Thursday, April 30, 2009
Five 'world's largest' roadside attractions
(CNN) -- The fiberglass head weighed 600 pounds and resembled Clarabell the Clown from the 1950s "Howdy Doody Show." Bill Ziegler, owner of the Wild Bill's nostalgia store, stumbled across it on an artist's Web site and wondered if it would work for a project he had in mind.
Ziegler recruited the artist to help him attach the giant head to his 33-foot farm silo. By October 2008, the pair had built the world's largest jack-in-the-box.
The jack-in-the-box extends 50 feet in the air, moving up and down approximately once a minute. "They love it," Ziegler said of the tourists who come to his store. He's had visitors from as far away as England -- one couple who saw the story of the jack-in-the-box in a British newspaper decided to stop by.
All across the country, roadside attractions like this one bring surprise and delight to travelers who just have to get a closer look.
"In many parts of the country, you can plan an entire road trip where you visit nothing but 'world's largest' attractions," said Doug Kirby, the publisher of RoadsideAmerica.com.
Kirby's Web site pays homage to odd attractions -- from Ziegler's jack-in-the-box in Middletown, Connecticut, to the world's largest ketchup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, to the world's largest sundial in Carefree, Arizona.
"Travelers enjoy the noncorporate, somewhat ragged nature of these eclectic attractions," Kirby said. "They're often free, and you can take a great 'wish you were here' photo." See photos of some "world's largest" attractions »
Kirby picked five world's largest attractions from his Web site. In addition to Ziegler's jack-in-the-box, here are his top recommendations for adventurous road trippers:
Ball of Twine-
Visitors do more than snap a picture at the world's largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas. Linda Clover, self-described keeper of the ball, gives tourists twine to add it to the attraction.
"People like to be a part of it," Clover said. "It shows that with lots of patience and a lot of people helping out, you can end up with something very big."
Clover ended up in charge of the ball in a roundabout way. Farmer Frank Stoeber started the ball of twine in 1953. When he died, his cousin took over. And when his cousin died, Clover stepped up.
"I know that people like to come and see it. And someone had to take care of it," she said. "My husband used to say that people asked me to do something and I couldn't say no."
Clover keeps twine with her in case an interested tourist gives her a call. The ball measures more than 40 feet across. It contains 7.9 million feet of twine and weighs approximately 19,000 pounds. And every year in August, Cawker City hosts a twine-a-thon event to hold on to the world's largest ball of twine record.
Salem Sue- (Main Photo)
Salem Sue, dubbed the world's largest cow, is in Salem, North Dakota. She measures 38 feet tall, 50 feet long and is made up of 12,000 pounds of fiberglass.
Scott Schauer, producer of The Real North Dakota project, features Salem Sue on his Web site, which is dedicated to showing tourists the best of North Dakota. As a kid, Schauer used to drive by the cow with his family. He thinks many people pass similar road trip traditions on to their kids, hence their appeal.
"I remember being mesmerized by their monstrous size. No matter how many times I saw them, I always looked forward to seeing them again and again," Schauer said. "As an adult, I still look forward to seeing them. I guess some things don't change with time."
The world's largest horseshoe crab resides in a parking lot at the Freedom Worship Baptist Church in Blanchester, Ohio. Last year, the church's pastor, Jim Rankin, hired Evel Knievel's former bodyguard to jump over the crab on his motorcycle. The publicity stunt attracted nearly 8,000 visitors to the church.
The crab is 68 feet long from its head to its long, spiky tail. "It can have up to 65 people inside," Rankin said.
In the 1970s, Ashburn, Georgia, built a monument to the state's No. 1 cash crop.
Standing atop a brick tower along Interstate 75, the world's largest peanut can be seen for miles. The peanut is 33 feet tall with a 10-foot circumference. The peanut was featured on a Go-Gurt portable yogurt packet as a trivia question, said Shelley Zorn, Ashburn's chamber of commerce president. It also showed up on a Food Network show. "Hilarious, isn't it?" Zorn said of the public's love affair with the peanut. "I can meet people on a cruise ... and I ask them if they've seen it. Nine out of 10 people have seen that peanut, no matter where they're from."
Recognition is the main reason people build the world's largest attractions, Kirby said. His site rates places higher if they surprise his staff or make them laugh. iReport.com: See the "world's largest rocking chair"
"Towns build giant statues to promote themselves and take pride in local heroes, historic figures or industries," Kirby said. "Businesses commission creation of giants so they stand out from their competition. For individuals, a 'world's largest' something may be a hobby gone out of control. ... Creators fret about their legacy. This 'world's largest' may be how the world remembers them."
That is, until someone builds a bigger one.
