Greensburg’s Famous Tree Growing Out of the Roof of the Courthouse Tower

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The town of Greensburg, Indiana, is known as the “Tree City” for the over a dozen trees that have been growing out of the roof of the Decatur County Courthouse ever since 1870. They are believed to have sprouted from seeds in bird droppings.

In the year 1870, the citizens of Greensburg began to notice what looked like a small sprig growing on the northwest corner of the courthouse tower. No one paid much attention to it at first, but as the shrub grew into a young tree, it became the talk of the town. A few years later, five new sprouts were spotted on the tower roof, threatening to form a small grove atop the 110-foot-tall tower. Authorities were worried the tree roots might cause irreparable damage to the roof, so in 1888 a steeplejack was hired to cut down the smaller trees, leaving just one, which in time grew to about fifteen feet with a diameter of almost five inches at its base. It continued to brave the storms for many years, until it finally died, and was removed to a place in the Decatur County Historical Society Museum. But that was not the end of the now famous courthouse tower tree. In the meantime, another tree appeared on the southeast corner of the tower, and grew to a considerable height in just a few years time.

Greensburg-tower-tree

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Sculptor’s Beautiful Tree Carvings Reveal Their Inner Spirits

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The Tree Spirits of Saint Simmons Island are one of the most fascinating roadside attractions in North America. Carved into dozens of live oaks and hardwoods, the mysterious wise faces that seem to reveal the trees’ inner spirits are the work of local sculptor Keith Jennings.

Jennings started his Tree Spirits project in 1982, as a hobby. Looking for a way to kill time around the house, the artist armed himself with a few hand tools and began exercising his artistic talents on a tree in his backyard. “I had too much time and too little money,” Keith remembers about the beginnings as a tree carver, but his works impressed the community to such a degree that he was later commissioned to release the inner spirits of 20 other trees around Saint Simmons Island, off the Georgia coast. Although it has long been said that the faces he sculpts into the trees are meant to represent the sailors who drowned on ships made from trees from the island, Keith Jennings dismisses the rumor. “The trees do it all,” he says. “I don’t have that much to do with it. The wood speaks to you, ya know?” Each of his intriguing artworks are created entirely according to the tree they’re carved into. “I like the way they age as they. The bark starts rolling over the edges and gives each one a spooky, eerie appearance,” the artist says.

Tree-Spirits-on-Saint-Simmons-island

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Nit Wit Ridge – A Mansion Built Entirely from Junk

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Nit Wit Ridge is such a whimsical name for a house. And I must say, the place completely lives up to its name. The 90-year-old two-and-a-half acre ramshackle home on the outskirts of Cambria, California is a Historic Landmark in the area and a fine example of folk art. It is located just a few miles down the road from another famous landmark, the Hearst Castle. Nit Wit Ridge is one-of-a-kind because it was built using millions of bits and pieces of recycled trash, and took over 50 years to complete. Arthur Harold Beal, a.k.a. Captain Nit Wit or Der Tinkerpaw, was a local trash hauler and loved all things rubbish. He basically suffered from the inability to throw anything away, collecting everything that the Cambrians threw away. So he used all his collections over the years, along with natural materials on the property to build the house, an effort that took him nearly a lifetime to complete, given his self-taught construction skills.

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Meet the Flintstones in Arizona’s Real-Life Bedrock

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If you are a loyal Flintstones fan, then you’re going to love this, especially if you live around northern Arizona. Because that’s where the real-life Bedrock city is located. Not an actual city of course, but a place to go to 365 days a year to experience Stone Age with your favorite cartoon characters. Closed only on Christmas day, it’s an improvement over the first Bedrock city in Cluster, South Dakota, which is open only from the middle of May through Labor Day.

Arizona’s Bedrock City was built in 1972, by Francis Speckles, son of an investor. At the time it used to feature a live Fred and Barney. But that wasn’t easy to sustain, given the isolation of the area and the shortage of local workers. But the isolation is actually a blessing-in-disguise, because it gives the place a whole lot of charm, and an authentic Stone Age feel. Today, the place consists of colorful concrete structures that recreate the magic of the 1960s animated series. Located at about a half hour’s drive south of the Grand Canyon, Bedrock City is a great roadside stop for people who want to relive some wonderful memories, especially those who grew up in the 60s and 70s.

