquan. His fortune telling helped bankroll the conversion of the farm house and the building of six major structures and numerous masonry walls around what I can only think to call the compound. According to the workers on the site, he primarily employed people of color from town to help with the building and paid the, $10 an hour, which is quite extraordinary, especially given the time frame of the 60’s and 70’s.
The art on the sight melds spiritual and artistic imagery from multiple cultures in the form of numerous mandalas and buildings inspired by pagodas, Native American cultural symbols, African and Mexican designs. Rooms that show paintings of environment appear to show lush jungle. He was also apparently influenced by Edward Churchward’s books about the lost Continent of Mu.
The result is a walkable art environment, coming across as sort of a psychedelic pre-Columbian wonderland, in the middle of rural Georgia. I can’t help but wonder what he was truly attempting to build here. Is this what everything looks like in the future when we’re all Pasaquoyans? Motifs include colorful kalescopic mandalas, mexican inspired pierced tin roofing and siding, human faces, and disembodied human torsos, obvious from their features belonging to men and women. (At least biologically, who knows what the future will bring.) In the center of the compound is what appears to be a sandbox. I have no idea if this originally served some other purpose like gardening or a fountain.
While there were people sharing the site over the course of Saint Eom’s life and it seems some semi ritualistic things occurred like chanting and speaking on the nature one his visions and beliefs about the future, Saint Eom seemed to have little interest in starting a cult-like community of Pasaquoyans. He appears to have legitimately spent most of his energy acting as an oracle to pay for build more of Pasaquan. He expressed frustration over his life less at people not believing in his idealized future and more in his lack of acceptance by the art community at large. Pasaquan itself, as a representation of his own personal future utopia and the enlightened spiritual beliefs that came along with it, remained his main mission until his death.
In this day and age it’s pretty rare to find a legitimate mystery. To be honest when I first came across this question I expected to just google it and find the answer, and was pretty scandalized when that didn’t immediately work. While digging up information on pink elephants didn’t involve much scrolling through microfiche or family records, it was still pretty fun to put in some internet detective work.
Multiple times when routing potential road trips towards the Midwest I’ve come across the same thing: large pink elephants. Recently I drove to Louisville from Atlanta and there were a whole mess of them scattered around northern Tennessee and Kentucky. Upon looking into it, I now know that they spread up into the Midwest and can be found around Indiana, Illinois, and up into Wisconsin.
Why are there so many pink elephants? Why would so many businesses chose this as their mascot? Was it a trend at one time?
Pink elephant University Motors, West Nashville
I typed these questions with several different phrasings into google and dropped down a couple of internet black holes and found out very little. In response to the pink elephant in Northwest Nashville someone had written to the local NPR asking about the pink elephant phenomenon as they remembered seeing more of them around Tennessee when they were younger.
What I found out from this article was only that the elephant at a car dealership in Nashville is actually the second of 2 pink elephants to stand on the spot, and nobody really knows what happened to the first one or why it’s tradition to have a pink elephant there. I can only throw so much hate at that article since I’m about to write almost the same one which will ask lots of questions and answer very few.
Newspaper article showing University Motors original elephant
What they did find out was that original pink elephant at University Motors was a different elephant. They also found out who made that particular elephant. They reached out to FASTKorp out of Sparta, Wisconsin and while the company denied the current elephant is one of theirs they say that the original elephant was. It’s not currently on their website as one of their elephant designs but since they won’t answer MY emails I’ll have to take Nashville NPR’s word for it.)
This does solve the mystery of who manufactured some of the pink elephants. University Motors original elephant is a match to another elephant at another car dealership in Clarkesville, Tennessee. But is this the actual same elephant somehow moved to a different car dealership, or simply another FAST Korp elephant from the same mold? The weird toupe of hair that appears to be painted on the elephants head in the original newspaper photos suggests maybe this is another elephant but he could have simple gotten a new coat of paint, although from the looks of things, not particularly recently. As a counterpoint though, how long do elephants realistically keep the exact same pair of glasses?
