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The US has no shortage of bombastic, creative, weird and wacky monuments that you will likely not find anywhere outside the US.
Below is a growing list of such monuments that we have visited. Each comes with a description, background information and exact location so that you can find them and get wowed by them.
Enjoy and please let me know how you liked them.
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This is the location in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles where Laurel and Hardy famously try to carry a piano up 133 steps in short film comedy “The Music Box”.
The film was released in 1932 and in it a woman orders a piano as a surprise birthday gift for her husband Professor Theodore von Schwartzenhoffen, M.D., A.D., D.D.S., F.L.D., F-F-F-and-F.. The Laurel and Hardy Transfer Company is then hired to deliver it to 1127 Walnut Avenue.
A postman then tells Laurel and Hardy that that the home is at the top of a very long stairway. So, they attempt to carry the piano up the stairs, which results in the piano rolling and crashing down the stairs multiple times, twice with Ollie in tow. I remember watching this on TV when I was a kid and I still love it. Here is a link where you can watch this TV classic.
Unlike as in the film, the set of steps does not end up at a house, but at another street: Descanso Dr.
Watts Towers are currently closed for restoration and there is little to see. Please check the Watts Towers Arts Center website for up-to-date information.
From 1921 to 1954, Italian immigrant Sabato ("Simon") Rodia (1879–1965) constructed a total of 17 interconnected towers with various mosaics on a piece of land that he purchased when he moved to Watts, Los Angeles in 1917. He did it all by himself and one day on 1954, he just vanished.
The tallest tower is 99.5 ft (30.3 m) tall. At the age of 42, in 1921, he was an unskilled day laborer, barely literate, almost broke and often drunk, he began by digging a foundation and then started building the towers. He had no plans, he just built something.
He used steel rebar, a type of concrete he invented and wrapped it with wire mesh. Decorations are broken pieces of porcelain, tile, colored glass, seashells, mirrors, etc. Many of this he got from neighborhood kids.
Rodia called his Towers "Nuestro Pueblo" (= "our town"). In 1954, he suffered a mild stroke and shortly after he fell off one of the towers. This, and the never ending battle with the city of Los Angeles for permits for his work, frustrated him. So, he quitclaimed his property to a neighbor and left.
A few years later, the city of Los Angeles condemned the structure and wanted it torn down. Fortunately, the towers had become famous by that time and opposition formed. Community activists formed the Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts to save the towers. The city, concerned about the structural integrity of the towers, required that an engineering test was to be done to verify that the structure was safe. A crane was brought onsite to pull the towers with various forces with a steel cable. The result of the test in 1959 was that the towers withstood the force of 10,000 lbs but the crane broke. Even during the 1994 Northridge earthquake only a few pieces were shaken loose.
Interestingly, Rhodia achieved this remarkable strength by anchoring his towers less than 2 feet (0.61 m) in the ground.
Blakely, Georgia, is nicknamed the "Peanut Capital of the World". It is therefore not surprising to find a prominently displayed monument that is honoring peanuts which have put this small Georgia town on the map. The monument, which was built in 1954, sits in front of the County Courthouse. It is 8ft tall and it has an oversized 3ft peanut on top.
The Big Red Apple is one of the world's largest apple monuments, but not the biggest. It was built in 1925 and dedicated in 1926 near the old train depot and weighs 5,200 lbs (2.4 t) and is 7 ft (2.1 m) tall.
Originally, cotton was the main crop in northeastern Georgia. Towards the end of World War I, farmers switched to diversify their crops, so if one crop failed, they still had income from the other. Farmers in the Cornelia area then added apples and peaches.
Interestingly, only a few years later, in 1922, the boll weevil bug began destroying Georgia’s cotton crops in Georgia with the effect that the cotton production dropped by 50% in 1924.
People in Cornelia realized that it was the newly cultivated apples that saved them and they decided to build The Big Apple statue.
Erected in 1980, this monument has a secretive history. Apparently, in 1979, the Elberton Granite Finishing Company was approached by a man with the pseudonym Robert C. Christian who wanted to get a monument built that would function as a compass, calendar, and clock, and that should be capable of "withstanding catastrophic events". He claimed that he represented "a small group of loyal Americans who believe in God", who had been planning the guidestones for 20 years and who wanted to remain anonymous. The guidestones were to be erected on a 5 acre land was R.C. Christian had purchased in 1979 from a local farm owner who was given lifetime cattle grazing rights on the land. The site was selected because it is the highest point in Elbert County
The monument, using Pyramid Blue Granite, was unveiled in 1980 before an audience of either 100 or 400 people; the exact size is unclear. R.C. Christian later transferred ownership of the land and the guidestones to Elbert County.