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Kansas Man Builds Golden Gate Bridge Replica in His Backyard

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Larry Richardson, from Mulvane, Kansas, spent 11 years building a 150-foot replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, out of 90 tons of concrete and lots of salvaged materials.

War veteran Larry Richardson has had only two great loves in his life, his wife Barbara and the Golden Gate Bridge, which he has dreamed of visiting since he was a senior at Derby High School, in 1967. ”I proposed to Barbara over the phone after we’d had one date,” Larry told the Derby Informer. ”I was a senior in high school and she was a sophomore. I don’t think she believed I was serious.” But he also told her to wait until he got a chance to see the Golden Gate Bridge he was so  fascinated by. It didn’t take very long, as he drove over the great American landmark in February of 1968, on his way to Vietnam, for a tour duty. It was dark outside, and although he had fulfilled his dream of seeing it in person, he remembers wishing he got a chance to walk on it for a bit and admiring all the details.

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The Real-Life Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs

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If you want to see what mermaids look like in real life, you’d better head for Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida. Considered to be one of the oldest and most unique road side attractions of the state, the 430-acre theme park has been entertaining people for the past 60 years. People from all over the US visit Weeki Wachee, located an hour north of Tampa, to view its most unique attraction – the beautiful women dressed like mermaids, swimming in the cool and clear spring waters.

Becoming a Weeki Wachee mermaid is no easy task, on the contrary, it’s something that even the most experienced swimmers would find hard to do. The job involves spending almost the entire day under water, at a temperature ranging in the lower 70s. This is difficult, because the ideal water temperature for adults is much higher, between 85 and 89 degrees. Putting on 30 to 45 minute performances, three times a day, seven days a week is certainly no easy task. To add to this, the ladies have to wear tight, 15-pound mermaid tails that zip up the side and bind their legs together. It sure does look beautiful, but it’s pretty hard to swim about as though you have only one leg. Throw in a synchronized choreography routine and underwater lip-synching while trying to breathe through a hidden rubber hose and you’ve got some real heroes here. With all these factors in play, the mermaids manage to swim gracefully, with pretty hand movements and smiling faces. They sure must be highly talented actors to hide all that discomfort.

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Utopix – French Family Turn Barren Field into Outsider Art

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Jo and Dominique Pillet’s home ‘Utopix’ is like something right out of a fairy tale. They started work on it about 30 years ago, and although it was completed as of 2010, it continues to evolve. The beauty of the house is not just in the construction, but the patience and perseverance put in by its builders, given that the land it stands on was considered to be barren. Utopix is located on an 11 hectare (27 acre) plot in Causse de Sauveterre, Lozere, France. Causses are sparsely populated plateaus of limestone. The limestone soil does not hold water and so the terrain is very much like a desert, but that didn’t stop this French family from fulfilling their dream.

The Pillets got married in the 70s and purchased their plot of land with the intention of building a beautiful home. Being artists themselves, they wanted to create something that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It’s been a long journey with several hurdles, but the couple has managed to complete the task and quite beautifully in fact. The construction project was started in 1979, and Jo Pillet mostly worked on it alone, or with the help of a few friends. He mostly made use of the abundant limestone in the region, structuring it in the form of igloos. The domed structures were then reinforced with concrete and wood, and later covered with stones to give them a cave-like feel. After two whole decades, the building finally began to take shape in 1992. Utopix has been quite popular since then, with local newspapers carrying stories, and several visitors coming to see it regularly.

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La Maison a Vaisselle Cassee – Outsider Art in Louviers, France

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La Maison a Vaisselle Cassée or The Broken Crockery House, is a very special place located in Louviers, France. I took a look at a few pictures and couldn’t help being reminded of the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel. Of course, you can’t eat this one and there’s no evil witch living there.

This was the home of Robert Vasseur and his wife, who abandoned wallpaper and painstakingly decorated their home with mosaics made from broken crockery, seashells, twinkling china and glass. Born in 1908, Vasseur was a milk transporter and also worked in textiles. His strange passion for mosaic decoration started way back in 1952 when he first got the idea while doing repair work in his kitchen. He embellished an old cement kitchen sink with broken crockery mosaics and never looked back. Starting with that old sink, he expanded his idea to the interior of his house, the backyard, then the garden and later even the dog house. This went on for the next 50 years or so.

