Monument of States.
Child's-height view of the Monument still offers a lot of rocks.

Monument of States

Field review by the editors.

Kissimmee, Florida

In times when Americans yearn for national unity, it's comforting to know that the USA has a rock-solid symbol of togetherness: the Monument of States.

Charles Bressler-Pettis, with his yearly beard and
Charles Bressler-Pettis, with his yearly beard and "Kiss Mee" hat.

The Monument was the brainstorm of Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis (1889-1954), who added the Pettis to his name as part of a deal to inherit money from Alphonso Pettis, his elderly uncle. Charles, whose medical school training may also have been paid for by Alphonso, became the personal physician to his uncle, who lived to be almost 99. But Charles grew impatient with Alphonso's long life. Charles left Alphonso, got married, and spent several years touring the world with his bride, spending his still-alive uncle's money. When Alphonso died, Charles and his wife moved in with her dad in Florida, and the couple eventually settled in Kissimmee.

Vintage souvenir booklet tells the folks back home that you saw the Monument of States.
Vintage souvenir booklet tells the folks back home that you saw the Monument of States.

Charles, who clearly liked to travel, became founder and president of Kissimmee's All-States Tourist Club and a well-known local character. As "Ambassador of Goodwill" for the Lions Club he would drive around in his customized slogan-covered purple and gold Cadillac, telling people he was from "Kiss Mee." Charles was also known for his bushy beard, which he would shave off once every year as a promotional stunt. His widow told the Orlando Sentinel in 1971, "When he went into things, he went all the way."

In early 1941, impressed with the variety of rocks collected by his fellow All-States Tourist Club members, Charles got the idea for a monument made of at least one rock from every U.S. state. He was possibly inspired by the Fireplace of States in Minnesota, and had no greater goal than to promote the Club and boost tourism in Osceola County. But the December 7 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor changed Charles's perspective, giving his monument a noble purpose -- American solidarity -- and kicking its construction into high gear.

Governors and mayors sent rocks. President Roosevelt sent a rock. Local businesses and residents donated 507 bags of cement to help build the Monument. When it was dedicated on March 28, 1943, the ceremonies were led by Claude Pepper, senior U.S. Senator from Florida. It was promoted as, "The World's Most Unique Monument," and at the time it probably was.

Building the Monument in 1942.
Building the Monument in 1942.

Technically described as "an irregular quadrilateral step-pyramid," the Monument soars 50 feet high on the shore of Lake Tohopekaliga. It's topped with a three-foot concrete Earth, a bald eagle, an American flag, and the words, "Tourist Paradise." The estimated weight of the Monument is 50 tons, not counting 3.5 tons of embedded steel reinforcing beams. All four sides are faced with 21 tiers of multi-colored concrete panels, holding an estimated 1,500 cemented-in rocks. Despite the passage of time, most of them are still there.

Donations from government officials gave the Monument respectability, but the joy of visiting it -- aside from a physical sense of national oneness -- is in spotting its quirky oddities and bric-a-brac. The Monument embraces a cannonball from Michigan, buffalo horns from Montana, brain coral from the Florida Keys, and a "petrified apple" from Wisconsin. There's a slab of Mammoth Cave from Kentucky, a chunk of Brigham Young's birthplace from Vermont, gold ore from South Dakota, volcanic lava from North Dakota, and two meteorites from Connecticut.

According to local lore, visitors who showed up while the Monument was being built had a chance to have their donations included, with their names -- such as Henry and Harriet Gabel from New York, Rose and Fred Rapp from Indiana -- etched into the Monument's wet cement. The Weddles from Illinois made several contributions, including "Human Skull" and "Human Shoe."

Monument of States.
Glass slag from Pennsylvania and a well core from Florida are Monument neighbors.

Monument of States.
At the summit: flag, eagle, Earth, and the words, "Tourist Paradise."

So popular was the Monument of States that donations continued to arrive long after it was officially completed. A few new rocks found their way onto the Monument itself while others were added to the surrounding walkways: from Alaska, Hawaii, multi-tentacled corporations, and from 21 foreign countries that had nothing to do with the United States. The easygoing residents of Kissimmee clearly felt that the more rocks, the merrier.

Walt Disney Studios contributed a blob of unidentified mineral in 1966. Five years later Disney World opened just a few miles up the highway, and that essentially ended donations to the doc's rocky monument.

Charles Bressler-Pettis joined his uncle in the afterlife in 1954. His front-page obituary in the Orlando Sentinel noted that he'd died "after suffering a dislocated elbow in a fall from a scaffold while working on a giant statue of a seeing-eye dog." Part of his remains were sent to his birthplace in Missouri. But Kissimmee made a one-time exception to its burial laws -- and entombed the rest of Charles inside the Monument of States.

Monument of States

Lakefront Park

Address:
300 E. Monument Ave., Kissimmee, FL
Directions:
Lakefront Park. From US-192 turn south at the stoplight onto US-17. Drive one mile. Turn left at the stoplight onto Emmett St. Drive a half-mile. Turn right onto Monument Ave. Drive two blocks. You'll see the Monument at the traffic circle, on the southeast corner of Monument Ave. and Lakeview Drive.
Phone:
407-518-2501
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Mini-Monuments of StatesMini-Monuments of States, Kissimmee, FL - < 1 mi.
Ice Cream Cone BuildingIce Cream Cone Building, Kissimmee, FL - 2 mi.
Tupperware World HQ MuseumTupperware World HQ Museum, Kissimmee, FL - 4 mi.
In the region:
World's Largest Monster Truck Safari, Clermont, FL - 20 mi.

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