What’s special about our towns?

I don’t recall exactly, but I suspect this is another one of those columns which I had to come up with on the fly since I had absolutely no other ideas that week. I had recently returned from a car trip to the Midwest, and somehow found a way to mold that story into something I could use in the column.

It was originally published Aug. 2, 2013.

What do we have to entice out-of-towners?

Today’s column has an audience participation component. Keep reading and I’ll let you know when your part comes.

A few weeks ago, I took a road trip to Kansas City with my sister and father. On the way out, as we cruised along the highway, we noticed a billboard advertising the “World’s Largest Wind Chime” just a mile off the road in little Casey, IL.

Anxious to put the two-day, 20-hour drive behind us, we didn’t stop.

But somehow, we just couldn’t forget about that wind chime. So after our visit concluded and we headed home, we aimed straight for Casey, determined to see what this attraction was all about.

We stopped at the local Dairy Queen just off the exit to ask for directions and were directed to the middle of town (turn left at the town’s only stoplight). “You can’t miss it,” they added.

Boy, were they right.

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Located steps from the center of town in the middle of a beautifully manicured garden, the World’s Largest Wind Chime (confirmed by the Guinness folks) is 55 feet tall with five huge silver chimes suspended from it.

Visitors are encouraged to pull the attached rope and ring it to hear its beautiful deep tones.

The folks at the DQ also proudly informed us of their other famous local attractions: the World’s Largest Golf Tee, the World’s Largest Crochet Hook, the World’s Largest Knitting Needles and the World’s Largest Horseshoe. (“There isn’t much else to do around here,” they admitted.)

Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit them all. But as a consolation prize, later that day we did pass the World’s Largest Cross in Effingham, IL. (Who knew that Illinois had a corner on weird?)

The attractions were silly, but they did get us to leave the superhighway and drive into Casey, which we would have never visited otherwise. Yes, we rang their bell, but we also bought their gas, ice cream and golf balls.

And after all, that’s what it was all about: attracting tourists.

After I got home, I got to thinking about our east-side towns. Do we have anything so weird it gets travelers to take a side trip off the Thruway?

I can think of a few things, like the “Mushroom House” in Perinton. It’s a private residence near Powder Mills Park with a pod-like architecture that resembles mushrooms growing out of the hillside.

It’s been featured on television and in books, and I have to believe it’s drawn connoisseurs of unique architecture.

And there’s the Castle of the White Lady in Durand-Eastman Park in Irondequoit.

As the story goes, the White Lady can still be seen at night searching for her daughter who never returned from a walk. It’s a tale that draws ghost hunters from all over the world.

Now here’s your part. What’s unusual or quirky in your town that would convince travelers to venture off the Thruway? Does your town have the world’s largest, smallest, fastest, slowest … weirdest anything? Let me know. If I hear from enough people, I’ll put them all in an upcoming column. Email me at the address below.


What happened next …

Since I wrote that column, I’ve always been on the lookout for unusual local landmarks, because you never know where they might appear.

I haven’t yet found another accumulation of weirdness like we saw in Illinois, but one unusual sighting does … um … stand out.

It’s a 25-foot tall Statue of Liberty, perched on a crumbling old bridge platform in the middle of the Susquehanna River along Rt. 22/322, about seven miles north of Harrisburg.

The statue is actually a replica of a replica. The original was erected almost 40 years ago, but has since been replaced. Here’s more to the story from atlasobscura.com:

The first was 18-foot tall and made of plywood and venetian blinds. It was erected in 1986 as a patriotic prank to commemorate the centennial of the original Statue of Liberty. No one knew who made it or how it got there, and no one would come forward to take the credit/blame.

This first replica was blown off her pedestal and destroyed in 1992, a surprisingly long run considering its construction materials. However, in the six years since she first appeared, the people of Dauphin Township had grown rather fond of her. Money was raised to erect a heavier, sturdier 25 foot version of the statue, this time constructed from metal. This one was put in place in 1997 by a helicopter and lashed to the piling. It still stands today. 

It wasn’t until years later in 2011 that local lawyer Gene Stilp finally owned up to not only orchestrating the making of the statue but also taking the daring trip into the dangerous river water to climb the piling and help erect the statue. Little did he know his prank would become a permanent monument for the people of Harrisburg, PA.

According to another article I saw on roadsideamerica.com, there’s been an addition recently, a mini version of the Twin Towers, erected on another of the bridge columns. Apparently this one is more difficult to see, best viewed from a bus or truck.

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