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Leila’s Hair Museum Is a Tribute to Victorian Hair Art

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Leila Cohoon of Independence, Missouri is a retired hairdresser. She now teaches hair weaving and runs her own cosmetology school. She is however, linked to hair in more ways than apparent. Leila collects hair art, and puts it all on display in her museum.

What is hair art, you ask? We wondered the same. Contrary to expectations, the museum does not display human hair in bunches, like the hair museum of Avanos, nor is the hair taken from the heads of the dead. Ask Leila, and she explains that hair art consists of intricate wreaths of hair set in frames to create beautiful designs. These frames were frequently used to decorate Victorian homes. Leila’s collection started in 1956, with wreaths and jewelry made from hair. Initially she stored her collection in her house, under the bed. Around 20 years ago, she decided to display them and started a one-room museum in her cosmetology school. She later rented out a commercial space and runs her museum there. The walls of Leila’s Hair Museum are completely covered from floor to ceiling, with hair art. Her collection includes over 300 wreaths and 2000 pieces of jewelry containing human hair.

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Galleta Meadows – A Metal Menagerie of Incredible Creatures

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Galleta Meadows is a unique sculpture park of the Anza Borrego Desert, filled with dozens of metal creatures that supposedly inhabited the area millions of years ago.

The Anza Borrego Desert isn’t the most hospitable place on the North American continent, and it’s definitely not where you’d expect to find an outdoor art exhibit like Galleta Meadows. Owned by multimillionaire Dennis Avery (as in Avery office supplies), this unusual tourist attraction is a desert creature park open to anyone brave enough to face the desert and the unbearable heat that comes with it.

The story of Galleta Meadows began in the 90′s, when Avery decided to invest some of his fortune in a vast territory in Borrego Springs. Ho got it for an “uncontestable price” but had no idea of how he was going to use it, so he put no barbwire around it and no “Private Property” signs. Later, he built a winter residence, followed by a tourist resort, a country club and a golf course, but he needed something unique to attract tourist to his newly opened facilities.

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Fossil Cabin Museum Is Made of Thousands of Dinosaur Bones

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Often referred to as “the oldest cabin in the world”, the Fossil Cabin of Medicine Bow is a unique roadside attraction made of thousands of dinosaur fossils.

Located eight miles east of Medicine Bow, Wyoming, on US Route 30 is one of the most amazing tourist attractions in America – the Fossil Cabin. This starter cabin turned fossil museum is constructed of approximately 26,000 dinosaur bones extracted from the nearby Como Bluff dig site. It was designed by Thomas Boylan an entrepreneur who hauled out the dinosaur bones and together with his family completed the Fossil Cabin in 1933. Thomas had apparently been collecting dinosaur bones for seventeen years when he realized his entire pile of bones came from various species and there appeared to be no complete specimen, so he decided to use his collection as building material.

In 1938, Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe It or Not dubbed it “the oldest cabin in the world” and judging by the primary building material, he wasn’t exaggerating one bit. It gained a lot of attention after that and it brought a lot of customers to Boylan’s neighboring gas station, but after he died, and Interstate 80 was built, business started to go downhill. The Fossil Cabin was sold to the Fultz family who managed it as a fossil museum. Inside visitors could admire and in some cases purchases various dinosaur bones, petrified sea-life, and other things that appeal to dinophiles.

Unfortunately, Fossil Cabin is currently closed to the public, pending acquisition of a new manager, but you can stop by and shoot some great photos of its dinosaur bone walls.

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The Miniature Wonders of Ave Maria Grotto

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The Ave Maria Grotto is a four-acre park featuring 125 miniature reproductions of some of the most important Christian buildings and shrines, located in Cullman, Alabama.

Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature” this wonderful attraction was built from concrete, stone and seashells, by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of the nearby St. Bernard Abbey. Joseph was born in Germany, in 1878 and nearly lost his life to a flu epidemic that swept around Europe. He emigrated to the USA as a teenager, and settled in Alabama, where a freak accident left him scoliosis and a back injury. That’s probably the reason he decided to join the newly opened Benedictine monastery of Cullman. He took his vows at the age of nineteen and was put in charge of the monastery’s powerhouse.