Several conspiracy theories have sprung up and the monument was vandalized at least twice.
The monument consists of four major stones (each 16 ft 4 in (4.98 m) tall weighing 42,437 lbs (19249 kg)). There is also a center stone of the same height with a weight of 20,957 lbs (9506 kg).
The capstone is 9 ft 8 in (2.95 m) long and 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) wide and 1 ft 7 in (0.48 m) tall and weighs 24,832 lbs (11264 kg).
The inscriptions are in 8 modern languages (English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian) and 4 ancient languages (Babylonian in cuneiform script, Classical Greek, Sanskrit and Ancient Egyptian in hieroglyphs).
The inscriptions are:
There is also an additional explanatory granite ledger in the ground a few feet to the west of the monument. It tablet identifies the structure and the languages and provides facts about the monument like size, weight, and astronomical features, etc. It also makes reference about a time capsule, but the relevant spaces are left blank, so it is unclear if the time capsule was ever buried.
The four large stones are oriented to mark the limits of the 18.6 year lunar declination cycle. The center column has a hole drilled through it from which the North Star can be seen and it has another slot which is aligned with the sun's solstices and equinoxes. It allows sunlight to pass through it at noon every day to reveal the day of the year.
Due to these astronomical features, the monument is sometimes called “American Stonehenge”.
Now, the big question is: What are the guidestones supposed to tell us? The most widely agreed-upon interpretation is that they describe the basic concepts that are needed to rebuild the human civilization after it was devastated. Some point out that the guidestones were built in at the height of the Cold War, and could therefore be intended as a message to the possible survivors of a nuclear World War III. Potential support for the world war claim comes from the suggestion to keep human population below 500 million.
In 1986, the Lions Club of McRae decided to build a Statue of Liberty and a Liberty Bell for the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty "as a reminder to citizens what America really means".
Their budget for this undertaking was tiny, so they used junk and scrap metal and built a 1/12 scale version of the original Statue of Liberty. The head was carved with a chainsaw from a stump that was pulled out of a nearby swamp.
The Liberty Bell replica is actually the old fire bell of McRae with an added crack.
The Confederate Memorial relief is located in Stone Mountain Park and depicts three Confederate leaders of the Civil War: Confederate President Jefferson Davis on his horse Blackjack, General Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveller and General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson on his horse Little Sorrel.
The carved surface area measures 1.6 acres (6,400 m2) and is 76 ft x 158 ft (23 m x 48 m). It is located 400 ft above ground and is recessed 42 ft (13 m) into the mountain.
Originally, sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who would later sculpt the faces of the US’s three greatest Presidents on Mount Rushmore, was chosen for this project. His vision was gigantic: five groups of figures, 65 mounted officers, 700 to 1,000 men from General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. He was, however, fired in 1925 due to financial conflicts between him and the Association who was tasked to create the monument. Borglum then destroyed his models, because he considered them his property. He then narrowly escaped to North Carolina, whose governor refused to extradite him.
Later that year, Augustus Lukeman took over the project and the project was downsized to a smaller design. Fundraising was difficult and work stopped in 1928 and the project was further delayed due to World War 2. Work finally restarted in 1964 and finished in 1970.
The monument is controversial, because the Ku Klux Klan helped with financing and had a significant influence on the project and, of course, because it depicts the three leaders that fought to preserve slavery. The Klan’s annual Labor Day cross-burning ceremony was held on Stone Mountain for 50 years.
After the Charleston church shooting in 2015, a movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy started in various states and it was proposed to remove the Confederate Memorial from Stone Mountain. The political debate is still ongoing and we will see what will happen in the future.
Close to the Canadian border and measuring 30 ft in height, Tommy Turtle is the largest turtle in the world. He sits on an even larger (34 ft long) snowmobile, which, of course is also the largest of its kind. As a matter of fact, Tommy is probably the only snowmobile-riding turtle on the planet.
Built in 1978, Tommy Turtle marks the gateway to the Turtle Mountains which were eroded off during the last ice age. Nowadays, the former mountains are not much more than a plateau with its tallest peak, Boundary Butte, rising 1,031 ft.
