Casey, Illinois, the Big Things Capital of the World

Casey has been at the top of my bucket list for a several years. This is the holy land for Worlds Largest Objects. Several years ago, on tour with the band I sometimes tour manage we were routed to play a show in Indiapolis followed by a show in Saint Louis. This route takes you on I-70 directly by Casey. My opportunity had come! I told a small white lie about the amount of time it takes to drive between the two cities and added a couple hours onto our drive time to conveniently ensure that we would have enough time to stop in Casey.

Street sign in Casey

On that fateful day in September, the van got a flat tire. As it turned out our jack was stuck and not fully extending and we had to call AAA to change it. Amazingly, after all of that, we still easily made it to Saint Louis in time for load in. Everyone was surprised we had still made it in time except, of course, for me, because the extra hours has been secretly planned for Casey. I was heart broken.

I figured that since Indianapolis to Saint Louis or vice versa was such a common touring route, my chance to stop in Casey would come along again in no time at all. Of course, as we all know better than ever, best laid plans don’t always work out. The band broke up. The singer began a new solo project and his label put the album release and touring on hold for a year waiting for the right opening in the market. In January we were given the exciting news that we would be on the Stadium Tour over the summer with Motley Crue, Joan Jett, Def Leppard, and Poison and the plan was made to release the record in July. The tour would take us once again through Casey.

Giant birdcage to look at the giant mailbox from

Of course, we all know what happened next. In February we learned of covid-19. By March we knew that a global pandemic was coming and things began to lock down. The tour was officially cancelled in May. What started as a few weeks of lockdown stretched into months of a new reality. Traveling seemed like a faraway dream.

In September I decided to take a trip to Casey. As a caveat, yes, I traveled during the pandemic. No, going to see oversized objects is not essential. I attempted to be as safe as possible, drove alone, was going to see outdoor attractions, stayed in entire air b&bs, brought my own cooler full of food to avoid having to go to restaurants. (there are other reasons for this for me in the midwest LOL) I took a covid test before leaving and scheduled one for when I returned before going back to work.

This tiny town has a population of about 2,700 people. Other than the railroad line running (literally) through it it doesn’t have much of an economic niche. But this tiny Midwestern town boasts 12 official World’s Largest Objects. The first attempt at a world record was the worlds largest windchime. It was built in 2011. It stands proudly downtown across the street from the Worlds Largest rocking chair

The World’s Largest Windchime

In 2015 Jim Brolin founded the big things in a small town workshop. He runs Bolin enterprises which is a local contracting company which had the contract to remove and replace many of the large wooden telephone poles along I-70 and other construction projects. With the salvaged wood and metal from construction projects he began constructing oversized objects. His large wooden clogs took the world record in 2015. The shoes are, by the way, inside an old fashioned candy store if there are any other licorice lovers out there. Every year since he has added more and more large objects to Casey’s collection.

World’s Largest Wooden Shoes

The second was the Worlds Largest Golf Tee which is located on the local golf course- don’t worry you can walk into the gift shop and just tell them that you want to go visit the tee and its not a bad walk from the downtown super concentrated area of big things

World’s Largest Golf Tee

The worlds Largest pitchfork is in front of Richards Farm Restaurant. If you don’t know much about Guinness world records, perhaps you haven’t read as much as about the battle for worlds largest chair as I have, but without a previous record holder to beat in dimensions, the worlds largest must be at least 10 times larger than the normal sized object. The largest pitchfork which is ten times larger than a regular pitchfork, received it’s world record in 2015

World’s largest pitchfork

The Worlds Largest rocking chair, arguably Casey’s most famous big thing, dominates its intersection in downtown. It received its title in 2015, taking the crown from another rocker in neighboring Indiana. My only gripe with the big beautiful rocker is that you can’t sit in it for photo ops. I can only assume this would be a huge liability thing if someone fell off. Sigh. We can’t have anything nice.

Oh, it’s big. The World’s Largest Rocking Chair

There are some big things you definitely can get your photo op with. The worlds largest Mailbox is the big thing photo op I’ve personally been lusting for for years… yes, these are apparently the types of things I would describe myself as lusting after at this point in my life. Another caveat of holding a world record is that the item has to be functional. To use a rather specific example this means you can’t paint a grain silo to look like a nutcracker and then claim the title of worlds largest nutcracker, you must make a functioning mouthpiece that could theoretically crush an extremely large nut.

I am so happy in this picture

This is why Casey’s mailbox is fully functional. not only does the door on the front open and close, but its also a designated usps pick up point so you can, in fact, mail a letter from the mailbox. You can climb the stairs from the bottom and stand fully inside and if you’re me, pray that your bluetooth shutter can reach your tripod sitting in the middle of the street below to get the best photo op ever. Don’t worry though, this is small down middle America and Id imagine your iPhone is quite safe far below you on the street.

The World’s Largest Mailbox

Another functioning worlds largest object in Casey is the Worlds Largest barber pole in front of, you guessed it, the small town barber. Many of the town’s large objects are meant to lead the visitor to the business they sit in front of, and it seems many businesses in Casey are in on the fun.

The World’s Largest Barber Pole

The nearby worlds largest teeter totter is also funtional in order to hold its title, but I sadly did not get to ride as its only rideable on Saturdays during the tourist season.

World’s Largest Teeter Totter

One of the newest record holders in town is the Worlds Largest Key located in front of a vintage car dealer. It is apparently an exact replica of big things creator Josh Brolins work truck key.

World’s Largest Key

The swizzle spoon and worlds largest 9 iron were not on display when I was there, so one could theoretically see more big things every time they returned. Casey also holds lots of large objects which don’t hold any records. This seems to mainly be because apparently they didn’t learn any of the lessons that they rest of us have about creating unrealistic expectations by constantly outdoing yourself. These include a large mousetrap, large dreidel, a giant pencil, and a yard stick. An absolutely massive pair of antlers sit in front of a car parts business on the edge of town, apparently used as a prop for something and then gifted to Casey on account of their reputation for oversized objects. Inside the store is a huge and wonderful rocking horse which is apparently so drowned out by its giant competition that no one even mentioned it to me.


One thing I hadn’t realized before coming was the that big things in Casey are actually… Jesus-y. Each one is emblazoned with a tenuously related bible verse. For example, the giant pencil says down one side “let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3) Look, I’m just going to say it: this is kinda lame. Like I don’t want a dose of Christianity with my big things, I’m sorry. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with belonging to any religion, and I guess if Worship inspires the creation of kitschy large objects I shouldn’t complain. It’s certainly inspired some of the most incredible art in western history, I don’t think there’s anything lame about botocelli painting religious subject matter so what’s my problem you may ask? I guess I can’t fully explain it. I have spent time thinking about it. At the end of the day building a big thing to hype up god and put a bible quote on is just not the eccentric weirdo vibe you get from imagining a small town weirdo making large objects because he’s a weirdo. Mark Cline, Josh Brolin is not

Giant pencil. Bible verse on reverse side.

The worlds former largest knitting needles, which were inside a closed yarn business when I visited were simply dethroned by another larger pair. Apparently in order to prove the functionality of a pair of huge knitting needles you have to cast on and actually knit a few rows for the Guiness World Record people. This feat was apparently repeated by a UK woman and her larger needles in 2018. No word on if Casey will retaliate with a still larger pair. On the one hand I’m personally on team petty and hope they do. On the other (also petty) hand, maybe this is their just desserts for dethroning old “Big John” from his rocking chair throne. Someone apparently never told the folks in Casey the big chair etiquette where you simply build another type of chair.

