Mahalchik's Fabulous Fifty Acres (Gone)
Mount Holly, New Jersey
In 1972, John Mahalchik claimed he was the first person who lived in a teepee to run for U.S. President. Mahalchik's Fabulous Fifty Acres, along Route 206 in Mount Holly, NJ (technically Springfield), was his sprawling property of rusting helicopters, army surplus, old cars and angry protest signage hand-painted by Mahalchik himself.
John Val Jean Mahalchik (AKA "Mister Freedom," "Lucky Dustin," or just "Lucky") was a pilot in the Air Force in World War 2 (he claimed to have been the sole survivor of a crash). After the war, he had a small airfield in rural south Jersey, and ran a crop dusting business, until a freak wind storm (hurricane?) in 1950 totaled his plane. He got into the military surplus business on his property in the 1950s. He filled his acreage with discarded treasures, from old train engines to surplus bomber parts to retired blimp gondolas.
Mahalchik ran afoul of the government in 1959, when he fought off an attempt to take his property frontage to widen the highway. Over the next decade the town pursued him with typical municipality vs. eyesore zeal, citing him for zoning violations, and operating a junkyard without a license.
Mahalchik's house burned down under mysterious circumstances in 1968; at the time he was in jail for blocking an appraiser from entering his property (in connection with his ex-wife's non-support claim). Rather than pay town permits to rebuild the house, he found a loophole in the building codes and constructed a 20-ft. tall teepee domicile -- first out of cloth and later out of scrap metal. He claimed to live full-time in his teepee, but a few locals recall that he would slip off to slumber at his girlfriend's house.
Mahalchik posted numerous hand-lettered signs on his highway frontage describing conspiracies and political ills of the town and the nation. The Fabulous Fifty Acres became a fabulous cranky folk art environment (akin to M.T. Liggett's Political Sculptures).
On a large billboard he painted in 1972 (the Chinese Year of the Rat), the heads of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were shown attached to red rat bodies. And "Nixon" was written in a rodent font he'd devised.
Another sign questioned why America didn't have Indian Day as a national holiday. Mahalchik complained about lawyers and the rich. His politics were sort of progressive, but also anti-tax and libertarian. He refused to align with Democrats and the John Birch Society. He was an ardent anti-Communist.
Mahalchik would float various theories on his signage. For example, it's hard to know his commitment to the observation that "Every time we have a war we have a BIG NOSE PRESIDENT." But he recommended that everyone research it themselves and they would see that he was right.
His signs often made undeniable points: "Who Watches The Watchers - How do we know if a President is sane, or has gone insane, or do we wait till he pushes the Button. Remember Hilter (sic)."
A pile of sun-bleached horse skulls was all that was left of a herd of ponies that starved, he claimed due to some government transgression.
Judges ordered Mahalchik examined for mental competency several times in two state hospitals, but he was deemed fit and returned to the Fifty Acres -- brimming with new stories about New Jersey's corrupt courts, prisons, and mental health system.
He first ran for Congress in 1964 as "Mr. Freedom," and was the presidential candidate for the America First Party in the 1972 and 1976 races. His campaign ads were given equal time on local TV stations, memorable for featuring his anthem performed on accordion and sung by a girl in a traditional Ukrainian dance outfit. Mahalchik wrote his campaign songs on an old piano in his teepee.
Mahalchik accumulated a fanbase, called "Mahalchik's People," who would visit to hear his opinions (this seems to have peaked in the late 1960s). He printed an irregular screed named the Freedom Paper, mailed it out to the faithful, and distributed it for free at his Fifty Acres to anyone who was interested.
In 1975 he predicted that his opponent, Jimmy Carter, would be elected President (right), that Carter would be assassinated (wrong), and that the U.S. would go to war with Red China (wrong, so far).
Mahalchik tried to start the Betsy Ross Party, an all-women political movement, to get warmonger males out of office. In a 1975 interview with Glassboro State College's student magazine, Venue, he said "Women are compassionate and emotional. Put the mothers in power and there won't be any wars. They won't let their sons get killed. Besides that, women can't keep a secret! They figure a secret's no good if they can't share it. Women would expose dishonest dealings in government."
Mahalchik died in 1987 at the age of 69. His collection was auctioned off, and the property was bulldozed. Some of the train locomotives lived on as minor landmarks elsewhere in New Jersey.
Note: Venue magazine stories by Sam Alcorn, Jeff Branin and Denise Clemens provided some great details on the Fabulous Fifty Acres. Sam Alcorn photos used with permission.