Dinosaur Kingdom II (Mark Cline Part 1 of ?)

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!

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

https://pasaquan.columbusstate.edu/

@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.

BUT… WHY?

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.

yes

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.

Alan

Bob

Aaron

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. Dictionary.com 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.

seerockcity.com

The Other 1880 Town in South Dakota. (The one with robots)

The Western States are full of Old West themed tourist attractions and old west towns both real and manufactured. There is one in South Dakota called 1880 Town which by most accounts seems to be one of the better ones. Visitors can dress up in period clothing and they have a wonderful collection of props from Dances with Wolves. I’ve never been to it. This is not about that 1880 Town. This is about a different one.

If you’ve seen Dances with Wolves you actually know what a lot of the state really looks like. It’s very… grassy.

This is about the one in the town of Buffalo Ridge, which as near as I can tell is actually just a gas station. This is about the one populated entirely by robots.

this one

YES.

ROBOTS.

Now, I experience a self doubt spiral and question my talents and career approximately twice a week, but one thing that always fills me with seething regret is animatronics. Why on Earth didn’t I ever pick up any basic robotic engineering!?

In retrospect, of course, the signs were there. There were so many sparks that could have lit the fire in my developing brain: the singing gang of anthropomorphic animals at Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties, the swarthying pirates of the Pirates of Caribbean Ride at Disney, the almooost lifelike repetitive movements of jungle animals at Rainforest Cafe, the scene in Wayne’s World where Garth casually works on a robotic hand in his free time. None of it did. Maybe I’ll go ahead and blame society for not pushing girls towards science and engineering or my art oriented right brain dominance, but at the time of this writing, I never picked up the skills required to do much more than install an after market radio in my car, but I sorely wish I had.

A man named Bill in South Dakota apparently did not miss the signs. The story goes that he is singularly responsible for the building and once a year maintenance of all of the robots here since it’s building in the 70’s. Those in the best condition are inside the store and include a full saloon in all it’s gambling, piano playing, bar tending, potential prostitution glory and a very strange singing gorilla.

For the love of God, do not let this be the robot that develops sentience

This one man job through 40 years of plains dust and plains snow has left in just the sort of condition I love the most… various stages of decay and function.

early Westworld prototype

The town itself is behind the Buffalo Ridge gas station and store where you buy buffalo meat and a range of Knick knacks and admission to the town out back. It contains all the greatest hits of the Old West Town of our collective mind arranged along one Main Street: A gallows, a saloon, a gold mine, a post office, even a dentists office.

the main drag the usual suspects

Each of these contains a tableau, either moving or formerly moving, operated by pressing a button or sometimes standing on a certain place

oh this is gonna be good

yep, it’s really good.

These scenes show ordinary life not much different than ours besides the fashions, and scenes quite a lot more “frontier-sy” . There were a lot more ghosts back then you know.

post office customer service is one of the constants of the universe

all haunted saloons should come with signs like this so consumers can make educated choices

Hand painted signage explains the scenes before you so as to make the town theoretically educational, probably one of the bullet points any kitch roadside attraction has to hit to qualify for my top 10.

rare photo of the man who went on to become the Cryptkeeper in his younger years

mmmmmmmmm I feel awkward

Some of 1880 Cowboy Town’s characters and information are familiar like its homage to Abraham Lincoln, and some less so, like the story of Potato Creek Johnny, a very small man who found gold in the Dakota Territory and who I had never heard of, so I guess this truly is an educational place.

Abe lost his hat

actually pretty terrifying

now you too know the Legend of Potato Creek Johnny

And even some of the familiar characters may seem different than you remember

wtf y’all

The town has everything it needs for both the life and the death of its citizens. Including a sheriff station with a gallows and a coffin shop.

try this on for size

Perhaps best of all, it has it’s own frontier cemetery, complete with period correct wooden tombstones and hand painted witty epitaphs.

Dad jokes for… well, eternity I guess

In what I might call the town square in this circumstance, stands The Worlds Largest Six Gun Shooter, the gun that won the West.

wondering where the “big things” was gonna come in were ya?

This thing actually seems pretty small but the sign says it’s the biggest and really if some jerk went and built a bigger six gun to steal the title from this one gas station town, I wouldn’t acknowledge them. Choose a different number of chambers, man.

I’ve always wanted to take one of these wacky perspective photos and then I just go and blink

Overall, 1880 Cowboy town isn’t exactly a museum. It’s not even what I would call “accurate”. The year 1880 here isn’t exactly idealized, but it’s not really realistic either.