The former Worlds largest knitting needles

I’ve really struggled writing this blog, and whether or not even to address my… impression of Casey. Ultimately I decided that this blog isn’t really meant to be strictly educational. It’s not meant to be a tourist travel brochure for the places I talk about. It can be those things of course. But what I really want this to also be is stories. Stories of these strange places and things and my impressions and experiences of them. Otherwise you could just read Wikipedia articles, right? And the story of Casey, Illinois for me, isn’t really the whole story unless I tell the rest of it.

I happened to travel to Casey at a very specific and very unique moment in history. The pandemic lock downs which were supposed to last a few weeks had stretched across the summer and beginning to loom over the fall. Future plans were replaced by monotonous despair. Businesses failed, goals and dreams were indefinitely put on hold, people got sick and people died. Meanwhile a chasm opened up between the people of the country over covid. You might say “over politics” but you’d likely give away which side you fell on if you did. The presidential election which felt like a lit fuse, was only a few months away.

Eh, only a slightly large rocking horse

A portion of the country, fueled by distrust, objected to lock downs, masks, and other mitigation methods. Some believed it to be an overreaction, some believed the virus and reaction to it to be an elaborate hoax, some simply valued personal freedom to abstain from participating in the measures we were told would help mitigate the spread. The situation was entirely unprecedented, and the disease previously completely unknown, so everyone found themselves in uncharted waters and everyone seemed to have different ideas on the correct way to navigate them.

I don’t want to spiral out into a political discourse here if I can possibly avoid it, but it’s no secret that the division brought into stark contrast by Covid had been building for the last several years. I felt it more keenly in Casey than I had anywhere before or since.

Large yardstick

You may have guessed from the extensive foreshadowing I just did that the citizens of Casey and I found ourselves on two different sides of the great American chasm. Nobody in Casey wore masks. All my interactions with maskless people were polite enough, but tense in a way that it’s hard to put into words. Every house I passed sported huge make America great again signage. Many yards had signs reading simply “Pritzger sucks” apparently a backlash against the Illinois governors mask mandates and lock downs. The entire effect was a feeling of unease. Everyone I interacted with treated me what I can only call strangely, like an alien, which only heightened my feeling of suspicion that these people might not like me. Cars slowed down passing me. The owner of the hotel asked me awkward questions like if I was sure nobody else was coming out of my room, as though me being alone was simply a non possibility.

Because I have such a hard time describing any specific examples of why Casey felt so alienating and hostile to me, some people I have described it to have said I imagined it. Asked what I expected from a small town in the Midwest. This gaslighting almost convinced me not to write about this experience because I believed I might have imagined it. But I remember why it was so confusing to be treated so weirdly. Because why on earth would you build more than a dozen of the worlds largest objects and then act like someone was a weirdo for coming to see them??? Plenty of people put strange stuff on private property and do I bother them? No! There’s a lot of weird things in small towns in the Midwest, and I never slid my pepper spray in my pocket in any of those places. The day after I left Casey I went to the worlds largest ball of paint which may as well be in a town called cornfield in Indiana and the sweetest, most wonderful people greeted me there and showed me their strange pride and joy ball of paint. I didn’t imagine that being different than the place I had just left less than 24 hours before. It was different. Casey was an America I suddenly felt alien in.

Ended up feeling pretty ironic

Roadside attractions are actually maybe literally more American than apple pie. I write this and I go to these places because you can only do this here in America. I actively resist the narrative thats been sold to me my entire life that only world travel makes you cultured, and there is something inherently less valuable or less sophisticated about things you can see right here. I love this America with and it’s hugeness and it’s optimism and it’s quirky weirdness. It IS great. But this other America, the one I glimpsed in Casey, left a bad taste in my mouth. And more than that it left me with a profound feeling of fear that we were so far apart, these two Americas, that we couldn’t reach each other again.

I also felt a deep resentment against COVID-19 as I left Casey, knowing I would never be back to see the big things I missed or the new ones they build. The pandemic took extremely profound things from many people- their livelihoods, loved ones, health, and I was so lucky it didn’t take those things from me. But it took much smaller things from everyone. And from me, Covid, and the division it contributed to, took the magic out of The worlds biggest collection of big things.

The Legend of the Land of Oz


There’s a wide variety of stories that we think of as fairy tales. They’re in books of bedtime stories or fables. If you’re my age,   many of them were converted into animated movies in childhood and as adults we had to slowly discover that the “real’ versions of the stories were typically quite a bit more disturbing than the ones we had seen. (not to mention Pocahantes) But if you’re American, all fairy tale stories have the commonality of coming from elsewhere. Hans Christian Anderson was Danish, Charles Perrault was French, the brothers Grim were German. The knights of the round table were British and the thousand and one nights came from all over the islamic world. But there is one fairy tale that belongs to us. In it, an ordinary girl from Kansas finds herself in a magical land trying to defeat an evil witch.

an abandoned yellow brick road

When I first heard of the Land of Oz it was, as for many who have heard of it, as an abandoned theme park of yesteryear. I pictured it crumbling and forgotten in the mountains, with plants growing through the bricks of the yellow brick road. A sad monument to times gone by.


a little broken but this fountain is original to the park and works

This was however, not entirely true. The land of Oz is still there on top of Beech Mountain. It is not abandoned or forgotten. Its not overgrown or neglected. At least not anymore. It spent many years out of use, its worn away, pieces of it are missing, much of it it even burned at one point, but it is there. Surviving. Changing. Trying to rise from the ashes and save itself.

Professor Marvel’s cart sits in the Kansas section

I wonder why I find that oddly disappointing in a way. We as a culture romanticize decay. Urban exploration was a trend in the 2010s. (it was in 2016 that vice proclaimed and of oz abandoned and unwittingly sent ‘urban explorers’ to the park) Photo sets go viral on the internet of abandoned places, creepy from the echos of the people that once filled them, full of peeling paint and the struggle with nature to reclaim them. Ive done it too, Ive explored abandoned schools and famous theaters and nursing homes and even prisons. When I try to put my finger on what makes them beautiful, I’m not completely sure what the answer is. Is it their transience? There are few things more obviously temporary than something visibly rotting away. Is it some strange schuedenfruede to see something that has failed? Certainly we know that every abandoned home or theater or church or amusement park represents peoples lives. People who worked for it and believed in it and lived in these places. I wonder if it gives a morbid sense of relief to us that it’s not our crumbled dream, only someone else’s. A bullet we dodged, so to speak. We never do get to see that part of fairy tales though do we? The story always stops at the best part. the couple get to be together and they simply “live happily ever after”. All of our experience shows us that that cannot be reality. There is simply no “happily ever after”. There is divorce and sickness and disasters and all the complexities of raising children and all the other troubles of the world that are constantly trying to break happiness. And so, even as we are being taught that if you overcome a few obstacles you will reach a coasting point and be rewarded with “happily ever after” we know, even as children that that is part of the fairy tale. We are suspicious of it.

The wizard of Oz ends after Dorothy and her friends complete their magical quest and achieve what they wanted. The Land of Oz however, is the rest of the story. what happens after ‘happily ever after’. And like the Wizard of Oz it is a uniquely American story.

Like most stories, this one starts at the beginning. in the 1960’s brothers Harry and Grover Robins were looking for ideas for off season attractions in their mountainous ski community. The brothers are responsible for the nearby Wild West themed attraction Tweetsie Railroad. Reportedly it was Grover who, when he saw the trees at the top of Beech Mountain, immediately saw the trees of Oz from the 1939 film.( For research I rewatched the Wizard of oz several times and frankly, he’s very right.)


still from the film

the trees on Beech Mountain

The park was designed by Charlotte based Jack Pentes, hired by the brothers to help conceptualize the park. Its often anecdotally repeated that Jack Pentes Designed the Oz park walking on his knees in order to experience from the point of view of a child. Sadly Jack Pentes died in 2015, just before the park truly began its renaissance.



