THE GREAT AMERICAN TOURIST TRAP.
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In my mind, the birthplace of the tradition of Great American Tourist traps is Rock City in Chattanooga, TN. I still have vivid memories from my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s of all the painted barns in the South advertising this wonderland of nothing. Rock City was the brainchild of Garnet Carter inventor of miniature golf. This would be enough for most people, but, in 1932 he and his wife decided to risk all and open Frieda's Rock City Gardens to the public. It paid off. By 1940, Rock City was a roadside institution. Despite the slogan “Would be a pity/To miss Rock City, I still haven’t been there. And I don’t plan to be either.
For my money, the current crown for the Great American Tourist Trap belongs to the twin cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN, billed as the Mecca of the South. So Tennessee still rules in that category. The website Roadsideamerica.com says it best: “This is the standard by which all Tourist Traps must be benchmarked. Pigeon Forge and sister tourist-town Gatlinburg sparkle like junk jewels on a necklace choking Great Smoky Mountains National Park (mini-mecca Cherokee applies torque from the North Carolina side). Statistical density hampers attempts to assess this Mecca cluster (as with super-stuffed Wisconsin Dells or Branson). A hundred attractions crush your sense of proportion and dignity.”
HILLBILLY VILLAGE Tourist Trap belongs to the twin cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN, billed as the Mecca of the South. So Tennessee still rules in that category. The website Roadsideamerica.com says it best: “This is the standard by which all Tourist Traps must be benchmarked. Pigeon Forge and sister tourist-town Gatlinburg sparkle like junk jewels on a necklace choking Great Smoky Mountains National Park (mini-mecca
Hillbilly Village remains the last bastion of politically incorrect ethnic humor: Bubba jokes about white trash. The store is is a cornucopia of hillbilly artifacts: roadkill cookbooks, toothless grinning cartoon postcards. And bottle corks thrown into plastic bags and stamped "Hillbilly Birth Control Kit".
The promised highlight of a visit is a chance to see real moonshine stills, which are nothing more than old oil drums with rusted pipes sticking out of them. There is also a shack said to be an actual hillbilly home brought down from the mountains.
THE THREE BEARS GIFT SHOP Tourist Trap belongs to the twin cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN, billed as the Mecca of the South. So Tennessee still rules in that category. The website Roadsideamerica.com says it best: “This is the standard by which all Tourist Traps must be benchmarked. Pigeon Forge and sister tourist-town Gatlinburg sparkle like junk jewels on a necklace choking Great Smoky Mountains National Park (mini-mecca
To me, one of the sadder aspects of Pigeon Forge was the Three Bears Gift Shop where you can view live bears in a concrete pit, whiling away their life sentences, fattening up on stale bread and apples you can buy to feed them. Mama bear is especially sad, as she drags herself back and forth over the cage bars, oblivious to everything. Or as the tour guide cheerfully says, “Oh, look, Moma’s doin’ her dance!” TBGS is the target of frequent animal rights protests and, I think, rightly so.
This 56’ tall abstract chicken with moving beak Marietta GA, was originally part of Johnny Reb’s Chick, Chuck, and Steak in 1963, KFC took it over in 1974. When KFC was thinking of expanding to nearby Smyrna, its residents said KFC had to build a giant chicken like the one in Marietta. KFC decided to just move this one, but the uproar raised by Marietta’s fine citizens nearly sparked a second Civil War. The chicken stayed. The chicken has been the subject of questions on Jeopardy and in Tivial Pursuit.
WISCONSIN DELLS Forge, Tenn.
Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg may take the crown as the supreme tourist traps, but Wisconsin Dells comes in second and is world class. Every year, 3 million vacationers flock to this tourists’ mecca of the north. Once again, Roadsideamerica.com describes it best:
If a steamy, miles-long, cheese-dense strip of motels, tourist traps, and singular attractions sounds like a fever dream one can only sweat out in central Florida -- think again. You can join three million leisure thrill-seekers, as we did, who jostle for a parking space and a motel room in Lake Delton/Wisconsin Dells every year. It's one of America's most amazing Tourism Meccas.
Like any good mecca, The Dells -- as the towns are collectively known -- distort the conventional laws of road trip physics. Attractions that we'd normally drive hours to see, even on a rumor -- a giant rat statue, a pool with a candyland motif, a motel with pirate and moon theme rooms -- in the thick of the Dells are dismissed without a second glance. Sure, it'd only take a minute to stop, but who's got the time when there's SO MUCH ELSE TO SEE?
WISCONSIN DELLS Forge, Tenn.
