Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
June 24, 2016
Author Neil Gaiman is a fan of Roadside America, particularly when it comes to his award-winning fantasy novel American Gods (He cites both our Roadside America books and website in its bibliography).
In American Gods, Gaiman writes that the “places of power” in America are its great roadside attractions; they’re the equivalent of holy temples in the Old World. Gods like to congregate in such places.
And one of the greatest roadside attractions in America is House on the Rock.
House on the Rock plays an important role in the novel, with scenes at some of its recognizable spots such as its Mikado music machine, its pizzeria, and particularly its “Largest Carousel in History,” which is ridden by the book’s protagonist, Shadow, and his associates, to spin them to a meeting with Odin.
Many fans of American Gods (and count us among its fans!) have made the pilgrimage to House on the Rock since the book was published in 2001, according to Jenny Greene, its director of operations. That traffic may increase significantly in 2017, when the American Gods TV series now in production will air on premium cable. Because, you know, only so many people read books, but everybody watches TV.
Jenny was understandably circumspect when discussing with us where, when, or even if the series would actually film at House on the Rock. We asked if she thought that visitors who saw the TV series might mistakenly try to ride the Largest Carousel, even though no one is allowed to do so. Jenny didn’t think it would be a problem. She said that American Gods fans have been “nothing but respectful” when they visit.
And actually, in the novel, Gaiman mentions the sign that “forbade anyone from climbing on it or from riding on the animals,” but his characters slip onto the rotating platform during an apparent lull in House on the Rock security vigilance.
There’s certainly enough at House on the Rock to dazzle any fanboy or -girl, even without a whirl to Valhalla. It is, after all, a roadside attraction worthy of the gods (in our first book, we selected it as the Seventh Wonder of Roadside America). And despite Jenny’s laid back demeanor (no magical beans were spilt), we wouldn’t be surprised if she’d already given thought to ordering extra dough and tomato sauce for the pizzeria, and a bigger coin box for the Mikado machine.
May 20, 2016
Typically we’d flag a tip like this as a shaggy dog tale, if it wasn’t for the photographic evidence and the veracity of its source. It’s from Bruce Kennedy, who’s been amassing an unprecedented cluster of giant fiberglass figures next to his business in Hayward, California. Bruce wrote to us: “Hayward’s long lost [Doggie Diner] head was found today when a local car club stopped by Bell Plastics for a visit. It needs a little work.”
Bruce chatted with us about how this artifact of the defunct chain once graced the outside of his town’s Doggie Diner. When the diner was shuttered, the Hell’s Angels in an adjacent hangout/bar went nuts. They liked the diner, and in a misdirected pursuit of revenge they decided to take it out on the head. They commandeered the giant fiberglass dachshund in a chef’s hat, yanked it off its pole, and moved it to an uninhabited island along San Francisco bay for target practice. Whether this blast-fest happened as a single tragic event isn’t clear, but the head was left riddled with hundreds of bullet holes.
“And they’d machine-gunned it,” said Bruce.
The surviving part of the head was recovered and ended up in the possession of one of the motorcycle gang members, who kept it in private seclusion for many years. The biker grew to love the head, in a way, and eventually returned to the island massacre site and gathered fragments — finding part of the chef’s hat, metal parts, and fiberglass fragments, and the doggie’s bow tie.
The owner saw Bruce’s website, which featured his restored Doggie Diner heads, and decided to load his Hayward Doggie into the bed of his vintage pick-up truck for the day’s car club travels.
May 2, 2016
According to Foamhenge creator Mark Cline, his megalithic masterpiece has been given “the official pink slip” by the state of Virginia and will be gone by August 1st, 2016. Foamhenge stands on land that’s part of the soon-to-be-official Natural Bridge State Park, which apparently doesn’t want Mark’s styrofoam creation. He’s anticipated Foamhenge’s departure for years — frankly, Mark is delighted that it’s lasted as long as it has — and wrote to us that “The plan is to find someone (hopefully in the state) to adopt it. But it can go anywhere to a good home.”
While Foamhenge will move elsewhere, the property next to it will be home to Mark’s newest attraction, Dinosaur Kingdom II. “A friend once told me when one door closes, another opens,” Mark said. “That proves one thing — you have ghosts in your house.”
January 1, 2016
2015 was a year that pundits proclaimed was a downer, but in the Roadside universe it rolled along with few potholes or washouts. The Space Shuttle Independence in Texas — a full-size, walk-thru Shuttle on a 747 — was pushed back from 2015 to 2016, but that wasn’t a shock; space projects haven’t met deadlines since the 1960s. And did anyone really expect the RoboCop statue to be unveiled in Detroit, as has been promised every year since 2011? We didn’t; it wasn’t. Maybe RoboCop will surprise us in 2016.
There were a few high profile train wrecks (creating and/or running an attraction isn’t easy). Far more frequent were the success stories of 2015, including the reopening of favorites such as America’s Largest Pyramid and the Dillinger Museum. The ancient Mitchell Corn Palace was given a complete makeover, and the results actually looked pretty good.