The park was reportedly the passion project of Grover Robbins who through himself into working with Pentes on its construction. In 1970, just months before the park opened to the public, Grover passed away from cancer. He requested that his ashes be spread across Oz. He also has graveside on the mountain top, but the guide told me that’s its purely a symbolic place to visit, built as a compromise with his grieving mother. My tour guide also credited Grover for keeping it from raining on visitors at Oz


be careful, looks like there are some poppys growing up ahead


(Aside: I’m no believer in spirits that can control the weather but if I were collecting data on this hypothesis, I have to admit that it would support her claim. My first planned trip to Oz several years ago, I ended up cancelling at the last minute because of car problems. I comforted myself that Beech Mountain was predicted to be being clobbered by the tail of a hurricane all weekend and I would have been miserable in the pouring rain. According to my weather app which I checked periodically that weekend, and the photos of the event that were posted to social media, it didn’t rain much if at all. The following year when I did make it to Autumn at Oz it was also forecasted to rain all weekend, which truly makes driving a rental car through the mountains exciting, but it never rained one drop while I was at Oz. Even as my guide was reassuring me that Grover’s spirit would keep us dry we could hear thunder. But I’ll be damned, it did not rain.)

gravesite of Grover Robbins

legend has it there is no body here and his ashes were spread on the mountaintop

Work began on the park in 1968. Ray Bolger (who played the scarecrow) held the shovel that broke ground. The park opened to the public in June of 1970 with Debbie Reynolds cutting the tape. Her daughter Carrie Fisher was also in attendance.

Instead of being based on the farm in the film the Gale house is actually built to look like another famous house. Perhaps you can imagine a man and woman with a pitchfork standing in front of it?

Gale residence was lived in by the landowners and occasionally rented out in the 1990s

It was a resounding, triumphant success. on opening day the park reported 4,000 visitors. In its first year open the park was the most popular attraction on the entire east coast.

When you first enter the Gale house you find a carefully crafted replica of the rooms seen in the film

This pitch dark line room is where you are picked up by the tornado. Only through exploration did current owners find a bricked over room that originally served as the projector room



When the park was originally opened the experience was designed for the visitor to take on the roll of Dorothy. They would begin in tranquil Kansas and then be in the house as it was “picked up by a tornado”. When they emerged from the now tornado wrecked house they found themselves walking out into the magical land of Oz just as Dorothy opened her door to it in the movie. Visitors met the characters of Oz and went on the journey to the Emerald City to see the wizard.


when you land after the tornado you find yourself in a wrecked version of the Gale house. This affect is achieved in the same fashion as a traditional Mystery house attraction and you know I love a bonus mystery house


bonus roadside attraction fact: most mystery houses are made with 2 axis of tilt, while the post tornado section of the Gale house has 3

The journey first has you see the land of the munchkins. You then meet the Scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion. You’ll see the poisoned apple trees put in your path by the Wicked Witch of the West, and her castle. You’ll pass through areas heavy with poppies before arriving at the Emerald City. The original Emerald city featured a show acting out the scenes where the group of adventurers come before the wizard, a collection of gift shops, and a small museum holding ephemera from the movie.




like in the film you will find that the house has landed on someone!


A balloon ride at the end of your walk through Oz took you from emerald city over all of Oz for a birds eye view. Much of the balloon ride’s infrastructure was later repurposed into an actual skin lift down the backside of the Beech Mountain slope.


the land of the munchkins. Only a few pieces of munchkin land were salvaged


Apparently the death of Grover Robbins before the parks opening left a shadow on its operations from the start. The devotion to the park for its own magic gave way over time to the commercial interests of the investors who owned the portion of the mountain. California Caribbean Corp was heavily effected by a downturn in real estate sales and began to rely heavily on the park for revenue rather than prioritize the experience of the park. Failed investments left CCC bankrupt in 1975.


In Dec 1975 a fire started at the park. It is generally believed to be arson and was set to the Emerald City Amphitheater  and destroyed it and the surrounding shops. Two storage buildings were also destroyed in the blaze holding records, the park characters’ costumes, props and sound equipment. As the fire blazed multiple items were stolen from the parks museum, including Judy Garlands original Dorothy dress worn in the film. This piece of famous memorabilia has never been recovered and seems never to have surfaced in collectors circles.

the original lair of the lion from the original viewing platform. It was designed to incorporate into the natural landscape which probably helped it survive years of neglect

This is a stunning crime. It’s a but glossed over in the history of the park, but it seems to me a looming unsolved mystery. I can’t seem to find much information about it. The parks Wikipedia page claims that there is some speculation that the fire was started by disgruntled employees but also claims this phase (needs citation). This is one of the most suspicious stories Ive ever heard and the fact that it seems to have done unsolved for all these years and nobody seems to much care makes me think that it’s not so much of a mystery who started the fire.

a portion of the original witches castle. The small inside of the castle would have been used for costume changes and scenes would have been acted out in front of the castle in the late 70’s

I stole the wicked witche’s broom. It wasn’t even terribly difficult!

Regardless if this was the work of a unhappy employees (I mean how unhappy do you truly have to be to set your place of employment ablaze!?) or some kind of fraud scheme on the part of CCC, the damaged park was sold to a new company shortly after. It was rebuilt somewhat, and reopened under new management but apparently lacked something of the quality of the orgininal park and never recouped the money spent on the repairs.

castle guards

flying monkeys also make an appearance at Autumn at Oz

In this period in the later 70’s after the parks reopening the way that the visitor experienced the park was changed so that instead of having much of the yellow brick road experience as Dorothy, visitors stopped at various points along the journey to watch  acted out scenes and tableaus. Many of the stages and viewing platforms that are currently being restored at the park are from this iteration.

and of course

The park closed it’s doors in 1980, after a rollercoaster ride of just 10 years. When it closed it was apparently left entirely abandoned. Much of the park fell into disrepair, either through vandalism, thieves, or simply being left to the elements. People with the current task of reconstructing the park have little to go on. Only some of the late costume used,  sections of the witches castle and the munchkin village, and the brick road itself survived.

feeling sleepy

On the 4th of July 1991, after sitting abandoned for more years than it was open and functioning, the park was opened to the public of Beech Mountain to celebrate the redevelopment of the property into a condo complex. Students from a high school in nearby Boone who had performed the Wizard of Oz as their school play greeted visitors to the park in costume. visitors rode the ski lift, fashioned from the bones of the hot air balloon ride, up the back side of the mountain to gain entrance to the park.


Glenda is a bit of a duex ex machina in the film which always bothered me

The Gale house has stood the test of time in part because it was lived in by the property owners. When visitors were allowed into the park in 91 there wasn’t much left to see but the house and the now worn out yellow brick road. Over the coming years the owners would begin work on restoring parks of the park. A few years later they began having a yearly reunion of former employees which eventually evolved in to the yearly Autumn at Oz celebration they now have in which the park fully opens in as close an approximation as possible to the way it would have run in 1970. Autumn at Oz is the source of many of these photographs featuring all the wonderful characters you can meet along the road.

this is where the park “ends” currently.

by 2009 the Autumn event was attracting around 8,000 people annually and becoming a tradition among the local public. By 2013 it had expanded to a fully public event with a tour of the park and other activities like a petting zoo and pony rides. Dorothy’s house was used as a rental property. In 2015 an article about a creepy abandoned theme park in the North Carolina mountains went viral. beckoning urban explorers to the park. the park suffered several break ins and lots of theft during that time, especially of bricks from the yellow brick road.


the yellow on the original bricks was a glassy hard glaze which you can see on the center brick

Since then the park has managed to control its PR a but better and build its reputation as a open and functioning park. Each year it hosts a larger and larger Autumn at Oz. In the last couple of years it has added journeys with Dorothy small group interactive tours in the summer. This year, in lieu of those events, cancelled due to covid you can have a private tour of the site. This will continue until late Sept and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to see the park without other guests there. When the world gets back on its axis a bit, Autumn at Oz is a great way to see something of what the park would have been like.