“The natural beauty of the Dells -- the original reason people began coming here -- is, no doubt, somewhere out there, behind the cacophony of signs and soaring ride superstructures. Scan from your car for it, and you're sure to plow into the back of a SUV sitting in the strip's frequent bumper-to-bumper weekend jam-ups.
“The famous kidney-pounding "Duck" Boats still grind their way through the Dells woodlands and plow into the river for those who want to commune with nature. The boats -- born-again WWII amphibious beach invaders -- ply the beautiful lakes and woodlands. More conventional boats take you past Stand Rock, a column of stone surrounded by water and longtime symbol of the Dells. A local man used to jump across a chasm from the shore to Stand Rock as each boat passed, then an Indian did it. Now they have a dog do it. The Indians still show up nightly for their StandRock Indian Ceremonial -- but they have to compete for tourist dollars with the jet-fueled Tommy Bartlett's Sky, Ski, and Stage Show further down the river.
“During a summer's day the white sky wraps around you like a warm and not necessarily welcome blanket, and a walk down Highway 12 gets you a head full of memories in a single afternoon. The Wonder Spot -- an X Files anomaly where the laws of gravity have conveniently gone haywire -- guards the southern approaches to The Dells.
Just up the street is Forge, Tenn.Robot World, whose recently deceased billionaire owner, Tommy Bartlett, paid cash for Russia's spare Mir space station and brought it here as a tourist attraction. Dr. Norman Thagard in blue NASA coveralls -- first American MIR veteran -- speaks to Robot World visitors through the magic of videotape, although no one here can tell us what the Mir is made of or how much it cost.
The Dells appear to be cranking as never before. Robot World can't find enough local teens for summer work, so The Dells Chamber of Commerce imports them from Finland. ("There are no jobs in Finland," one flaxen-haired youth tells us.)
Closer to downtown, where the cruise strip clogs at night, are the familiar mecca pilotfish: Dungeon of Horrors, Wax World of the Stars (with special tributes to Princess Diana and John Travolta), olde timey photo booths, and U-watch fudge shops. The Dells pumps out more than two tons of fudge a day during the summer.
While the kids are left to exhaust themselves at Noah's Ark (the world's largest water park) the adults revel in the nearby climate controlled, year-around thrills of the Ho-Chunk Indian Casino. The fun rolls on even after the summer season, with The Dells boasting America's largest indoor water park (Black Wolf Lodge, since unseated by one of 15 other indoor water parks) and only indoor wave pool (Treasure Islandin 1998, which a few seasons later was rendered un-unique by newer, competing wave pools).
At times, the Dells seems to be the World's Largest Snake -- which, by the way, can be viewed at Serpent Safari. The experience swallows us whole. It digests our lump of tourist enthusiasm and spending cash slowly, over the course of a few days. The Dells periodically sheds its skin of failing or marginal attractions, and tries again -- and again. Xanadu, City of the Future -- razed and replaced by an active volcano! Emerald City -- sacked and converted to Mad King Ludwig's arcade palace.
Big Chief Go Kart has dumped its Indian motif for pagan mythology, and has built three giant wooden roller coasters -- all named for Greek gods -- and an awe-inspiring 60-ft-tall wooden Trojan Horse with hypnotic strobe light eyes. An elevated go kart track cleaves through its lofty belly. The go-cart hoisting Big Chief has been converted to a go-cart hoisting Trojan soldier.
Mass Panic, a claustrophobic date attraction, strikes just the right note for us, though no guarantee it will survive into the next season....
Extreme World straps you into a bungie chair and fires you skyward; next door, in the former Haunted Viking Ship turned Alligator Alley, you're challenged to feed live alligators. Meanwhile, the world's steepest waterslide -- an eight-story drop -- drenches screaming teens at Family Land, while over at Crazy King Ludwig's the Battle Boat crews are firing tennis balls fusillades at each other while the Skyscraper, a two-bladed windmill with 80-ft arms and a seat at each end, spins its masochistic passengers end-over-end at 75 mph. Is this the end of the world or just the dawning of a new millennium of fun?”
The Hodag which, by the way, can be viewed at
Rhinelander, Wisconsin can lay claim to its own mythical beast, the hodag, a 200-pound, seven-foot-long, lizard-like beast covered with horns that is supposedly a resurrection of the restless spirit of dead lumber oxen. An early specimen of the Hodag is on display at the Logging Museum.
