In 2018 I will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada. I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.
Judy Garland Birthplace – Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Jakeman’s Maple Syrup – Beachville, Ontario
Jackalopes Everywhere – Superior, Wisconsin; Wall, South Dakota; Douglas, Wyoming; Fort Worth, Texas
Jungle Jim’s Restroom – Cincinnati, Ohio
Jimmy’s Ice Cream – Waldo, Arkansas
Juke Boxes – Mel’s Diner – San Francisco, California
Jerry Siegel / Joe Schuster – Creators of Superman – Cleveland, Ohio
James Frank Kotera – JFK The Twine Ball Man – Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin
Jumbo the Elephant Statue – St. Thomas, Ontario
JELL-O Museum – Le Roy, New York
Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk – Riverside, Iowa
Jurustic Park – Marshfield, Wisconsin
Another of the premiere roadside attractions in America!!
J.C. Penney Mother Store – Kemmerer, Wyoming
Where it all started
Jesus in Cowboy Boots – Evergreen Cemetery – Paris, Texas
Three Jamestowns – Jamestown, New York; Jamestown, North Dakota; Jamestown, Virginia
James Garfield Monument – Lake View Cemetery – Cleveland, Ohio
Jackalope Capital of the World – Douglas, Wyoming
Get your Jackalope Hunting License Here
Joseph Smith Cabin – Palmyra, New York
Big Jud’s Gourmet Burgers – Rexburg, Idaho
Jaarsma Bakery – Pella, Iowa
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Joe Mama’s Fine Italian – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Jacobson Park – Lexington, Kentucky
My Happy Place
Jamaica Beach – Galveston, Texas
Jesus of the Ozarks – Eureka Springs, Arkansas
If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon. My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.
There are some super huge statues in this country. Giant behemoths that can be seen from far away.
Perhaps there is no place better for BIG than in Texas, where everything is supposedly bigger. Texas actually has three of the tallest statues in the United States, including two that honor the great Texas heroes Sam Houston and Stephen Austin. All three giant free standing statues exceed 70 feet in height (including the pedestal/base). This puts these giants in the top seven tallest monuments in the United States.
“Tribute to Courage” – Sam Houston Statue – The First Texas Giant “World’s Tallest Statue of an American Hero”
The tallest of the three is the “Tribute to Courage” statue of Sam Houston, located in Huntsville, Texas home of Sam Houston State University. This one stands 67 feet but also has a 10 foot pedestal, giving it a ground to top height of 77 feet. It was built in 1994.
This giant Sam Houston statue can be seen from far off when driving on Interstate 45, especially coming from the south. It stands on the right looking over the interstate proudly.
This statue, along with the one of Stephen Austin were both done by Houston Artist David Adickes from his Sculpturworx Studio.
Soon after artist David Adickes unveiled his Sam Houston statue, a group of Brazoria County businessmen decided that it was time to honor Texas founder Stephen F. Austin, too. Adickes agreed to do the statue, which was named “The Father of Texas,” at the same time he was working on his series of gigantic presidential busts for his Presidents Park in Lead, SD. By 2003, Adickes was ready to start assembling the concrete and steel statue. He assembled the 15 sections of the statue on a 12-foot, five-sided granite base, that took almost a year to piece together.
Much like the Sam Houston Statue, this one is 60 feet tall and sits atop a 12 foot tall pedestal, giving a total height of 72 feet. It can clearly be seen from Highway 288.
The third giant doesn’t quite fit the nature of these two Texas heroes. Instead, the Quan The Am Bo Tat (Also known as Quan Am – Mother of Buddha) statue in Sugar Land stands 72 feet tall as it towers over the Vietnamese Buddhist Center.
Quan Am – The Mother of Buddha
The idea for this statue was conceived in 1994 as the Vietnamese Buddhist Center in Sugar Land, sought for an artist to do one. By the end of June 2001, this 72 foot tall statue was dedicated.