A temporary Emerald City Ampheater area is built for Autumn at Oz, likely not dissimilar to the Emerald city used in the park after the original Emerald City burned down in 1975

The story if the land of Oz park is a lot more realistic than any fairy tale. It’s full of bad luck, and long periods of neglect. The specter that you see when you visit  the park was truly only a few golden years between 1970 and 1974, and the reality is that its spent far more decades being ignored than it ever did being the idyllic land of Oz. And yet every year they repair one more piece of the old park. Every year people come.


I absolutely adore the fact that there are people, right now, completely devoted to saving the land of Oz. I have no doubt that it’s in well meaning and determined hands. But can they save it? Even if they managed to find the money and resources to restore the park to what it looked like and how it ran in the 1970s which as I understand is the eventual goal, maybe even rebuilding the hot air balloon ride, is that a sound business choice? is it any more sound now than it was in the 1970’s? How long can nostalgia and the story of a “once abandoned” park sustain the park. I find it hard to even conceive of what it costs to keep nature at bay year round only to open it once a year.

All that remains of the balloon ride is this skeleton. The machinery of the ride was moved to the back slope of the mountain to form a still used traditional ski lift

Concrete footers for the air balloon remain throughout the park. It used ski lift technology but it was the first ski lift to ever be built on non parallel tracks

How much staying power does the wizard of Oz really have? As an elder millennial the Wizard of Oz was an old movie I saw when I was a kid because it was somehow implied that I should see it. Its one of the only times I remember seeing black and white movie footage. I knew the story but I wouldn’t have listed it as one of my favorite films. I do remember having a dolls of the scarecrow and the tin man. I think they were a gift from my grandmother and the Tin man was technically my brothers and the scarecrow was mine. I always preferred them to Dorothy herself.


the story is that the park follows the natural land layout so precisely that only one tree was cut down to build the Land of Oz

I rewatched the Wizard of Oz when I was preparing to visit the park for Autumn at Oz last year. It was my first time watching it as an adult and I wanted to see in it what was so profound that it might inspire people to build an entire replica of it. I deeply desire to understand the impetus to build a roadside attraction. The combination of inspiration and obsession and dedication necessary for a theme park or a house built of bottle caps to actually get willed into existence is so extreme that I think I feel almost jealous of it. But Ive always felt frustratingly close to it as well, as though soon I will have looked at the pieces long enough I will finally see how they fit together. I hoped maybe the movie might provide this key but admittedly I didn’t find the answer there.


manmade reflecting pool original to the park and probably meant to connect to some fountain or faux waterfall nearby which is incredibly enchanting

the same pond in the off season

But I did ask myself, what is the wizard of Oz about? I don’t mean this question in the way that would make the answer “a young girl from Kansas who goes on an adventure over the rainbow’ but what it is really about.   Much has been made about the political scenario at the time and the symbolism of the various characters in relation to it. Dorothy, for her part, seems to be summing up the movie with its last line about no where being better than home.


there’s no place like home

I had sort of a memory bubble as I was rewatching that as a child the end of this movie never quite sat right with me. I mean Oz being an obvious fraud and the implications for magic in general certainly made me sad in a way that I couldn’t exactly understand as child. But I always felt that the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man were treated unjustly in the end. The false wizard gave them only useless symbolic trinkets instead of the very real things they desired. His cheeky speeches poking fun at overeducated elites and the pomp and circumstance of military customs went entirely over my head as a child. I knew the scarecrow didn’t get his brain to think with and the lion didn’t really get his courage and the tin man didnt really get a heart. Dorothy did get a way home though. even though that’s not how she ended up getting there, the false wizard didn’t offer Dorothy a trinket instead of her deepest wish.\


the final scene from the movie is acted out by the characters at Autumn at Oz


Only as an adult did I realize that the reason these little trinkets were effective because of the nature of the wishes. If you watch carefully it is in fact Scarecrow who comes up with every clever plan in the film. It’s Scarecrow who’s observant enough to figure out that the apples are poison and the poppies are what have caused everyone to fall asleep. It is the scarecrow who comes up with the idea of dressing up as castle guards to infiltrate the witches castle and rescue Dorothy. He doesn’t need a brain at all, only to believe that he has it.


Scarecrow is the best prove me wrong

The Tin man asks the wizard for a heart so that he can love. Its the Tin Man who feels emotion more freely than any of the others. How many times does he begin to cry and then have to be oiled because the crying makes him rust? How deeply does his affection for Dorothy affect him? He doesn’t need a heart to love, as his is already functioning perfectly.

The Lion too for all his whining and constant quaking shows the very quality that he claims to lack again and again. Courage of course, I know much better now than when I first saw the wizard of Oz, has nothing to do with not experiencing fear. To be brave one must proceed in spite of fear. The Lion, with the help of his friends, overcomes his overwhelming fear again and again.

So, 25 years later or so I forgave the wizard. Was he a conman? Yes. He did give the Tin Man and the Lion and the Tin Man something, even though it was things they already possessed. That, it seems to me is what the wizard of Oz is about. The wizard isn’t real. In fact he is a lie. He is a lie no matter where. you find him in the world, which is still full of people trying to give you a trinket that will allow you to fullfill your happiness.  What you need however, is inside you, it’s not for someone else to give or sell.


a hot air ballon and a horse of a different color on display in the temp emerald city

One can even read the characters in the Wizard of Oz as aspects of Dorothy herself. Brain, heart, and courage. The combination of things that gets you through life. Our strengths and differences even come from which of these we rely on in what amount.


the road to see the great and powerful wizard

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Ive finally come to write this piece about this place now. At this exact place in American history where it has suddenly become clear to so many of us that we are past the happily ever after peak as a country. The USA isn’t what it once was. As it turns out, for a lot of people it was never what it was sold as. It was an illusion made by the man behind the curtain. The American Dream was a fairy tale too. This too, like Oz on the top of Beech mountain is going to have to find a way to fight its way back. like Oz, this might be slow and non linear and awkward, and the park will never operate at its former glory and there’s something about that that’s hard and awkward to watch. Of all the times we should be watching it though, this is the time.

Autumn at Oz has been cancelled this year due to social distancing needs, but the park in offering completely private tours until the end of September



goodbye yellow brick road 


The Big Kahuna: The House on the Rock

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 Jordan’s father, Alex Jordan Sr, 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.

It is impossible not to feel overwhelmed among the collections at the House on the Rock even if you’re not going through them sort of backwards with limited time and not really supposed to be there. The rooms are dark and the buildings are warehouse- like. They are extremely loud from music machines playing everywhere you go. Everything feels red. There is nowhere to rest your eyes from the constant sensory assault.


The carousel room is two stories high, loud from the animatronic band playing the carousel music, includes the carousel itself, ceilings hung with flying angels, and a wall of carousel horses.

In case you were wondering where the “big things” were going to come into this whole thing, the carousel room at House on the Rock is home to the largest carousel in the world. Its difficult to even get a grip on a it’s scale even in the room with it. It measures 80 feet across and 35 feet tall. Not a single animal on it is anything as arcane as a plain old horse. It includes 269 animals of which there are 53 centaurs, 3 water buffalo, 36 peacocks, 3 dolphins, zebras, rabbits, and a unicorn.