Take a closer look at Tommy. You will see that his eyes and nostrils are tilted quotation marks and only 6 colors were used to paint his exterior.
A local business owner in Dunseith, ND near the Canadian border, had collected more than 2,000 wheel rims over a period of 16 years.
In 1982, he asked an artist to create a piece of art out of all these rims. Inspired by the proximity to the Turtle Mountains, it was decided to weld all the rims together to form a giant turtle.
The turtle is 18 ft tall and 40 ft long. The head alone weighs over a ton.
Originally, there was a motor to move the head, but for safety reasons, it was removed as people liked top climb the statue and could have gotten smashed by the heavy head.
"Dakota Thunder", the "World's Largest Buffalo Monument", is 26 ft (7.9 m) tall and 46 ft (14 m) long. It depicts an American Bison ad is the source of Jamestown’s nickname: The Buffalo City.
Built in 1959 with a steel beam frame structure shaped with wire mesh and covered with stucco and cement, the monument was the only structure on the hill where it was built. Starting in the mid-1960s, the city began expanding the site by moving historic buildings near the monument eventually creating the “Frontier Village” from in the 1800s that you see today.
Salem Sue a 38 ft (12 m) tall and 50 ft (15 m) long hollow fiberglass Holstein cow monument that was built in 1974 for $40,000. It was sponsored by the New Salem Lions Club in honor of the local dairy farming industry.
Salem Sue, who can be seen from as far as 5 miles away, is the second giant roadside animal sculpture built in North Dakota after the World's Largest Buffalo Monument in Jamestown, ND.
Drive up the road to Salem Sue and take as many photos as you like.
In 1928, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) used a now outdated cardboard method to determine the center of North America and found that it was located 15 miles southwest of Rugby, ND. To mark the center, the town of Rugby erected this 15 ft obelisk in 1931 that you can still see today. Rumor has it that it was moved to its current location in the parking lot when Highway 2 was widened.
Recently, a new calculation was done using the azimuthal equidistant projection method which takes the Earth’s curvature into account and it was found that the true geographical center of North America is actually located in the town of Center, ND which is about 145 miles away.
As far as I know, Center, ND has no monument, so you the one in Rugby, ND is the best thing you can get.
The World's Largest Free Rubber Stamp is located in Willard Park in downtown Cleveland. Its dimensions are 28 ft 10 in x 26 ft x by 49 ft (8.79 m x 7.9 m x 15 m). The word FREE is depicted in its stamping area. It was chosen, because the original location for this monument was supposed to be across the street from the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument and FREE was to symbolize abolition of slavery and the freedom of the slaves. Also, the stamp was originally supposed to be standing upright and pressing down on the stamp pad. The stamp pressing down on the word FREE was to symbolize that, even today, many are not free.
The monument was commissioned by Standard Oil of Ohio (SOHIO) in 1982 for display at their future headquarters building, SOHIO then merged with BP and the responsible manager at BP did not like the stamp and was placed in storage until 1991, when BP donated the sculpture to the city of Cleveland. After a modification, so that the stamp could lie on its side, it was moved to its current location in Willard Park.
Built from 1995 to 1997, this seven-story, 180,000 square foot building was the headquarters of The Longaberger Company that manufactures and distributes of handcrafted maple wood baskets. The basket is a 160 times larger replica of a Longaberger Medium Market Basket. It is 192 ft x 126 ft at street level and 208 ft x 142 ft at the roofline. The two basket handles weigh almost 150 tons and can be heated during cold weather to prevent ice damage. In 2016, the company moved their headquarters to Newark, OH and abandoned the building.
In 2017, the building was purchased by a developer who put it up for sale in 2018. The building did not sell and current plans appear to be to convert the still abandoned building into a luxury hotel.
On May 27, 1962, firefighters in Centralia set fire to the town landfill in order to “clean it up”, just like they had done in the past. Unfortunately, this time the fire was not fully extinguished and entered the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia through and unsealed opening in the pit.
An alternative explanation is similar, just that one day earlier a trash hauler dumped hot coal ash that was discarded from coal burners into the open trash pit.
It took until 1981 for the public to become aware of the fire when a 12 year-old fell into a sinkhole that opened underneath him. Fortunately, he was saved by his cousin.
