The 30 Weirdest Roadside Attractions in the Midwest
As summer approaches, we're reminded of one of the quintessential American pastimes: the road trip. The open US roadways connect us to beautiful natural wonders, historic sites, and a SPAM Museum?! Yes, there are quite a few strange man-made oddities around the midwest, and these 30 weird roadside attractions are well worth a pit stop, possibly even buying the novelty key chain.
Each summer, the town gathers to sing "Happy Birthday" to this 70ft-tall water tower (atop a 100ft-tall steel tower) painted to resemble a bottle of Brooks Rich & Tangy Catsup in 1949. The ketchup-bottling plant left town in the 1970s, but left behind the regional landmark, which could hold up to 640,000 14oz bottles of the tomato table sauce. The annual Catsup Bottle Festival also includes a ketchup-covered hot dog-eating contest, so it's a good thing the town's a solid four-and-a-half hours driving distance from Chicago-style hot dog purists.
While it's roughly half the rival of the famed Italian tower (94ft to Pisa's 177ft stature and a mere 7.4ft off of vertical vs. Italy's 15ft lean), the Midwestern version built in 1934 holds its own as a tourist attraction. Stop by while swinging over to the first franchised McDonald's in nearby Des Plaines and take all the "dad photos" of you pushing it over.
Nearly 40 years and 25,000 multi-colored coats of paint have transformed what was once your average baseball into this 2.5-ton orb hanging from an industrial-sized hook in rural Indiana. Now that the workload has grown, they let visitors give it the daily coat, so call ahead to add your own layer to its solid mass. Be sure to ask for your coat number for bragging rights!
If Christmas in July sounds appealing, then there's a special place for you in Indiana. "America's Christmas Hometown" is riddled with holiday attractions like the only post office with the Santa Claus name, Santa's Candy Castle -- a fully restored 22ft-tall Santa Statue from 1935 deemed the world's oldest -- and plenty of younger replicas around town for selfies with Santa. Alternatively, you could visit Christmas, MI or Noel, MO. But definitely send your letters to Santa here.
A state with the world's largest truck stop would naturally also lay claim to the largest frying pan internationally -- and apparently there are six big-ass frying pans with the "world's largest" moniker elsewhere in the US alone. But the one that weighs 1,020lbs, stretches 14ft-tall, and could potentially cook up to 528 eggs and/or 88lbs of bacon wins (that's this one).
Did you know this Iowa town is the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk? His 23rd century DOB (March 22, 2228) is engraved in a stone monument located behind a hair salon. While they first claimed the Starship Enterprise captain in 1985, the museum didn't open its doors until 2008. It's since become a hub for Star Trek collectibles, home-built exhibits, and alternate history disputes.
Among its John Deere tractor highlights, this town boasts an Italian dining experience under Michelangelo's masterpiece... rendered entirely in spray paint. While Michelangelo's work took four years to complete, artist Paco Rosic spent four days under the real Sistine Chapel ceiling sketching then four months free-hand spray painting hundreds of biblical figures for his vibrantly colored 2,511sqft replica. Apparently, he temporarily depleted the regional supply of spray paint, piquing the curiosity of a paint company that ended up sending him free cans.
What started as farmer Frank Stoeber's storage scraps of sisal twine from 1953 has slowly expanded into a giant roadside sphere. When he turned it over to the town in 1961, over 1,600,000ft of twine had been rolled into a ball stretching 11ft in diameter. Now composed of nearly eight million feet (40ft in circumference), the nine ton ball is still a work in progress (and struggling to remain an actual ball). Add your own twine to the record-breaking ball at the annual Twine-a-thon in August.
You don't even have to get out of your car to check this giant replica of Van Gogh's Three Sunflowers in a Vase (for the "Sunflower State," of course) painting off your list of "World's Largest Things to See." Passersby on I-70 won't miss the 768sqft reproduction on an 80ft-tall steel easel about a half mile away. The big easel was actually part of a larger effort to reproduce all seven of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings in different countries (they raised $150k to build the thing); the other two completed works are in Canada and Australia.