Car Market Clarkesville, TN
I found another article that claims that the pink elephant that’s been sitting in a gas station in DeForest, Michigan since the 1960’s, was among the very first pink elephants. Made by Wisconsin local Sculptured Advertising, the first one (a no sunglasses version) was installed in front of Pink Elephant Supper Club in Marquette, IA. After this pink elephant, other pink elephants, these with sunglasses were produced for Arco gas stations in the area which all for a time, displayed pink elephants. Sculptured Advertising went on to change their name to you guessed it, FAST Korp. I haven’t managed to find any old photos of Arco’s with elephants in front of them but man, people sure did love the Noah’s Arc set of animals they used to sell.
Pink elephant in DeForest, WI claiming to be one of the first
I located this original elephant from Pink Elephant Social Club. Although the club has since closed, the top hatted elephant is still in Marquette, where they have a slightly more detailed story of it’s origins. They claim that pink was originally made for a 1964 Republican Convention in Sparta Michigan, and was normal elephant grey. Once it became homeless after the convention and drinking laws changed in Iowa, the elephant was adopted by the new club and painted pink. My only impression of the symbolism of pink elephants comes primarily from a scene in Dumbo, and is that they denote hallucination or drunkenness. So a pink elephant mascot for a bar formed under new drinking laws make perfect sense. What they have to do with gas stations or the other businesses Ive found with pink elephants, I have no idea.
The Pink Elephant Social Club
Same pink elephant now on the waterfront in Marquette Iowa
At some point in time Fast Korp was capitalizing on the pink elephant’s drink associations and also producing elephants holding martini glasses in their trunks. Rumor is some of these also had glasses. I found one of these tipsy elephants next to an antiques malls in Cross Plains, Tennessee, just over the border from Georgia. This one has been given a circus headdress paint job and lost the base of its glass. The shape of the ears and wrinkles on the legs tell me this is a FAST Korp elephant modified from the originals to accommodate the glass.
Cross Plains, Tennessee
As an aside, the FAST Korp piece of the puzzle also solves another mystery unrelated to the pink elephants and instead related to cows.
Ashburn, Georgia cow
One of my very first big things was a giant cow at a gas station in Ashburn, Georgia on the way north from Florida. Several years later I took a photo with another cow in another small town, Guthrie, Kentucky. The cow in Guthrie is wearing glasses. Upon looking at the pictures I realized that aside from the glasses and slight paint job variations, they were the same cow.
You can just throw a pair of glasses on and fool me! This cow is still among the large animal offerings on the FAST Korp website. Guess they were really into making glasses that fit their animals.
The reasons for the apparent explosion in popularity the pink elephant seems to have enjoyed remains a mystery. Why they ended up extending from bars to gas stations, salons, and antique stores as a favorite business mascot I don’t know. Since their glory days though, the pink elephants seem to have scattered. One remains at a desolate feeling liquor store in Hopkinsville kentucky and another resides gas station conveinence store in Guthrie, Tennessee. Like the car dealerships, nobody seems to know why exactly a pink elephant.
If you watch Ancient Aliens you may be familiar with the concept of ley lines. These are imaginary lines which criss cross the Earth’s surface and in theory, there tend to be monolithic historical sites on the places where they intersect. As it relates to ancient alien visitations, the theory is these lines have something to do with the electromagnetic field of the earth and were thus used for some type of navigation or energy production, and that’s part of the reason why these sites end up on these lines. I’m not sure about that part, but archeologists do agree that ritual and important sites seem to align themselves roughly along straight lines across the earths surface. Anyway, the point is if ley lines are a thing, I am almost certain a number of them converge on humble Cave City, Kentucky
FYI I had to wedge my phone in a barbed wire fence to get this photo
Cave City is of course named because the area is full of notable caves. Mammoth Cave and Horse Cave and Diamond Caves and several other interesting natural phenomena have attracted tourists here, leading to a little town to cater to them. It must have a had a boom at some point because the area is full of closed souvenir shops and (Im told and plan to follow up on) abandoned mini golf courses and motels that have seen better days. The whole thing has the feel of a weird little beach town, where the beach somehow disappeared some years back.