I’m hesitant to wholly condemn the romanticization of the American West. I’m certainly guilty of it, but it was never something I did on purpose. Life on the frontier was, for the most part, horrible and short for both the settlers and the Natives they displaced. In my mind though, there has always been another American West. Not the real one, full of cholera and lawlessness and genocide, but the other one. The one you see when you put on a sheriff badge and a cap gun as a child. The one full of heroes and outlaws who were still good guys, and horse chases and buffalo herds and dying by flipping over and turning into a tidy tombstone in Oregon Trail. As you grow up, and learn more, you slowly realize that was never the West, and how you pictured it fades and gets grittier and more dirty and the parts that used to fit together fall apart. 1880 Cowboy Town sort of looks like that; A child’s dream of the American West, exposed to truth and wind and dust for 40 years.

Mardi Gras for non Mardi Gras People

I will never go to Mardi Gras. It is my personal version of Hell.

I respect Mardi Gras. I love the tradition of it. I love the spectacle. I love the weirdness and the mixture of Pagan ritual and Christian celebration into a new and unique thing. I also love New Orleans. So much.

But alas, I don’t drink, I hate large crowds and feeling claustrophobic, I have little patience for overindulgence, and I don’t eat dairy or eggs, so king cake and beignets and basically all Cajun food is a no-go for me and so every time the opportunity to go to Mardi Gras has come up I have wholeheartedly and absolutely refused.

Luckily, there is a place for people like me. That place is Mardi Gras World.

Gonna go ahead and call this as the World’s Largest Jester head.

If you’ve ever been on a cruise that leaves from New Orleans you have seen Mardi Gras World. It’s literally in the port. You probably stared at it while you were waiting in port traffic to get to your ship. Aside from the few characters outside it’s a totally unremarkable building, very large and low and white. It looks like a warehouse because it’s a warehouse.

I tried to figure out a pun using the word “cruise” and “krewes” but I couldn’t do it

This is the production and storage facility of Kern studios, one the largest manufacturers of Mardi Gras floats. The story goes that local artist Roy Kern caught the attention of the captain of a local Mardi Gras Krewe during the depression and he and his son began building floats for them. Kern Studios was founded in 1947 after Blaine, Roy’s son, had become the city’s leading parade and float designer. It was open to the public for tours in 1984.

Do not recommend taking psychedelics before coming

A ticket gets you a tour. We were there on the off season (November) and were actually the only ones on our tour which was great because we got to skip the “try on costumes” bit for kids, and were basically left alone and unsupervised to wander a warehouse full of wonders after we were done.

Making floats for Mardi Gras is a year round job so there are multiple artists on site at all times actually in the process of making props for floats.

You ever realize that you really messed up in choosing a career path?

The process is still remarkably old school. Most of the large elements are made from many layers of styrofoam glued together and then carved by hand into the appropriate shape. They are then covered in paper maché and eventually painted. Kern studios possesses only one automated machine, a laser cutter which was cutting out fluer du lies, I think for the Endymion Super Krewe’s floats, but don’t quote me. Everything else is done by hand by a real human person. This makes the storage of all these elements even more important because they are often reworked and reused. Even paper flowers and leaves are salvaged from the floats and repainted to new varieties.

This lady head may have been many characters over the years, getting different hair and paint jobs

Because there is no official “boss” of Mardi Gras, and Krewes are non profit and self governing, there is no official theme of Mardi Gras, and even it’s ‘official’ colors were simply chosen by the Rex Krewe at one point and stuck. Even so, Krewes do generally choose one, often kept secret until the parade. Sometimes they seem to be related to the times (patriotic themes post 9-11) sometimes not (many of the floats in the warehouse while we were there were Greek mythology themed)

stoned fish and friends contemplating paper flowers

Actually one of the funnest things about Mardi Gras World was trying to imagine the float and theme each piece came from

Obviously the place was full of recognizable characters. I asked the tour guide how they handled copyright issues, and she said they usually just make the character recognizable but not not exact so technically it’s hard to sue them over it. I’m sure they avoid Disney characters like the plague.

Knowing Gene Simmons, he probably still sued them for this

After our tour was finished, the ridiculously trustworthy staff just left us to wander around as long as we wished. Random staff members saw us wandering among the floats and props and simply headnodded. We pretty much only left because the sun went down and the warehouse has limited light and heat. I was satisfied. I got to see the riot of colors and art of Mardi Gras without the actual parade.

probably my best use of my phones panorama feature to date

At any rate, I’ve managed to secure myself a king cake without eggs or dairy in it which I’ve been munching on while writing this and it needs to stop. So I’m going to stop writing also.

