Since the advent of automobile travel a century ago, a handful of pride-filled communities across the country have felt the need to build monuments to honor local history or a popular regional symbol.
Obsessive-compulsive individuals made it their life’s work to build and display a great curiosity. Quirky, artistic visionaries have been driven to leave their fantastic mark on the landscape.
- It’s located along the side of the road for a spontaneous stop.
- It doesn’t cost anything to see.
- It must be positioned for an easy selfie.
- It must be absurd in some way.
Here’s a list of some of America’s most interesting, famous, obscure, and quirky roadside monuments, organized by popular categories. Save the list, clip it to your sun visor, and consult it the next time you’re traveling the highways and byways of this great land.
In 1974, an avant-garde artist group, Ant Farm, and eccentric millionaire Stanley Marsh 3, half-buried 10 Cadillacs, vintage 1949 to 1963, nose-first, along a desolate stretch of Route 66. The display—with each car placed at the same angle as the great pyramid of Giza in Egypt—has become an iconic public art display. The Cadillacs are routinely desecrated by vandals, and visitors are encouraged to bring along a can of paint and add their own graffiti.
Strange, But True …
World’s Largest Ball of Twine
Cawker City, Kansas
This sleepy, crossroads town, population 469, built its identity around a giant ball of twine sitting under a canopy on down- town’s Wisconsin Street. Frank Stoeber started rolling the ball of sisal twine in 1953 and grew it to 5,000 pounds in four years. He then offered it to the town in 1961. Surprisingly, the town accepted the donation. If you arrive in August, you may be lucky enough add to the ball during the town’s Twine-a-thon. The ball is estimated to weigh almost 20,000 pounds and growing.
Monuments to American Manufacturing
World’s Largest Catsup Bottle
No, the 70-foot catsup bottle rising over the tree line along Highway 159 east of St. Louis is not filled with America’s favorite condiment. The water tower was erected in 1949 by the once-booming Brooks Foods to provide water for fire protection at its factory. When the whimsical water tower was abandoned in the 1990s, local preservationists took action to save it, and now hold an annual festival to honor its historical significance.
Unreal Giant Tire
Allen Park, Michigan
An 80-foot-tall tire, once serving as a Ferris wheel at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, is now an unofficial welcome sign for the Motor City, located along Interstate 94 just outside of Detroit. It no longer sports the sleek gondolas that carried 2 million visitors at the fair, including First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and First Kids Caroline and John John, but it remains a tribute to what you can do with 12 tons of fiberglass and a little black paint.
Longaberger’s Basket Building
NOTE: It was announced in February 2016 that the Basket Building would be closed, and employees would relocate to Longaberger’s manufacturing plant in Frayzesburg, Ohio.
On a pleasant drive on Highway 16 in central Ohio, you might be thinking, “Good time to stop for a picnic lunch.’’ And then you encounter the picnic basket for the ages, the seven-story headquarters of the Longaberger Company. The manufacturer of baskets commissioned construction of new offices to be a replica of one of its popular products, only 160 times larger. The whimsical structure opened in 1997 and has been a roadside sensation ever since.
Want to see the rest of the list? Visit pages 180-184 of the 2016 edition of the Farmers’ Almanac for the complete story.