Trunkations

Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com


Weed Museum For Atlantic City

In the 1970s Atlantic City, the original home of Miss America, believed that casinos would bring glamor (and cash) to an aging resort that had once been called America’s Playground.

Now, 50 years later, it’s placed its revitalization bets on legal weed, gambling that its former commercial strip — a blighted stretch of 99-cent stores and pawn shops — will become “the East Coast hub for cannabis” according to Kashawn “Kash” McKinley, the city’s new czar of pot.

Artist concept for revitalized strip and Weed Museum.

The most ambitious of several dozen planned marijuana businesses in this designated “Green Zone” is a complex described as a “museum” by its parent company, Agri-Kind. Covering several city blocks, it will supposedly include an indoor grow farm, guided tours similar to those at breweries and wineries, video displays, exhibits of cannabis-processing machinery, and some historical artifacts (Grateful Dead posters? Petrified hash brownies? Bongs?).

While specifics have been as hazy as the air inside a 1970s head shop, company founder Jon Cohn has said that the museum will do for weed what Chocolate World has done for chocolate (also, stoned people love chocolate). His vision, he has said, is that the museum will be comparable to the Johnny Cash Museum or Graceland, and that it will be “really educational.”

Sections: Coming Soon, Places
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Wedding Bells For Cocaine Bear

Cocaine Bear officiates at first wedding.

Despite being dead for nearly 40 years, Cocaine Bear has officiated a wedding in Lexington, Kentucky. Hollywood heartthrob, Oscar-ceremony crasher — is there nothing this bear can’t do?

The revelation that a bear could officiate a wedding in Kentucky was first floated by local expert Griffin VanMeter, one of Cocaine Bear’s caretakers at the KY Fun Mall, in Roadside America’s feature story about the coke-obliterated bruin. We have long chronicled odd places that host marriage ceremonies — caves, presidential temples, drive-thru chapels, even the SPAM Museum — but this was the first in which the officiating presence was a deceased bear carcass.

Bride verifies the ceremony has been properly documented.

According to Griffin, the Roadside America story prompted multiple couples to inquire about Cocaine Bear’s availability. Armando Elizondo and Alexandra Venturino were first on the list, and were married in the presence of Cocaine Bear — with Griffin as a human backup — on March 27, 2023.

Cocaine Bear, known for frequent costume changes at the Fun Mall, wore a dignified top hat for the happy occasion. It was attended by a small crowd of family, friends, well-wishers, and the press, as well as “Cokey,” the Fun Mall’s huggable Cocaine Bear mascot, who entertained the children in attendance and reminded everyone not to do drugs.

Cokey spreads his message of safety.

Photographs: Cassie Lopez

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New Ice Pad For The Frozen Dead Guy

Maintenance Icing of the Frozen Dead Guy.

Convergence. At Roadside America, we relish the moments when the capricious ley lines of tourism intersect, creating something strange and new. And involving three disparate oddball roadside attractions.

So it was recently when John Cullen, owner of the eerie Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado —- where Steven King was inspired to write The Shining —- announced that he was partnering with Alcor Cryonics — which gives tours of its deep-freeze facility of “corpsical” humans in Scottsdale, Arizona — to relocate famous Frozen Dead Guy “Grandpa” Bredo Morstoel from his long-time storage shed in Nederland, Colorado, to the Stanley Hotel’s ice house – and then open it as tourist attraction.

Maintenance Icing of the Frozen Dead Guy.

Well, well, and well.

Cullen has said that at some point in 2023 he hopes to have a hearse parade to escort Grandpa Bredo, who’s been dead since 1989, from Nederland to Estes Park. He’s also said that Bredo’s new ice house home will be “experiential” for tourists — a pledge that has us shivering with its possibilities — as well as a place to keep Grandpa frozen in liquid nitrogen at 200 degrees below zero.

Stanley Hotel.

Cullen flew to Oslo, Norway to get the approval of Trygve Bauge, Grandpa’s grandson. Bauge reportedly approved, and said that the goal of keeping Grandpa frozen was not to bring him back from the dead, but to keep him viable until future science can resurrect Bredo as a younger version of himself.

Dead Guy souvenirs.

That may take awhile, so a long-term future for the Frozen Dead Guy as an attraction seems promising.