Foamhenge, whose future was in doubt as 2015 began, not only survived but enters 2016 with the unexpected blessings of its hometown. Its creator, Mark Cline, told us that he’s also been given the go-ahead to reopen his Dinosaur Kingdom attraction, and to create a new attraction for the building that formerly housed the Natural Bridge Wax Museum, which was recklessly shuttered by the previous town administration.
The most talked-about over-the-top attraction for 2016 is the full-size Noah’s Ark being built in Kentucky by the Creation Museum people. Other anticipated openings include those of the National Videogame Museum in Texas, the Museum of Neon Art in California, and the Burger Beast Museum in Florida. Rumors suggest that Las Vegas will unveil a huge Black Light Slide in 2016, and that a town in Minnesota will erect a big metal Godzilla. If that sounds improbable, remember that in 2015 a town in Oklahoma erected two giant Transformers.
Presidents and their landmarks will be big news in 2016 (they’ve always been big with us), and America’s oldest presidential museum — for Rutherford B. Hayes — will celebrate its 100th birthday. Ronald Reagan’s will turn 25. It will be 75 years since the blasting and hammering stopped on the giant President heads at Mount Rushmore (work continues, slowly, on their neighbor Chief Crazy Horse). 2016 will also feature the 250th birthday of Uncle Sam, or at least the real guy who supposedly inspired the caricature creation.
The fate of several controversial monuments in New Orleans (such as this one) will be decided in 2016, as will that of the Orange Dinosaur of Massachusetts, although people seem far more inclined to save the dinosaur. The Scary Lucy statue will supposedly be replaced by a boring, normal Lucy in 2016, a plan that we hope its hometown will realize is a big mistake.
Also on track for 2016 is the opening of the new Spam Museum, and the expansion of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force with even more rockets, planes, and bombs. Outdoor Los Angeles will welcome the return of its Tail o’ the Pup diner and Rocky and Bullwinkle statue. And everyone will celebrate the completed restoration of Roadside titans Big Ole and Tex Randall.
It’s a lot to track, but we’re happy to do it. What don’t we know about 2016? Plenty. There will be surprises — and as soon as we find out about them, we’ll point you in the right direction.
November 2, 2015
For a generation of roadside fans, the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) defined the horror and wonder of the American road trip. Despite the film’s premise, its filmmakers didn’t actually travel to too many places (National Lampoon was notoriously cheap). But the film did provide a roadside snapshot of sorts during its opening credits, when its peppy theme song played over a montage of 50 “vintage” postcards (some were faked).
Many people view those images with a pang of nostalgia, sad that they’ll never be able to see those attractions of yore. Those people are mistaken! Most of the classic attractions seen on the postcards in National Lampoon’s Vacation are still standing, and can be visited today, even though the film is itself now old enough to be vintage.
Many of the postcards were of generic scenes (“Shady Country Lane”), or buttocks/outhouse gags (“Having No End of Fun”), or fantasy photos of giant vegetables on railroad cars. Several were of places so famous that they probably won’t disappear in our lifetimes (Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge), or of neon motels that were already gone when the film opened in 1983.
But among the postcards were those for a number of classic roadside attractions, most of them still delivering wonder to travelers. Here are the attractions in the order in which they appear:
• Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree – Leggett, CA
• Mount Rushmore – Keystone, SD
• Maid of the Mist – Niagara Falls, NY
• Wigwam Village Motel No. 7 – Rialto, CA
• Santa’s Workshop – Cascade, CO
• Hat ‘n’ Boots – Seattle, WA
• Mystery Spot – St Ignace, MI
• Trout Haven – Black Hills, SD (still there)
• Gatorland – Kissimmee, FL
• Big Fish Supper Club – Bena, MN
• Lucy the Elephant – Margate City, NJ
• Boxy Paul Bunyan and Babe – Bemidji, MN
• Tower of Pizza – Green Brook, NJ (gone)
• Cabazon Dinosaurs – Cabazon, CA
September 5, 2015
A surprising variety of objects have bested the paving machines. Here are a few of our favorites:
In a field-first, often shadeless state like Iowa, this huge cottonwood stands in the middle of an intersection, unmolested.
Too big to move (apparently it’s the tip of a giant boulder), so the town just paved a street around it.
Tree in Rock
America’s most famous detour. Tree in the Rock not only splits a major interstate, it jogged the railroad tracks that were there earlier.
Nancy Barnett’s final resting place was protected from the road crew by a grandson with a shotgun.
An oil well has been pumping in the middle of Main Street for nearly a hundred years, and its town is proud of it.
When a celebrity spacecraft crashes into one of your avenues, you’d be foolish not to mark the spot. This historical footnote has survived countless repavings.
As far as we know, this is the only execution spot in America deemed important enough to reroute a street. And the dead guy wasn’t even American.
And one that didn’t last:
An in-asphalt plaque marked the spot where minister George Haddock was gunned down during a prohibition battle. It was eventually dug up in 2013, but the churchman had defied the asphalt gods for 77 years.
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