The Best Kitsch Roadside Attraction in Every State (Part 2)
Last week we visited some truly unique kitsch roadside attractions, this week, we won’t be chasing dinosaurs in the woods, but we will make peace with aliens, find out why a museum in Illinois has a wooden leg on display, and visit a museum of the truly bizarre and potentially crazy.
Are you ready for an adventure? It’s time to embrace the kitsch, dance on the edge of camp, and drive our attention to some of the wackiest kitsch attractions in America.
Hawaii – Raelian UFO Peace Park (Volcano, Big Island, HI)
If you’re waiting for the aliens, or think they’re already here, you might be a Raelian. Founded in 1974, this religious movement has members worldwide, and believes that aliens occasionally visit Earth to guide the creatures they created (that would be us) towards peace. When we finally achieve it, we’ll theoretically be able to join them.
The peace park on Big Island is a site that Raelians want to use as a galactic embassy, and is decorated with a model of what they’d like to build, several sculptures, and the symbols of their religion – including a Star of David with a swastika in the middle, which is why this park isn’t in Israel, where they first proposed building it.
An odd stop to be sure, this kitsch attraction includes a nude sculpture of a woman, so don’t bring the kids unless you don’t mind explaining.
Idaho – Idaho Potato Museum (Blackfoot, ID)
Looking for a giant spud? If you guessed that Idaho would be home to kitsch potatoes, you were right. It’s no wonder that this potato producing state shares some tuber love with the world in the form of the Idaho Potato Museum. Inside the museum, you’ll find out about Idaho’s potato past and present. As for the kitsch attraction at this spot, check out Pringle’s biggest chip, a giant potato, and the chance to wear your own potato sack, this is the place to go. It’s not for everyone, but the museum did make the FlipKey list of top 50 museums worth traveling for.
Illinois – Captured Leg of Santa Anna (Springfield, IL)
In Illinois, kitsch isn’t just something you stumble across. It’s a way of life. The state has an obsession with the unusual, and the captured leg of Mexican general Santa Anna is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Seen as a villain in the US and in Mexico, Santa Anna’s leg isn’t something the people of Mexico want back. There actually two of his captured legs in Illinois – one that was once used as a baseball bat by Lieutenant Abner Doubleday as a baseball bat and is now housed in Decatur, IL. The other, a much fancier version, was captured in 1847 by soldiers of the 4th Illinois Infantry and is in the care of the Illinois National Guard at the State Military Museum in Springfield.
Other kitsch attractions in Illinois include the Dungeons & Dragons park, the Super Museum (all about Superman), miniature golf – in a funeral home (!), the Gold Pyramid house, and the Kaskasia Dragon, to name a few…
Indiana – World’s Largest Ball of Paint (Alexandria, IN)
What would you do with a baseball? If you said paint it daily until you held the world’s record for the largest ball of paint, and make that hobby into a nice side income, you’d be Michael Carmichael. With more than 20,000 coats of paint, this monstrous ball of paint weighs well over a ton.
Feel like making your mark on the ball? You can. Carmichael lets visitors paint the ball with two conditions – they can’t use the same color as the coat prior to theirs, and they have to sign the guest book. Carmichael and his wife keep meticulous records for the now-famous ball of paint, which is stored in its own shed on the family’s property. In 2004, the ball of paint was added to the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest ball of paint in the world, and I’m fairly certain no one is going to take that title away in the near future.
Iowa – Villisca Ax Murder House and Museum (Villisca, IA)
Another kitsch-crazed state (must be a Midwest thing), Iowa is home to everything from an ax murder house to the village of Elk Horn, a Danish-themed stop with its own windmill, Danish immigrant museum, and Danish gift shop. I’ve visited Elk Horn and have to tell you – although it isn’t a big place, the hospitality and friendliness of the people who live there make it worth a stop. So does the windmill.
As for that ax murder house…located in Villisca, it’s a scary place. If you’re brave enough you can stay overnight, but I wouldn’t advise it. The murder of six children and two adults that occurred in this house in 1912 remains unsolved.