A short list of strange things you will find in Cave City besides caves includes: Dinosaur World, a Wild West themed attraction called Guntown Mountain, Big Mike’s rock shop which includes an old school 1970’s mystery House, a concrete yard ornament business, a 1930’s motel that looks like a circle of tipis, and a wildlife museum full of taxidermy. If you happen to be me, this is essentially like finding the holy grail of weird towns, except there’s no drinkable coffee. Or much edible food.
for the record these are definitely tipis and not wigwams or wikiups which are domed
There are no hotels in Cave City as near as I can tell, only motels with pools full of screaming children who are for some reason still not tired after hiking in caves all day. But none of those motels matter. Only one motel maters and that is the Wigwam Motel #2. Built in the 1930’s and apparently part of a larger trend in which many Wigwam motels were built across the country through the 1950’s during the golden era of road trips and novelty motels. Only 3 of the original Wig Wam motels still stand and this is the 2nd. All three were places on the National Historic Places Register in the late 80’s, the other two are in Arizona, which to be fair, makes more sense than Kentucky. Each Wigwam (I don’t even like typing it y’all I know) is a small hotel room which you can pull your car right up next to. It was the first moment of unabashed childlike wonder I experienced as a 32 year old adult in Cave City.
Wigwam motel 2 Cave City, Kentucky - YouTube
I really can’t say if the wigwam motel is in trouble. It only seemed to have one guest and while it was my intention to buy something from the gift shop in the tipi which serves as the office (and pester someone with questions) i couldn’t actually find anyone. But the grounds are landscaped and maintained and the tipis themselves look great, and freshly painted. I can tell you right now though, I would gladly chain myself to a tipi in front of a bulldozer if the Wig Wam motel was ever in danger.
lumping all native American tribes and housing styles together was way more acceptable in the 1930’s
My second moment of wonder came at the thing I originally stopped in Cave City for, Dinosaur World. Now y’all know there’s little I love more than a good roadside dinosaur. (please go back and read my post about Dinosaur Land and the golden era of roadside dinosaurs) I have also been tortured by Dinosaur World signs and the giant dinosaur that stands next to them on the route from Nashville northward multiple times now. But I am an adult and I reach my own goals! And one of them was Dinosaur World.
Just in case you couldn’t find the place from the road
There are three Dinosaur Worlds, one in Kentucky, the first one in Florida, and a third in Texas. Each boasts over 150 life sized dinosaurs spread along trails to resemble the actual animals interacting in the environment around you. This is not the crumbling, paint peeling, anatomically incorrect dinosaurs of roadside past, the first Dinosaur World was built in the late 90’s, and the Kentucky park was built five years later.
yessssssssss here we go
The brainchild of a Swedish business man named Christer Svensson, all the dinosaurs for the parks were made in house and the parks are placed on popular tourists routes to and from other attractions.
Joe and Lucy from down the street
Considering that Jurassic Park came out in 1993 and hyper realistic dinosaurs were entirely possible to make, the dinos here are not without their old school charm. They are all made the old school way, with a base of polystyrene foam, a fiberglass shell, and then a putty to add skin texture and painted. New dinosaurs are added each year and they’re all well maintained and have information signs next to each species.
In 1950 there was no such thing as a theme park. Those words in that combination wouldn’t have made any sense to you if you heard them because the concept didn’t exist. All the same, two people on two different coasts were about to invent them. The baby boom at the time was in it’s infancy (yes, pun intended) and maybe the birth of the theme park can be attributed to simple business acumen. After all, the largest generation of children were being born to the most affluent middle class in United States history. This made family friendly activities a potential goldmine. (Also in the 1950’s the good people over in Rock City built their own fairy tale caverns and the original Goofy Golf opened)
It’s a little more fun, and maybe more wholesome feeling, to attribute the invention of the theme park to the phenomenon called Simultaneous Discovery. It seems, sometimes in spite of astronomical odds, that people sometimes make discoveries or inventions totally independently of each other at the same time. I’ve personally experienced this sometimes awkward phenomenon in the arts community. Of course we all share certain societal experiences and are exposed to some of the same stimuli and multiple people are bound to react to that or be inspired by in in similar ways. This is so much easier to explain away in our current media saturated, hyper stimulating, hyper connected world, but it’s a lot harder to explain how Edison and Tesla conceived of using electricity before, well, widespread electricity.
Whatever planetary alignments led to it, while Walt Disney was in California conceiving and planning Disney Land, Howard Harrison was in Maryland inventing an immersive children’s landscape where their favorite storybook characters came to life; The Enchanted Forest. The park opened in 1955, just months after Disney’s Park opened it’s doors on the West Coast.
