Happy Fourth: 50 Completely Bizarre U.S. Destinations You Can Visit
The world's largest cow, ball of twine, ball of paint, prairie dog and so much more
These United States of ours are pretty great. Flawed, but great. They’re also super-weird, in case you didn’t know, and can provide a willing traveler with enough material to haunt a thousand nights and inhabit too many thousand-yard-stares to count. Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to some of the strangest places, cities and sights in each state, should you want a real weird road trip to start planning out. Happy America Day!
Alabama: The Boll Weevil Monument
The only statue in the nation dedicated to an insect, Enterprise, Alabama’s 13-foot-high Boll Weevil Monument was erected in 1919 right in the middle of the town’s business district to commemorate a plague of the insects that devastated – and subsequently forced the more successful reorganization of – the state’s agricultural economy.
Alaska: The Aurora Ice Museum
The world’s largest year-round ice environment, the Aurora Ice Museum is located at the Chena Hot Springs Resort and depicts all kind of all-ice sights including a giant chess set, a pair of jousting knights and the all-important all-ice martini glass.
Arizona: The Black Canyon Dog Track
It’s fallen into considerable disrepair, but if you feel like driving about 30 miles outside of Phoenix to trek around an abandoned greyhound racing track, the Black Canyon Dog Track has got you covered.
Arkansas: The Billy Bass Adoption Center
The Big Mouth Billy Bass was one of the stupider fad gag gifts of the late ’90s. It was an animatronic fish that sang songs. That was it. And in 2002, Shannon Wayne, who runs the Flying Fish restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas, decided to start adopting cast-off ones. (She removed the batteries first.) Now, almost 300 decorate the walls. They’re eerily beautiful, aren’t they?
California: The Mojave Airplane Graveyard
There are a lot of strange things in California, but for sheer spectacle, it’s hard to do better than the Mojave Airplane Graveyard, where hundreds of grounded aircraft litter the grounds in various states of scavenge or disrepair. There’s the section for defunct carriers, and then there’s the boneyard, where planes that will never fly again go to be cannibalized and recycled.
Colorado: The Stanley Hotel
Purportedly haunted, the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, provided the inspiration for the Overlook in Stephen King’s The Shining. That’s all the convincing you need to go there, right?
Connecticut: Holy Land, U.S.A.
The brainchild of one John Baptist Greco, in the 1960s, this Bethlehem-themed roadside theme park in Waterbury, Connecticut, was attracting 50,000 people a year. It’s fallen into such disrepair that it’s not particularly safe; if you’re going to visit, make sure to do so in daylight.
Delaware: Miles the Monster
Part of the larger attraction of the Dover International Speedway, Miles is a 46-foot-tall fiberglass mascot with a race car clenched in one stony fist. He ran for president in 2012.
Florida: The Popash School
Just one of Florida’s rich tapestry of weird things, the Popash School is believed to be haunted by the ghosts of children who once learned there. It’s named after a tree, but some maintain the word is related to witchcraft.
Georgia: Noble Hardee Mansion
Alex Raskin Antiques bills itself as “the last unrestored grand mansion of Savannah,” and it is just that – as well as a jam-packed and high-priced antique store. Peeling paint, crumbling plaster and all manner of old-timey crap await in this home, originally dating to 1860.
Hawaii: Mauna Kea
The world’s tallest volcano, Mauna Kea is home to a number of major telescopes, but beware of altitude sickness as you climb its peaks.
Idaho: The Old Idaho State Penitentiary
Built in 1870 as a single-cell building, Old Idaho Pen was gradually expanded – by a labor force of its own inmates – to a 15-building structure that housed over 600 inmates. It was closed in 1973 (after two serious riots over living conditions) and has since been turned into a museum and added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Illinois: Paul Bunyon
This off-brand Paul Bunyon was erected as a fiberglass structure and physical pun atop Bunyon’s hotdog stand in Cicero, Illinois, in 1966. He holds a hotdog instead of an axe and his name is purposefully misspelled to avoid copyright issue. Bunion’s closed in 2002, but Paul found a new home in Atlanta, Illinois a year later, where, devoid of context, he still proudly holds his tubed meat hoagie for all to see.
Indiana: The World’s Largest Ball of Paint
It started life as a baseball covered in blue paint in 1977, but now it’s swelled to about two and a half tons worth of paint – some 24,0000 coats (give or take). Visit Alexandria, Indiana, and add your own.
Iowa: The Grotto of Redemption
We’ll let Weird U.S. take over: “In 1893, Catholic Priest Paul Dobberstein was diagnosed with pneumonia The recent German immigrant made a promise to God – should God spare his life, he would devote it to building a monument in His honor Five years later, he was still alive, and in his new home of West Bend, he saw a large opportunity to build a grotto and most importantly, a large amount of open space to build it in. With only a priest’s modest salary at his disposal, Dobberstein spent the first decade of the twentieth century criss-crossing America, enlisting help in gathering raw materials More than a hundred railroad cars full of minerals and ore arrived in West Bend that decade, including a few geodes from the Carlsbad Caverns, before they became a protected national park. Construction began in 1912 on a foundation of Portland cement and sand.” Today, the Grotto is actually nine different grottoes, over 100 feet wide, over 20 feet deep and up to 40 feet high.
