On the Road Again
Michelle Green William Plummer
06/16/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT
06/16/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Try getting hooked by a certain husky muskie
The 143-foot, 500-ton muskie that overlooks the little town of Hayward, Wis. is more than just the realization of Bob Kutz's dream: It's the world's largest walk-through fish. A beefy, chain-smoking ex-Chicagoan, Kutz, 65, had labored as a tuxedo rental salesman, dry cleaning entrepreneur, PR man and resort owner before he and wife Fannie, 63, founded the nonprofit National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 1974. A devoted angler, Kutz says that in 1960 he literally "dreamed that there should be a hall of fame" to serve as a sort of Middle-American Mecca for afishionados. Enlisting Fannie, a bookkeeper, in the effort, he began raising money from fishing enthusiasts, assembling historic doodads and making plans for the 7½-acre museum. In 1979 the $500,000 fiberglass specimen (modeled after Wisconsin's state fish) was added as tourist bait. Erected over the objections of a few horrified city council members ("Some people don't understand progress," Bob shrugs), the 4½-story muskie off Highway 27 now attracts more than 1,000 fisherpersons each week. For $3, you can walk into the fish to inspect the museum's collection of angling artifacts and view the countryside from a perch between the muskie's impressive jaws. You can also gawk at 1,000 hooks removed from generations of careless anglers by the late Dr. Emil Krueger. "I never get tired of this place," Bob says happily. "I look forward to waking up in the morning so I can see the fish again."
Spend your salad days at the Giant Artichoke
It towers over...well, it doesn't tower. It squats over Castroville, Calif. (pop. 4,396), a 15-foot artichoke signifying that the little bit of a town near Salinas is the artichoke capital of the world. But the Giant Artichoke is no mere monument intended only to raise vegetable consciousness. Beneath it is a gift shop where you can buy Giant Artichoke T-shirts, as well as artichoke-shaped salt and pepper shakers, artichoke place mats and wall plaques. On the left is a fruit stand and wine and cheese shop; on the right is the Giant Artichoke Restaurant, featuring—that's right—a green-plate special of artichoke soup, french fried artichokes, artichoke quiche and maybe a piece of cake whose coloration would suggest that it has been hidden too long in the back of the refrigerator. The only natural enemies of the Artichoke, says Mike Bei, 28, who manages the place, are the seagull and man. "People are always climbing on it," says Mike. "I have to run out and get them off. And these aren't kids. These are the adults."
Get tied up with twine and have yourself a ball
If you're planning to visit the world's largest ball of twine this summer, you'll have to phone Francis A. Johnson for an appointment. "Gotta be careful," says the 82-year-old retired hog farmer, "a terrorist might set a match to it." Enshrined in a circular metal shed near his farmhouse on U.S. Highway 12 near Darwin, Minn., the 21, 140-pound twine ball is 13 feet tall and 44 feet in circumference. Johnson (a manic collector and a stickler for figures) says it would stretch from his cluttered front yard clear to the Gulf of Mexico.
Naturally, the remarkable ball has brought him a measure of fame, if not fortune. Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, it earned him a visit from CBS' Charles Kuralt. Over the years many tourists have stopped in for a peek, and, says Johnson proudly, "I never charged a cent."
As Johnson tells it, the ball got rolling on a cold day in March 1950 when—annoyed by stray bits of baling twine that were clogging his manure spreader—he remembered the words of his Swedish immigrant father: " 'Francis,' he said, 'don't never throw nothing away.' " Johnson dutifully began saving the twine, stopping only in 1979, when he contracted emphysema ("from inhaling the fibers," he says). By then he had the ball of twine—as well as a massive collection of yardsticks, lanterns, key chains, apple peelers and hatchets. But no wife ("When I should have been courting a gal, I was too busy collecting and winding twine"). Still, there are comforts in his old age. From time to time Johnson pulls up a chair to contemplate his ball in its lair. "I still like to look at it," he says. "It's the greatest thing I ever did."
Just don't believe every darned house you read
Picture this: You're leafing through the newspaper, dropping each section by the side of your easy chair. Suddenly you look down at the discarded papers and think, "Wouldn't these make a lovely summer cottage?"
That thought wouldn't occur to you? Well, then you're no Elis Stenman, builder of the renowned Paper House on Pigeon Cove in the scenic harbor town of Rockport, Mass., 35 to 40 miles north of Boston.
In 1922 Stenman, a machine designer by trade, got to wondering just how durable newsprint could be. In order to find out, he spent 20 years of summer weekends building a two-room house entirely out of newspapers, glue, lacquer and varnish (except for the frame, floor, support beams and exterior roofing). The walls of the sun deck and main room are 215 newspaper pages thick, and the entire house is insulated, leakproof and electrified. The 30 pieces of furniture, including a radio cabinet, mantelpiece, grandfather clock and piano, are also constructed from yesterday's news, and the headlines are clearly visible: "Lindbergh Comes Home," "Bride Ends Life in Hotel," "24,000 People See Sox Lose."
Stenman, his wife, Esther, and their two nieces lived in the house for only four summers. The place might as well have been made of glass. "So many people came by to look at the furniture, they couldn't stand it anymore, so they left," recalls Selma Curtis, 80, one of the nieces who helped build the house and has inherited it. She's the tour guide now, and if you call ahead of time she'll show you around for 50 cents. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ask Eve to hand you that concrete apple
Had Dorothy clicked her heels and found herself at S.P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden, she would undoubtedly have said, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
She would have been wrong, however. For Civil War veteran Dinsmoor constructed his bizarre religious-political sculpture garden at his home in Lucas, a short hop north of 1-70, right smack-dab in the middle of Kansas.
