Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
June 3, 2013
Bug scientists tell us that this is the summer of the 17-Year Cicadas. From North Carolina to Connecticut, an estimated 30 billion of these big, noisy insects will crawl out of the ground — where they’ve been since 1996 — swarm, mate, and die. Not much of a life… but since they’ll be airborne and mobile, we thought we’d suggest some travel destinations they can visit that weren’t open yet the last time they were around. You can join them for a 17-Year-Cicada Grand Tour, if don’t mind the bug splatter on your car.
Wheels are a cicada’s mortal enemy, particularly when thousands of bugs are carpeting a road. This museum helps foster understanding by showcasing hundreds of vintage American motorcycles, some so quirky you almost wouldn’t mind being hit by one.
With their hard carapaces, bulky bodies, and fearsome buzz, cicadas are the airborne tanks of insectdom. William Gasser loves tanks; he’s collected hundreds of the full-size war machines, and displays them in a vast former tool factory.
West Virginia: Point Pleasant, Home of Mothman
The monstrous Mothman is a dark hero for every bug that’s been slapped around by humans. Mothman terrorized the citizens of Point Pleasant in the 1960s — and now the town celebrates its tormentor with a Mothman statue, museum, and annual festival.
A museum guaranteed to make a cicada feel good about its quickie life span. The human pathology specimens in this museum — which moved into in a sleek new facility in 2011 — range from painfully giant kidney stones to a “megacolon.”
Bug vengeance personified, this time as a beast that destroys cicada-splattering cars. Miles the Monster is the mascot of Dover International Speedway, made of concrete that has somehow come to life, posed as if about to smash a vehicle to smithereens.
Only the astronauts who’ve ridden the Human Centrifuge — the largest in the world — truly appreciate the G-forces endured by swarming cicadas. The centrifuge is here because only Pennsylvania’s bedrock could withstand its insectlike torque.
No bug could pass this place by, with its wall-mounted display of giant insect heads and plenty of “live touching stations” to better the bond between insects and humans. It almost makes you forget that the place is run by an exterminator company.
Spies, like cicadas, often lay hidden as “sleepers” for years, waiting for a trigger to send them into action. There’s a whole exhibit devoted to “bugs” in the Spy Museum, as well as mementoes such as James Bond’s Aston Martin and a “Kiss of Death” lipstick pistol.
The compound eyes of a cicada are mimicked in the kaleidoscopic vision of this modern-day hippie-built attraction. It’s a ten-minute sound-and-light show of frenzied fractal imagery —- like a planetarium on acid, man.
Parts of the world view a swarm of cicadas like a herd of candy on wings: mmm, mmm good! Cicadas can identify with ending up in someone’s mouth — so they appreciate a visit to the factory that makes PEZ, a tasty distraction that keeps Americans from noticing the flying snacks in their midst.
May 30, 2013
Since then, Joel has been on a quest to visit every single Muffler Man on the planet. In less than 16 months, he’s already been to 97.
“I went to your site, and realized that they were all over,” said Joel, remembering the first time he came across the RoadsideAmerica.com Muffler Man tracking chart. It was at that moment, or at least very close to it, that Joel was inspired to get out of the house and onto the road, hunting down Muffler Men for himself (bonus: his video production day job sometimes places him within off-hours striking distance of Muffler Men locations).
This year Joel started chronicling his travels in his American Giants blog, and is hard at work enhancing it with episodes of a YouTube video documentary series he’s creating. His first episode is almost completed. “If it wasn’t for what you guys have done and all the effort that you’ve put into it,” Joel said, he wouldn’t have the head start he needed to begin his project.
He’s well along in his personal journey to full Muffler Men enlightenment, a journey so many others have attempted and failed (or, at least, come to their senses).
Though he speaks no Spanish, he said that he pulled up a photo of a Muffler Man on his smart phone, walked around the town showing it to people. ”When they started nodding their heads and pointing, that’s when I knew I had something.”
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Joel, savoring the memory. “When you go to all this effort, travel all this distance, and there one stands.”
Joel’s first 30 or so M-Man visits were simple photo shoots, but since then he’s been “knocking on doors,” trying to learn the history of each Muffler Man that he sees. It’s a task often thwarted by business owners unaware of the historical importance of their big fellas — and big ladies, too; Joel views Uniroyal Gals as part of the Muffler Man family, but draws the line at Big John statues.
“It’s gotta be from International Fiberglass,” said Joel, naming the manufacturer. “Anything that isn’t is definitely not a Muffler Man. I still find them interesting, but I don’t count them on my list.”
“To find something like that would definitely be a Holy Grail for me.”
Muffler Man adoration affects many more people than Joel, and his travels and blog have brought him into contact with others who are similarly afflicted. What is it, exactly, about Muffler Men that’s so appealing; what inspires people such as Joel to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t even consider?
“I’m still asking myself that,” said Joel, laughing. “Maybe, one day, at the end of all this, I’ll figure that out.”
May 24, 2013
Birger was a mob boss/Robin Hood figure in Southern Illinois in the 1920s, part of a complicated story that involved bootlegging, immigrant coal miners, and the Ku Klux Klan. He was charismatic, but after he ordered the execution of the mayor of a nearby town, the authorities felt it was in everybody’s best interest to hang him.
The execution was done as a public spectacle on April 19, 1928. Photos from that day show Birger standing above the assembled crowd, clearly enjoying his last moment in the spotlight.
The gallows were disassembled, stuck in a basement, made a brief reappearance in 1973 at a July 4 event, then vanished.
The jail where Birger had been hanged eventually became the Franklin County Jail Museum, which displays Birger’s jail cell, his bulletproof vest, his Tommy guns, and the handcuffs he wore for his execution.
That was until Bob got a phone call on May 3, telling him that the gallows could be found hidden in the loft of a nearby abandoned barn. What had happened, Bob said, was that a farmer had stored the disassembled gallows as a favor, and did it so efficiently that even after he had been dead for 15 years, with the barn ransacked by treasure-hunters, no one had found it.
The real gallows are now displayed as they were found, in pieces, on the floor of the jail, protected from the elements, disassembled because they’re 18 feet tall and the ceiling isn’t high enough. Bob said that reassembly is still some time off. He said he really wasn’t in a hurry to have it done because he now knows that the replica, built to be accurate, is “way off.”
George visited the local radio station, was interviewed on-air, and was allowed to play the Beatles’ new record, “From Me To You.” He was then politely told, according to Bob, that, “British music wouldn’t sell.”
Subsequently realizing its error, the county preserved the radio station studio inside the Jail Museum — including the microphone and turntable, but not the record, which is still owned by the daughter of the station manager. “That’s her most prized possession,” said Bob.
Bob said that later in 2013 year, on the 50th anniversary of George’s visit, a historical marker will be unveiled in Benton calling attention to the important event. He also said that, for now at least, the Jail Museum has no plans to bring back its very popular t-shirt, “I Hung Around the Franklin County Jail,” illustrated with a picture of the Birger hanging.
“We thought it was a bit distasteful,” said Bob, although he acknowledged that it sold out in a hurry.
May 15, 2013
May 10, 2013, was the 150th anniversary of the death of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson (His arm was dead and buried seven days earlier). Mark Cline, born and raised in the South and a builder of large and unique sculptures, thought that Stonewall should be remembered on this date. The general’s hometown of Lexington, Virginia, however, was content to let the anniversary pass quietly. So Mark decided to build a permanent, 20-foot-tall statue of Stonewall, mount him on a five-foot-high stone wall, and stand him at the outskirts of the city, facing north, as if protecting it from the Yankees.
“It was also about the hat,” said Mark, who is something of an authority on Stonewall, having portrayed him in a local theater production. Stonewall, said Mark, was famous for his little cap, given to him by his wife. Lexington has two statues of Stonewall, yet one depicts him bare-headed, and the other has him wearing “some old funky-looking thing,” according to Mark, that does not resemble Stonewall’s famous headgear.
The statue, Mark added, was scheduled to be anchored in place at 3:15 pm, the moment of Stonewall’s death. It’s on private property, but Mark placed the statue to be “extremely visible” to those driving south into town on US 11.
“Stonewall stands for our heritage, our Christian values, and our rights,” said Mark, noting that the statue’s official title, “Onward Christian Solider,” is written very tiny to avoid violating local zoning codes against signs. “To some people around here he’s like Jesus,” said Mark of Stonewall, but to Mark the statue is more an expression of freedom of expression, the right to put up a big statue on your land without fear that some local bureaucrat will take it down. “We’re exercising our freedoms as Americans,” Mark said, although whether Stonewall would endorse this particular interpretation of freedom is something we will never know.