Kansas: The World’s Largest Ball of Twine
We covered paint, so let’s get to twine. Frank Stober started Cawker City’s ball of twine in 1953. Now, it’s around 10 tons. So, you know go there.
Kentucky: Dehart’s Bible & Tire
As the name would suggest, they just do things here: Fix and sell tires, and sell Bibles. “Both will get you where you’re going,” as the ad goes.
Louisiana: The Rayne Frog Festival
Look, you could write a book on weird crap in New Orleans, but Rayne’s Frog Festival remains sorely underrepresented. The town bills itself as the Frog Capital of the World, and was actually a major shipper of frog’s legs until the 1970s, when the cuisine fell out of fashion. So in 1973, Rayne threw its first frog festival, and they’ve been holding them ever since. They crown a queen, dress frogs up, kiss frogs and yes, there’s a parade. You do you, Rayne.
Maine: The L.C. Bates Museum
Skowhegan, Maine’s L.C. Bates museum is home to an eclectic collection of natural artifacts including a piece of the original trans-Atlantic cable and a marlin caught by Ernest Hemingway.
Maryland: Forest Haven Asylum
From 1925, when it was first opened, until the 1960s, Forest Haven was a wonderful mental health facility. As funding dried up, it became one of the most corrupt and miserable asylums in the country, with hundreds of inmates dying as a result of neglect and abuse. It was shuttered in 1991 and continues to attract ghost hunters.
Massachusetts: Fernald State School
Possibly the most sinister entry on this list, Fernando was built in 1848 as the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded. Its third superintendent, Walter E. Fernald, was obsessed with eugenics, and consequently didn’t provide the most nurturing environment for the “school’s” residents. More disturbingly, in the 1940s and ’50s, semi-clandestine radiation tests – conducted by researchers from Harvard and MIT and with funding from the Quaker Oats company – were conducted on the inmates. A state lawsuit forced Fernald to turn things around, and MIT and Quaker Oats settled a class-action suit in 1988 regarding their part in the hospital’s history.
Michigan: The Corner Bar and Hot Dog Hall of Fame
The Corner Bar occupies the oldest brick building in Rockford, Michigan (built in 1873). Donald Berg, the bar’s owner, established the Hot Dog Hall of Fame in 1968 to operate out of the premises. Since then, over 5,000 champions have joined, mostly because the rules are pretty simple: Eat 12 or more hot dogs with the Corner Bar’s chili sauce in four hours. Eat 20, and they’ll pick up the tab. Since Berg purchased the bar in 1965, they’ve sold over 14 million hot dogs.
Minnesota: Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
Beautiful Lake Bemidji is home to two massive, crude representations of Bunyan and his faithful ox that date back to 1937. According to Kodak, they may be the second-most-photographed statues in the U.S.
Mississippi: The Mississippi River Basin Model
The Army Corps of Engineers built this model of the Mississippi River Basin – the largest small-scale model ever built – over the course of 26 years from 1943 to 1966, occasionally using POW labor. The Army Corps eventually transferred it to the city of Jackson, who couldn’t shoulder the costs of maintaining it and simply abandoned the thing – all eight miles of it.
Missouri: The World’s Largest Rocking Chair
Continuing in our “world’s largest mundane thing” category, this thing was built in Cuba, Missouri, in 2008, just to break a Guinness World Record. It’s 42 feet tall, made of welded steel, and while it actually had to rock to claim the record, it was deemed too unsafe to stand freely and was secured. For one day a year, a lift is hired to raise people onto it. Go there. Go to it.
Montana: The Bleu Horses
Strangely sinister, and larger-than-life, the Bleu Horses of Three Forks, Montana, were constructed by local artist Jim Dolan. There are 39 of them. Take selfies with them all!
In the 2000 census, the town of Monwi, Nebraska, numbered just two people, Rudy and Elsie Eiler. In 2004, Rudy died, and Elsie became the town’s only resident. She’s proprietor of the town’s only business, the Monowi Tavern, its librarian, and the mayor. She’s doing a great job.
Nevada: The Clown Motel
It’s a clown-themed motel, built next to a graveyard in Tonopah, Nevada. Honestly, maybe the creepiest thing on this list. Watch the video for much more information, I’m too creeped out to write more.
New Hampshire: Lake Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone
In late 1872, a group of workers digging near Lake Winnipesaukee discovered a 4″x2.5″ egg-shaped stone, drilled from end to end with two different-sized tools, and polished to a sheen. No explanation for the thing’s origin has ever been accepted, but you can visit it at the New Hampshire Historical Society and decide for yourself.
