Frazeysburg, Ohio is home to what all seekers of eccentric roadside attractions search for: the world's biggest something-or-other. In this case it's the world's biggest basket of apples, at the Longaberger Homestead, a retail outlet and tourist destination of the Longaberger Basket Company. If you've been following this blog, you'll recall their spectacular 7-story building in the shape of a giant picnic basket that serves as their corporate headquarters down the road in Newark, Ohio. Obviously, this is a company that likes really big things and they're tops in my book. They certainly know how to reach their core audience. Here's their website: http://www.longaberger.com/homestead.aspx
In the 1960s, a Hindu teacher by the name of A.C. Prabhupada was the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement. His mission was to spread the word of his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, throughout the world. After opening Krishna centers in New York and San Francisco, he set his sights on an unlikely location: the mountainous West Virginia panhandle. In 1968, The New Vrindaban Community was founded near Moundsville, West Virginia to fulfill Prabhupada's dream of an ideal society based on Krishna Consciousness, or love of God. His followers overcame obstacles (and won over initially scornful locals) and turned a hardscrabble farm into their dream community. In 1973, the devotees built a grand home for Prabhupada, where he could write books and enjoy the mountain air on his occasional visits. This is known as the Palace of Gold, and you don't have to be a Krishna devotee to visit and marvel at its splendor. After a long, windy, mountain road ride off the Interstate through the beautiful West Virginia country side, there it is in all its incongruous beauty. The inside rooms are even more spectacular than the outside but they didn't allow pictures as our blissfully peaceful tour guide (and Moby lookalike) earnestly showed us around. And if you visit, just keep repeating: "there's no place like om, there's no place like om."
Haddam, Connecticut is known more for its well-moneyed New England charm than for eccentric roadside attractions, but I passed a humdinger on my way to the Goodspeed Opera House for a Sunday matinee performance of "42nd Street" with my Mom. Alan's Small Engine Service has a tractor mower/chainsaw weather vane on their roof that's a marvel of eccentric engineering. It's colossal...it's stupendous...it's...on their roof? How did they manage that? Who knows? But as Robert Kennedy would say, "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?" Why not indeed.
We took a pleasant drive to the beach in Charlestown, Rhode Island and passed a sign that caught my eye. The Charlestown Mini Super can't seem to make up its mind. Is it a little store that sells big things or is it a big store that sells little things? I think it would be great if there was a store that sold nothing but oxymorons: hot chili, plastic glasses, jumbo shrimp, home office supplies. If only there had been one of those new bigger Mini Cooper wagons parked in front it would complete the picture: a Super Mini parked in front of the Mini Super. Okay, I'll stop... the deafening silence I'm hearing is pretty ugly.
I adore kitschy souvenirs, especially the relatively inexpensive ones. The most tasteless item I have yet to encounter was purchased in Hollywood, California (although I've seen this identical gem in Las Vegas, as well). A personalized keepsake is a gift that is both thoughtful and practical for friends and loved ones you want to remember while having a good time on vacation. Who doesn't like a souvenir-of-anywhere keychain with their name or, failing that, "Pretty Lady" or "Number One Dude" embossed on it? Taste-optional gift shops take this one step further with delightfully lowbrow fare. However, I was still taken aback with the personalized condom display at one of the finer tacky gift emporiums along Hollywood Boulevard. Hadn't seen that before. But wait...there's more! Upon checking the names available, there's Jack, Jeb, Jerry, Jesus, Jim. Wait...Jesus? Hollywood condoms custom fitted for Jesus? Holy smokes! Now, I know there are gentlemen out there named Jesus who mostly live south of the border, but it's still a head-turner to see that particular name on a package of prophylactics. Crimany!
Another gem along Pennsylvania's Lincoln Highway is Dunkle's Gulf, a sparkling art deco filling station. It was opened in 1933 by Dick Dunkle and is still in operation today, offering full-service repairs and gasoline. It sits there like a little castle, gleaming and saying "hey look me over." It's too bad the pumps are quasi-modern, but this is a small concession to having such a beautiful living, breathing roadside palace from the past in our midst. Could you fill 'er up with Ethyl please?