The original traveling museum dedicated to iconic roadside structures (like the aforementioned "World's Largest Catsup Bottle" in miniature form) is now stationed in an alley behind the Garden of Eden. Whenever creator Erika Nelson hears about a new "World's Largest" roadside attraction, she photographs it, then builds a small replica out of miscellaneous materials to add to her mobile collection. A second, smaller mobile museum now travels from town to town. This is getting very meta.
A Kansas pasture serves as an unexpected gallery space for the artistic expressions of M.T. Liggett, who's been producing the metal sculptures that flap and spin with the wind from his nearby barn. Hundreds of works showcasing his political viewpoints line the fence along Highway 154. Whatever your opinion, his political acts are something to admire.
Two "World's Largest Cherry Pie Pans" reside a mere 50 miles apart in Michigan (apparently, you can't have a giant cherry pie pan without a neighboring opponent?). While Charlevoix boasted the first biggest pan, which was used by local businesses to actually bake the "World's Largest Cherry Pie" in 1976, the 17,420lb pan was outdone in 1987 when Traverse City created an even bigger pie pan.
While Paul Bunyan statues can be spotted in many towns around the Great Lakes, only Minnesota has the world's largest version of the mythical lumberjack hero. The state also has the oldest roadside Bunyan and Babe statues in Bemidji, which claims to be his birthplace, but you can't rest in Bunyan's mighty palm like you can with this 30ft-tall kneeling shrine.
Uncover the historical intricacies of the undisputed king of mystery meat through Hormel's collection of spiced pork artifacts across the street from the meat plant. "Spambassadors" will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the iconic product, like how 44,000 cans per hour roll off the assembly lines for the masses (aka Hawaiians) to consume.
Beside The Voyageur Motel, you'll find a giant canoe-paddler statue of Pierre, equipped with a short jacket, tall boots, paddle, and even a canoe, and never, under any circumstances, pants. The French explorer is reportedly "talking" to visitors again, so you might even get to hear about what it's like to navigate the wild waterways if you're lucky.
Fanatical fans of one of 1985's hottest collectibles flock to this sprawling, multi-million dollar complex dedicated to the adorable angel dolls. The empire has an eery amount of statues and paintings of the baby figurines in and around the chapel. It's definitely a must-see stop if grandma's in the van.
There are collectors of Precious Moments dolls, and then there are collectors of human hair. Former hairdresser (and friend of Ronald Reagan) Leila Cohoon displays an impressive collection of hair art, which includes hair samples from Abe Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe. You won't find your average hairballs here, but you'll discover plenty of intricate wreaths of hair in frames, which were often used to decorate Victorian homes.
You can now stroll across 54-acres of remnants from the largest explosives factory in the US as well as a Cold War-era uranium refinery, which was on the site until it was abandoned in 1966. Twenty years later, the U.S. Department of Energy covered the hazardous waste with rocks. The 75ft-tall pile consists of 1.5 million cubic yards of covered-up TNT, mercury, asbestos, radioactive uranium, and radium for all to enjoy.
In 1987, artist Jim Reinders envisioned a wacky formation mimicking England's medieval wonder for a 10-acre stretch of prairie land in Nebraska as a tribute to his father. Far from the nearest interstate, you'll find 38 autos rescued from nearby farms and dumps, painted slate gray and fashioned in the familiar Stonehenge arrangement (its 96ft diameter even matches the proportions of the original landmark). However, unlike a similar well-known artistic monument of junk cars, Cadillac Ranch, spray paint is strongly discouraged in the "Cornhusker State."
Whether the 4,655,000 stamps are wrapped around a pencil stub or a golf ball at its core (no one can really say), the 32in diameter ball, weighing in at 600lbs, is an outstanding display of some seriously dedicated tongues and fingers of the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club.
