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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.