The outhouse on the right is for employees only, just so you know.
Eight miles west of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the great Lincoln Highway (Route 30) lies a wonderful bit of Americana, the Historic Round Barn and Farm Market. Here's a bit of history from their website:
"Only a handful of round barns survive today, and so few remain that they are considered an endangered species and are registered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Most round barns were built between 1900 and 1920, primarily in the Northeast and then the Midwest. The Shakers, who built the first round barn, believed the circle to be the most perfect shape (the devil couldn't trap you in the corner). The Historic Round Barn, a spectacular structure, was built in 1914 by the Noah Sheely family."
It's on a beautiful and peaceful plot of Pennsylvania farmland... truly God's country. They've got fruits and vegetables in season and other retail items, many with an apple-theme. There's also a great funky painted old gas pump in front of the place. It's one of a series of painted pumps along the Lincoln Highway, once again proving the Lincoln Highway should be on every eccentric roadside attractions fan's list of places you must see before you die.
We stayed at a very nice Comfort Inn in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, just outside the entrance to Valley Forge Park. I love that name: King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. You don't get that much... towns named for the generic title of some royal person. It's so matter of fact. There's no King of France, Kentucky, for instance. It's Louisville. Anyway, the Comfort Inn was equipped with what must have been the height of business luxury before the advent of cell phones: the phone-next-to-the-toilet-in-the-bathroom. No CEO would want to be caught with his pants down (so to speak) and not be able to take an important call to shore up the Magruder deal, so his loyal gal Friday would book him the suite with phone-next-to-the-toilet-in-the-bathroom. It seems rather quaint now. And I know there's good joke with Line number 1 and Line number 2... I just can't figure out what it is.
I don't know what tooters are, but they got 'em in Lovell.
We passed through the small town of Lovell, Wyoming on our way west from Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone in 2002 and had the pleasure of spending the night here because they had a nice Super 8 motel just at the right interval. The buildings had some great mid-century architecture and signage and it felt like we were on the back lot of Universal Studios for a "Back to the Future" type movie. This being a Sunday afternoon, not a soul was around, giving the place a surreal Twilight Zone time-warp quality. I love being able to stand in the middle of a town's Main Street and take a picture without a single car approaching. Small western towns like this are wonderful... so different from New England where I'm from. When a business goes out of business in the Northeast, it's not long before it's modernized or torn down and something else takes its place. Out here, old places never seem to die and become museum pieces and roadside attractions for the eccentric roadside fan to gaze and marvel at. What the world need now is Lovell sweet Lovell.
Newark, Ohio is host to one of the greatest eccentric roadside attractions of them all: the Longaberger Basket Company's world headquarters. It's a 7-story office building in the shape of a giant picnic basket. It's actually modeled after the Longaberger "Medium Market," their best-seller. What a sight to see. We were lucky enough to visit on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning in 2007, the kind of day that would be just right for a picnic, albeit a really, really big picnic. The building was the brainchild of company founder Dave Longaberger and it was built in 1995, long after the 1930s heyday of buildings shaped like big things as roadside attractions. The $30 million steel-stucco structure features upright handles weighing 75 tons each. To match the building's ambiance, the grounds are beautiful and lushly landscaped like a real picnic spot. How great it must be to work in a building that's the world's biggest picnic basket. Heck, it would be fun just driving past it every day on the way to some other job. I wonder, though. Are there some really big ants looming over the horizon, because it wouldn't be a picnic... Here's their website: http://www.longaberger.com/ourCompany.aspx
I mentioned the stuffed badger that was leering at us while we ate our delicious complimentary continental breakfast at the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Super 8 motel in a previous post, and as luck would have it, I found a picture I snapped to forever remember that lovely occasion. Quite a bargain, too, at only $425. Precious and few are the moments we two can share.
This blog is devoted to old fashioned American roadside attractions... the wonderfully big, bizarre, crazy, wacky, quirky, weird, funny, unique and mundane sites you see travelling cross-country by car in the USA, where getting there really is all the fun!