"Hey, hey, easy kids. Everybody in the car. Boat leaves in two minutes ... Or perhaps you don't want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?"
This quote was delivered by Chevy Chase's character Clark Griswold in the 1983 family car-trip comedy "National Lampoon's Vacation." In the movie, the Griswold family treks across America in a station wagon called the "family truckster" to reach a theme park named Walley World. Walley World is fiction. But the ball of twine mentioned here by father Griswold isn't. In fact, there are two giant balls of twine you can visit while you road trip North America. One slightly smaller ball of twine sits in Cawker City, Kansas, and its larger cousin is on display in Darwin, Minn. But why would anybody roll an 11-foot (3.3-meter) ball of twine?
It's a legitimate question. And it's not the first time you'll repeat, "But why?" inside your head as you read the following list of road trip tourist traps. What other "world's largests" and odd attractions exist out there on U.S. and Canadian back roads? Who built these wacky statues and sites and why do they lure vacationers?
Resting atop a 60-foot stone formation in Spring Green, Wisconsin, the House on the Rock is one of the best-known architectural oddities in the United States. Built by eccentric artist Alex Jordan in the 1940s, the House on the Rock was his vacation home before being turned into a museum in 1961. Jordan sold the building in the early 1980s, but it continues to grow as a tourist attraction.
With 14 unique and lavishly decorated rooms - including the Infinity Room, with 3,264 windows -- and a surrounding complex that houses a miniature circus and the world's largest carousel, the House on the Rock is at once wacky, tacky, innovative, and elegant.
The Crazy Horse Memorial in Crazy Horse, South Dakota, is a labor of love that sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began in 1948 to honor the great Native American leader. Ziolkowski's life's work (until his passing in 1982), the sculpture is likely the most ambitious roadside project ever undertaken. Ziolkowski's family continues the project, but the statue remains very much a work in progress. The carving is a depiction of the legendary warrior on horseback and will measure 641 feet long by 563 feet high when completed.
Metropolis, in far southern Illinois, has nothing to fear these days because Superman lives there. In 1972, the town decided to capitalize on its famous name and subsequently adopted the moniker, "Hometown of Superman." A seven-foot-tall statue was erected in 1986, only to be replaced in 1993 by a more impressive 15-foot bronze monument. In 2008, a statue of Lois Lane will be erected next to her hunky beau in Superman Square.
Chuck the Channel Cat flips his tail at visitors cruising past his statue in Selkirk, Manitoba. Erected in 1986, the two-ton, 25-foot-tall monument to the area's enormous catfish greets visitors with a smile. Chuck's mission: to help promote Selkirk as the "Catfish Capital." It's a well-deserved title -- anglers on the Red River regularly reel in catfish up to 30-plus pounds.
Leave it to hockey-hungry Canadians to build the world's largest hockey stick and puck. The stick, which is made of Douglas fir beams reinforced with steel, is 205 feet long, weighs 61,000 pounds, and is 40-times larger than life-size. It was created for Expo '86 in Vancouver, British Columbia, before being sent to Duncan, where it has been a popular tourist attraction since 1988.
Located in Audubon, Iowa, Albert, the world's largest bull, stands 30 feet tall and weighs in at 45 tons . . . of concrete. Named after local banker Albert Kruse, the monster Hereford statue was built in the 1960s for Operation T-Bone Days, an event held each September to honor the days when local cattle would board trains to the Chicago stockyards. As an interesting side note, Albert's internal steel frame is made from dismantled Iowa windmills.
Looming 65 feet over the beach at Margate, New Jersey, Lucy the Elephant is the only example of "zoomorphic architecture" left in the United States. With staircases in her legs leading to rooms inside, the wide-eyed elephant was originally built in 1881 as a real-estate promotion. Over the years Lucy has served as a summer home, a tavern, a hotel, and a tourist attraction. Relocation in 1970 spared Lucy from demolition, and she received a loving face-lift and restoration in 2000.
Ho, ho ho! The Jolly Green Giant remains the towering symbol of the Green Giant food company, located in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Since 1979, the 55-foot-tall statue, who sports a size 78 shoe, honors the third-most-recognized advertising icon of the 20th century.
The city of Mitchell, South Dakota, proudly calls itself the "Corn Capital of the World," and it even has a palace in which to celebrate. The Mitchell Corn Palace, originally constructed in 1892, is now an auditorium with Russian-style turrets and towers and murals that local artists create each year out of corn and other South Dakota grains. After the annual fall harvest, pigeons and squirrels are allowed to devour the palace's murals until the next year when the process begins anew.
There are enough Paul Bunyan statues around the continent to delight any teller of tall tales. Representations of the big fella -- known for his ability to lay down more trees in a single swath of his ax than any contemporary logging firm -- can be found wherever there have been logging camps.
One of the most memorable statues is located in Bangor, Maine, the lumberjack's alleged birthplace, where a 31-foot-tall, 37,000-pound Paul shows off his ax and scythe. Other statues, such as those in Klamath, California, and Bemidji, Minnesota, show Bunyan accompanied by his faithful companion, Babe the blue ox.
Coral Castle was the brainchild of Edward Leedskalnin, who was jilted by his fiancée the day before their wedding. Crushed by the rejection, Leedskalnin moved from his home in Latvia and set out to build a monument to his lost love. The result was Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida. Without any outside help or heavy machinery, the distraught lover sculpted more than 1,100 tons of coral into marvelous shapes. The entry gate alone is made of a single coral block weighing nine tons. The fact that Leedskalnin was barely five feet tall and weighed only 100 pounds adds to the feat.
Determining the world's largest ball of twine can be difficult. But the hands-down winner in the solo winder category has to be the nearly 9-ton 11-foot-tall hunk of string on display in Darwin, Minnesota. Francis Johnson spent four hours a day between 1950 and 1979 rolling the ball. He used a crane to hoist the ever-expanding ball as it grew, to ensure uniform wrapping.
Another ball in the running is the 1,300-mile-plus length of string originally rolled by Frank Stoeber of Cawker City, Kansas. From 1953 until his death in 1974, Stoeber diligently wound this twine ball. Every August, Cawker City hosts a festival during which anyone can add a bit of twine to the ball, so it now outweighs the one in Darwin, but it has had more than one person working on it.
Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen
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