A 65-foot-tall elephant named Lucy stands near the sea in New Jersey, as she has for 140 years. Giant-size blueberries are scattered about a field in Maine. Visitors to Long Beach, Washington come face-to-face with a two-headed calf, cycloptic lamb and a mummified half-man-half-alligator.
If the thought of catching a bit of kitsch as you travel has appeal, read on. As for what kitsch is, well you’ll know it when you see it.
Those who seek out attractions that fit the theme are in luck. Examples of the weird and wonderful are scattered around the country, some perhaps close to where you leave. May be worth looking for….
Residents of Margate, New Jersey are used to seeing a six-story-high, 90-ton elephant gazing over the setting. The wood and tin pachyderm was constructed in 1881 to attract tourists and promote real estate sales. In 1976, Lucy was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
In Maine, it’s the statue of an oversize baker offering a blueberry pie, and large ersatz berries scattered around a field that attracts the attention of passers-by. Wild Blueberry Land is a family-run farm, bakery and mini-theme park in Columbia Falls which is devoted to this native North-America fruit. Visitors enter a geodesic dome, which is billed as “the world’s largest blueberry,” to check out offerings at the bakery and receive a lecture touting the benefits of wild berries over the cultivated versions found in most supermarkets.
Unusual Kitschy Attractions Add a Spark to Everyday Sight Seeing
Other large figures dot the landscape elsewhere. In Atlanta, Illinois a 20-foot-tall mysteriously named Hot Dog Muffler Man clutches a frankfurter in one hand. Muffler Men were sculptures, based upon a Paul Bunyan character and traditionally holding an ax, that in the past were placed as roadside attractions and advertising icons. When the owner of a drive-in restaurant in Cicero, Illinois purchased one, he had the ax replaced with a hot dog.
In 2003, man and wiener were moved 150 miles to their new Illinois home in Atlanta.
What could better represent the self-proclaimed “coldest spot in the nation” than a 27-foot-tall penguin? That five-ton bird greets people as they enter Cut Bank, Montana, where winter highs hover around the freezing mark and the wind chill in one recent year plummeted to 64 degrees below zero.
The droll penguin sports giant feet and a curiously small peaked cap. At times, when working, a speaker has intoned “Welcome to Cut Bank,” followed by the town’s self-imposed claim to fame.
Speaking of size, the proprietor of the tongue-twisting World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things thinks big – and small. Picture a giant ball of yarn, a huge wad of chewing gum and a miniature golf course, which Erika Nelson has encountered around the country and reproduced in a minuscule scale.
Those are among undersized replicas of much larger things that are on display at a permanent home in Lucas, Kansas. Erika also tools around the country in a brightly decorated mobile museum that gives new meaning to the words “roadside attraction.”
An equally unusual collection has been gathered at Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach, Washington. The big attraction is Jake the Alligator Man, a mummified half-man half-reptile that is honored as the town mascot. But the kooky, in some cases creepy, displays don’t end there. Among stuffed mounted animals are a two-headed calf and eight-legged lamb, which share space with exhibits ranging from a self-playing violin to a shrunken head from South America.
Kitsch in Ispeming, Michigan: Da Yoopers Tourist Trap Happily Lives Up to Its Name
A shopping stop in Ishpeming, Michigan makes no bones about what it offers browsers and buyers. Da Yoopers Tourist Trap gets its name from the word applied to residents of the state’s isolated Upper Peninsula. In addition to the usual gifts for travelers, it stocks merchandise related to Big Foot, oil-filled key chains, Elvis playing cards and other paraphernalia suited to the store’s offbeat theme. There’s also an area devoted to minerals and mining, and a comic collection that incudes Big Gus, (an oversize chain saw), Big Ernie (a large rifle) and Da Two-holer, which is described as a very special kind of outhouse.
An even more unconventional bathroom is a pair of see-through toilets perched in the middle of a Texas town. The all-glass structure in the square of Sulphur Springs has one-way mirror walls that allow those inside to see people on the sidewalks going about their business while no one can see those inside doing theirs. The transparent lavatories were finalists in America’s Best Restroom contest.
The Much-Maligned UFO’s in Roswell, New Mexico May One Day Be Taken More Seriously
Then there are entire destinations that some might label as kitsch communities. When a rancher came upon unidentifiable debris in a field outside Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, little did he realize the lasting impact his discovery would have. Even after the U.S. Air Force reported that the fragments were from a crashed weather balloon, a number of people believed – and some continue to – that they were the remains of an extraterrestrial flying saucer.
That incident spawned a UFO theory which entrepreneurial folks in Roswell seized upon as a business opportunity sent from heaven. Alien-related gift shops, UFO exhibits and other out-of-this-world commercial enterprises line the streets, turning Roswell into a virtual kingpin of kitsch. Of course, with the latest focus on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), the new term for UFOs, what was once considered kitsch may become the new reality…or not.
If You Go
Lucy the Elephant
Wild Blueberry Land
Roadside America: Hot Dog Muffler Man and Cut Bank Penguin
Cut Bank Chamber
Marsh’s Free Museum
World’s Largest Things
Sulphur Springs, Texas
Roswell, New Mexico