The Fun Farm (formerly The Funny Farm)
We veer from the pokey construction detours of Bend, OR -- a town on the grow -- toward a building prominently offering "Tourist Info." We ask directions to the Funny Farm, "The Far Out Park & Playground of Reuse and Recycling." The gray-haired lady at the Bend Development Center seems crestfallen that we're not shopping for a second house or moving a Fortune 500 corporation into town. "Oh, that place..."
Five miles north of town on the right -- it's a little hard to spot, since there are no "Funny Farm" signs allowed on the highway -- but watch for a field with goats running around and fainting. The parking lot is surrounded with folk art and cornpone humor placards. Up on the roof of the "Buffet Flats" building, a big shepherd dog sits lazily upon an old couch, shaded by an umbrella. Next to him is a sign: "Hi. My name is Bear. Buy me a hot dog."
Artists and antique dealers Mike and Gene have been running the Funny Farm for over five years. Spread over several acres of fields and farm outbuildings, their fantasy world comes to a frenzied sort of life. A free map [53k gif] helps self-guided tours, but Gene provides the personal touch if he's not too busy.
The tour starts at a cutaway dollhouse with tiny TV continuously showing the Wizard of Oz. Elsewhere, the Oz theme is pervasive. "We have Dorothy's house and the Yellow Brick Road," Gene promises. Outside we stop at the Agitator Wall, a mounted assemblage of washing machine parts. A sign notes: "Without agitators, nothing in the world would come clean." Gene points to a stack of protest signs, available if you feel like picketing.
The Funny Farm is a vaguely unsettling mix of artistic statements and animal fun, with a surprise around every corner. Gene introduces us to a goat: "This is Matey, the only unneutered animal here. Can you smell him? Goats urinate on their own beards."
On past the Pink Flamingo Nesting Area, to the Tire Totem Pole. "You know the United States has this huge surplus of tires." Gene points out. "If everybody made a totem pole out of them, and we let the kids paint 'em instead of doing graffiti, the graffiti problem's solved. I'd like to think that the answer to all of the world's problems can be found here at the Funny Farm."
There's a Bowling Ball Garden (bowling ball seeds are sold in the gift shop). Hungry goats poke their heads through holes in the Goat Feeding Wall, hoping for a snack. Around the holes are happy painted faces. Further on, another face -- that of a Carmen Miranda grotesque -- houses the Wizard of Oz electric kaleidoscope.
Out in the goat racing field by the highway, Gene points out their lone fainting goat among a dozen normals. Fainting goats have a nervous condition. "Used to have a lot more, but we found homes for them." And there's no fainting to be seen today, though we chase them all around, camcorders held to our eyes. It seems the remaining fainting goat has made some real progress by hanging out with normal goats.
On the path ahead there's a heart-shaped Love Pond with a giant arrow sticking in it. While we walk around it, Gene explains the problem he's had with the town over his more ostentatious displays. The county development board wants nothing to scare off the well-to-do fleeing California, and some of their battles -- saving the painted barn for instance -- have been monumental. Not one to hold a grudge, Gene points to some flower beds near the love pond where he hopes to put tributes to heartthrobs like Tab Hunter and Madonna.
On your way out, don't forget to feed Bear another wiener.
October 2008: Its troubles apparently behind it, The Funny Farm has reopened as "The Fun Farm" with a new slogan, "Off Center of the Universe."
November 2007: The Funny Farm is closed! According to Bend Weekly, Gene Carsey, his son, and his brother were arrested on November 21 during a police raid for "crimes related to the alleged sale of marijuana and methamphetamine."
October 2005: Mike Craven, Gene Carsey's life partner and Funny Farm co-proprietor, died suddenly on Sept. 9, 2005. A memorial service was held out by the Love Pond. Gene is pondering next steps, but early word is he won't close the Funny Farm, though he may cut back hours.