Posted by STEWART ISBELL PHOTO at 10:41 AM
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The "World's Largest Frying Pan" in Long Beach, Washington is a remnant of the town's Clam Festival. It was forged in 1941 by command of the Long Beach C of C. It is 9 ft., 6 in. in diameter, and has since been surpassed by other towns with more ambitious plans and pans.
No longer operational, Long Beach's frying pan serves as a nice photo backdrop for families who couldn't get a decent picture in front of the Alligator Man across the street at Marsh's Free Museum.
Pacific Avenue, Long Beach, WA
RichArt, aka Richard Tracy, will give you exactly five minutes of his time for free. Ask him anything, take a whirlwind tour, snap a photo. But when your five minutes are up, RichArt is done with you -- he has work to do.
Of course, if you endow him with a $5 donation, he’ll give you another 55 minutes -- the extended tour, even a little time to create your own art in his workshop. We’ve managed to squander our free five with pleasantries and camera equipment wrangling, so we cough up the five bucks (Rich sez if we mail him a nice photo or newsclipping, he’ll send a $5 rebate).
The number "5," not usually in the Top Five of numbers with mystical significance, is the unifying digit in all of RichArt’s calculations.
The outsider artist -- in the sense that most of his work is at the mercy of the elements -- turns out to be an affable though high speed tour guide, yapping with that manic Dennis Hopper Apocalypse Now velocity, pulling us along from sculpture to sculpture.
"This is rebar I got from the college. They had all this leftover rebar and I asked if I could buy some of it. When I told ‘em I wanted the bent pieces, they let me just take it." He shows us how the metal rebar bush is tethered to a real hedge -- "It's gonna pull that hedge right out of the ground."
The Art Yard wraps around Tracy's home like a narrow corridor starship, but open to the sky. Embossed schematics in pre-form styrofoam are glued to the walls. It's that blocky white stuff used to pack electronics and cameras.
Rich, now in his 70s, has been building his Yard Art for over 20 years -- since the early 1980s. He taught for 10 years in public schools. He also spent 30 years as a janitor for a Yard Birds home improvement store before the chain went bankrupt.
Rich has a compositional eye that is always on the move. He discerns patterns of form in the junk he’s glued together, and finds different ideas evoked depending on the light. "Light is everything," Rich says.
One sculpture, an unevenly tiered styrofoam high rise, is best viewed only in moonlight, Rich advises. It glows. "When you see it in moonlight, you go down on your knees and your spirit says 'wow, that's good.'" Our 55 minutes will expire long before the moon rises...
Among all the styrofoam and metal abstractions is a large mutant cartoon bird sculpture -- a Yard Bird! “Yea, that’s a Yard Bird. There were 20 of ‘em the company owned. They'd disappear and end up on the courthouse lawn or in a school yard. Someone would call the store 'Hey Yard Birds. Come get your Yard Bird.' We were all over bringing them back.”
The sides of the house itself are curiously devoid of his signature styrofoam. We mention how one of our readers took us to task when another tipster called it the Styrofoam House. "Oh no, it WAS a styrofoam house, until my wife came out and knocked it all off with a broom." His creativity isn't entirely unfettered.
His covered workshop is where visitors can try their own hand at creating art from foam, beads, and assorted scraps. Rich shows us a piece left behind by a 5-year old girl (it wouldn't fit in the family's car). He's amazed at how good it is. The girl was in tears, partly because Rich invokes a "No Talk" policy during creation. The girl and he communicated in sign language and scribblings on a slate.
Rich shows us his inner sanctum -- a basement workshop entered via steps leading under the house. He has a variety of art projects underway, some he's happy with and some not. "The magic has to work."
A handful of visitors stop by each day -- but they are quality visitors, Rich points out. "Earlier today, a man was here, in tears." "He said he really needed this... that it was like... and I said stop! Don’t tell me! Just keep crying." What is it about Rich and his Art that makes people cry? "Another couple came by, I liked the wife. The husband, he had a camera, and was all over the place, while the wife just stood here and wouldn’t come in, like she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. But she was the one I liked."
Still dry-eyed, we realize our time with the Art Yard Man is almost up. A final revelation comes before we are dispatched: Rich says his Will stipulates that within five days of his death, a friend with a backhoe will come over and completely eradicate the Art Yard -- within a five hour period.
203 M Street, Centralia, WA
Monday, April 6, 2009
Length: 98.0 mi / 157.7 km
Time to Allow: An out and back trip can be done in one day, but if you take the entire loop, plan on spending from 2-6 days.
The Extraterrestrial Highway may be a long stretch of 98 miles with only the small town of Rachel along its expanse, but because of its proximity to the famed "Area 51", fans claim it is one of the most "visited" areas in the country. Officially designated in 1996 for the many UFO sightings along the lonely road, the byway now sports a sign posting its speed limit as "Warp 7" and another sign warning of alien encounters for the next 51 miles.
