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The toothless Tiger Muskie in its 21st century colors.
The toothless Tiger Muskie in its 21st century colors.

World's Largest Tiger Muskie

Field review by the editors.

Nevis, Minnesota

In 1948 the village of Nevis (pronounced NEEvis) wanted a roadside attraction that would make people want to stop in town. A man named Eddie Loft had just opened a lumber yard, and the Chamber of Commerce thought that a log cabin would be a way to draw attention to the community's bounty of wood.

Miss Nevis 1984 on her regal muskie float.
Miss Nevis 1984 on her regal muskie float.

Warren Perry Ballard (1886-1968), owner of several local businesses, had a better idea. He knew what drew tourists to town, and it wasn't lumber -- it was fish, especially the big tiger muskies in nearby Lake Belle Taine. Ballard suggested that a World's Largest Tiger Muskie would be a better choice for a tourist attraction, and volunteered to design it. Nevis, to its credit, agreed.

Ballard had no formal art training, but he knew how to build things and he was familiar with tiger muskies, stocking the lake with the fish and stuffing them as trophy mounts for the anglers who caught them. He and his adult son, Ben, fashioned the muskie outside of the family taxidermy shop: a cedar and redwood skeleton covered with concrete skin, nearly 31 feet long. It was a built-to-last ambassador from a time when roadside megafauna was made of cement, not fiberglass (Or, far worse, hot air).

The Kaland family poses with the Tiger Muskie soon after its arrival.
The Kaland family poses with the Tiger Muskie soon after its arrival.

The fish, trucked into downtown Nevis and placed along Highway 2, was so popular that the Eddie Loft Days festival in 1949 was changed to the Muskie Days festival in 1950. It has remained that way every year ever since. Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl even came to town on August 22, 1950, and officially dedicated the big fish. The grassy lot that was the tiger muskie's home was turned into a town park.

Diners-eye view of the Tiger Muskie.
Diners-eye view of the Tiger Muskie.

The fish received such widespread praise that Warren Ballard was invited to design another roadside concrete giant, the Princess Pocahontas, in Iowa. His son, Ben, later moved to Hollywood and built movie sets.

As decades passed the muskie's appearance began to change. Ballard had originally painted it a mottled brownish-green, similar to the way a tiger muskie looks in real life. After his death the fish was repainted a pale yellow with bold brown tiger stripes and tan fins. In the early 2000s it was repainted again, this time an iridescent green-white-yellow hybrid. It may no longer look exactly like a real tiger muskie, but it shows up well in snapshots.

This color-boosting counters the other changes inflicted by the town on the big fish. In 1991 a low roof was built over the muskie, apparently in an effort to preserve the yellow paint, and the sheltered space was packed with picnic tables (Power lunch at the World's Largest Tiger Muskie, anyone?). As a result, today's visitors have only one picture-friendly view of the fish, and if it's in shadow on a bad-light day they're out of luck.

Tiger Muskie in the 1960s. Paint on lower fin tips was worn from the grasping hands of countless small children.
Tiger Muskie in the 1960s. Paint on lower fin tips was worn from the grasping hands of countless small children.

The obvious photo op -- sticking one's head into the tiger muskie's maw -- was discouraged by a now barely-visible warning stenciled in the concrete mouth, "KEEP OUT," even though the fish's wooden teeth were removed decades ago. They were briefly replaced with metal teeth -- a strange idea from a safety standpoint -- and then with rounded concrete teeth, which were eventually yanked out altogether, leaving the fearsome fish to gum its tourist prey to death.

At some point in the 1970s a small bronze plaque was placed on the ground beneath the bug-eyed muskie's head. Now weathered with age, it dedicates the big fish to its creator, Warren P. Ballard, "conservationist-naturalist, whose memory is cherished."

Also see: World's Largest Fiberglass Fish

World's Largest Tiger Muskie

Address:
200 Bunyan Trails Rd, Nevis, MN
Directions:
From MN-34 turn north (no stoplight) onto MN-2/Bunyan Trails Rd. Drive into town. On the right (east) side, on the southeast corner of E. Main St. and MN-2/Bunyan Trails Rd.
Hours:
Lit at night. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

World's Largest Paul BunyanWorld's Largest Paul Bunyan, Akeley, MN - 6 mi.
Paul Bunyan Historical MuseumPaul Bunyan Historical Museum, Akeley, MN - 6 mi.
Emmaville Store, Population 4Emmaville Store, Population 4, Emmaville, MN - 10 mi.
In the region:
Big Fish Supper Club, Bena, MN - 38 mi.

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