It was around this time Brother Joseph began tinkering with stones, leftover cement and other junk he found outside the powerhouse. He would build Bible scenes from old ink bottles and rusted birdcages, and his handiwork soon attracted the attention of Father Dominic, who asked him to make two miniature grottoes for him to sell and raise money for the abbey. The artworks were so impressive they sold immediately, so what Joe though was just a one time deal turned into a regular business, and he ended up creating over 5,000 grottoes.

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Man Lives in Real Life Adams Family House

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Steve’s Weird House is a Victorian home decorated with all kinds of oddities and unusual artifacts one would expect to find in the Adams Family mansion.

Steve Bard, also known as “Weird Steve” is just an average guy from Seattle who has dedicated his life to decorating his humble abode in the most unusual way possible. Every inch of his house is covered with curiosities, circus sideshow exhibits, antique medical instruments and all kinds of other weird junk. The items in Steve’s collection include the world’s smallest mummy, Siamese twin calves, wreaths woven from human hair, skeletons, and various two-faced animals.

Apart from all the creepy decorations he collected over the years, Steve has also put together a veritable Toaster Museum with over 150 antique toasters, a Funky Future Room decorated in the style of “The Jetsons” and “Barbarella”, and a Minotaur Garden set up in his back yard. The latter features a 13-foot-tall bust of a minotaur, a 25-foot-tall Rapunzel Castle Tower and a sinister cemetery.

Unfortunately, Steve’s Weird House isn’t an attraction open to the general public. He likes to keep all his precious esoteric collections to himself, although he could probably make loads of money if he turned his house into a tourist spot. Still, you can check out the inside of this real life Adams Family mansion through a virtual tour and two Youtube videos, at the bottom.

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A Farewell to the Nevada Shoe Tree

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One of Nevada’s most popular roadside attractions, the Old Shoe Tree, near Middlegate has been cut down by vandals.

The Old Shoe Tree on highway 50 (known as the loneliest road in America) was one of the quirkiest tourist spots in Nevada, featuring hundreds of old shoes hanging from its branches. Its origins aren’t exactly clear, but locals say people started throwing their shoes in it, in the early 1990s.

According to a local legend, the first people ti throw their shoes in the Nevada Shoe Tree were a couple of newlyweds passing through the desert on their way to California. They began to argue, so the groom pulled over near a big cottontree and left his wife there to cool down, and he went to the Middlegate Station Bar, to get a beer. When he came back, his bride was still in a fighting mood, so he took her shoes and tossed them into the tree, than left t get another beer. This time, when he returned, they were able to patch things up, but the shoes remained stuck in the tree, so they just left them there.  Over time, people who stopped to cool off under the cotton tree saw the shoes and threw their own, thus transforming it into a roadside tourist attraction.

Unfortunately, no one will have the opportunity to throw shoes in the Nevada Shoe Tree, or even take photos of it, as it was cut down by vandals, right on New Year’s Eve 2011. Locals are outraged, since the 70-foot cottonwood wasn’t just a symbol of the area, but a big help for local businesses which relied on the tourists it brought in.

The Churchill County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the matter, but sadly, nothing is going to bring back the Old Shoe Tree of Nevada. Check out the photos below, if you’ve never seen it before.

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Elmer Long’s Bottle Tree Ranch

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The Bottle Tree Ranch created by Elmer Long is one of the most impressive attractions along Route 66, featuring hundreds with bottle-filled trees.

Elmer Long is the quirky artist behind the now famous Bottle Tree Ranch. He looks a lot like one of the guys from ZZ Top, but he’s really a fascinating man who loves greeting and getting to know the people who visit his roadside masterpiece. As a kid, Elmer used to travel through the desert, with his dad, who would collect any objects they found, and keep extensive notes about their location.

After Elmer’s dad died, he was left with a sizable collection of colorful bottles, but he had no idea what to do with it. One day, it hit him – he decided to build his first bottle tree. He got to welding and after he completed his work, knew that he had to go on. Elmer Long started the Bottle Tree Ranch in 2000, and since then has created over 200 scrap metal bottle trees.

Visiting the Bottle Tree Ranch of California’s Mojave County isn’t just about admiring the beautiful art installations, or hearing the sweet melody created by the wind going through the bottles, it’s also about meeting the artist. Elmer Long is just as fascinating as his bottle ranch, always welcoming guests and willing to strike up a conversation. He always complains about how people now prefer the interstates, even though they are completely soulless, compared to the old routes. He longs for the old days when people also traveled to discover the towns and wonders along the roads.

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