All of the actual carousel horses are on the wall of the room. More than 200 of them, mostly reclaimed from small circuses that once toured the midwest.

Speaking of the circus, the outbuildings also include the circus building. Like many people in this day and age I think, I have mixed feelings about the circus. So many aspects of it were inherently exploitative and some outright evil. Even so, I went to one as a child. My memories of it are extremely fond. It was magical to a child for whom the implication of captured performing animals and the display of people who were different than me had never occurred to. I rode an elephant there. I was thrilled. As an adult I think about that elephant often with guilt.

Despite my misgivings about the circus, I feel extremely nostalgic about them. I mourn the death of the traveling circus which made the background for stories like Something Wicked This Way Comes and formed a common childhood experience for generations of Americans and people across the world’s I see the magic in them along with the evil, maybe like Alex Jordan did. I know they represent a huge piece of American history.

The circus here of course circumvents many of the ethical dilemmas of a real circus, but maintains a great deal of its wonder. It is still riotous with color and sound. Some of this is the size and scale of the circus scenes. The finale of the circus building is a life sized pyramid of elephants covered in 50 life sized mannequins. It is jaw dropping, and not one elephant was harmed.

Some of this is their quantity. The circus building houses the world’s largest collection of miniature circuses as well.

Some of it is the sounds. The circus building is given its soundtrack by a full animatronic orchestra.

Certainly for Alex Jordan, one worlds largest collection could never be enough. The House also houses one of the Worlds largest collection of doll houses and small vignette displays. Evidence of Jordan’s love for dolls can be found in nearly every room and building of the house, but it reaches fever pitch in the doll carousel room.

The doll carousel room includes not one, but two carousels populated entirely with dolls. The dolls are large and small, dressed lovingly in hundreds of different dresses and hairstyles and all look as though you could reach out and play with them.


But WAIT. Theres more things Alex collected better than anyone else. Baranger motion machines were popular from the 1920’s through the 1950’s mainly as displays in windows of jewelry shops. Honestly I “get” this collection more than I get the dolls because I love these clever little things. Each motion shows an individual scene, some are popular fairy tales, some are biblical stories, some are simply wonderful fantasy images like spacemen or wagon trains or almost anything else you can imagine. They all do some kind of simple motion and contain places like wires and hooks and ledges to display jewelry.

A jewelry store would typically have one of these window displays at a time and possibly change them out over the course of the year to attract customers. This is OF COURSE, the most complete collection of baranger motions in the entire world. Maybe in the world of the house on the rock this is nothing to write home about because they are simply displayed in feet and feet of walls in the circus rooms. As though there wasn’t enough to look at.

The collections go on. There are galleries to walk through showcasing antique weapons and suits of old armor. I apparently took no photos of this part, which in all reality may have seemed a good deal more interesting had it not had to follow up buildings of circuses and dolls.  Cannons and machines of war are scattered randomly around the House on the Rock. There is a gallery of Oriental art.

It’s telling perhaps that Alex Jordan is spoken of with such reverence. I’ve discussed before the difference between mental illness and genius and how hard it is to tell. I wonder if it’s always even a necessity to line to draw. There’s clear obsession here, the whole place is practically a testament to compulsion. But framed in this way, as a wonderland of someone else’s feverish mind, is doesn’t feel frightening or malevolent. It doesn’t feel like the work of a tormented man. It feels like the work of an inspired one.

Whatever the hero of the story of the House on the Rock experienced the day of that fateful picnic seventy-something years ago, and it was something, does it matter what? In civilization before now would we have cared to classify someone who built something incredible in the middle of nowhere as “crazy”? Or would they have been something else? Touched by something, a conduit for something perhaps?

House on the Rock is the best study of this phenomenon that I know of. Maybe because of Alex’s immense resources, rare among those having an uncontrollable urge to build something strange somewhere. Maybe because what he did is so unique in it’s blending of beautiful and undeniably strange. Maybe because of the balance of manic collecting and meticulous display, non sensical building processes and harmonious design. Alex Jordan ultimately figured something out about the balance of things, and one feels if they just linger at the House long enough, they might just understand it.

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

  1. Dinosaurs
  2. Fake Wild West Town
  3. Animatronics
  4. Mystery House
  5. 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.

Seems legit

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…

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.

Main Street

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.

Neighborhood Undertaker’s

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.

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.

The Meg

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.

Naughty spiky boys

Walking down the wooded path brings you on a series of scenes depicting the union army struggling to control their new weapons

Making a mess

Besides the comic book which you could if you wished, read along to the scenes in the book as supplementary content, some of the tableaus in the park have QR codes which you can scan from your phone for an extra experience.

Pass this on the side of the trail

Really, make sure you have a QR reader because you don’t want to miss the videos they link to featuring Cline dramatizing some of the scenes.

Find this situation around the next bend

I don’t want to post all of Dinosaur Kingdoms secrets because I strongly desire for you to visit, but there are similar amazing, low budget, humor filled videos to accompany many of the scenes. This is of course remarkable not only because it adds to the experience but also because it bridges the gap between old and new. Here is the most classic of attractions, built by the only man still building them, in very much the same method as roadside dinosaurs have always been built, incorporating this modern media. If Millennials don’t kill the Roadside Attraction the way they apparently kill everything else, this will be their future.

The union apparently attempted to use the dinosaurs in other ways except as weapons, as evidenced by a boy milking a stegosaurus like a cow.

Can you milk reptiles?? I’m not gonna google that

One soldier apparently had the bright idea of attempting to steal dinosaur eggs to eat (times were mean during the war and they were awfully large eggs) One can imagine this didn’t go well for him.

Dinos also apparently interfered with all sorts of historical events in ways that have been shamefully kept from the American public, like attempting to steal the Gettysburg address from Abraham Lincoln!

Abe Lincoln gets the Gettysburg address stolen

And later, men herding and riding Dinos like pack animals.

Get on, lil’ doggy

Other animals seem to have given the army a bit of trouble as well. All and all things seem to have spiraled entirely out of control.

There is a QR video for this scene also I’ll leave to you to imagine

Part of the plot of Dinosaur Kingdom involves local hero Stonewall Jackson. Robert E Lee’s right hand man (no pun intended.) (I think it was his left arm anyway) was injured near the battle of Chancellorsville leading to the loss of his arm and eventually died from his wound and was buried down the road from DK II in the nearby town of Lexington.

There are apparently some things we don’t know about this chapter of history as well. You see, when Dr James Cline became trapped in this time, along with the dinosaurs he brought with him through a series of time machine related accidents, his time machine fell down the collapsing pit that the dinosaurs fell into. Shown kindness by Stonewall Jackson’s wife in his lost in time state, he attempted to fly on a dinosaur to Chancellorsville to prevent the friendly-fire wounding of Stonewall Jackson and ended up causing it instead. Filled with guilt, he had an acquaintance build him a mechanical arm machine in order to dig for the time machine, dug it up, used it to go to the future and steal a Stonewall Jackson wax figure, returned to the past at Jackson’s deathbed, knocked him out with ether, switched him for the wax figure and then took him to a military base to save his life. Are you following this? Its all perfectly clear in the comic book okay.