Due to the gradual descent into the valley, the city of Rachel can be seen long before visitors reach it. Once inside the town, take a break from driving and visit the Little A'Le'Inn, a small restaurant that has gotten into the spirit of things. Large painted words on the side of the building scream "Earthlings Welcome" and the restaurant offers a lot of alien merchandise. Tourists and locals claim the food served, including the Alien burger, is "out of this world."
The byway ends at Warm Springs, the intersection of Highway 375 and US 6. Many old mines and ghost towns are scattered along the length of the byway for visiting travelers. Unfortunately, Area 51 is restricted to public access (in fact doesn't even officially exist), but be prepared; while driving down the highway, visitors and locals alike have often seen strange lights glowing in the night sky . . . perhaps an unidentified flying object?
State Route 375 begins at a "Y" junction with State Route 318 at Crystal Springs, a former town site in the northern end of the Pahranagat Valley in the center of Lincoln County. The site, which is little more than the junction and a few trees, functions as a rest area. From there, the highway curves southwest to pass between the Pahrangat and Golden Gate Ranges to ascend 5,592-foot (1,704 m) Hancock Summit.
Descending the summit, SR 375 comes in close proximity to the border of the Nellis Air Force Range. As the highway heads northwest between mileposts 29 and 30, it meets Mail Box Road. The dirt access road, marked by a single mailbox just off the highway, leads to the lands surrounding Area 51. The mail box is commonly used as a meeting place for UFO seekers, and two to three UFO sightings per week are reported to occur in the area. The road continues heading northwest from here, climbing in elevation again to reach the top of Coyote Summit at 5,591 feet (1,704 m).
The Little A'Le'Inn along the Extraterrestrial Highway in Rachel
West of the summit, the Extraterrestrial Highway descends into the Sand Spring Valley and the community of Rachel becomes visible. The small town of about 100 residents is little more than homes and a few businesses. The Little A'Le'Inn (pronounced "alien") is the focal point of the town, providing a modest motel, an alien-themed restaurant/bar, and extraterrestrial souvenirs The Area 51 Research Center, a civilian-run center documenting all types of paranormal activity in the area, was also located in the town.
Leaving Rachel, SR 375 continues northwest to enter Nye County. The route climbs out of Sand Spring Valley and heads over the 5,935-foot (1,809 m) Queen City Summit, the highest point on the highway. After passing the summit, the route descends into the southern end of Railroad Valley, curving nearly due north for several miles as it follows the base of Reveille Range. As the mountains subside, the road turns westward again to head to its northern terminus at the junction of US 6 at Warm Springs.
Due to its proximity to Groom Lake and Area 51, State Route 375 and the town of Rachel had become nationally recognized as a place for frequent UFO sightings. In an effort to capitalize on the purported paranormal activity, the Nevada Commission on Tourism sought to rename the road. It was hoped that the renaming "would draw travelers to the austere and remote reaches of south-central Nevada, where old atomic bomb test sites, secret Defense Department airstrips and huge, sequestered tracts of military land create a marketable mystique. The Extraterrestrial Highway was officially dedicated by Governor Bob Miller at a ceremony held in Rachel on April 18, 1996. The ceremony included some amusing space references, and the unveiling of special "Extraterrestrial Highway 375" and "Speed Limit Warp 7" signs for the highway. To promote the highway after its renaming, the tourism commission created "ET Experience", traveler's kits with info about the highway and natural attractions in central Nevada. By submitting an account of their experiences and visiting businesses in Rachel and central Nevada, visitors received exclusive Extraterrestrial Highway memorabilia. (It is unknown whether the kits are still available.)
News of the highway's renaming reached producers at Twentieth Century Fox. They seized the opportunity to promote the release of their upcoming movie Independence Day, whose plot involves aliens and the secret facility at Area 51. Movie executives and actors Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Brent Spiner were all on hand during the dedication ceremony, joining state dignitaries in placing items in a time capsule commemorating the event.
If you are a Stephen King fan, request room 217. It was in this room that King, inspired by the Stanley Hotel, wrote half of "The Shining."
The ghosts in the Stanley Hotel aren't evil as in the book. Room 418 seems to have the most ghostly activity reported. In fact, the entire fourth floor of the Stanley Hotel (formerly the servants quarters) is quite active. Often, the sound of children playing in the halls of the Stanley can be heard, even when no children are present.
The Stanley Hotel's original owners, F.O. and Flora Stanley, are said to haunt the hotel as well. Mr Stanley plays the piano in the music room, and frequents the billards room and the lobby.
Romantic and secluded, The Stanley Hotel lies nestled among the foothills in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, 70 miles north of Denver, Colorado. The hotel is a popular spot for weddings and receptions. The hotel was built in 1909 in the neoclassical Georgian style, inspired by the resorts of the eastern seaboard. The hotel and its surrounding lands are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This hotel was the inspiration for Steven King's "The Shining."