The fearsome Hodag,, was first seen by Eugene Shepard in 1893, in the woods outside of Rhinelander. He tried to capture it, failed, and then blew it up with dynamite. His second attempt in 1896, with a backup crew of lumberjacks, was more successful. He cornered a Hodag in its den and knocked it out with a chloroform sponge on a pole.
Luckily, this was just before the opening of the Oneida County Fair -- in which the captured Hodag proved to be the most popular attraction, a dime buying you a glimpse of the creature from the far end of a dimly-lit tent. However, it proved popular enough to make Rhinelander a tourist mecca to this day.
The trademarked version of the Hodag™ at the Chamber of Commerce (left), which looks a lot friendlier looking than the legendary terror of the pine forests of northern Wisconsin that had to be blown up with dynamite in 1893.
The classiest tourist trap in America has to be Las Vegas. Once a mere gambling mecca, it has also added a world class collection of (near) life size monuments such as the Eiffel Tower.
Why travel 1000s of miles across the planet to see wonders that you can see collected within a few city blocks of one another. At least this Sphinx has a fresh paint job and its nose is intact.
A trip to Las Vegas certainly leaves one with the feeling that what happens here should stay here.
EURO-DISNEY that what happens here should stay here.
The only place I’ve seen outside the US that remotely reminds me of such places as Pigeon Forge and the Dells is Euro Disney in France. And that’s just a bit of Americana transported to France.
One advantage of having a Disneyland in France is the freedom to have a Wild West Show with all the politically incorrect stereotypes of Native Americans no one would dare have this side of the Atlantic
ALIENS DID IT freedom to have a Wild West Show with all the politically incorrect stereotypes of Native Americans no one would dare have this side of the Atlantic
West Virginia can claim two famous monsters. In 1955, a 12-foot-tall space creature landed in a flying saucer and terrified the town of Flatwoods. And in 1966-67, a monster nicknamed "Mothman" wreaked similar terror on the citizens of Point Pleasant.
The Flatwoods monster never even got a name, only a souvenir stand in the gas station next to the Shoney's where you can buy some monster replicas for sale ($25). In contrast, Mothman boasts a rich legacy, including a Mothman museum & research center, lots of Mothman merchandise (including Christmas ornaments and beany babies), its own movie starring Richard Gere, and a chrome steel statue.
Originally, the red eyes in the statue were supposed to light up, but funding ran out.
Mothman arrived in Point Pleasant in November 1966 in classic style, scaring couples in parked cars and eating farmers' dogs. Eye witnesses said he was seven feet tall with ten-foot batlike wings, huge, red, glowing eyes, and a piercing shriek. Unlike the Flatwoods monster, Mothman hung around for over a year, with over 100 fear-struck locals claiming encounters with him.
Some people thought Mothman was a mutant, spawned from local chemical and weapons dumps. Some thought that he was the "the curse of Chief Cornstalk," a Shawnee leader who had been treacherously murdered in Point Pleasant in 1777, and who had finally gotten around to exacting his revenge.
Sam Hill’s Stonehenge near Maryville, Washington, was a WWI monument dedicated in 1918, but not finished until 1930. A year later, Sam died and was buried at the foot this bluff.
Stonehenge II near Kerrville TX, claims to be 60% as big & 90% the diameter of the original. The area is infested with fire ants, so don’t lie down on the altar for a photo-op.
Stubby Stonehenge was built by the high-pressure water lab staff at the Univ. of Missouri at Rolla. It is 50% the size of the original with a sign boasting, “In ancient times, carving these stones would have taken years. These stones were carved in a month."
Carhenge WWI monument dedicated in 1918, but not finished until 1930. A year later, Sam died and was buried at the foot this bluff. near Alliance, Nebraska was originally built as a joke in 1987 by six local families during a reunion. It was later painted a uniform grey to make it more striking. As with most great works of art, the local inhabitants originally wanted to have it torn down. But also, as with most great works of art, they adopted it as a great tourist attraction.
Fish & dinosaur sculptures, also from car parts, have since been added.
Cadillac Ranch WWI monument dedicated in 1918, but not finished until 1930. A year later, Sam died and was buried at the foot this bluff., west of Amarillo, Texas, was built in 1974 by Stan Marsh, the helium and Ant Farm Art Collective magnate from San Francisco. It was meant as a tribute to the golden age of automobiles (1949-63) as typified by Cadillac tailfins, probably the most dangerous car accessory ever devised. The cars, which were built facing west at the same angle as the Great Pyramid, have since been covered with graffiti.