I guess I talked so much about Mardi Gras World that I didn’t talk much about Mardi Gras itself. The basics of Mardi Gras are that it’s a very large, very long party leading up to the Lenten fasting and culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, or Fat Tuesday. If you want to learn more about the history of Mardi Gras, this is a good place to start.

http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/history.html

This is the website for Mardi Gras World www.mardigrasworld.com

A Small Collection of Some of the World’s Largest Random Objects

I’ve recently discovered that the Guinness Book of records doesn’t care about the same things I do. These days, they’re more focused on natural occurrences like biggest waterfall or crazy stuff animals do. They like human activities and feats of endurance and strength rather than the objects they build. There’s an entire separate book of records for gaming related records now. I’m not judging, but who buys that? At any rate, relatively few things claiming to be the World’s Largest are independently verified by Guinness except when people are actually trying to one up a previous example, so all you really have to do most of the time is just call yourself The World’s Largest Whatever and if no one challenges you, you are.

The Worlds Largest Bobbing Head, found at Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Center, Middletown, CT. Bill petitioned to have this declared the Worlds Largest Bobbing Head Doll by Guinness, but apparently they weren’t buying the doll part and don’t have a category for just Bobbing Head, which is pretty downright unamerican

All that is to say that this list is not scientific in any way. The closest I came to verifying these claims was to check them against Wikipedia’s woefully incomplete list of Worlds Largest Objects.

The World’s Largest Bug, who is a termite evidently named Nibbles Woodaway, sitting on top of Big Blue Bug Solutions (formerly New England Pest Control) in Providence, Rhode Island. Also seen in the classic masterpiece of cinema Dumb and Dumber

The reasons for building a Large Object vary I suppose. Most of the time they’re promotion in some way or another. A company headquarters, a roof of a business, a mascot. To be fair, if someone else had a bigger Mr Potatohead than Hasbro that would be pretty awkward.

World’s Largest Mr Potatohead, unchallenged and undefeated, outside of Hasbro headquarters, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Sometimes they celebrate a hometown hero. Warren, Ohio has an alley devoted to Foo Fighters drummer Dave Grohl where they display the worlds largest pair of drumsticks

I feel like making these from telephone poles was kind of… phoning it it. (Get it!?) but work smarter not harder as they say

A lot of the time they celebrate a crop the area is famous for. I can’t be the only one who thinks South Carolina deserves to be the peach state more than Georgia does, but more on how our license plates misrepresent our true strengths at a later time. (Spoiler alert: it’s going to be about peanuts)

Full disclosure someone sent me this. I have approximately 20 blurry photos of the Gaffney Peach taken from a moving car on the drive between my home state of Virginia and my current state of Georgia. World’s Largest Peach, Gaffney, South Carolina

Very often Worlds Largest objects fall into the category of public art. Upon reflection for the purpose of writing this post, the primary difference between a “public art work” and a roadside oddity is where you put it and who pays for it. If it’s paid for with tax dollars it’s art.

The World’s Largest Fire Hydrant or ‘Busted Plug Plaza’ by artist Blue Sky in Columbia, SC. I’ve never heard someone refer to a fire hydrant as a plug in real life so if you have please record it and send it to me

If it’s displayed at a museum or on museum grounds it’s probably art.

This World’s Largest Safety Pin in City Park in New Orleans, LA is tied for the title with an identical pin at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Both made by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

If if it’s marked with the name of the artist or it’s easy to find the Artists name, it’s art.

My other job is making jewelry from human teeth so the World’s Largest Tooth is a special collision of worlds for me. Part of a rotating sculpture park where artist J. Seward Johnson stores his larger than life pieces waiting to lease them out to other cities for display. Trenton, NJ

Other times large objects are made for special occasions. Several of the largest cooking utensils were made to cook record breaking food, like the cherry pie pan in my first post. (Read it) A traveling exhibit about the history of toys, which I suspect was financed at least in part by Mattel, and stopped through the Virginia Historical Society last year boasted two of the World’s Largest objects, one which stood outside to attract visitors and the other made for the exhibit by an artist.

The World’s Largest Gumby, probably not much competition, Virginia Historical Society Richmond, VA

I actually expected this to be bigger. Where is the ambition people?

So there ya have it, a small handful of totally randomly selected objects which may or may not be the World’s Largest of their kind but nobody seems to be arguing and I couldn’t figure out how to thematically link.

If you want to see the aforementioned tooth jewelry you can find me at extollojewelry.com

If you want to know more about J. Seward Johnson here’s his website http://sewardjohnsonatelier.org/

And the website for Grounds for Sculpture groundsforsculpture.org

If you want to know more about anything else try google.com