Harrison’s idea had seemed so far fetched at the time that no banks would agree to finance the project and the family financed the park on their own by selling the motel they owned. They enlisted the help of Baltimore based artist Howard Adler and his studio who’s experience had been primarily in Department Store windows to create something that essentially had never been done before. A man in the palatte business who had bought most of the lumber when the land for the park had been cleared, Joey Selby, ended up becoming the manager and one of the primary attraction designers over much of the park’s life. There is no such thing as having job experience for a job that’s never been done before.
a fence of dancing gingerbread men surrounded the original park visible from the road
The dreamed up, self made and self financed park found immediate success. The parking lot was expanded in the very first year. Snackbars and giftshops were added. Enchanted Forest continued to expand adding attractions and facilities for the next 20 years. The park saw steady decline in visitors in the 80’s when larger, more commercial park Kings Dominion opened in neighboring Virginia and video games and technology began to make the charming park seem quaint and obsolete. Enchanted Forest closed it’s doors after the 1987 season and was sold to developers in 1989. The site was further damaged by fire in 1990.
A shopping center was built on the site in the 90’s. in acknowledgement of the sacred ground it sat upon it originally sat next to the in tact castle gate, and the original Old King Cole from Enchanted Forests roadside still beckons people atop the sign.
the current shopping center sign featuring Old King Cole
The shopping center mainly covers what had been the parking lot and the living quarters of employees of the park. The attractions remained and languished in the woods seemingly forgotten.
photo from Atlas Obscura of the abandoned Three Bears House
Childhood is difficult to forget though. (and lord knows nobody remembers their idyllic childhoods better than baby boomers) They are their own type of fairytale story in a way, because back then we were all princesses and heroes waiting to live happily ever after. And so, people remembered the Enchanted Forest, but as time went on it seemed that the disintegrating buildings would soon pass into legend and the park would become a story itself.
In 2004 Cinderella’s pumpkin coach was rescued from behind petsmart and rehabilitated for a charity auction. Shortly after it wound up on Ebay and its sale and relocation to nearby Clark’s Elioak Farm was negotiated. This began real heroes work. It more than 10 years for everything that could be removed from the Enchanted Forest to be removed, moved, and lovingly restored to the glory occupied in children’s memories. The largest structures like the mountain and Cinderellas Castle were left behind, and some pieces no longer serve their original purpose as rides, but most of the parks pieces were saved
The Prince trying the glass slipper on Cinderella was originally inside the Cinderella’s castle attraction
I spent an hour on google earth trying to tell if i could see cinderella castle on satellite
Although Elioaks Farm doesn’t wish to recreate Enchanted Forest and only to preserve and display the rescued elements, I do. I’m going to attempt to post my photos from my recent trip to the farm in the order in which you would have experienced them at the original park. Unfortunately I never got to visit the Forest (thanks for nothing mom and dad) so this approximation is entirely based off of a cartoon vintage park map.
The entrance to the Enchanted Forest, as if it could have been any other way, was a castle. a pretty proper castle too, which had a moat and drawbridge.
the facade of the original gate castle. Rapunzel hangs her hair off of the tower and an unnamed dragon plays the lute.
Once inside the original gate visitors would see a Sleeping Beauty tableau of the princess asleep in her bed and the prince only moments from waking her from her sleep
Just for the record, if you see a sleeping stranger, don’t kiss them.
Let’s imagine that you turn right once you enter the park. You’ll enter the original portion of the park which Ive been calling bedtime story lane in my notes. Many recognizable characters are around, the oldest in the park.
The dish and spoon have an interspecies love affair
Miss Moffet’s Spider now resides under the rainbow bridge which was originally near the park’s center
The original figures were made like any paper mâché figure on a frame of wood or metal, then covered with paper mâché. They were then coated with a fabric called Celastic which dries hard and waterproof. Oil based paints also helped protect them from the elements and many tiny fingers.
Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house. Many attractions told stories when you called from a phone or stepped on certain areas. The original door had shamrock shaped windows all the way down the bottom so small children could look in from any height.
Larger attractions were built on site instead of in the Alder Baltimore studio. Some pieces were coated with or incorperated cement for weight. Fiberglass didn’t come to the forest until the 1960’s.
Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of constantly traveling for kitch large objects, so often I have to make do with what’s locally available. (UNLESS OF COUSE SOMEONE OUT THERE WOULD LIKE TO SPONSOR ME OR GIVE ME A SHOW JUST AN IDEA NOT SAYING I WISH THAT WOULD HAPPEN OR ANYTHING) Luckily for me that’s actually quite a bit in and around Atlanta.
There one quite famous large object in Atlanta. It’s a ferocious metal sculpture depicting the World’s Largest Bird built to be a mascot for the Atlanta Falcons. In spite of my devotion to the World’s Largest Almost Anything, it’s not going on this list. Not as any sort of statement really, I just happen to hate it. Art is wonderful and all artists have a right to follow their own artistic vision of course, but I happen to think that bird is ugly, and I’m not going to take a picture of it, even if it IS our only Worlds Largest Claim to fame inside city limits.
not pictured: World’s Largest Bird, downtown Atlanta, Georgia
There are several large birds in the area that I do like though, and being that I’m in charge of the content around here, I pick what birds I want to include. They happen to be mostly chickens. Again, this isn’t really a statement about anything, I don’t particularly like chickens better than other birds, I just prefer my large objects more gaudy than ferocious.
The first of the chickens is the closest to where I live. I pass it so often that it has now faded into the landscape. This is the big chicken of Moreland Avenue in East Atlanta. It used to stand proudly in front of chicken restaurant which has now morphed into a Jamaican restaurant which kept the chicken and changed it’s paint job, which I know is supposed to denote the ethnicity of the food but instinctively looks to me like a chicken dressed up for Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a hard place to keep a business going, surrounded by lower cost fast food options, so I’m not sure what will become of the chicken if and when the Jamaican restaurant shuts it’s doors. Maybe it will be an Irish Pub and the chicken won’t have to change clothes.
upon reflection I have decided that it’s the belt that makes the chicken have a pilgrim/ Batman vibe regardless of color scheme
But wait, there is another…. large chicken in town. That’s not a saying.
If you’ve got any hardware needs locally I highly recommend bypassing anything closer to you to go to the Ace Hardware Store in Decatur on Scott Boulevard. I’ve never been inside of it so I have no idea if they have superior selection or service. I do know that they have a big chicken. Coincidentally this chicken too has a strange color scheme and accessories.
what’s up with chickens wearing neck scarves around here?
The chicken isn’t all they have. In order to promote their presumably great selection of lawn furniture and plants to decorate it they also have a patio set of Adirondack chairs and a table and plants. Truth be told the world, and by the world I mostly mean beach towns but other places too, is practically brimming with oversized Adirondack chairs meant for a novelty photo op. I suspect this might be mainly because of physics. No matter how large you make a Adirondack chair it’s back slope makes it possible to still get on top of. That’s pure conjecture though, I actually have no idea. As a result of their popularity I often turn my nose up at them, because I am apparently on a higher tier of photo op standards.
That being said, this little patio set up is large and includes more than one object and gives the very clear impression that whoever is sitting in the chair has been shrunk slightly, like Honey I Shrunk the Kids Style, and so it asserts its superiority over the average oversized chair.
I’m told that for some people being able to dangle your feet off the edge of a chair is a novelty
There’s yet another large bird on this list, this one the most gaudy of all. You may or may not know that Adult Swim has it’s Williams Street headquarters in Atlanta (on Williams Street, even creatives go the easy route on naming things sometimes) . The band I tour manage and regularly torture into seeing large objects they don’t care about were asked to play on a late night Adult Swim show once and as a result we were allowed to park in a staff only parking lot not visible from the street where I was thrilled to discover a huge golden owl.
the better metallic bird in Atlanta
Also in the heart of downtown only blocks from Williams Street Studios is a Trader Vic’s on the street level of the downtown Hilton. Trader Vic’s is credited with being the home of the original Mai Thai and they have lots of quirky decor items and occasionally good cover bands.
If you venture out from downtown Atlanta to midtown you’ll find the High Museum of Art. On their rotunda you can find a pile of large pears and peaches made by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen who you might remember are sort of the dudes in the world of large sculpture and responsible for the large safety pin in New Orleans and several other of the world’s largest objects. The duo will, I hope, (someone give me some money to visit all of their sculptures!!) eventually get their own post.
did you know peaches are actually native to China? Neither did I, but I just googled it.
