Sunday, May 06, 2012

Your Weird Vacation Guide 2012

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Since we have a primary coming up, along with a hotly debated referendum on the so-called "Amendment One," the powers-that-be here at The Pilot generally ask us pixel-stained wretches to steer clear of "blatant electioneering," whatever that is, on the last Sunday before the election.

So, since we're taking a momentary vacation from politics, and since the warmer weather so often causes the collective fancy to lightly turn to thoughts of putting on the Ray-Bans and getting the heck out of Dodge for a few days, this would seem an opportune time for our annual look at wild, wacky, and downright weird vacation spots. Such as:

*Gnome Countryside, in Pennsylvania, bills itself as "a breathtaking paradise and gnome biome nestled in the rolling hills of Amish farmland in southern Lancaster County." I'm not sure exactly what a "gnome biome" is, but I can tell you it's loads of fun to say. Try it. The place appears to be run by one Richard Humphreys, who looks like he could be Wilford Brimley's younger, much fitter brother, and who wears (according to his photo on the website) short britches, suspenders and a Sherpa hat.

Perhaps Mr. Humphreys thinks this is how gnomes dress, because there's one thing I can tell you, this dude loves him some gnomes. Your 10 bucks a head buys you a three-hour nature walk, beginning, of course, in the "Gnomery," and winding its way past the "Labyrinth of Gratitude," a waterfall dubbed the "Gnome Gniagra," and the terrifying "Valley of the Shadows of Litter," while Mr. Humphreys talks about nature, environmentalism and, of course, gnomes. True, it sounds a little weird, but also kind of sweet. If I'm ever up that way, I may check it out myself. But if he wears that hat, I'm going to bust out laughing.

*On a long road trip, do you ever turn to your spouse and go, "Honey, you know what I could really go for right now? A game of tic-tac-toe with a live chicken"? Me neither. But if that's your thing, then Rockome Gardens, a few hours south of Chicago, is the place for you.

Like Gnome Countryside, Rockome Gardens is located in Amish country, but this Amish country is in Illinois. (For people who don't use cars, those Amish sure do get around.) Built around a set of decorative rock gardens built during the Depression by a manufacturer who decided to put his idled employees to work building stuff for him rather than lay them off, Rockome Gardens also features museums, shops and a restaurant. But I suspect it's the tic-tac-toe-playing chicken that's the big draw.

*When Georgian Howard Finster was 60 years old, he looked at a paint smudge on his finger, saw a human face, and heard the voice of God telling him "make sacred art." Not being one to argue with the Almighty, Howard proceeded to do just that. He created what critics call "outsider art": sculptures, paintings, and what-have-you by unschooled and untrained artists, works that often tread the fine line between the divinely inspired and the completely loopy. Finster created more than 48,000 works that ended up in places that ranged from the Library of Congress to videos by the rock band R.E.M. But many of them stayed in his four-acre yard, which he dubbed "Paradise Garden." People came from all over to get married in his "Folk Art Church," which he built by hand to resemble a wedding cake.

When Howard died, the place fell into disrepair. But in 2010, the state of Georgia marked it as a landmark worthy of preservation, and in 2012, it was finally placed on the National Register of Historic Places and opened to the public. Now you can see the "Bicycle Tower" where R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe" video was filmed, as well as many other pieces of Finster's art.
What you do not get to see, alas, is Howard himself. Despite his wishes to be placed in a casket he built by hand and set up in the chapel (next to a statue of a Coke bottle), his relatives buried him in the local churchyard, then moved him a few years later to a graveyard in Alabama. Some people just lack vision, I guess.

Gnomes, tic-tac-toe-playing chickens, and coffins of eccentric and possibly insane artists - is this a great country or what? Hope you get to get out and see some of it this summer.


Fran said...

I always look forward to your vacation guides, Dusty! How else would I find out about such wonders?

Anonymous said...

nice idea.. thanks for sharing..

Gerard said...

I grew up in Champaign, IL which is only 30 miles from Rockome. I never went there. Maybe I could take the kids this summer.

A weird vacation location comes via the shortlived Megan Abbott and Sara Gran blog. Coral Castle: Comments by Abbott on the place and creator: