Hot Springs, Arkansas
Tiny Town began as a humble, under-the-Christmas-tree display in the home of Frank Moshinskie. One year, Frank didn't take the display down. It grew and grew, and in 1963 it was moved -- with all of its rivers, mountains, hundreds of tiny lights, dozens of tiny streets, and countless tiny people -- to the building where it still stands as a tourist attraction.
Frank, who died in 1998, worked on Tiny Town for 68 years. His son Charles has run the place ever since, preserving it as a tribute to his dad's creativity.
Frank was proud of his thrift; he once told us that nothing in Tiny Town cost more than $4.00. All of the tiny people were hand-carved by Frank; the trees are made from cat food cans and wire, the street signs from nail heads, the grass from sawdust.
According to Charles, his dad visited 22 states on various vacations and honored every one of them in Tiny Town. Niagara Falls (New York) is easy to spot, as is Mount Rushmore (South Dakota) and the Christ of the Ozarks (Arkansas). Bears attack picnickers in a tribute to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. A miniature Wild West town pays tribute to Dodge City (Kansas) but also to Frank's favorite TV show, Gunsmoke. "There's Miss Kitty up on the balcony and Sheriff Matt Dillon leading the bad man off to jail," said Charles. Elvis Presley serenades Miss Kitty from the street (although he wasn't in Gunsmoke), and Charles cheerfully pointed out a tiny bandit, hanged from a tree.
A Promenade of Tiny Stars from the 1970s and early '80s loop endlessly around the town square: Willie Nelson, Mr. T, Dolly Parton, the Fonz, Sonny and Cher, Laverne and Shirley. "A lot of kids now don't know Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton," said Charles. Some younger visitors might recognize Thriller-era Michael Jackson over at the mini-Mount Rushmore, but they'll draw a blank on Michael's companions: Donny and Marie Osmond, President Harry and First Lady Bess Truman, and Jimmy Durante and Marjorie Main ("Ma Kettle"). "My wife comes in and cleans," said Charles, explaining the odd mix of celebrities. "She moves the people around."
Frank wanted his Tiny Town to be busy, so 18 hidden motors power everything from the rivers to the oil pump jacks to the carousel and merry-go-round. Push-buttons at various spots allow visitors to make the tiny people move: people swim, swing, hammer and saw, rock in hammocks, hang up clothes. A family eats the same sandwiches they've been eating since 1963; the bread goes up and down to their mouths many times a minute.
Charles doesn't think that he himself is portrayed among the tiny people of Tiny Town, although he admitted that it was impossible to know for sure. His dad did build a miniature of the garage where he created most of Tiny Town. We wondered: is there a tiny version of Tiny Town in the tiny garage? We didn't get close enough to open the door, but maybe next time....
The lights dim and Tiny Town glows in artificial night, an itty-bitty city that never sleeps. Charles has a great time showing a tour group around, pointing out the details of his dad's creation. He has been fortunate, he said; Tiny Town naturally attracts nice people, while drunks and hooligans get their crazy kicks somewhere else.
"The people who come here, they kinda like the old places," said Charles. "We're not new and modern. If we were, we'd be like everyplace else."