In 1983, most residents accepted buyout offers from the US Congress and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania invoked eminent domain on all properties, condemning them.
Most buildings have been demolished by now. The last five remaining residents settled their lawsuits and gained the right to stay in their homes for the rest of their lives.
The fire has spread to the nearby village of Byrnesville, which was abandoned and ceased to exist when the last home was torn down in 1996.
It is not save to visit Centralia. There are several areas where poisonous smoke vents through the ground. The ground has been weakened by the underground fire and can cave in under weight at any time.
The “Graffiti Highway”, a closed-off section of Route 61, is no more. It was covered by a thick layer of dirt to keep visitors from putting themselves and others in danger.
Shoe salesman Mahlon Haines built this house, which is modeled after a work boot, as an advertisement in 1948. He never lived in the house, but chose to rent it out as a vacation home.
The house is 25 ft (7.6 m) tall and contains five stories.
An ice cream shop is located in the instep, the living room is in the toe, the kitchen in the heel, and the two bedrooms in the ankle.
Over the years, the house has had 7 owners. The current owners purchased it in 2015 and painted it in the original canary-yellow color with a brown sole. The photo below is from 2004 when I visited it.
The house can be toured from the 1st day of spring until the last Saturday of October. The opening times vary (see here) and admission is $5 per person.
Built in the early 1990s from two oil tanks and weighing nearly 3,000 pounds, this UFO is sitting in a small park at the corner of Pittsburgh St and Grand Ave in Mars, PA.
Nobody knows for sure how Mars got its name, but local businesses are going all-in and have names like Mars National Bank and Mars Pizza.
Two theories for the city name appear most plausible:
the wife of the first resident, Samuel Park, enjoyed astronomy and selected the name
Mars is a shortened form of Marshall from Samuel Park’s friend Samuel Marshall
Church Bew Works, or Church Brewery, is a brewery and restaurant located in a restored former St. John the Baptist Church, a Roman Catholic church. The church was built in 1902 and was in use as a church until 1993. Church Brewery opened in the former church in 1996 and it has become a classic ever since.
Here is more information.
Commissioned in 1895, the USS Maine was an armored cruiser and the first US Navy ship to be named after the state of Maine. She was sent to the harbor in Havana, Cuba to protect US interests during the Cuban War of Independence. On the evening of 15 February 1898 she exploded and sank, killing 75% of her crew.
Her sinking and the American propaganda blaming Spain for the incident catalyzed the outbreak of the Spanish–American War about two months later. The phrase, "Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!" was coined at that time.
A US Navy investigation in 1898 ruled that an external explosion from a mine sank the USS Maine. This ruling was controversial as some US Navy officers disagreed and suggested that the ship's magazines had been ignited by a spontaneous fire in her coal bunker. The coal in the bunker was bituminous, which is known to release flammable methane gas that can cause explosions. An investigation 1974 agreed with the coal fire hypothesis. Later investigations found that both theories are probably and we may never know which of the two is right.
In 1912, the US Navy re-floated the ship, salvaged masts, anchors and other things, towed it out to sea and sank it again. The salvaged objects were given to museums across the nation.
In 1914, one of the six anchors of the USS Maine's was given the Pennsylvanian town of Reading where it was dedicated by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in its City Park.
The exact geographical center of the USA lies on private land (map) about 22 miles outside of Belle Fourche and, unfortunately, you cannot go there.
But you can do the second best thing and that is to visit the Geographic Center of the Nation monument and museum in the nearby town of Belle Fourche.
With the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the Union, the monument was moved here from Rugby, ND where the contiguous geographic center of the USA is located.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is located about 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. When finished, the memorial will depict the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing to his tribal land. Carving the mountain started in 1948 and, so far, only the face has been finished. The whole undertaking is progressing only slowly, because the non-profit organization undertaking this monumental task does not accept federal or state funding.
The planned final dimensions of the sculpture are 641 ft (195 m) long and 563 ft (172 m) tall. Crazy Horse’s arm of will be 263 ft (80 m) long and the head 87 feet (27 m) tall.
As a comparison: the heads of the four US Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) tall.
In October 1931, the Sicangu and Oglala Lakota chief, Luther Standing Bear wrote to Mt. Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum: “it would be "most fitting to have the face of Crazy Horse sculpted there. Crazy Horse is the real patriot of the Sioux tribe and the only one worthy to place by the side of Washington and Lincoln.".
