World's Largest Horseshoe Crab
The beliefs of creationist and/or born-again Christians may stir debate, but their flair for titanic saviors, and monuments, and church-state stitch jobs has been unarguably good -- at least for those who like to look at big things by the side of the road.
Take, for example, Freedom Worship Baptist Church in Blanchester, Ohio. In 2006 it erected -- next to a former hardware store that had been turned into the church's meeting-and-dining hall -- the World's Largest Horseshoe Crab.
"We just call him 'Crabby'," said Pastor Jim Rankin, who stepped out from a prayer group meeting to greet us, wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
A creationist church and a monster crab may seem like a blasphemous union, but not to Pastor Jim. "The fossils found of the horseshoe crab are the same as they appear in the waters today," he said. "The crab never evolved, so the creation account must be true!" In other words, Crabby is a jumbo-sized way of saying, "Naturally select this, Mr. Darwin."
("Trilobites are the ancestor to the horseshoe crab," countered Laurie Risch, executive director of the Behringer-Crawford Museum, which we visited the next day. But despite her disagreement, she enjoyed the idea of Crabby.)
According to Pastor Jim, the big crab was originally intended for a Baltimore nautical museum that went bankrupt. Crabby was then bought by the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky, but it proved to be too big even for their oversized sense of theater. By luck or mysterious-ways intervention, Pastor Jim was giving a talk at the museum, learned about the crab, and accepted it as a donation to his church.
"Five semis drove up and dropped it right here," Pastor Jim said, pointing to the parking lot. "It was nine huge pieces. We had no drawing, no nothing." Left without an instruction manual, Pastor Jim remembered that he had horseshoe crab shells at home, collected when he was a kid in Florida. He brought them to the church and successfully used them as blueprint for assembly.
Crabby is 28 feet wide and 68 feet long. The church calls it a "community pavilion," and claims that 60 people can sit within its shell. Pastor Jim said that weddings have been performed inside the crab. Movies are screened there as well. The insulated foam and fiberglass skin make Crabby warm in winter and cool in summer. A wooden post props up its long, spiky tail.
Crabby is one of several attractions at Freedom Worship Baptist Church. Inside the hall, life-size replica dinosaurs are on loan from the Creation Museum, and the church has its own, small, Freedom Biblical Museum as well. "These are all real ancient artifacts," said Pastor Jim, pointing with pride to the Roman dice, Greek coins, and Sumerian tablet.
Our eyes were drawn to a replica of a scourging whip and Crown of Thorns, three "authentic crucifixion nails" that were reportedly unearthed near Jerusalem, and an Abraham Lincoln 1864 campaign torch that had somehow found its way into the collection.
The hall is also the place where visitors can purchase miniature plush versions of Crabby.
The crab's biggest celebrity moment thus far came in August 2008, when Gene Sullivan jumped over it on a motorcycle as part of his born-again "Jump For Jesus" ministry. With Christian crosses emblazoned on his helmet, fireproof suit, belt buckle, and motorcycle, Gene flew over the crab, smashed through the burning "Gates of Hell" (erected for the occasion), and slid to a safe stop without harming the church's biblical plant garden or its back yard replicas of Calvary and the Holy Tomb.
The stunt, like Crabby, was designed to get people to come to church who otherwise wouldn't bother. But when the jump was over and Gene had moved on to other engagements, the big crab was still out there, on duty 24/7.
Its drawing power has been warmly appreciated by Pastor Jim. "We're in the middle of nowhere," he said, and yet he reckoned that Crabby had been visited by over 4000 people from 23 states. "That just floors me."
Update: In early 2015 the crab was put up for sale, its Creationist work apparently complete. The crab was purchased by Ben Sexton, who'd admired it for years and wanted to preserve it as a roadside attraction. Ben cut it apart with a chainsaw, moved it 25 miles east to Hillsboro, and reassembled it next to Highway 124. It has proved so popular in its new spot that Ben hopes to build a roadside pullout to accommodate all the parked cars.