Guest Rooms and Rates:
135 rooms and suites with views of the Rocky Mountains, Longs Peak and Lumpy Ridge. Heritage Suite has a full-service kitchen and laundry room. Standard rooms from $119. Suites from $219.
The hotel can arrange murder mystery dinners for groups. Call the hotel for details.
Six miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, about an hour outside Denver.
333 Wonderview, P.O.Box 1767,
Estes Park, Colorado 80517
The French Quarter in New Orleans, LA., is not short of spirits.
New Orleans, La., is a myster ious town. Walking the streets of the French Quarter, the ghosts of the Big Easy seem to be present at every turn. Maybe it has something to do with the architecture. Maybe it's the thought of a voodoo doll made in your image. Any way you slice it, New Orleans is a spooky town, and there are many hotels and inns that boast other-worldly visitors. One of these is the Hotel Provincial.
A former soldier supposedly haunts the grounds of the Provincial. Guests have reported everything from doors opening and closing to hearing voices and footsteps when no one else was around. There have been several séances held in the hotel over the years, many of which produced ghostly visions and recorded audio of things like, "Tell Dianne I have to go." A female guest reported being pulled from her bed by a hand and dragged across the room while she kicked and screamed. Another conventioneer claims to have seen the soldier fully materialize in the closet, complete with decorated uniform, before disappearing into thin air. So why does an army ghost haunt the Provincial? A former military hospital sat on the same site in 1722. Twin houses took the place of the hospital in 1831 -- both burned down in 1874. Staying at the Provincial may not guarantee you a ghost sighting, but you'll definitely be spooked.
1024 Chartres St
New Orleans, LA 70116
The Watts Towers, consisting of seventeen major sculptures constructed of structural steel and covered with mortar, are the work of one man - Simon Rodia. Rodia, born Sabato Rodia in Ribottoli, Italy in 1879, was known by a variety of names including Don Simon, Simon Rodilla, Sam and Simon. Although his neighbors in Watts knew him as "Sam Rodilla", the official name of his work is "the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia".
Rodia's older brother immigrated to the United States in 1895 and settled in Pennsylvania where he worked in the coal mines. Rodia followed his brother a few years later. Little is known about his early life in the United States except that he moved to the west coast and found work in rock quarries and logging and railroad camps as a construction worker.
In 1921, Rodia purchased the triangular-shaped lot at 1761-1765 107th Street in Los Angeles and began to construct his masterpiece, which he called "Nuestro Pueblo" (meaning "our town"). For 34 years, Rodia worked single-handedly to build his towers without benefit of machine equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs. Besides his own ingenuity, he used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers and a window-washer's belt and buckle.
Construction worker by day and artist by night, Rodia adorned his towers with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and tile, a rare piece of 19th-century, hand painted Canton ware and many pieces of 20th-century American ceramics. Rodia once said, "I had it in mind to do something big and I did it." The tallest of his towers stands 99½ feet and contains the longest slender reinforced concrete column in the world. The monument also features a gazebo with a circular bench, three bird baths, a center column and a spire reaching a height of 38 feet. Rodia's "ship of Marco Polo" has a spire of 28 feet, and the 140-foot long "south wall" is decorated extensively with tiles, sea shells, pottery, glass and hand-drawn designs.
In 1955, when Rodia was approaching 75, he deeded his property to a neighbor and retired to Martinez, California to be near his family. A fire ruined Rodia's little house in 1956. Within a few years the Department of Building and Safety ordered the property demolished. A group of concerned citizens, calling themselves "The Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts", fought successfully to save the Towers by collecting signatures and money and devising an engineering test in 1959 that proved the Towers' strength and safety.
In 1975, the committee, which had persevered the unique work of art for 16 years, gave the 'Towers and adjoining Arts Center building to the City of Los Angeles for operation and maintenance. In 1978, the Towers were deeded to the State, which undertook extensive restoration of the three main towers. . In 1985, continuing restoration responsibilities were given to the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and currently both the Towers and the Watts Towers Arts Center are under the operation of the Cultural Affairs Department.
While the Towers fall into no strict art category, international authorities and the general public alike have lauded them as a unique monument to the human spirit and the persistence of a singular vision. The Watts Towers, listed on the National Register of Historic Places are a National Historic Landmark, a State of California Historic Park and Historic-Cultural Monument No. 15, as designated by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.
The Cultural Affairs Department, through the Watts Towers Arts Center, provides diverse cultural enrichment programming through tours, lectures, changing exhibits and studio workshops for both teachers and school children. Each year, thousands of people are attracted to the Towers' site for the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival and the Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival.
The towers are located at 1765 East 107th Street, Los Angeles, CA
Latitude/Longitude: 33.9406 / -118.2419