South Dakota historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea of carving the faces of notable historic figures into South Dakota’s Black Hills mountains to promote tourism. Proposed were American West heroes like Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill and Crazy Horse. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum chose the four presidents that you see today and oversaw the project from 1927 until his death in 1939 upon which his son continued the project until its termination in 1941. The monument features the 60 ft (18 m) heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. They were chosen to represent the nation's birth, growth, development, and preservation.
Mount Rushmore, which is called "The Six Grandfathers" by the native Lakota Sioux has an elevation of 5,725 feet (1,745 m) above sea level and is largely composed of granite.
Originally, the Treaty of Fort Laramie had granted the Black Hills to the Lakota people in 1868, but after gold was found in the area, the United States forcefully annexed the Black Hills in the Great Sioux War of 1876.
Originally built in 1892, the corn palace has been rebuilt several times. Today’s building was completed in 1921 and the minarets were added in 1937.
The Corn Palace is a multi-purpose arena which is used for concerts, sports events, exhibitions and other community events.
Local artists design a new mural for the building exterior every year and the building is then decorated using corn and other grains in 12 naturally-occurring shades of corn which are grown by local farmers. The cost to redecorate the building is said to be close to $200,000 which includes approximately 1.5 million nails and 325,000 ears of corn. Each corn cob is split in two halves lengthwise and nailed to the building.
The Corn Palace draws about 500,000 people every year and it is celebrated at the annual Mitchell Corn Palace Festival.
From 1887 to 1930, at least 34 corn palaces were built across the US, but today only Mitchell’s Corn palace remains.
WonderWorks, who are known for their upside down buildings, have amusement parks not just in Pigeon Forge, TN, but also in Florida (Orlando and Panama City Beach), Myrtle Beach, SC, Syracuse, NY and Branson, MO.
Their slogan is "Let Your Imagination Run Wild" and each park has more than 100 interactive and adventure edu-tainment exhibits for visitors of all ages.
In the topic area Natural Disasters, visitors can experience e.g. a Tesla Coil emitting 100,000 volts of electricity, feel a 5.3 magnitude on the Richter Scale earthquake and 74 mph wind in the Hurricane Shack.
In the Physical Challenge are, there is e.g. a Bed of Nails with 3,500 nails, visitors can create bubbles big enough to fit inside in the Bubble Lab, etc..
There are other sections like Light and Sound, Space Discovery, Imagination Lab, Far Out Art Gallery, and some others.
Long story short: WonderWorks is definitely worth a visit.
This bright yellow painted restaurant and motel is known for its 72 ounce (4.5 pounds or 2.04 kg) steak that comes free of charge, if you can eat it and all side dishes within 1 hour. You will be seated at a special table with a big clock and nobody is allowed to help you. If you fail, then it costs you $72.
If you master this challenge, which they do since 1960, then your meal is free and you can add your name on the list of steak heroes which, at the time of me writing this, has 9872 entries.
In case that you are not up to such a beefy challenge, don’t worry, this is also a normal steakhouse and brewery with regular-sized portions.
In 1974, ten Cadillacs (1949-1963) were buried nose-first in the ground on private land on the outskirts of Amarillo as a public art installation and sculpture.
In 1997, the Cadillacs were moved 2 miles west to their current location. Still located on private land and visible from the highway 40, people are encouraged to visit (drive along the frontage road, park nearby and walking through the unlocked gate) and spray-paint graffiti on the vehicles. Yes, you read that right!
James Brown’s music video of the 1985 song "Living in America" features images of Cadillac Ranch and so does Brooks & Dunn’s 2009 song "Honky Tonk Stomp".
Bruce Springsteen and Chris LeDoux have songs called "Cadillac Ranch".
If you are interested in seeing odd things, look no further. The World's Tallest Filing Cabinet stands in Burlington, it is easily accessible and there is no admission. It was built in 2002 by welding filing cabinets on top of each other. By now, the cabinets are pretty rusty and some are being used by birds for nesting.
Located near an onramp to US Highway 30 in Chester, you will need to be careful when you visit this attraction and find a parking sport across the road, e.g. the gas station.
The teapot is 14 ft (4.3 m) tall and 14 ft in diameter
The teapot was originally a large barrel shaped Hires Root Beer sign. After it was brought to Chester in 1938, it was converted into the teapot.