Signs and Wonders
Electric signs once lit up America's roads, clawing at eyeballs with ostentatious displays and mesmerizing animation. Not so much anymore. The American Sign Museum (which we've just visited) preserves working specimens, magnificent neon and sequenced light bulbs. It's all history and art now, shorn of its original sign mission -- to entice, inform, direct.
It dawned on us at Roadside America that we might qualify as the signs of today -- the cheesy cascade of little light bulbs that directs you to the nearest object of desire. We illuminate the garish, promise the improbable. We distract the driver.
We'll always love those old signs, even as we point the way to obscure wonders such as the grave of a woman buried alive, and the stand-here junction of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
Big Fish Supper Club
Since the late 1950s, travelers along Highway 2 have gone ga-ga over a 65-foot-long grinning Big Fish, mascot of the Big Fish Supper Club. Despite its name, you can't eat supper (or breakfast or lunch) inside The Big Fish, but it's achieved icon status as an example of over-the-top roadside architecture, and it appeared in the film "National Lampoon's Vacation," as anyone in this part of Minnesota will tell you, proudly.
Wonder Water Temples and Miracle Springs
Worried about the world's water? You could explore a water museum. But what if you want to drink water endorsed by an angel? Or owned by God? Or that's both radioactive and youth-restoring? For that kind of H2-Oh-so-goodness, you need to consult our guide to America's most revered and miraculous water attractions. Remember to pack empty jugs in your trunk.
Monkey From Mars
Between Hollywood blockbusters and weird things seen on the Martian surface, the Angry Red Planet has been headline fodder for the past few months. But 62 years ago it was also big news -- when the Monkey From Mars was found dead on a highway just outside of Atlanta. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was brought in to crack the case, and the Monkey (now in a jar) has a place of honor in its museum.
Resisting the urge to rename itself "Jurustic World," this attraction is the vision of folk artist Clyde Wynia, who claims that all of the bizarre metal creatures on his property are rusty relics from The Iron Age, and were simply dug up by him and reassembled. The population ranges from pint-size bugs to behemoth dragons over 20 feet tall, and Clyde has a story (or bad pun) about every one of them.
Isis Oasis Temple
No, not the bad ISIS; this is the good Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess, Earth's Longest Worshipped Deity! With a beckoning roadside obelisk/sarcophagus, the Isis Oasis Temple is a colorful example of California's religious diversity, espousing peace and New Age-y niceness -- with an added bonus of fusion cuisine in "Mummy's Kitchen" forecast to reopen in 2016.
Spotted by Tipsters
Cocaine Bear: This hungry bruin had the misfortune of gobbling several pounds of coke that it found in the woods, dropped there by a drug smuggler. The bear was later stuffed as evidence by the GBI (see Monkey From Mars above) and was found by Hailey S. in a Kentucky thrift shop.
Narragansett Rune Stone: A seat is reserved in Valhalla for tipster Bill LaC., not only for discovering another American Runestone (we enjoy these enigmatic boulders), but for finding it in Rhode Island, typically one of the most challenging states for roadside wonders because of its itty-bitty size.
Tower of VW Bugs: Reminding us of the long gone (but not forgotten) Spindle sculpture in Illinois (seen in "Wayne's World"), the Tower of Beetles was discovered by tipster rellinger6 in the used car lot of a pawn shop. One of the Beetles looks like Herbie the Love Bug -- our third obscure film reference for this newsletter.
For more fun discoveries and updates from the road, head over to the Latest Tips.
Attraction News from Roadside America
We flip our sun visor to the following tipsters for their keen eyes and documenting diligence: mister4xl reported the re-heading (by Joel Baker's American Giants team) of the Mortons Gap Muffler Man, formerly known as the Muffler Man with a Hideous Homemade Head. Jim H and Mary Ann R updated the return, after several years, of the Dancing Cow and Pig Barn; signmanjoe discovered that Elvis's Last Concert Plaque is currently in storage while a building is erected on the hallowed site; and Marlene found that the Families in Cave Dwellings in Utah have apparently abandoned their burrows for more conventional digs.
In other news: The steam cleaning of Seattle's Gum Wall shocked fans of this DIY attraction, but the city has pledged that new gum can be stuck onto the wall as soon as it's cleaned off all the old gum. Punkin Chunkin was cancelled for a second straight year, leading some to ask if Delaware is just too tiny for the world's largest hurl-a-thon. Jim Thorpe's Tourist Attraction Grave was once again challenged in court by his relatives, who once again failed in their efforts to move it somewhere else.
The dried-out Human Fingers in a Jar are currently undergoing a re-plumping process thanks to new preservative technology not available before. The impending relocation of Oscar Mayer headquarters from Wisconsin probably means that its display Weinermobile will move as well. The Newseum opened an expanded FBI exhibit on domestic terrorism, unfortunately on the same day as the Paris attacks. The giant Abe Lincoln and Perry Como statue in Ohio has had its stay extended until Spring 2016. A vending machine for cars opened in Tennessee.
And the Demented But Lovable Dog has returned to its home at a California Humane Society, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Follow our Twitter stream o' news: @roadsideamerica
Neon and onward,
The RoadsideAmerica.com Team