Sunday, June 11, 2006

Weird America: Vacation Spots You Might Have Missed Without This Column

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Summertime, and the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin', etc.

And with summer comes that great American tradition, the traveling vacation, wherein we pack up the family, stuff our bags and vehicles to the bursting point, and head out in search of adventure, edification and/or the perfect tan.

Which means that, once again, it's time for this column's annual roundup of vacation destinations you might never have considered otherwise -- the offbeat, the unusual and the just plain weird.

Many vacationers, seeking to enhance their cultural awareness, take vacations where they can visit the world's great museums and see the great works that have inspired and edified mankind. Paris. Milan. St. Petersburg (the one in Russia).

But right here in America, we have the world's only museum dedicated to the preservation and display of bad art. It's called, appropriately enough, the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) and it's located, appropriately enough, in a basement, just outside the men's room of the Dedham Community Theater near Boston.

MOBA was born, according to its Web site, the night founder Scott Wilson pulled a painting from a trash can. That painting, "Lucy in the Field with Flowers," became the "cornerstone" of MOBA's collection. And, let me tell you, it's pretty darned bad. You can see it online at MOBA's Web site, along with such truly abysmal creations as "Madonna and Child III" (which, according to the catalog, "places the spiritual above the physical through careful disregard for details of the human form") and "Sunday On the Pot With George" (need I say more?)

India has the Taj Mahal, which was, according to historians, built by one of the Mogul emperors as a monument to his late wife. Florida has its own monument to lost love: the Coral Castle, an enormous sculpture garden carved out of more than 1,100 tons of coral rock by a fellow named Ed Leedskalnin.

Back in 1913, Ed's sweetie, Agnes Scuffs, backed out of their engagement on the day before the wedding. Now, lesser men would have eased their sorrows in booze, drugs or other fast living. But Ed, of hardy Latvian stock, decided to build a monument to his faithless sweetie out of coral, using only simple hand tools.

It took him more than 28 years. When it was finished, each section of the Castle's wall measured 8 feet tall, 4 feet wide, 3 feet thick, and weighs more than 58 tons. The feat, according to the attraction's Web site, has "baffled engineers and scientists." And, no doubt, psychiatrists.

What would this yearly feature be without a roundup of freakishly large objects? Like the World's Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Ill. The folks who made Brooks' Original catsup built the 170-foot, bottle-shaped water tower in 1949 to advertise their product, which was made in Collinsville.

The plant and the brand of catsup are gone, alas, but in 1995, a group of concerned citizens saved the old tower from demolition and restored it to its original glory, so that future generations could look up and say, "yup, that's one big-ass bottle, all right."

If you've spent any time thinking about becoming a nudist (and really, who hasn't?), you've certainly wondered: How will I be able to tell what time it is if I can't wear a wristwatch? Well, friends, if you're a denizen or visitor to the "clothing optional" Sun Aura Nudist Resort in Roselawn, Ind., you can always use the sundial. It's shaped like a 63-foot lady's leg. A rather shapely one, too.

The friendly folks at Sun Aura don't require that you disrobe while contemplating the march of time as illustrated by an enormous, severed limb, but if you do want to, they thoughtfully put up a sign to remind you as you're leaving that "you must be clothed beyond this point."

The popularity of the "Jurassic Park" movies shows that many Americans never really grew out of their childhood fascination with dinosaurs. Another uniquely American obsession, particularly down South, is the Civil War, or, as we sometimes call it, the War of Northern Aggression. So it was, I suppose, inevitable that someone would combine the two.

Dinosaur Kingdom, near Natural Bridge, Va., is an attraction that asks the intriguing question: What would happen if the Union Army, circa 1863, encountered a valley full of living dinosaurs? The answer is: nothing good, at least for the Bluecoats. The park contains a life-size fiberglass tableaux of Yankees being snatched off their horses or chased down and devoured by T-Rexes, Allosaurs, and other prehistoric nasties.

Yeee-hah! If we'd had us a few of them, Pickett's Charge would have gone a little different, I reckon.

If anyone ever wonders why I love this country, well, some of the many reasons can be found above. At the height of their powers, I'm willing to bet that Soviet Russia or Red China never produced anything so wonderfully weird as a giant leg-shaped sundial or a park full of Yankee-eating dinosaurs.

Have a good vacation, and God bless America.

1 comment:

For The Trees said...

Personally I'm taking my ass to the Fulton Flake Factory Museum. There they have memorable breakfast flakes sprayed with gold paint mounted on little sticks covered with black velvet and illuminated with tiny spotlights. These are highlights of breakfasts the founder of the Fulton Flake Factory had in the guise of research, as he ate bowls full of the high-fiber stuff to see why the other brands always surpassed his own.

The Museum is located in Muleshoe Corners, Texas, because the City Fathers of Post, Texas (home of the Post Toasties cereal) wouldn't let Fulton put his Flake Factory up. Muleshoe Corners (look it up) had no qualms about a real live factory going in.

Now that the Fulton Flake Factory is finished, Fans of Fine Flakes can find the collection in the abandoned Rialto Theater, downtown on the main north-south highway (US 478) just beside the now-closed Flake Grocery.