Gargantuan goober is officially known as the
Gargantuan goober is officially known as the "Smiling Peanut." On the far side of the road: a peanut field.

Jimmy Carter Peanut

Field review by the editors.

Plains, Georgia

Over four decades after it first appeared, the giant Jimmy Carter Peanut still makes people smile, although maybe not with the big-toothed glee of former peanut-farmer-turned-President Jimmy Carter.

Michael Dominick applies fresh paint in 2019.
Michael Dominick applies fresh paint in 2019.

The peanut was built in Evansville, Indiana, for the city's September 1976 Democrat Dinner, where Jimmy was to be the guest of honor. It was the brainstorm of Loretta Townsend (1935-2017), who was in charge of the decorations, and was inspired by the image of Jimmy's toothy mouth superimposed on a peanut that had been used on Carter campaign buttons and souvenirs. With the help of two friends, James Kiely and Doyle Kifer, Loretta sculpted the peanut out of polyurethane foam sprayed over a series of metal hoops covered with chicken wire.

Loretta told us that before the dinner took place, the peanut had to be inspected by two Secret Service agents -- who cut a hole in its back to make sure that the grinning goober didn't contain a bomb or an assassin! The hole remained a mysterious feature on the peanut for many years until it was eventually patched over.

After making an appearance in Evansville's Westside Nut Club Fall Festival Parade, the peanut was shipped to Plains -- Jimmy's hometown -- where it was awkwardly propped on the platform of the railroad depot. Maxine Reese (1931-2000), president of the Plains Historical Preservation Trust, made the bold decision to turn the peanut into something it was never meant to be: a permanent roadside attraction. She moved it to the north end of town, onto a patch of land that she owned next to a mini-mart and gas station. The peanut has been there ever since.

Propped awkwardly at the train depot in its earliest Plains years.
Propped awkwardly at the railroad depot in its earliest Plains years.

"Back then the smile faced toward the road," said Annette Wise, another member of the Plains Historical Preservation Trust, which now owns and maintains the peanut. In early 2000 a car backed out of the mini-mart and accidentally toppled the giant goober, which was discovered to be in poor shape. Repairs were made, and the peanut was fortified with a metal post sunk into a concrete pad -- but the concrete set before the peanut's smile-side could be turned street-side, facing it south instead of west. "It worked out well," said Annette, "because before you would see the convenience store behind the peanut, and now you get that nice field in the background of photos. Sometimes there's cotton or peanuts growing in it."

Peanut after rare snowstorm.
Frosted with a rare Plains snowfall in 2010.

At 13 feet tall (Annette had it measured for us) the Jimmy Carter Peanut is currently the largest in Georgia, and is surpassed in size only by Goliath goobers in Alabama and in South Carolina. Woodpeckers are a constant menace, as are occasional selfish souvenir-gouging tourists. The peanut has been weatherproofed over the years with several coats of masonry paint, although Annette said that a full restoration will likely be necessary before the peanut turns 50. The town regards it as an important landmark, she said. "It is well loved."

Despite the thousands of snapshots taken of the peanut, we'd never seen one with Jimmy Carter in it, even though he's lived within a mile of the grinning goober for 40 years. Was that significant, we asked Annette. "He does not like it," Annette said. "President Carter served for many years on the Preservation Trust board. Any time it came up that the peanut needed to be restored, he would always smile and say, 'Now, I could take care of that peanut for you.' And we all knew what he meant."

Roadside Presidents
Roadside Presidents App for iPhone. Find this attraction and more: museums, birthplaces, graves of the Chief Execs, first ladies, pets, assassins and wannabes. Prez bios and oddball trivia. Available on the App Store.

Also see: Georgia's Former Largest Peanut

Jimmy Carter Peanut

Address:
122 GA-45 N., Plains, GA
Directions:
A half-mile north of downtown, on the east side of GA-45/Buena Vista Rd.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Jimmy Carter High School MuseumJimmy Carter High School Museum, Plains, GA - < 1 mi.
Billy Carter Gas Station MuseumBilly Carter Gas Station Museum, Plains, GA - < 1 mi.
Habitat for Humanity's Slum Theme ParkHabitat for Humanity's Slum Theme Park, Americus, GA - 9 mi.
In the region:
Gravity Hill, Fort Gaines, GA - 42 mi.

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