Honestly headdress wearing tribes weren’t native to this part of the country but considering what else is going on here it doesn’t seem like the fact to get caught up on

Dr Cline and his military inventor friend Moses Ezekiel replaced Stonewall Jackson’s amputated arm with the mechanical arm he used to dig up the buried time machine, and encouraged Jackson to use it to dig for the legendary Beale treasure which would fill the coffers of the struggling Southern army and change the course of the war. All the while Jackson must of course remain “dead” to history. Perfectly sensible. The only problem is that while digging for the Beale treasure he digs several holes down to where the dinosaurs which chased Dr Cline to this time and place at the beginning of this story are lying dormant under the ground, and in combination with heavy shelling from the battle of Lexington, he releases them. He takes shelter in a nearby church, and the union army rounds up the dinosaurs.

This church may not be a good place to hide out

Eventually the Beale treasure is found in a graveyard with a coded tombstone but as they are digging it up a giant albino dinosaur which has been chasing Dr. Cline arrives and Stonewall Jackson makes his stand against it. The creature is defeated but falls into the pit holding the treasure and the mechanical arm and the Beale treasure are lost in the process.

Cemetery where the Beale treasure was buried

Stonewall Jackson fighting with his robotic arm

In a separate battle, slimes, (pre-prehistoric ambiotic creatures also accidentally dragged here by some of Dr Clines time hopping of course) attack dinosaur riding Yankees. There’s zoo animals involved here also. Seriously, it all makes sense in the book. Chaos ensues and the dinosaurs turn on their masters, attacking the union troops.

The final battle royale

The dinos turn on their masters

Dr Cline and friends herd all the dinosaurs onto a train and he drives it off a collapsing train trestle. (DUH)

The war continued for a little while longer without the use of dinosaur super weapons or a bionically armed Stonewall Jackson, or the legendary Beale treasure.

A civil war statue that should remain standing.

Of course all history as we know, is written by the victors, and we know who won the civil war. The union was apparently so embarrassed by it’s attempt to harness the giant lizard creatures they had found, and the ensueing chaos and tragic loss of their own troops, followed by their mysterious disappearance, that they erased the entire incident from the history books.

Imagine what else we don’t know!

Abraham Lincoln, it’s said, thought the entire dinosaur incident was a dream brought on by the extreme stress of the war.

The exit out of Dinosaur Kingdom is another Easter Egg. The turnstiles that you pass through to leave Mr Cline told me, are the original turnstiles from the Enchanted Forest Park. He took them during the restoration and put them on his own attraction. It was wonderful for me to learn that his work on the Enchanted Forest was as important to him as I has suspected as I became quite obsessed with the entire story of its rescue and restoration.

King Kong originally next to the Pink Lady Diner

Outside of Dinosaur Kingdom my last perfect roadside attraction box really gets checked. Numerous large sculpture pieces face the road from outside the park’s fence. The King Kong is familiar to me as it was standing next to the Pink Lady diner 5 years ago when I last traveled to Natural Bridge in search of another piece of Mark Cline’s work- Foamhenge.

Merlin from the original Foamhenge

The large Merlin riding a stone is all that’s left of Foamhenge in the area as it’s now been moved to Centerville, Virginia, (after as we know, being accidentally time cloned here by Dr Cline) but Foamhenge is for another time. It was good to see a familiar face still trying to get the truth to the public about how Foamhenge was actually created. Mark Cline is always trying to get the truth you know, he’s practically Alex Jones.

My best guess is this is Olive Oatman??

The other sculptures here could be from any project of Mark’s. Considering how little they have to do with one another I think it might be best to leave their explanations to mystery.

I have no best guess here

You may have noticed that I mentioned speaking to Mr Cline about some of these things. He lives and keeps his studio in Natural Bridge and leads ghost tours in nearby Lexington, which I went on. He was wonderful and gracious in response to my obvious fandom.

Mr Robot

It’s hard for me to explain exactly why Mark Cline has become so heroic to me. He obviously has an extraordinary imagination and a wonderful sense of humor and is a talented artist. I think it’s more than that though. It’s the specific art that he has chosen. He is the ONLY person that I know of who is currently making new roadside attractions and working in large scale fiberglass sculpture (except arguably Dan Addicks but that’s another story). He’s the only dam in the river that threatens to sweep them all away. Not only is he helping to save the ones that are left he is building his own. I guess he’s a bit of a knight to me, too.

Mark Cline on the left

Mark Cline has a huge body of work and I’ve been to many of his attractions, so expect many more posts about him in the future.

If you’ve made it this far and would like a chance to win a Dinosaur Kingdom II Comic book subscribe to this blog and drop a comment and I’ll chose one to send one to!!

Until next time, Happy adventuring y’all!

Dinosaur Kingdom II (Mark Cline Part 1 of ?)

Saint Eom’s Pasaquan

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.

After declining health and a cancer diagnosis, Saint Eom took his own life in 1986. It’s difficult not to wonder how this decision connected to his overall mental health, but he would have been 78 at the time. After his death the site began to degrade. For the next 30 years the Pasaquan Preservation Society worked against the current to keep the site preserved.  In 2014 the Kohler Foundation helped give the site a full renovation and it was  reopened to the public in 2016.

While it is clear that Saint Eom was mentally ill, and his visions were a result of his illness, there’s that voice in my head pestering me again. Of course, may artists suffer from mental illness and its incredibly fascinating to see the functions of their minds in their work, everyone knows of Picasso’s blue period or Van Goghs earless self portrait. Pasaquan is fascinating in that way. It functions as a three dimensional interactive trip into a mentally ill mind. And it’s beautiful.

Is there something else here though? Doesn’t it feel a little bit magic? Is it unrealistic to think that in the future cultures and religions would have melded, I don’t think so. Its a utopian future view of course, but one humans could steer towards. Is it unrealistic to think that we would have levitations and travel technology which would make some of Pasaquan’s structures make a little more sense, like the way no matter how you approach the mandala building you have to step over a low wall somewhere? No, not entirely. Is this any different from a man in ancient Greece who saw Athena in the woods and labored to build a randomly places temple to her there? I don’t think so. For all it’s psychedelic appearance it still appeals to something we all experience; the desire to leave something behind us, a monument to our lives and how we lived. It speaks of a connection to the divine and a level of inspiration which we all crave a little of.

There have been studies done on people suffering from schitzophrenia that essentially show that they are immune to many optical illusions. There is a famous one involving a rotating mask, and when the mask rotates away from the normal viewer the brain edits it to make its appear convex like the front of the mask again. It apparently appears at it really is to schizophrenics. You might make the argument that their minds, refusing to edit things for how it thinks they should be seen, sees reality more clearly in that way, the way it actually is. So what if Saint Eom was mentally ill? Couldn’t it be that he was also right?

for info on visiting Pasaquan, the restoration effort, and events

@friendsofpasaquan on instagram

The Pink Elephant Mystery

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.

Nashville, TN

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.

Guthrie, Kentucky

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.

Hopkinsville, Kentucky

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.

Guthrie, Kentucky

This isn’t even near a completely satisfying explaination for roadside elephants are all over the United States. It’s also not near a complete list. When discussing this mystery with some friends of mine, I found my friend remembered not one but two in her hometown of Springfield Illinois, one of which has now been painted green, and one that’s holding a martini glass. Do you have a Pinky in your hometown? Know anything about it’s history? Pop in the comments or email me!

Dinosaur World and My New Favorite Town

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.

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.

family of Stegs

stop yelling

flying dinos

The most incredible thing about Dinosaur World though is that it’s not simply a collection of dinosaur sculptures displayed together. Flying dinosaurs hang from trees, glimpses of dinosaurs can be seen through the foliage, families of dinosaurs graze not seeming to know a predator lurks in the trees nearby.