The statue was designed an build by New Orleans artist Mai Chi. She escaped from Vietnam in 1989 and spent four years in a refugee camp in Indonesia. She has a literature degree from the University of Saigo and took up sculpting clay religious figures for Buddhist, Catholic and Muslim refugees while there. She also took up wood carving. After being asked to build this, Chi took a year to design the statue. According to Chi, the face came from dreams she had during the design period.
The statue is garbed in a long stately robe. Her right hand forms the circular Buddhist finger symbol meaning happiness and compassion. In her left hand, she holds a container of dew that brings peace and harmony. She stands atop a lotus flower, a universal symbol of Buddhism.
Without a doubt, perhaps the most interesting part of this work was that Mai Chi turned to her artistic mentor, David Adickes, the sculptor of the other two giants, for advice on the designing the interior. She completed the statue in seven sections and erected it in January 2001.
Other Giants of the U.S. that I have been to
Over the years, I have traveled and seen many other giants. Following are some of the others I have visited over the years.
The Statue of Liberty in New York is the tallest of all statues in the United States. It is 151 feet tall and stands upon a 154 foot pedestal giving it a total height of 305 feet. This was completed in 1886 and was designed and sculpted by Frédéric Bartholdi. I have visited the Statue on four occasions. The photo above was taken in December 1991.
The second tallest statue in the United States (according to the Wikipedia list) was completed in 1985 high on a mountain in Butte, Montana. Designed by Laurien Eugene Riehl, this statue stands 88.6 feet tall and can be seen from Interstate 15 in Butte. I took the photo above in March 2013 from way below using a zoom lens to capture it.
Standing 65.5 feet tall, the Jesus of the Ozarks statue was completed in 1966 and overlooks a nice park in the touristy town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I got to visit this statue in 2012.
The “Keeper of the Plains” statue in Wichita, Kansas only stands 44 feet tall, but it also sits atop a 30 foot pedestal making the total height of 74 feet. This was designed and created by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin in 1974. It stands at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers. I visited this in 2012.
The “World’s Tallest and Largest Indian” Statue of Hiawatha in Ironwood, MI is another wonderful giant. Hiawatha stands at 52 feet and weighs 16,000 pounds, including anchoring internal steelwork, and is engineered to withstand 140 mph winds. Hiawatha was built in Minneapolis in 1964, transported to Ironwood and erected in the “caves area,” on the site of the Old Norrie Iron Mine.
An icon of television advertising, the 55.5 foot tall Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN is another giant. This was built in 1979 by a radio station owner and commissioned by a Wisconsin company to build it. I have visited twice and both times was not able to do much due to torrential rains. The picture above is of my son Seth from a trip he took in 2005.
One of the last “giants” that I have visited is along the highway near New London, MO. This nearly 45 foot tall statue of Mark Twain is kind of funky with a giant head and small hands, but, it definitely fits the category of “giant”
Let’s face it, Americans love those quirky roadside attractions! We all know it and its time to admit it. As far back as the 1930s they have been around. But it was the 1960s and 1970s that really got the roadside things going as people traveled Route 66 and other US Highways. The quirky and offbeat were the drawing cards…the highways were our Disneylands!
Remnants of those days still hang around even as some artsy companies keep pushing them out to roadside restaurants, garages and filling stations.
One of the most iconic of the roadside tchotchkes were the Muffler Men, those roadside giants holding Mufflers and axes and other things. I remember them well from my youthful 1960s living in Albuquerque. There are now websites that are totally devoted to them (such as the American Giants website with great, professionally produced documentary-style videos made by Joel Baker and his team) and then my favorite site on the web Roadside America, which has a huge section about them including a detailed and fascinating (and well-researched!) history of these guys.
Like many travelers, a few years ago I figured there were only one kind of muffler man. But, as I have traveled across this country, I have run into a few of them and their derivatives as well as some that were mistaken as muffler men. Once again, the genius team at Roadside America has even gone to the trouble to create a glossary to identify the myriad variety.
So, as I drive the back roads of America, I am always on the look out for these friends of the freeways and heroes of the highways. I am nowhere close to have come across the dozens and dozens of them, but I have certainly stumbled on a few and even have enjoyed the variety of them as shown in this post.
