Saturday, June 29, 2013

I Goth You, Babe: The American Gothic sculpture of Trenton, New Jersey

 Sculptor J. Seward Johnson calls his 25-foot rendition of "American Gothic" "God Bless America".

 There's a terrific realistic sculpture of two normal-sized people across the street called "It's So Big!"

 Baby Goth back.

 Seward's sculpture has traveled around. Here it is in Chicago.

There's a renown sculptor named J. Seward Johnson who likes to work big. Really big. So when he decided to replicate Grant Wood's "American Gothic," he liberated the simple farm couple from their house backdrop and made them 25 feet tall and cast of aluminum. He also added a suitcase with travel decals from faraway places. Are the couple world travelers or is this a symbol of America's immigrant roots? You decide. A suitcase is also an appropriate addition because Mr. Johnson leases the sculpture out to different municipalities and it has traveled to several different locations, including Chicago, Indiana and Grant Wood's native Iowa. We were lucky enough to see it when it was on Chicago's Michigan Avenue back in 2009 so imagine the delight of seeing it again while passing near Trenton, New Jersey. There it sits near the Trenton train station and across from the Congoleum factory as part of the "Sculpture Along the Way" installations put on by The Sculpture Foundation. Across the street is another Johnson sculpture called "It's so big!" depicting a normal-sized man and woman gawking at the American Goths. This is a great visual effect because it gives a terrific sense of scale to the farm couple, and the regular-sized couple look extremely realistic (and a little bit randy) from a distance. Mr. Johnson is quite a hero to us eccentric roadside attraction fans, with his huge and wacky works of art that make you stand back and go "Wow!". We Goth to hand it to him.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What, me worry? The happy halfwit Muffler Man of Winslow, New Jersey

 An homage, a distant relative, or an incredible coincidence... decide.

There's an old-fashioned drive-in restaurant in southern New Jersey with a great mascot out front to lure in hungry beach-goers and locals to try the pastrami cheesesteaks, homemade onion rings and custard eclairs. A 3-story former Muffler Man with a face that's a dead ringer for Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman proudly stands watch in front of Mr. Bill's Coney Island Drive-In on Route 73 in Winslow, just off the Atlantic City Expressway. Mr. Bill's has been a South Jersey institution for over fifty years, and offers an authentic retro vibe where Richie, Potsie and Ralph Malph would feel right at home. When the drive-in first opened, its owner, Ray, named the place after his father-in-law, Bill. It was also Ray who purchased the Muffler Mad-Man and made him Mr. Bill's' master of ceremonies, getting the attention of eccentric roadside attraction fans ever since. Categorized as "happy halfwits" by the Muffler Man aficionados at, they are a rare mutation of the more common Paul Bunyan MMs, with similar bodies but heads of a more, shall we say, moronic nature. Which brings to mind a sage quote from Mr. Neuman himself: "It takes one to know one -- and vice versa!"

Monday, June 17, 2013

Smarty pants: Princeton, New Jersey's Albert Einstein museum in a clothing store

 This unassuming Ivy League clothing store houses the world's only permanent Albert Einstein exhibit.

 Go figure (literally).

 Albert Einstein's desk and chalkboard.

 Some of Landau's fine tweeds.

 In 2005, Princeton put up a bust of Einstein.

It's in a part of the park called EMC Square. Ba-dum-bum.

Even if you don't know bupkis about science, you've probably heard of the world's most famous equation, E=mc2 or the theory of relativity. That's because a German-born theoretical physicist figured out something so complicated and brainy about the mass of a body and the measure of its energy (or something like that, we're not quite sure) that he became a metaphor for anything mind-numbingly hard and scientific to the average frontally-lobed. That guy was Albert Einstein, of whom, one assumes, it was never said, "well, he's smart but he's no Einstein". One would also assume that someone of such great renown and accomplishment would have several permanent scientific exhibits on college campuses and places of higher learning the world over dedicated to his legacy. One would be wrong. Oh, there is a permanent Albert Einstein exhibit on the campus of Princeton University, where he taught later in his career, but it's not part of the science, math or physics departments. It's in the far back corner of Landau, a 97-year-old clothing store known for its woolen sweaters and tweed blazers. In among the fine lodens, cashmeres and shearlings are a couple of walls with photos, archival documents, posters, t-shirts and other Einsteinabilia. In 1994, while the movie "IQ" starring Walter Matthau as Einstein was being filmed at Princeton, Landau borrowed a lot of Einstein artifacts from locals and put up the exhibit. Five years later the exhibit became permanent. Not a lot, really, for Time Magazine's Man of the Century, but a tribute just the same. In 2005, the university finally put up a bust of Einstein in a nearby park. Why it took Princeton so long to honor its famous resident and the world's most famous scientist is a mystery. Seems like a no-brainer, relatively speaking.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jersey Girl: The former Miss Uniroyal of Blackwood, New Jersey

Nitro Girl stands in front of Werbany Tire Town, luring in tire customers in with her sex appeal.

 She holds a real car tire and has a harness for back support.

Baby got back.

 Nitro Girl was our third Uniroyal gal spotting. The first was Martha of Martha's Cafe in Blackfoot, Idaho...
 ...and the second was the gloriously restored biker chick of the Farnham Colossi of Unger, West Virginia.

New Jersey and Muffler Men go together like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band, and that includes their female counterpart, the Uniroyal Gal. Named for the tire brand they represented back in the '60s, the gals are a rare find for the eccentric roadside attraction fan., the electronic bible of all things Muffler, reports that there are only about 10 or so of these gals still out in public view, so it was worth a trip to Blackwood, New Jersey to see Nitro Girl, the mascot of Werbany Tire Town. She's decked out in a superhero-like blouse and skirt with a flying W logo on her chest and stars on her skirt, go-go boots and flip hair-do. Had we been at Werbany's during normal business hours (and not on a Sunday morning), we might have been able to obtain a Nitro Girl bobblehead doll, as some other patrons have. Alas, we'll have to make do with our memories, for this was a Nitro to remember.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Eccentric street name of the week

Because Street Street would be just plain silly.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Here's looking at you, kid: some old-timey optical viewers seen along the way

This one is Plymouth, Massachusetts... is this one.

 Montauk, Long Island, New York

 Hamonasset Beach, Madison, Connecticut

 San Francisco

 Niagara Falls

 This is a cool alternative viewer, also at Niagara Falls, that kinda reminded me of...


This one from Gloucester, Massachusetts is my all-time favorite.

You know you're at a truly awesome tourist location when they have one of those great old-time optical viewers from the Tower Optical Company. They've been making these binocular viewers since 1932 and the company is still going strong. I love how these machines have kept their sci-fi-of-the-past look they've had ever since I was a kid. Anyone got a quarter?