This was my second moment of giddy wonder in Cave City. Walking around a bend in a trail and seeing what the world might have been like living among the dinosaurs. You know the scene in Jurassic Park where Laura Dern has her head physically turned for her so she will see the dinosaurs in front of her and the face she makes? I think I made the same face. It is as close as you can probably get to experiencing seeing dinosaurs in their natural habitat. I also had the thought that I wished I had a child with me, so that i could play my reaction off as being happy for them, instead of happy for myself.

haircuts very nice

as you can see my favorite thing is families of dinosaurs

momma and baby

I don’t know what you’re eating but its terrifying

take a moment to imagine the sound these animals would make because is it “meep”?

Dinosaur World also features a Mammoth Garden, which all suspiciously resemble a trademarked character from a certain Pixar film, but they are kind enough not to make the Mammoths interact with the dinosaurs.

y’all ever taken a selfie with a baby mammoth?

They also have a trail out to the side of interstate 65 which allows you to take a picture with the dinosaur that has been torturing me from the side of the highway for years. Theres some other (even more) child friendly activities to do at Dinosaur World besides the Dino trail like a fossil dig, a playground, and a small museum if you do happen to actually be there with children.

These are not the only Dinosaurs in Cave City though. Of course.

On the road to Mammoth Cave is Big Mike’s Gift Shop. They sell primarily rocks  if that’s your thing, ranging from small $5 chunks of pyrite to huge beautiful mineral specimens in the hundreds of dollar range. Across the parking lot the gift shop sells more traditional souvenirs like postcards and mugs and mood rings, and a non functioning animatronic chip seller.

ever meet someone and feel like you’ve met them before?

In front of the rock shop and visible on the way back towards town from Mammoth Cave is big Mo.  A huge aquatic reptile with strange yellow plastic eyes and a gaping toothed mouth. Scientifically speaking aquatic reptiles that lived in the time of dinosaurs are not technically called dinosaurs as that term only applies to the species which evolved to hunt on legs on land, butttt if you’re not a scientist, Big Mo is a dinosaur. Maybe a Mosasaurus, which led to his name being Mo.

Big Mo

As if all this wasn’t enough, next to the souvenir shop is Big Mike’s Mystery House. If you’ve never been in a Mystery house they are all fairly similar. They are built to resemble a normal structure from the outside and because of the angles of the floors and walls, everything seems to work very strangely on the inside. For example you can stand on the edge of a table straight up and you appear to be doing a dramatic Michael Jackson style lean off the edge.

I purchased a ticket to tour the Mystery house and this must have seemed a little uncomfortable for the high school age tour guide because they made an announcement over the store intercom asking if there was anyone else in the shop who wanted to tour the Mystery House at that time, and a family sent their children with me, who also seemed to think that a person alone coming with them was quite strange.

if you switch places at the end of this room your height appears to dramatically change

theres a random alien in here

The actual optical illusion portions of the house are quite good, and pool balls appearing to roll upwards gave me my third moment of wide eyed excitement in Cave City, even fully understanding the way that a Mystery House works. Maybe there is a little mystery magic in there because aside from peoples height appearing to change as they moved around a room, it’s also a time machine. A Mystery house is little trip back to 70’s psychedelia and a time when children could be entertained by something as wholesome as an optical illusion and a hall of mirrors, and apparently, so can I.

That’s all I managed to do in the afternoon I had in Cave City, but I plan to return soon and do more, including perhaps, the actual caves. If this posting read like an advertisement for a random town, maybe it is. This is a little place of power, but it’s also clearly struggling. This is a tourism town, from when tourism included a lot more road trips, and the only thing that will keep it going is tourists. So maybe next time you’re on the road between Nashville and Louisville consider stopping.  See if you feel some electromagnetic energies.

I basically take a variation on this photo at every dinosaur attraction

Long live Cave City

The Other First Theme Park and the Saving of the Enchanted Forest

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.

The old woman’s shoe had to be cut in half horizontally to be moved from the originally location

Many nursery rhymes that we’ve come to think of as wholesome stories seem to be a result of them softening in our memory.  The old woman in the shoe rhyme was originally

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;
And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
…Jeez, old woman.

Peters house is now part of a woods maze on the farm leading to various attractions

Peter Pumpkin Eater’s rhyme is also more problematic than I remember.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.

Towards the top of this avenue of story book characters rested the home of Goldilocks and the three bears. This is the structure from Atlas obscura crumbling in the woods and the one on the farm you can get the best look inside of because of its multiple doors. In its original state it would have been fully wall through and the papa outside would have told the story as you sat in his lap.

The new and improved Three Bears house.

My Dad pops in on the Three Bears

Bears mount hunters over their fireplaces

Goldilocks wakes up in Baby Bear’s room

Enchanted Forest had no thrill rides in it’s entire run. Coney Island and other similar amusement parks were popular by the time it was built, so there was certainly precedent, but the park remained entirely child friendly. Mother goose was the parks first motorized ride. Over time they added the attractions which populated the rear section of the park including Ali Babas arabian nights mountain structure, a go cart track for tiny antique cars, and a train of teacups which took riders through a subterranean Alice in Wonderland experience.

Mother Goose. The chocolate Easter egg behind was originally on the other side of the park and houses live rabbits for petting. It’s now full of stuffed rabbits, but there are rabbits at Clark’s Elioak Farm

Mother Goose, pulled the swan, and the ugly duckling in a motorized ride with benches and wheels

figures saved from the Alice in Wonderland Ride and Robin Hood figures that adorned the chandelier in the gift shop barn

On the lake in the rear of the property was Mount Vesuvius and Robinson Crusoes Island with a boat to take you around the lake and through the mountain. A jungle safari ride took up the back left corner of the property, which apparently involved a jeep track and choreographed animatronic safari animals leaping at the safari riders. I spend quite some time studying the satellite view of the shopping center to try to see evidence of the safari park in the woods off the lake. None of its elements seem to have been saved and I just find the concept of an animatronic safari ride instead of a roadside safari with real animals when they certainly could have gone that route to be wonderful and moral and sweet.

this kind of terrifying boat was named Little Toot and took visitors from the shore to Robinson Crusoe’s Island

In the center of the whole park was Cinderella’s castle. Built in 1967, the ride carried park goers to the castle by way of Cinderella’s pumpkin coach pulled by a team of 6 motorized white mice. The interior of the castle was filled with tableaus from the story of Cinderella. Cinderella’s castle is apparently still in the woods along with the nearby chapel and the Gingerbread house that was used for birthday parties.  These were structures I strained my eyes for on google earth.

This giant fake birthday cake was rescued from the Gingerbread House

Adjacent to Cinderellas castle was another small pond inhabited by three men in a tub and Willy The Whale. In his original iteration apparently you could tickle Willy under the chin and he would giggle. At the back of his throat was a window so you should a bearded fishing Jonah in his gullet. The story of Jonah and the whale is not of course, a fairy tale in the traditional sense, all though I guess that depends some on what you believe, but the story of his reconstruction is a bit of one, as he was repaired by Mark Cline.

if you tickled Willy under the chin he would laugh. He’s a friendly man eating whale.

Jonah fishing in Willy’s belly

Mark Cline is sort of the dude in the world of roadside attractions. He’s one of the only currently working large scale fiberglass artists, and works for set companies and amusement parks. He also built the Lady of the Lake in Alabama and Foamhenge and many wonderful roadside attractions around Natural Bridge, Virginia. Mark Cline, having grown up in neighboring Virginia, visited the Enchanted Forest as a child.  One can only imagine that this experience influenced his eventual career path, and his studio in Natural Bridge was called Enchanted Studios. When the pieces rescued from Enchanted Forest needed rehabilitation, they called the expert, hometown hero, Mark Cline.  Many of the figures he repaired he did from memory and his own family photos from childhood trips to the park. A paper at the time called him a knight that had returned from a quest to save the kingdom that had spawned him and since fallen into ruin.