Also in the midtown area is a less likely place than an art museum to find a larger than life sculpted object: a high school. A larger than life pencil, of the stubby variety that has been sharpened down several times already, stands on the grounds of Grady High School.
I think wooden pencils and manual sharpers will be one of those things that kids no longer recognize in 20 years or so.
These objects are extremely hard to relate to each other in any sort of cohesive way, so if this seems like a list in no particular order to you, that’s only because it is. Now though, this list is moving away from Atlanta proper towards the suburbs and surrounding towns, which is the closest thing to a pattern that’s going on here.
If you head west from the center of city, you’ll find a small cluster of large objects off of Fulton Industrial Blvd. Here is where Sony keeps a distribution center and warehouse guarded by a large Hulk made in what I can only think to describe as folk art style from scrap metal.
wait. Is this actually life sized for the Hulk?
Also on this cul-de-sac are the headquarters for pizza chain Mellow Mushroom, which means there are several of their small gnome/ fairy whatever they are mascots and mushrooms around the area and a very large seashell
I don’t know what this has to do with Pizza.
If you head East on I-20 instead you’ll reach Convington ,Georgia. A local donut shop there uses a larger than life pink sprinkles donut as their mobile food cart for catering and parties.
I’d describe this donut’s style as Art Deco meets the Simpson’s
If you head north of the city on 400 until it turns into 19 you’ll find my personal favorite large objects on this list. A glorious Pink Panther Couple in peeling paint fiberglass glory. These two are squarely up my alley. They’re lounging in the grass in front of a flooring business which used to be an arcade supplies business which makes slightly more sense, but still not a lot.
I live in Atlanta and travel with some frequency to Nashville. The drive is about four and a half hours long through the Tennessee mountains, and passes through Chattanooga , Tennessee. Much of the route (along with roadsides throughout all of Tennessee) is scattered with signs and the famous painted barns instructing driver to “see Rock City”. Tragically, I drove by all of these signs for several years without following their instructions.
Why? Because I had it in my head that Rock City was a nature attraction. Not that there’s anything wrong with a nature attraction, because there isn’t. If I had known the truth though, I would never have wasted so much time passing by Rock City in a rush to get from one place to another.
I thought this for several reasons. Rock City is in an area of Tennessee that has several nature attractions. Ruby Falls and Raccoon Caves are often advertised alongside Rock City. All of Rock City itself’s promotional materials show the famous overlook at the top of Lookout Mountain and it’s rock formations and paths. Even Rock City’s iconic barns mention it’s beauty and the view.
image stolen from google of one of Rock City’s famous advertising barns
Of course the most important reason I didn’t understand the true nature of Rock City is that all of my so-called friends are TRAITORS. Almost everyone who grows up in this area take trips to Rock City at some point in their life and not ONE of my local friends I made after moving to Atlanta including someone I briefly dated in Chattanooga who regularly rode his motorcycle up Lookout Mountain EVER MENTIONED there was a top notch kitsch roadside attraction I should visit. It just goes to show you can’t trust nobody in this world.
The most classic of the Rock City Barns, with the least lying by omission
Eventually I went to Chattanooga for a weekend and in an effort to procrastinate about undertaking the just-long-enough-to-be-annoying drive home, I decided to do as 50 painted barns I’d seen over the years had suggested, and check out Rock City.
The trail through Rock City does start out quite normal. The park itself was designed around the areas natural rock formations which form what have been acknowledged as resembling streets and buildings since the first settlers arrived in the area.
walking trails through rock formations
the fat man’s squeeze, a classic
During the walk through the initial trail you walk through natural rock valleys, across bridges, and squeeze through a narrow passageway between two giant boulders. A cavern allows light through colored windows to form rainbows on a wall. The trail ends on the very top of Lookout Mountain at a large outcropping called Lover’s Leap. At the top of the outlook you can see 7 states on the horizon.
