From a mile away the Wonder Tower appears to be bustling. "See Six States!" yell the hand-painted signs. "Confirmed by Ripley!" You can see cars in the parking lot, and people at the top of the Tower, trying to identify the advertised six states.
Once you arrive, you realize that the parked cars are 50 years old and stuffed with sun-bleached bottles, their tires buried six inches deep in windblown prairie dust. The people in the Tower are crude fakes -- lumps of red sheets wearing sunglasses.
The Wonder Tower, built in 1926 at the highest point between New York City and Denver, was a welcome stop on US 24. Charles W. Gregory, Colorado's P.T. Barnum, would stand on the Tower and spot license plates of approaching cars. When tourists were within earshot, he would boom state-appropriate greetings through a megaphone. "How're things in the Buckeye State?" His billboard motto was Eat, drink, gas, and pop at the Tower.
Then the interstate bypassed US 24. Charles W. Gregory died.
The Tower, however, survived, thanks in large part to its owners since 1967, Jerry and Ester Chubbuck. They charge only one dollar for admission. Small signs at the entrance caution the squeamish, "Animal Monstrosities," and "Two-headed calf."
The Chubbucks have stuffed the tower with a mass of spoons, farm implements, and arrowheads, much of it nailed and screwed to the ceiling. The Branding Room, Petrified Room, Indian Room (with its rock walls "painted by an Indian princess") are jammed with bric-a-brac.
In the Animal Monstrosities Room, the jar containing the eight-footed pig is dusty dry, while the one-eyed pig jar leaks something we'd rather not investigate too closely. We notice that the Talking Indian Mummy -- Jerry had wired it with a loudspeaker on an earlier visit -- is missing. It has been repatriated. "The Indians don't want you displaying their dead," says Jerry.
Jerry, who's surprisingly spry for his age, has a quiz he pops on lucky guests called the "Guess What." He singles out ten unusual items, and if you guess their identity or purpose you get your dollar back. No one leaves until he finishes. The items include rooster eyeglasses, camel nose bells, and a walrus penis.
Just about the only thing Jerry doesn't have is a postcard of his own attraction. This is a notable flaw in the Wonder Tower's marketing plan, as are its lack of signs near the interstate (Government billboard prohibitions don't help). But Jerry is upbeat, and his collections of mysterious tools, murky things-in-jars, and tens of thousands of arrowheads and bottles usually keep tourists inside the Tower for far longer than they had planned.
No visit to the Wonder Tower is complete without a climb to the top. Flies buzz through unscreened windows as you ascend its ladderlike stairs, six stories of them, past the fake people and even more perplexing exhibits, to the observation deck.
It's not a climb for the faint-hearted or flabby. But those who survive are rewarded with an impressive view of eastern Colorado, and possibly the air over Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico, and South Dakota.