Cadillac Ranch also offers tourists a unique photo-op
The Spindle WWI monument dedicated in 1918, but not finished until 1930. A year later, Sam died and was buried at the foot this bluff. by LA artist, Dustin Shuler, consists of 8 cars on a spike at the Cermak Shopping Plaza in Berwyn, Illinois.
Oddly enough, the same strip mall boasts several other masterpieces, the best being another Shuler creation, Pinto Pelt, a Ford Pinto flattened out on a wall like an animal pelt.
A few classic examples of muffler men WWI monument dedicated in 1918, but not finished until 1930. A year later, Sam died and was buried at the foot this bluff.
Muffler men who have gone on to other successful careers WWI monument dedicated in 1918, but not finished until 1930. A year later, Sam died and was buried at the foot this bluff.
The world’s largest catsup bottle in Collinsville, Il. WWI monument dedicated in 1918, but not finished until 1930. A year later, Sam died and was buried at the foot this bluff.
A water tower in Collinsville, Il also serves as the world’s largest catsup bottle, The 70’ “bottle” atop 100’ support structure can hold 640,000 bottles of catsup (or 100,000 gallons of water. Legend has it that it can cause red hair in the unborn, as pregnant women passing too close to it have discovered.
Another sight to see in Collinsville is the elephant graveyard of Kay the elephant.
Big John in Metropolis is actually bigger than the Superman on the other side of town. However, he has lots of company…
Big John Grocers in Unger Wyoming,,…….. Eldorado, Illinois, ……. ………and Cape Coral, Florida
The 2-story Outhouse near Dover, Arkansas Illinois, ……. ………and Cape Coral, Florida
Shoe Trees Illinois, ……. ………and Cape Coral, Florida
White Squirrels Illinois, ……. ………and Cape Coral, Florida
Digges, Idaho, the “Big Potato” Illinois, ……. ………and Cape Coral, Florida
Although Nearby Blackfoot, Idaho claims to be the World Potato Capital & has a styrofoam potato that may be a bit bigger than the one in Digges, its potato isn’t on a truck. The nearby gift shop sells potato fudge, potato ice cream, and potato cookies.
Potato sack tux worn by Idaho’s 1st Potato Commisioner.
THE WORLD’S LARGEST Illinois, ……. ………and Cape Coral, Florida
Cowlossal Cows Illinois, ……. ………and Cape Coral, Florida
Salem Sue (above & below right), 38’ high & 50’ long, overlooks the fields of N. Dakota near I-94
Harmilda, in Harvard, IL, the self proclaimed “Milk Center of the world”
Kadie the Cow, over-looks a shopping mall in Columbus, GA,
Chatty Belle, the world's largest talking cow, & her baby, Bullet, who is mute
The Jolly Green Giant near Blue Earth, MN. Stands 55’ tall dwarfing a puny 2-D rival in nearby Le Seur. Blue Earth is also the self-proclaimed birthplace of the ice cream sandwich, but without a corresponding statue, how are we to know?
GIANT WATERMELONS dwarfing a puny 2-D rival in nearby Le Seur. Blue Earth is also the self-proclaimed birthplace of the ice cream sandwich, but without a corresponding statue, how are we to know?
Watermelon vendor in Bald Knob AK
This is the best Lincoln, IL can offer, commemorating the fateful day in 1853 when Abe christened it with melon juice. Lincoln advertises itself as "The only city ever named for Abraham Lincoln with his personal consent”. However, on christening the city, Abe remarked: "Never knew anything named Lincoln that amounted to much."
Luling, TX can boast both a giant watermelon water tower and a plywood painting of a cow jumping over the moon. Every June, Luling has a Watermelon Thump festival, complete with a seed spitting contest and Watermelon Thump Queen pageant.
Big Corn Country dwarfing a puny 2-D rival in nearby Le Seur. Blue Earth is also the self-proclaimed birthplace of the ice cream sandwich, but without a corresponding statue, how are we to know?
As much as we pride ourselves on our corn production, Illinois obviously suffers from a “giant corn gap”, as these pictures testify.
Giant corn gazebo in Olivia MN.
Giant corn water tower in Rochester, MN
Big Fish Stories dwarfing a puny 2-D rival in nearby Le Seur. Blue Earth is also the self-proclaimed birthplace of the ice cream sandwich, but without a corresponding statue, how are we to know?
All but the fish market sign (lower right) come from my personal collection
As far as I can tell, the giant potato postcard was the original, while others are fakes using the original and Photoshop to create the illusion of size and prosperity in other agricultural industries. However, for some mysterious reason, although the landscapes in all three postcards is the same, the skies are different. By the way, all three of these are from my personal collection