Honestly the whole anthropomorphic egg thing has always been weird

By this time in your imaginary walking tour of the park you would have looped around to be walking back towards the front of the park through the original storybook characters. Humpty Dumpty’s wall was the original back boundary of the park. next to him was Jack’s enormous beanstalk.

Jack’s beanstalk was made from a telephone pole

Next to the beanstalk was the crooked house of the crooked man. I’m not sure how much longer nursery rhymes will even be a part of our society, and apparently this particular one didn’t make it’s way to me because I had to look it up. In case you also are unfamiliar with the crooked man rhyme it goes like this

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

apparently several carpenters walked off the job during the building of the crooked house because they claimed it was physically impossible

To your left you’d see the cocky hare sleeping through the tortoise winning his race. Further down the path you’d see the easter bunny’s house housing live rabbits, and the houses of the three little pigs.

there was only one existing photo of the tortoise that Mark Cline used to rebuild him

the big bad wolf attempts to blow down the sturdy brick house after successfully blowing down the one of sticks

At the bottom of the path leading back out through the castle gate was the Merry Miller’s House.

the Merry Miller in his house. He used to tell his story to passerby’s. Many children described his voice as frightening.

The last attraction was the Jack and Jill and the wishing well.

the park donated coins thrown in the wishing well to charity

Now you’ve concluded your walking tour of the saved pieces of the Enchanted Forest. You may have noticed this was the longest and most involved post I’ve ever made. Writing it involved research and time. I’ve been considering what it is about this place and this story that has enamored me so much, that I felt I had to say so much about it. Some of it is the story of the Enchanted Forest Park itself, and how extraordinary the desire to make children happy much have been that it would you to think up and build a theme park. It’s heartwarming.

It’s not just the story of the park though, it’s also the story of the park’s second chance at life. I think that story of the Enchanted Forest fulfills this secret desire many of us feel to somehow go back to our childhoods. We feel tempted to recapture the simplicity and innocence of it. It speaks to the feeling of regret that we didn’t appreciate it as much as we should have when he had it, because no one does. The people at Clark’s Elioak farm and everyone who worked on the relocation project did what we all dream of. They reached back into their childhoods and literally plucked wholesome innocent joyful memories from it, cleaned off the damage and the grime of years of exposure to the stresses of the world, and made them new and innocent again. Bright and whole and just as they remembered them. It’s an extremely, and deeply satisfying story. It’s… a fairy tale.

and they lived happily ever after

P.S. there is also a dinosaur at Clark’s Elioak Farm. I don’t know why it’s there but you know me, I love a good dinosaur

probably named Philip

Atlanta Local Big Things Roundup (Except the Falcons’ Falcon)

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.

Happy Easter

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 bet they kept that F for Flooring from the arcade business too

duh dun duh dun da dun da dun da dun da dunnnnnnnnnnn

The pink panther himself is, in a way, one of the first modern memes in the form of a nearly society wide inside joke. He began as an animation in the credit sequences of the French Pink Panther films following the adventures and misadventures of a French (human) detective. He took his form from a fictional diamond that’s stolen in two of the films and mentioned in others called the pink panther. Eventually he had his own series of short films and animated series as a sort of detective himself.

according to Wikipedia the panthers also had two kids

If you head Northeast instead you’ll find a huge safety sawhorse in Tucker, Georgia. Bo Phillips Company, which manufactures safety sawhorses, built a giant one outside as a mascot. Though recently built, this old school advertising method warms my nostalgic heart.

what are the pros and cons of safety sawhorse vs regular cones? Anyone know?

If you continue to the northeast out 85 like you’re headed to Asheville you reach this round ups Grande Finale. A discount furniture store in the tiny town of Jefferson, Georgia

The piéce de résistance is the Guinness Record holding World’s Largest Mattress. Located inside of what was formerly Real Deals Furniture, which is now rebranded as Cotton Mill Interiors this mattress is the size of a skating rink and probably holds nearly as many children sometimes.

ta dah

I’m not entirely sure what qualifies something as a mattress after visiting this thing. I might have thought the answer would have something to do with construction technique, but air mattresses and foam mattresses are also mattresses. I never really thought about this question at all before visiting this place and setting foot on the mattress and realizing it was essentially a very large gym mat. More eager to catch Guinness Records in misstep than discredit the furniture store I did look up the definition of mattress. defines it as

a fabric case filled with deformable or resilient material, used for sleeping on.

Now I am humbled as an oversized gym mat fits inside this definition with room to spare. You win this time Guinness.

Anyway the novelty is great all though I recommend coming during off peak hours to avoid screaming children.

not very comfortable honestly.

This concludes my roundup of local large objects. In addition to having no real organizational pattern to objects themselves, I also don’t really have any parting thoughts on them as whole. Perhaps if I had a CORPORATE SPONSOR to finance a brain healthy diet while traveling I’d be better able to organize my thoughts.

Do you know of more large objects or roadside attractions in the Atlanta area? Comment or contact me!!

Public Service Announcement: Rock City is not a Nature Attraction

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.

Rip van Winkle and Jack’s beanstalk glowing under black light in the passageway walls

Keep in mind the 50’s were the golden era of Americana and mini golf and fiberglass dinosaurs, so maybe the whole thing seemed less weird at the time, but that honestly seems difficult to imagine, especially under black light

animatronics are the way to my heart

The piece de resistance of Fairy Land is the final cavern called Mother Goose Cavern, which opens up into a large underground room with a pathway around the outside edge filled in the center with a tableau filled with characters from every nursery rhyme you’ve ever heard and several that you haven’t.

scenes from Mother Goose Cavern

I wonder if children growing up now even know nursery rhymes. Do they even hear the fairy tales they were so ubiquitous in my generation and maybe especially in the baby boomer generation when Fairyland was built.

I think it is the lighting that makes everything in the caverns seem slightly grotesque, all though I doubt that was the intention. If you’re familiar with European folklore you might know that the versions we grew up with are quite sterilized. The German versions are quite grotesque and somewhat frightening and it’s difficult to know what the lesson they are teaching is sometimes. The step sisters cut off their toes to try to fit in the glass slipper in Cinderella. While none of the scary versions of tales and rhymes are literally depicted I did find it easy to see that side of them there. In a cave, with strange lighting, Hansel and Gretel being cooked and eaten by a woods witch, Red Riding hood escaping a hungry wolf, and even Humpty Dumpty’s fall do seem a little more what they are: slightly disturbing.

Frieda Carter has now been added to my fantasy dinner party with people alive or dead

Once you pass through the caverns you simply walk back out into the sunlight and have the surreal experience of being back in a normal environment.

There is a cafe at Rock City and multiple gift shops where you can buy the birdhouse version of the iconic red barn and postcards of the trails and the overlook and not one gnome or fairytale scene is to be found anywhere. Everyone acts normal like they weren’t just exposed to a dark room full of slightly insane things. You should visit it over and over. The wonder holds up quite well. Rock City makes itself relevant throughout the seasons by filling the paths with Christmas lights during the holidays and making the waterfall at Lovers Leap run green at Saint Patrick’s Day, and nobody mentions the caverns. It really is the strangest thing.

lovers leap decorated for Christmas

The fairy tales also get Christmas makeovers

So here I am, outing the elephant in the room at Rock City. Here I am to reassure you that it’s not like seeing the “The Thing” where 80 miles of signs work you up to see a cat mummy. The Carters were pioneers or roadside attractions and they built a strange treasure here. So tell your friends. Tell everyone.