The cliff known, as many cliffs are, as Lover’s Leap
The overlook promoted on all the postcards in the gift shop
Scattered throughout the trails are seemingly random groupings of gnomes. They were apparently original to the concept of the Rock City trail, but they definitely appear random. The same way a group of garden gnomes come across in someone’s yard, when there are few more than normal but they’re not really excessive or set up into scenes.
something weird is going on here
These gnomes were the first sign that there was something else going on here beyond mildly interesting natural rock formations. They were also the moment a sense of betrayal began to creep in. But they’re not the real stars of Rock City. It’s not until you reach the Fairy Land Caverns that things really start to get weird. And wonderful.
this looks promising
The underground portion of Rock City is an entirely different place. Rock City was opened in 1932 as the brain child of Frieda Carter who’s husband Garnet Carter had developed some of Lookout Mountain for the nation’s first mini golf course and a residential community which had failed during the depression. After the golf corse closed it was Frieda who marked off and landscaped a trail through the rock formations which her husband thought visitors might pay to see.
Frieda had a lifelong love for European folklore and had placed the first gnomes around the trails, and Fairyland had been meant to be the original name of the development on the mountain.
the gnome game is significantly upped once you walk inside Fairyland Caverns
Everyone I know has betrayed my trust
It wasn’t until the 50’s when World War has caused tourism to plunge that Frieda began working on a plan to revitalize Rock City as a tourist destination, and what a plan it was.
turns out the gnomes are kind of a warm up before the big guns come out
Frieda decided to fill the underground caverns of Rock City with fairytales. She commissioned local artist Jessie Sanders to sculpt scenes from her favorite tales and install them into caves set into the underground pathways walls.
The Western States are full of Old West themed tourist attractions and old west towns both real and manufactured. There is one in South Dakota called 1880 Town which by most accounts seems to be one of the better ones. Visitors can dress up in period clothing and they have a wonderful collection of props from Dances with Wolves. I’ve never been to it. This is not about that 1880 Town. This is about a different one.
If you’ve seen Dances with Wolves you actually know what a lot of the state really looks like. It’s very… grassy.
This is about the one in the town of Buffalo Ridge, which as near as I can tell is actually just a gas station. This is about the one populated entirely by robots.
Now, I experience a self doubt spiral and question my talents and career approximately twice a week, but one thing that always fills me with seething regret is animatronics. Why on Earth didn’t I ever pick up any basic robotic engineering!?
In retrospect, of course, the signs were there. There were so many sparks that could have lit the fire in my developing brain: the singing gang of anthropomorphic animals at Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties, the swarthying pirates of the Pirates of Caribbean Ride at Disney, the almooost lifelike repetitive movements of jungle animals at Rainforest Cafe, the scene in Wayne’s World where Garth casually works on a robotic hand in his free time. None of it did. Maybe I’ll go ahead and blame society for not pushing girls towards science and engineering or my art oriented right brain dominance, but at the time of this writing, I never picked up the skills required to do much more than install an after market radio in my car, but I sorely wish I had.
A man named Bill in South Dakota apparently did not miss the signs. The story goes that he is singularly responsible for the building and once a year maintenance of all of the robots here since it’s building in the 70’s. Those in the best condition are inside the store and include a full saloon in all it’s gambling, piano playing, bar tending, potential prostitution glory and a very strange singing gorilla.
For the love of God, do not let this be the robot that develops sentience
This one man job through 40 years of plains dust and plains snow has left in just the sort of condition I love the most… various stages of decay and function.
early Westworld prototype
The town itself is behind the Buffalo Ridge gas station and store where you buy buffalo meat and a range of Knick knacks and admission to the town out back. It contains all the greatest hits of the Old West Town of our collective mind arranged along one Main Street: A gallows, a saloon, a gold mine, a post office, even a dentists office.
the main drag the usual suspects
Each of these contains a tableau, either moving or formerly moving, operated by pressing a button or sometimes standing on a certain place
oh this is gonna be good
yep, it’s really good.
These scenes show ordinary life not much different than ours besides the fashions, and scenes quite a lot more “frontier-sy” . There were a lot more ghosts back then you know.
post office customer service is one of the constants of the universe
all haunted saloons should come with signs like this so consumers can make educated choices
Hand painted signage explains the scenes before you so as to make the town theoretically educational, probably one of the bullet points any kitch roadside attraction has to hit to qualify for my top 10.
rare photo of the man who went on to become the Cryptkeeper in his younger years
mmmmmmmmm I feel awkward
Some of 1880 Cowboy Town’s characters and information are familiar like its homage to Abraham Lincoln, and some less so, like the story of Potato Creek Johnny, a very small man who found gold in the Dakota Territory and who I had never heard of, so I guess this truly is an educational place.