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Bronze Fonz: All-Natural

Bronze Fonz.

The movement to rid our home products and snacks of additives and dyes now has a similar statuesque champion: The Bronz Fonz in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

When the statue of Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, star of TV’s “Happy Days” (set in Milwaukee) was first cast in 2008, it was given a golden sheen, mimicking an Oscar. But the city didn’t like that, so Fonzie’s clothes were tinted in various shades: blue jeans, white t-shirt, black leather jacket. Unfortunately his skin was left gold, and when the blue oxide in his jeans abruptly faded they were coated in bright blue auto paint. It made the bronze statue a colorful mess regardless of one’s opinion of the merits of a permanent Fonzie tribute, which was already low among Milwaukee’s upper crust. Splattering it with protest paint would not have made much difference.

So in early 2022 Fonzie was given yet another makeover. This time, all of the added colors were stripped off. Instead of paint or coatings, the bronze itself was tinted in darker shades to give him his blackish jacket, boots, and hair — a more subtle, dignified look for a mature pop culture icon. Bolted along the city’s Riverwalk, he’s a photo op that’s hard to pass up.

When this latest version of Fonzie was unveiled on March 11, the statue was described as “truly bronze” by a spokesperson for the city’s visitor bureau — although of course Fonzie had been truly bronze all along.

Now, however, he’s an all-natural greaser: a statue appropriate for the 21st century.

Bronze Fonz.

Sections: Places, Statues
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R.I.P. Anne D. Bernstein — Artist and Writer

We were terribly saddened to lose a member of our creative family yesterday — Anne D. Bernstein — after a lengthy illness.

Anne was a gifted illustrator and writer. We’d been friends since she was fresh out of the School of Visual Arts in the 1980s. Anne became part of a collective of humorists, cartoonists, and quirky characters who found each other in NYC. We were in Chucklehead together, a tight-knit group that blended live comedy performance with short videos (1984-’91). She wrote hilarious sketches, and designed wildly creative props — her giant shrimp costume and puppets still haunt our dreams.

Chucklehead - The Learning Hut, 1989
Chucklehead 1989: The Learning Hut, Anne (left)

Anne went on to be a successful animation writer, story and magazine editor (IMDB Filmography). She’s warmly regarded for her work on the animated series “Daria,” MTV Downtown, and for her support throughout for female artists and writers.

Anne also loved road trips, and accompanied us on some of Roadside America’s early explorations of NJ/NY attractions; decades later we persuaded her to pen insights for our blog on NY city attractions (where she lived; we were still in the ‘burbs) and arcane topics (“Hey Anne, how does black light even work?” Let’s Go Day Glow).

Anne shared our sense of humor and curiosity about the world. We will truly miss her energy and her laughter.

Chucklehead - The Learning Hut, 1989
2000: a nod to roadside toilet seat artists in a Daria episode.

Sections: Places
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Reptile Gardens’ Bewitched Village and Bird Brain

Bird Brain.

From 1965 to 2005, Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota, was a showplace for performing animals. Its “Bewitched Village” was an Old West town full of furred and feathered citizens who acted like the humans they supposedly once were. The show presented behavioral tricks and gimmicks woven into complex tales of animal intrigue, with a goat busting out of jail, dance-hall chickens entertaining at the saloon, and a pig mining for gold.

After the show closed for good, the last vestige of the Reptile Gardens animal acts — pioneered in the 1950s by Arkansas behaviorists Keller and Marian Breland — was “Bird Brain.” This was an intelligent chicken in a screen-fronted box who — motivated by rewards of bird feed — would play electronic tic-tac-toe against you for 25 cents a match (There were actually many chickens, rotated in two-hour shifts.).

A sign advised: “Bird Brain plays first… then you have 9 seconds to make your choice. Good Luck!” We watched as whole families went down in flames, matching wits with the chicken — a fight that we learned by experience was futile.

“Bird Brain” was mass-marketed by the Brelands, and at one time versions of it could be found at roadside attractions across America. It was considered such an icon that a Bird Brain machine, minus the live chicken, was donated to the Smithsonian in 2004.

Reptile Gardens’ Bird Brain continued to humiliate tourists until 2015. Then the machine that housed the chicken broke, and there were no more parts available to repair it.

Bird Brain.

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