Harold Keith Davisson vowed 1975 would never to be forgotten when he built a 45-ton vault beneath a dirt mound, sealed with an eclectic assortment of 5,000 eclectic items inside, like a pair of bikini panties, a men's aquamarine leisure suit with stitched yellow flowers, and the cheapest car he could find at the time -- a brand-new Chevy Vega. Due to some disputes with other time preservers, he built a second pyramid-style time capsule (and a second entombed car) atop the first in 1983, so there'd be no question as to whose was the largest. Something tells us this one'll be easier to find than the old shoe box you buried in your backyard.
Erected as a novelty in 1982, the titan turtle (which naturally dwells in the Turtle Mountains) was welded together from over 2,000 steel wheel rims by George Gottbreht, the owner of Dale's Thrifty Barn next door. Its head alone weighs over a ton, and is mounted on a pivot so you can move it up and down.
Driving across the flat North Dakota prairies can be pretty monotonous, so the towering, whimsical sculptures along a 32-mile stretch of Highway 21 (now the Enchanted Highway) between Regent and Gladstone can seem to come out of nowhere. Metal sculptor and retired school teacher Gary Greff's metal works -- from giant metal deer and a huge grasshopper to a complex underwater world -- pop up every few miles along the empty road to keep you from zoning out on the open road.
A massive crustacean beside a Baptist church in the middle of Ohio doesn't make a lot of sense, but neither does "Make America Great Again." After its initial creation for the Baltimore Maritime Museum, the 68ft-long and 24ft-tall transplant ended up at the Freedom Worship Baptist Church after a random stint at the Creation Museum in Kentucky.
No matter how menial the tasks, 500 employees of Longaberger Basket Co. could once take solace in the fact that working inside a seven-story-tall basket was a real picnic while it lasted. Modeled after one of its own baskets, the company put $30 million into the 160x larger corporate headquarters-version. It's now up for sale, but the building equipped with 150-ton handles and two 725lb gold leaf painted tags remains a sight to see. Other Longaberger creations can be found nearby, like the house-sized wicker picnic basket from the original headquarters in Dresden and the 29ft-tall apple basket in Frazeysburg.
Crazy Horse's head is bigger than the four heads of Mount Rushmore combined, and it'll eventually be much more than a head. Chosen by a group of Lakota elders, Polish-American Korczak Ziolkowski began work on the super-sized monument in 1948, and now his family is continuing his life's work through jackhammering and dynamite. Visitors get 30 minutes notice before part of the mountain explodes and elaborately choreographed night blasts mark Korczak and his wife's birthdays. Tourists can walk the six miles to the mountaintop and back on the first full weekend in June for up-close looks at his currently 88ft-tall face, but the foot of the mountain is the closest you'll get any other time of the year.
This corn crazed prairie town in South Dakota is home to the high school sports teams the Kernels, local radio station KORN, and the "architectural showplace of the world" known as the Mitchell Corn Palace. Its czarist-Russia exterior and intricate murals are made entirely out of local corn and grains (it's refurbished annually), and the onion domes and minarets make it the world's only corn palace, but would the world really need more than one of these?
Aliens from any nebula are welcome to land their spaceships on welder Bob Tohak's 42ft-tall platform. Designed to encourage close encounters, it's made from an empty fuel tank and now has a satellite up top. He's even planning on working on a big aluminum spaceship. The CIA is likely watching from afar.
Ever wonder where those big fiberglass statues in front of businesses come from? No? Well wander the Mold Field anyway and see the latest behemoth creations fresh out of the casting mold or paint shop at the workshop of Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks Corp. (or FAST), just outside of Sparta. For more than 30 years, the studio has been the go-to place for businesses seeking eye-catching statues, and the grassy, open field behind the factory is strewn with hundreds of molds from previous jobs.
Just like the real White House, you'll need a guide to take you through the Top Secret Inc. house resting on its roof in the Wisconsin Dells. And only then will you begin to uncover the mysterious conspiracy, which will just be the start of explaining why the world stands on its head.
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