According to the website for the house, “Visits by paranormal investigators have provided audio, video and photographic proof of paranormal activity. Tours have been cut short by children’s voices, falling lamps, moving ladders and flying objects. Psychics have confirmed the presence of spirits dwelling in the home and many have actually communicated with them, and skeptics have left believers.”
Creeped out yet? This is one kitsch attraction I’m not sure if I want to see, or run from. What about you? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Kansas – World’s Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City, KS)
One of several “World’s Largest” balls of twine in the Midwest, this one might actually be the real thing. What makes twine such an obsession for some people, I really don’t understand… Started in 1953 by Frank Stoeber, this big ball of sisal is now a symbol of Cawker City, and once a year visitors and residents come together to add more twine to the ball. As of September 2013, it weighed 19.873 pounds.
A kitsch attraction to its core, this interactive record holder gives visitors a guided visit of the city, too. Follow the twine stripe on the pavement to painting with a twine theme that are hung in storefront windows, and buy a twine souvenir to commemorate your visit. Because nothing says kitsch attraction like big balls of sisal.
Kentucky – Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toy Museum (Calvert City, KY)
What is a hillbilly garden? Good question. In this case, it’s an eclectic mix of sculptures, toys, and “hillbilly” sayings painted on wooden signs. Built on the former site of Keith Holt’s grandparents gas station, it’s a unique, bizarre attraction. Good humor and childlike wonder are requirements for entry.
Rumor has it that Bonnie and Clyde once stayed on the property, and that Clyde left a shotgun behind. The property has always been an eclectic stop – even before the gas station existed. Oral Wallace, the grandfather of Keith Holt, started with a cider press, added a house with rooms for rent, the gas station, and a small diner. A country store and barber shop were also on-site. Oral did it all, including play music for the guests that stopped by. When Oral died in 1964, his widow Myrtle sold produce for a living through 1988, storing all of Orals’ old items. In 2005, the Hillbilly Garden was born when Keith took over the property.
And Apple Valley? It’s never going to be the same.
Louisiana – Musee Conti: Wax Museum of New Orleans (New Orleans, LA)
Wax museums are a folk obsession, and not just in the US. This particular kitsch attraction was founded in 1963 with the mission to bring New Orleans’ wild Mardi Gras celebrations to life – alongside quirky sculptures like Napoleon in his bathtub. Guides are costumed, and today weddings and special events are often held in the museum. You won’t find famous actors and celebrities here if they aren’t from New Orleans or a part of its history, however. This place is all about the Big Easy, and the wax work is so well done that it’s a little creepy.
Odd fact? Real human hair is used for the figures. It’s imported from Italy and carefully stitched into the statue, one hair at a time.
Maine – International Cryptozoology Museum (Portland, ME)
If you’re tired of ordinary museums that talk about dinosaurs and natural history, this kitsch attraction is a fun diversion. Learn about the yeti, big foot, sea serpents and other undiscovered critters that exist in cultures around the world. You’ll also find info on recently discovered animals, like the okapi or giant panda.
The museum has exhibits on creatures like the coelacanth, which existed only in rumor until one was captured in 1938. From yeti poop to a statue title FeeJee Mermaid by Erik Gosselin, you’ll find more than 10,000 bizarre items in this kitsch attraction, each of which has a story to tell. And there is actually an educational purpose – school trips bring kids to the museum as a way to engage their interest in biology and other life sciences.
Check out the baby sasquatch while you are there. Esau is pretty cute.
Maryland – Clark’s Elioak Farm (Elioak, MD)
Home to the last remaining pieces of the Enchanted Forest defunct theme park, Clark’s Elioak Farm is a kitsch attraction that’s worth the stop. The children are catered to here, with a petting zoo, pumpkin chunkin’, and even gem mining, this isn’t your ordinary farm. It’s a fun, unabashedly kitsch attraction owned by a family that has been farming in Maryland since 1797.
Are you a fan of kitsch? Heading out for a roadtrip in the near future? Share your favorite kitsch attraction from across the US in the comments. We’d love to hear where you’ve been, and what kitsch attractions you are headed to next!