New Jersey: Lucy the Elephant
Technically the world’s largest elephant, Lucy resides in Margate City, New Jersey. She was constructed out of tin and wood in 1882 by James V. Lafferty as a tribute to P.T. Barnum’s elephant Jumbo, though she outsized him considerably at 65 feet high, 60 feet long and 18 feet wide. She tips the scales at 90 tons and is made of nearly one million pieces of wood.
New Mexico: Tinkertown
Ross Ward started carving wood in junior high school. Eventually, his hobby became TinkerTown, a 22-room museum (itself built out of 50,000 glass bottles) that houses an eclectic selection of ephemera collected over Ward’s 30-plus-year-career as a carnival backdrop painter. In the words of the humblebrag that emblazons the museum, “I did this all while you were watching TV.”
New York: The Toynbee Tiles
Scattered across Manhattan and Philadelphia are what have come to be know as the Toynbee Tiles, linoleum tiles wrapped in tarpaper and covered in glue. They contain references to Stanley Kubrick, Ray Bradbury and their namesake, historian Arnold J. Toynbee. There are over 50 in Manhattan, stretching mostly from 36th up to 57th Street.
North Carolina: The Duke Lemur Center
Oddly enough, the world’s largest sanctuary for lemurs, lorises and bush babies is in Durham, North Carolina. Started in 1966, it’s swollen to 85 acres of protected open habitat.
North Dakota: Salem Sue
Sue, is the world’s largest Holstein cow sculpture. She’s six tons of fiberglass, and 38 feet high. Built by the New Salem, North Dakota Lions Club in 1974, Sue sits on a site that also offers a lovely scenic view of the state’s wide-open farmlands.
In 1994, the Dublin Arts Council commissioned Field of Corn (with Osage Oranges Trees), a work that consists of 109 6-ft, white ears of concrete corn. Artist and professor of sculpture at Ohio State University, Malcolm Cochran designed the installation, which has taken on the nickname “Cornhenge.”
Oklahoma: The Toy and Action Figure Museum
The only official fully-accredited non-profit museum of its kind in the world, The Toy and Action Figure Museum has been running since 2005 and contains over 13,000 separate action figures.
Oregon: Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum
Two Chinese immigrants, Ing “Doc” Hay and Lung On, started this traditional Chinese medicine shop in 1887. In the late 1940s, Hay went into a nursing home and the shop was simply boarded up. It was reopened in 1969 and currently exists as a museum.
Sometime in 1962, a mine fire started underneath Centralia, Pennsylvania. It’s been burning ever since. Most residents were relocated in 1984, and in 1992, the entire town was condemned, though as of 2007, nine residents were still living there, even as smoking rubble and new growth forest overtakes the remains of the town.
Rhode Island: The Grave of Mercy Brown
In 1892, Mercy Brown died, shortly after her mother Mary and sister Mary. Patriarch George’s son Edwin developed the same symptoms as the rest of the deceased, so for some reason, the town of Exeter decided to exhume the Marys to see if they were vampires. Then they turned to poor Mercy. They found her body suspiciously well-preserved, so they cut out her heart, burned it, and had Edwin drink the ashes. He died anyway. Her grave exists as something of a folk monument today.
South Carolina: Busted Plug Plaza
It’s the world’s largest fire hydrant at over 40 feet tall, built by local artist Blue Sky and clocking in at 675,000 pounds.
South Dakota: Giant Prairie Dog
It’s just what it sounds like. Twelve feet tall and 6 tons o’ prairie dog, outside of Badlands National Park.
Tennessee: Jack Daniel’s Distillery
It might not be “weird” but it is awesome. Ironically, it’s located in Lynchburg, in Moore County, which has been a dry county since 1872.
Texas: Stonehenge II
A 60 percent scale replica of Stonehenge, built by Alfred Shepherd in Ingram, Texas. He threw in a pair of Easter Island heads for good measure two years after finishing the initial structure.
Utah: Goblin Valley
Discovered by Arthur Chaffin in the 1920s, the area was made a state park (and a creepy one) in 1964. “Like nowhere else,” reads one sign.
Vermont: The Flavor Graveyard
If you don’t want to visit the actual Ben & Jerry’s, you can always visit their “Flavor Graveyard,” where they memorialize flavors gone by the wayside.
Virginia: The Monroe Institute
The Monroe Institute, a nonprofit research and educational organization, is a New Age-styled retreat in Faber, Virginia. If you can afford it, you can probably get your chakras cleansed of something.
As the economy collapsed in the surrounding area in the 1960s, Leavenworth, Washington, made the odd decision to pull the community together and reinvent the town as a Bavarian village. It worked.
West Virginia: The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
This looming, gothic structure operated from 1864 to 1994 and remains a popular spot for ghost hunters and other thrill-seekers.
Wisconsin: The Mustard Museum
Formerly operating out of Mount Horeb, the Mustard Museum has moved to Middleton. 5,000 contemporary and “historic” mustards are on display.
Wyoming: Hell’s Half-Acre
You might recognize this desolate spot from its role as the alien planet Klendathu in the cult sci-fi flick Starship Troopers.