Brandon Dorsey, Commander of the Stonewall Brigade in Lexington (a Civil War reenactor group), worked with Mark to erect the statue, and noted that it depicts Stonewall with his officer’s saber raised. “There are some who would question that,” said Brandon, as Stonewall was known to have assumed that pose only once, “and the sword was so rusty he had to raise it in its scabbard.” So Mark Cline’s statue may be ending the hat controversy and starting another.
April 30, 2013
Schwarzenegger was once a Mr. World, but even in his prime he was no match for Zuverman.
Zuverman was a colossal version of Bob Zuver, bodybuilder and proprietor of Zuver’s Fitness Center at Muscle Beach, California. Built in 1968, he was 18 feet tall with six-foot biceps and eight-pack abs (The body may have been exaggerated, but the head was a faithful copy of Bob’s).
A plaque next to Zuverman listed his vital stats, and claimed that a flesh-and-blood version would eat 16 eggs for breakfast and a 10-pound steak for dinner.
Muscle Beach’s popularity waned in the 1980s, and Zuverman was bought by George Comalli, a Zuver fan and fitness buff. He trucked the beefy goliath to Portland, Oregon, painted him gold, and stood him on the roof of his business, Giant’s Gym.
The city declared that Zuverman violated its signage codes, so George moved him indoors and stood him among the weight machines, his head invisible up near the roofline. Separated from his identity, Zuverman became simply “He-Man.”
The statue was so big that one of its brawny arms had to be sawed off to get it into the truck.
Rick is a long-time fan of RoadsideAmerica.com and, like the now deceased Bob Zuver, understands the value of standing an 18-foot-tall muscleman outside his gym. He told us that Darlington, unlike Portland, approves of Zuverman’s outdoor display. He said he will reproduce the original Zuverman plaque to once again give the giant an identity and a name.
Rick expects to have Zuverman up on a concrete pedestal, “better than new,” by July 4.
“He’s gonna be here until I get old and somebody else takes him,” said Rick, who is excited that passers-by will once again be able to pose for photos next to Zuverman. “Why did I do this? I don’t know; I guess I really wanted him,” Rick said. “He’s really big!”
April 24, 2013
No matter how you feel about guns, it’s hard to resist the urge to fire one that’s 66 feet long.
That’s the thinking behind the Turret II Experience at the Battleship New Jersey. The former warship, docked in Camden since 2001 as a tourist destination, unveiled the new attraction-within-an-attraction in April 2013. At $30.00 per person, it’s a way to bring in added revenue after the state scuttled funding for the battleship (This year, New Jersey’s contribution to its namesake is $0).
The tours, scheduled twice a week, take paying customers five decks deep into the ship and then into the turret, through a special visitor entrance cut into it. The tour-takers “play the role of the crew,” according to a battleship press release: they move shells into the hoist; load powder bags into the chamber; input distance, wind speed, and other variables into a vintage analog computer (If you’ve seen the movie Battleship, you already know the drill). Each visitor is then offered the chance to wrap his or her hands around the giant brass trigger and “fire” the gun.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the experience is convincing enough — with video of the hell-howitzer blasting away and subsonic rumbles and shakes — that at least some young participants have believed that they may have accidentally leveled nearby Philadelphia.
The gun, the largest in the U.S. Navy, hurled 1,900-pound shells up to 23 miles against foes ranging from Imperial Japan to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. 23 miles is just shy of the state capital in Trenton, a fact that has not been lost on Battleship New Jersey’s publicists, who playfully insist that the Turret II Experience in no way suggests any hard feelings between New Jersey’s battleship and its politicians.
The Turret II Experience reminds us of the Tang Submarine Experience at the National World War II Museum in Louisiana, which also opened this year. The Tang, however, is fake, while the Turret takes place in a real turret using real equipment. It is, the battleship says, only the first step in a five-year plan that will progressively open older, deeper parts of the ship to the public. Perhaps in 2018 we can look forward to the debut of The Bilge Experience. New Jersey’s lawmakers would certainly be invited.
« Previous Entries
- East Coast Cicadas: Attractions They Couldn’t See In 1996
- Gotta See ‘Em All: Pursuing America’s Giants
- Two Gallows, One Beatle: Good Times At The Old Jail
- Hats On To Stonewall Jackson, Defender Of Lexington
- Beefcake of Roads: New Home For World’s Largest Muscleman
- Join the Battleship NJ Gun Crew (Look Out, Philly!)