The one above has a mustache and a cowboy hat. It is the parking lot attendant for a big casino in Great Falls.
So, what is the history. I suggest you read the entire story HERE. But, in a nutshell, it was Steve Dashell’s company, “International Fiberglass, that turned out thousands of commercial statues in the 1960s and 70s. International Fiberglass took a single statue mold created for a cafe and parlayed it into a roadside industry.” It turns out that International Fiberglass also created the green Sinclair Dino’s (many are still around) and some ESSO Tigers (remember those?). His first fiberglass giant was built in 1962 for a restaurant in Flagstaff, AZ. It was a Paul Bunyan looking Lumberjack. I am a graduate of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and, if I am not mistaken, that same Paul Bunyan now sits on the NAU Campus as does one other. (see the story here) Unfortunately, during my time at NAU I never took any photos of them….humph!!
Dashell’s company made some basic molds and then were able to use them to create a variety of styles. Some were made for Texaco, some for Uniroyal (a Female statue).
There are a few collectors out there and so they sometimes appear in out of the way places. Perhaps the most well known collector is Glen Goode in Gainesville, TX. (see RA Article Here). I visited Glen’s place in 2012. He has the BIG THREE including a Uniroyal Gal, a Muffler Man and a couple of Big Johns.
The Big Johns were made by a company in or around Cape Girardeau, MO in the late 1960s and 1970s. I have come across one of the originals in Metropolis, IL, with grocery sacks and all. It stands nearly 30 feet tall. Unfortunately, he is outshined by the 12 foot tall BRONZE Superman in Metropolis (added here for fun)
I also saw one as I drive into Mississippi from Tennessee, without the bags:
I also came across a “deconstructed Big John” at a place in St. Louis. The legs were on display in the front and the upper torso sat in the backyard…with the original checkered shirt.
Of course, I have run into a few more in my travels. There is a beer toting one in Sturgis, SD standing guard outside of the Full Throttle Saloon (yes, the one from the TV Show in 2013)
There is another one I came across in Hatch, New Mexico
While in Hatch I also came across another iconic fiberglass family…also created by International Fiberglass in 1963 when A&W introduced four choices of hamburgers and their corresponding Burger Family members: Papa Burger, Mama Burger, Baby Burger, and Teen Burger. There aren’t many of these around. I looked for the one in Hillsboro, Oregon in 2012 and couldn’t find it. I was thrilled to see this one in Hatch, NM.
But the Muffler Men, Big John and Uniroyal Gal are not the only big fiberglass folk out there. Ironwood, MI is home to the “World’s Tallest Indian Statue”, a 50 foot Hiawatha that was built in Minneapolis in 1964, transported to Ironwood. It is huge and can be seen towering above town at the end of main street.
Another big fiberglass creation is the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN. Added by Creative Displays (which later became F.A.S.T) in 1978. At 55.5 feet tall, he is a tad larger than Hiawatha.
Not nearly as large, but yet another roadside icon that continues on throughout the U.S. is the Big Boy statue. Actually, there are a couple of them.
As a young boy in Albuquerque, the Bob’s Big Boy was always a treat. We saw him in many places. These Big Boy statues were another creation of International Fiberglass. Many of them are gone now (there is even a site dedicated to Big Boy Graveyards). Nowadays in Kentucky there is Frisch’s Big Boy, which is headquartered in Cincinnati (the original Bob’s started near Detroit in Warren, MI). They have a different looking brother to the original.
Speaking of fiberglass burger guys, Seymour , WI proudly claims to be the home of the original hamburger and has erected a 12 foot fiberglass statue of “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen, the supposed inventor. (there are claims by other towns)
The town of Santa Claus, IN has a number of fiberglass statues of Santa, but the biggest and oldest (built in 1935) was made of cement.
There are a number of others around town. Here are a couple of the Santas that hang around Santa Claus, Indiana
Finally, a few other guys I have run into on the road….
And this ends Part I of my Fiberglass Giants. Part II will feature a few animals and birds. Part II will cover some giant fish and other oddities.