Dinsmoor, clearly a man with a message—though the message isn't always clear—built his "cabin home" of limestone blocks and began hand-molding his primitive concrete figures at the age of 64 in 1907. He didn't stop for 22 years. (A widower, he did, however, find the time at the age of 81 to marry a 20-year-old woman by whom he fathered two children.)The completed opus—which required 113 tons of concrete—comprises 150 statues of animals, biblical figures and Dinsmoor's American contemporaries, incongruously plunked into a street of ordinary houses.
Perhaps his most striking figure is his Crucifixion of Labor—a working man nailed to a cross surrounded by a doctor, lawyer, preacher and banker. "I believe labor has been crucified between a thousand grafters ever since labor began," Dinsmoor explained once, "but I could not put them all up."
The Garden fell into disrepair after Dinsmoor's death in 1932, but in 1967 plumber Wayne Naegele, now 63, was called to repair something. Fascinated, Naegele and his wife, LouElla, 58, bought the place and fixed it up. Now some 8,000 to 10,000 tourists visit the Garden of Eden yearly. Four dollars gets you a tour and—for the ghoulish—the use of a flashlight, the better to view Dinsmoor's decayed body in the glass-topped cement coffin he built for himself.
Meet the bees' knees of cypress trees
When was the last time you got a good look at a really beautiful knee? Well, take heart. For you there's the Cypress Knee Museum two hours from West Palm Beach, Fla. on Rte. 27 at a dry place in the swamp called Palmdale. (No, it's not on our map either.)
We're talking trees' knees here, by the way. Still reading? Cypress knees are the conical growths that rise from cypress roots. Just ask museum founder Tom Gaskins Sr., who ought to know. Now 77, he has made a career of cypress knees since 1934, when he quit his family's roach extermination business to begin marketing cypress knee knickknacks. He sold thousands to stores but ultimately tired of the commercial end of the business. "In 1951 I decided I'd rather go showbiz, so I opened the museum," he explains.
He says more than 500,000 people have visited since, purchasing his knee vases, lamps, clocks, birdhouses and knees au naturel. What do they see in the oddly gnarled hunks of wood? Whatever they want. "You look at one knee and see either Queen Mary, the Statue of Liberty, Eleanor Roosevelt or the Devil," explains Gaskins. "It's strictly up to you."
Be forewarned: Some of the items are too precious to be sold. Gaskins wouldn't take $5 million for one knee 53-inches tall, which many visitors say resembles a hippopotamus in a Carmen Miranda hat. "It means to me what the Mona Lisa is to art," he says. "People come from Europe to see it." And you're not that far away.
Rock on with a stone soul love that lasts
John Davis really put his wife, Sarah, on a pedestal—nine of them, in fact. But then again, he put himself on a pedestal, too. Now the life-size marble statues of the couple stare out at the world above their gravesite in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Hiawatha, Kans., 80 miles north of Kansas City on U.S. 36.
When Sarah died in 1930 after 50 years of marriage, Davis sent photos of her and of himself to Italy, where a sculptor carved a likeness. The result, a sculpture of the couple sitting together on a bench during their courtship, pleased Davis so well that over the next 10 years he commissioned nine more statues, depicting Sarah and himself from youth to old age. Davis changes from a clean-shaven young man to a bearded elder who lost a hand in a 1908 farming accident, while Sarah evolves from a young girl in a lacy dress to an older woman in a dowdy suit. He always looks stern and she always looks sweet.
Davis, an orphan, moved to Hiawatha in 1879 and worked as a farmhand for Sarah's father, who was outraged when his daughter married hired help. Shrewd land investments made Davis a wealthy man, but some say that he never treated Sarah very well when she was alive. "They say he built the monument because he had no heirs, and he did it out of spite because he didn't want to leave his money to the community," explains Jaynell Robidoux, executive vice president of Hiawatha's Chamber of Commerce, which maintains the monument. Still, the last statue—Davis sitting alone next to "The Vacant Chair"—is poignant.
It is believed that Davis spent perhaps as much as $500,000 on the memorial, dying a penniless recluse at 92 in a Hiawatha boardinghouse. He had outlived Sarah by 17 years, during which time, says Robidoux, "his greatest pleasure was to place a rocker under one of the cemetery trees and sit and watch people visit the tomb."
Dig prehistory and think as big as a brontosaurus
For reasons best known to yourself you've chosen to take the southernmost route across the country. You've driven, say, 2,300 miles from Jacksonville, Fla. on Interstate 10 and you're panting the last 90 miles to L.A., when suddenly you notice a 150-foot-long, 45-foot-tall brontosaurus staring quizzically at you through the shimmering heat waves off the Mojave desert floor. "Oh, my God, Martha!" you exclaim to your wilted wife. "My brain's fried."
Relax, Dad, you're not delusional—you're in California. That dinosaur is no hallucination, and neither is the 75-foot tyrannosaurus rearing up behind it. The concrete and steel monsters are the work of Claude K. Bell, 89, and they're there to get you to pull over at the Wheel Inn Restaurant and truck stop in Cabazon—which is what about 3,000 people do every 24-hour business day.
Begun in 1965, the brontosaurus took 11 years to complete and cost about $200,000. For 50 cents (25 cents for kids) you can visit the museum of local oddities in the beast's belly. The ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex, started about 10 years ago, is not quite finished but is already a star, having appeared in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Eventually kids will be able to peer out between the monster's teeth and slide down its tail. His artistic vision still unsatisfied, Bell is working on plans to build a hairy mammoth near the reptiles.
"Something big amazes people," he says. He's right.
Compiled by Peter Carlson, Michelle Green, James S. Kunen and William Plummer from bureau reports