By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Did Jesus die so that someone would feed him a peanut?" they wondered in print.
Although their guidebook is not subsidized by Kodak, Wilkins claims there's only one hard and fast criteria regarding whether an attraction makes it into print: Can you take a picture of it? "There's got to be something there for you to see, even if it's just a plaque or a marker," explains Wilkins. However, the writer admits to bending that rule slightly so that the locations of several mysterious--but unmarked-- meat showers" could be included in the book.
Recalling how frozen hamburger patties rained down on Syracuse, New York, in 1957, Kirby reports, "The meat showers were too good to leave out. Plus, we needed something to flesh out our 'Meat Map' in the book." @rule:
@body:Distinguishing between true folk art and its faux equivalent gets trickier, since one man's twisted vision often looks a lot like someone else's self-conscious contrivance. Still, Kirby claims you only have to compare the artistic raison d'àtre behind the relatively obscure junked-car art project known as Carhenge with that of the visually similar (but much more calculated) Cadillac Ranch to get the general idea. A rough replica of Stonehenge fashioned out of automotive clunkers, Carhenge was built during a series of weekend family reunions held in Alliance, Nebraska, beginning in 1987. By contrast, the much-publicized Cadillac Ranch (a string of ten upended junkers planted along a stretch of highway just west of Amarillo) was funded by a wealthy Texas businessman working with an early-Seventies artists' collective known as the Ant Farm. "Cadillac Ranch is such a media darling that it crosses the line of being way too self-conscious," says Kirby. "Carhenge is a different story. It's about a bunch of people working on these piles of cars whenever they got together. There's something almost ritualistic about it that's very appealing to us. I don't get that same feeling from Cadillac Ranch at all." Significantly, Carhenge is listed in Roadside America, while Cadillac Ranch isn't.
"If you ever meet the original obsessive person behind one of these things, you can almost see the energy coming off them. And to have sufficient energy to keep going, they have to be angry or have some kind of a vision."
The distraught coal miner who constructed Antlerville on the lawn of his Wellington, Utah, home certainly qualifies on that count. Following a string of personal tragedies (including the death of a child struck by lightning), the miner tore out his lawn and began "planting" antlers he'd salvaged from nearby mountains. Says Wilkins, "His house was right on Highway 6, so as people, particularly truckers, heard about what he was doing, they'd drop off antlers on the doorstep every morning." Today the garden miner's widow welcomes visitors to the strange garden, which currently harbors more than 12,000 antlers.
@body:Elvis' X-rays. Rancid alligator pits. Moldering mummies. In days gone by, thrill-seeking motorists who stumbled into tourist traps could expect to see just about anything--except good taste. But Kirby and Wilkins sadly report that rampant political correctness has even infiltrated the world of the backwater tourist attraction.
Bowing to the PC powers-that-be, Dillon, South Carolina's South of the Border (a Tijuana-themed tourist complex) scrapped advertising brochures written in Speedy Gonzales-style pidgin English (all rooms weeth floor model color TV an' teeny weeny personal fridge!") in favor of bland copy Kirby and Wilkins believe to be written by "a goon journalism major from South Carolina Normal with blow-dried hair."
In a "Just Say No" mode, South Dakota's Deadwood has renamed its Chinese Opium Tunnel Museum the Chinatown Tour. And fearing a backlash from activists who object to efforts to humanize the animal kingdom, Monkey Jungle in Miami, Florida, no longer peddles postcards of a chimpanzee in an astronaut suit preparing to lift off in a garbage-can space capsule.
Though many people assume that the alligator farms, enchanted forests and other cheezoid tourist traps that fill Roadside America are hokey holdovers from the Burma Shave era, Kirby reports that a ten-year slump in the economy has been a fertile breeding ground for America's next generation of tourist attractions. Looking to tap into the tourist wallet, a number of cities have parked larger-than-life replicas of everything from shrimp to cherry pies in the town square. Just last year, the Hidalgo, Texas, chamber of commerce spent $17,000 to erect "The World's Largest Killer Bee" to capitalize on the swarm of Africanized honeybees that buzzed the border town in 1990.
"Small towns desperately look to tourism for their next meal," report Kirby and Wilkins. "Like ducks at a petting zoo, they know you have corn."
While a number of financially strapped communities stake their future on the drawing power of mammoth menageries, the town fathers in other hamlets wouldn't know a tourist opportunity if one hit them on their heads. Or so Wilkins discovered upon recently confirming a hard-to-believe rumor that, yes, a piece of the Russian satellite Sputnik really had crashed into a Manawa, Wisconsin, sidewalk some 35 years ago. "They had to give the real [satellite shrapnel] back to Russia, but they've got a replica piece in the town museum," reports an exasperated Wilkins. "They even put a brass star in the sidewalk to mark where it hit. Then, after all that, this thing isn't even listed in any of the town literature." Still, Wilkins shouldn't be too hard on the Manawa Chamber of Commerce and its neglected Sputnik sidewalk.