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!

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

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

Dinosaur Land, the roadside dinosaur equivalent of an animal shelter

It’s not really my intention to make my posts here have so many dang words in them, but this one is about to have a lot.

First of all, I don’t think there’s anything more quintessentially American quirk than a roadside dinosaur. They once filled the quasi- educational roadside forests and  mini golf courses and grassy knolls next to parking lots of America in every size and color, and they are, sadly, slowly following in the footsteps of their prehistoric ancestors to extinction.

90% certain this dinosaur’s name is Kevin

Secondly, this particular trip is extra important to me because I took it with my father. You’ll see him in some of the photos. Last year he got a cancer diagnosis and this was during a visit to him in the oppressive time between diagnosis and treatment when everyone is supposed to be pretending they’re not freaking out. I had a few days to spend there after a tour and as he always does, he offered the choice of activity to me, and cheerfully agreed when I suggested something that involved an annoying drive and nothing he was particularly interested in. Since these were taken he’s had surgical treatment, and been declared cancer free. At the time though, nobody knew what was going to happen, and it occurred to me that this could be our last adventure together. It won’t be, but had that ended up the case, I think it was a pretty good one.

There are precious few roadside dinosaur parks left in this cold world you guys.

IMG_9604

“Featuring over _ replicas from the past”

Dinosaur Land is in White Post, Virginia, which is maybe an hour and a half roughly west of Washington D.C. It’s now an actual place where people live with a Target and stuff, but I would imagine that’s relatively recent. Apparently what is now Dinsosaur Land started out as something called Dixie Trading Post or some such thing (there’s still an uncomfortable section of Confederate flag gifts of every description in the gift shop) back when the area was mostly farmland until they acquired the first Dinosaurs in the early 60’s

IMG_9607

At some point you could stand inside this

You can definitely tell which are the original dinosaurs, and as is often the case, the originals are the best. The mid to late 60’s marked something sometimes called the dinosaur renaissance in which the scientific community started rapidly changing it’s ideas about what dinosaurs actually looked like and how they acted. These early dinosaur acquisitions were pre/ early dinosaur renaissance and so the most wonderful thing about many of them is they are quite wrong

“I’m a T-Rex. Rarrrr”

he kind of looks like a pit bull

In spite of this they do make an adorable effort to make the park legitimately educational. I was way too excited but if I had a kid with me, I’d definitely force them to read the signs.

he does look like he’d be a sweet boy

zoomed in on this and learned that Pteranodon’s bony head crest might have worked as a stabilizer in flight

If becoming scientifically obsolete wasn’t bad enough, another factor in the extinction of the roadside dinosaur is their maintenance. As near as I can tell most of them are basically made from freakin’ paper maché. Later ones are fiberglass or some kind of combo of the two. Over time this doesn’t mix well with the elements and dinosaurs need constant maintaining in the form of having their forms patched and being repainted. A desert dinosaur might fare better (I’m looking at you, Pee Wee’s Great Adventure Dinosaur) but in Virginia humidity all of these specimens are at the very least covered in moss, at the most disintegrating. Dinosaur Land charmingly deals with damaged dinosaurs by simply making what’s wrong with them part of the tableau, so a whole lot of them are fighting to explain their “injuries”.

Everyone knows dinosaurs don’t have knees

The roughest dinosaur in the collection has a completely caved in side. He’s been flipped on his side and is in the process of being defeated by a newer and more anatomically correct Megalosaurus

This picture does look kinda epic from this angle though

Sometimes it’s just a matter of rearranging them and painting a little strategic blood around.

The dinosaur version of knocking your shin on a coffee table

Despite the name, Dinosaur Land also has quite a few creatures which are not dinosaurs at all. Some are original to the prehistoric forest (because who cares about a few hundred thousand years which would have separated species). Some are obviously rescues, probably from Mini Golf courses.

“Ssssssssssss”

I’m either really big or that plane is really small, it’s up to you

Dinosaur Land also gives less shits about timeline continuity than new Star Trek so I suspect they’ve been mixing the Pleistocene with the Mesozoic pretty much all along.

Actually quite painful

Were their tusks really like this because I’d be scared too if my tusks were constantly pointing at my eyes

My personal favorite of these later era animals was the giant ground sloth. For one thing, I think this is the animal of the past science should be focusing on trying to clone. Secondly, someone had the idea when this was made to cover it in faux fur. After all this time outside it is absolutely terrifying, and that’s not even including its feet.

rethink your business plan Jurassic Park

Dinosaur Land was never the brainchild of one artist, so all of the dinosaurs seem to be in batches, but apparently once you’re known as the dinosaur people, people just try to unload all sorts of dinosaurs on you, and what kind of monsters turn away a homeless dinosaur. These guys, which either don’t make sense in terms of scale or construction, are apparently relegated to wandering the outskirts of the woods

look, I know science is important, but

man this guy looks out of place

The whole place is pretty small. The prehistoric forest probably took half an hour including photo ops, so if you’re reading this with the intention of actually going to White Post, don’t plan a full day trip. And don’t plan on eating anywhere near it. And do bring some money to spend in the gift shop.

If you love roadside dinosaurs and want to see more of them famous roadside photographer John Margolies ‘s portfolio was recently released by the Library of Congress and Atlas Obscura wrote a cool little article about his Dinos https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/roadside-dinosaurs-concrete-americana

Dinosaur land also has a website that’s actually amazingly slick. http://dinosaurland.com/

Until next time!