I will never go to Mardi Gras. It is my personal version of Hell.
I respect Mardi Gras. I love the tradition of it. I love the spectacle. I love the weirdness and the mixture of Pagan ritual and Christian celebration into a new and unique thing. I also love New Orleans. So much.
But alas, I don’t drink, I hate large crowds and feeling claustrophobic, I have little patience for overindulgence, and I don’t eat dairy or eggs, so king cake and beignets and basically all Cajun food is a no-go for me and so every time the opportunity to go to Mardi Gras has come up I have wholeheartedly and absolutely refused.
Luckily, there is a place for people like me. That place is Mardi Gras World.
Gonna go ahead and call this as the World’s Largest Jester head.
If you’ve ever been on a cruise that leaves from New Orleans you have seen Mardi Gras World. It’s literally in the port. You probably stared at it while you were waiting in port traffic to get to your ship. Aside from the few characters outside it’s a totally unremarkable building, very large and low and white. It looks like a warehouse because it’s a warehouse.
I tried to figure out a pun using the word “cruise” and “krewes” but I couldn’t do it
This is the production and storage facility of Kern studios, one the largest manufacturers of Mardi Gras floats. The story goes that local artist Roy Kern caught the attention of the captain of a local Mardi Gras Krewe during the depression and he and his son began building floats for them. Kern Studios was founded in 1947 after Blaine, Roy’s son, had become the city’s leading parade and float designer. It was open to the public for tours in 1984.
Do not recommend taking psychedelics before coming
A ticket gets you a tour. We were there on the off season (November) and were actually the only ones on our tour which was great because we got to skip the “try on costumes” bit for kids, and were basically left alone and unsupervised to wander a warehouse full of wonders after we were done.
Making floats for Mardi Gras is a year round job so there are multiple artists on site at all times actually in the process of making props for floats.
You ever realize that you really messed up in choosing a career path?
The process is still remarkably old school. Most of the large elements are made from many layers of styrofoam glued together and then carved by hand into the appropriate shape. They are then covered in paper maché and eventually painted. Kern studios possesses only one automated machine, a laser cutter which was cutting out fluer du lies, I think for the Endymion Super Krewe’s floats, but don’t quote me. Everything else is done by hand by a real human person. This makes the storage of all these elements even more important because they are often reworked and reused. Even paper flowers and leaves are salvaged from the floats and repainted to new varieties.
This lady head may have been many characters over the years, getting different hair and paint jobs
Because there is no official “boss” of Mardi Gras, and Krewes are non profit and self governing, there is no official theme of Mardi Gras, and even it’s ‘official’ colors were simply chosen by the Rex Krewe at one point and stuck. Even so, Krewes do generally choose one, often kept secret until the parade. Sometimes they seem to be related to the times (patriotic themes post 9-11) sometimes not (many of the floats in the warehouse while we were there were Greek mythology themed)
stoned fish and friends contemplating paper flowers
Actually one of the funnest things about Mardi Gras World was trying to imagine the float and theme each piece came from
Obviously the place was full of recognizable characters. I asked the tour guide how they handled copyright issues, and she said they usually just make the character recognizable but not not exact so technically it’s hard to sue them over it. I’m sure they avoid Disney characters like the plague.
Knowing Gene Simmons, he probably still sued them for this
After our tour was finished, the ridiculously trustworthy staff just left us to wander around as long as we wished. Random staff members saw us wandering among the floats and props and simply headnodded. We pretty much only left because the sun went down and the warehouse has limited light and heat. I was satisfied. I got to see the riot of colors and art of Mardi Gras without the actual parade.
probably my best use of my phones panorama feature to date
At any rate, I’ve managed to secure myself a king cake without eggs or dairy in it which I’ve been munching on while writing this and it needs to stop. So I’m going to stop writing also.
I guess I talked so much about Mardi Gras World that I didn’t talk much about Mardi Gras itself. The basics of Mardi Gras are that it’s a very large, very long party leading up to the Lenten fasting and culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, or Fat Tuesday. If you want to learn more about the history of Mardi Gras, this is a good place to start.