Three Years of Sordid and Personal Tales from a World Traveler
Category: Tourist Attractions
These are permanent things that exist both for the local population (museums, amusement parks, areas that protect and explain local history, etc), but also in a determined effort to attract in tourism to the city… and sometimes these efforts offer little to no value to the locals OTHER than to bring in tourist dollars …
Built in 1978 and located on route 66 (well one of them) in Springfield IL, is a fiberglass “muffler man” in front of Lauterbach Tire and Auto who USED to be holding a tire.
He’s actually had some serious repairs in 2006, as the result of a Tornado that ripped off his head (ouch).
Update: Further up Route 66 (i.e. Northeast) in Atlanta, where the Paul Bunyon Statue is located (A Paul Bunyan holding a hotdog in a bun), I found this description of the Lauterbach man that includes what he looked like BEFORE his repairs — he’s got a completely new wardrobe now… and back when he was still holding the tire
I find it interesting that as much as this muffler man is lauded as being one fo the Route 66 attractions, for SOME reason it has not earned one of those State of IL signs… which makes me wonder if the local authorities and business owners have to help pay for the things.
This 19 foot “muffler man” is a Paul Bunyan woodsman statue (for those who don’t know, Paul is a character from American Folklore), who stands alone without his trusty side-kick Babe the Blue Ox…. and is holding, instead of an ax, a hotdog.
The Statue was built in 1966, and stood initially on the roof of a hotdog joint on Route 66/aka Ogden Ave in Cicero Illinois. The owner intentionally misspelt the name as Buyon instead of Bunyan in order to avoid any copyright infringements. After a while the statue became such a tourist draw that the owner moved it down to ground level, so that children could climb on it
When the business closed in 2002 the beloved Route 66 landmark went up for sale and was purchased by the city of Atlanta (a one stoplight sort of a town), as a tourism draw.
Anyone reading my posts about traveling Route 66 knows one of my pet peeves was most of the gift stores along the route sell generic stuff you could buy on Amazon. The gift stores in town do have some of that stuff, but they’ve also got clothes and towels that have been embroidered with the statue, and even with some of the buildings in town. Didn’t buy any, but seeing these made me very happy. One warning about the town is that during the ‘off season’ which is when I was doing 66 — late October, most of the shop owners just can’t be bothered to keep their shops open. There are two museums in town, both were closed, and there’s a restaurant that’s supposed to be pretty good, and it was closed as well. And there were shops that, according to the signs in the window, SHOULD have been open and where not… the place was bit like a ghost town.
Located Just southwest of Bloomington IL, and a good three house southwest of Chicago, Funks Grove is a historic purveyor of pure maple sirup located on Route 66 in Shirley Illinois. The Funk family has been making the stuff since 1824, and selling it as a business since 1891. That said, check their website before arriving, because they only sell their product and once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Personally, I had no idea that you could even make maple syrup this far south.
And here’s an interesting tidbit from Wikipedia, back when he was a young lawyer, Abraham Lincoln worked for the Funk Family. (Actually they have quite the family history, it’s worth reading)
I arrived there in late October without first checking their web site, to discover that they were completely sold out. The owner, who lives on the property, said that they start selling it in mid-March and they’re usually sold out by mid August, and gave me permission to take my photos… but said the store was closed.
The Village of Towanda (population 550) is, in my opinion, one of the more fun stops along Route 66 in Illinois. While here, if you get off of the NEW route 66 route back onto the old you can experience what was the Dead Man’s Curve on the old route 66. (The town has re-paved ONLY this section of it, as a draw to tourists) … While on it I bet that the Jan and Dean song, “Dead man’s curve” will most likely keep ringing through your head like it did mine
— even though the words of the song are clear that THEIR Deadman’s curve was on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills California. There are TWO entrances to curve, the one above is at the north end, while the one below is at the south end of the curve… which is the one I initially took.
The web site that I had learned about this curve from had talked about how hard it was to find…. the town has clearly fixed the problem because if you can’t spot these babies from the road… you’re blind
the signs are really set up with the assumption that you, as most people do, are driving from Chicago to LA, i.e, motoring west… if you do it that way, first the have the sort of “scary” looking sign (above) followed by some of the old-fashioned Burma-Shave signs (according to Wikipedia there are 600 different variations of these — you will see MANY along Route 66).
This one says: “Around the curve, lickety-split, beautiful car, wasn’t it?” followed by the words Burma Shave. That said …not only does the original Route 66 do something of a sharp curve to the left (of the sort you expect on mountain roads but NOT out here in the plain states)… but it’s actually on a natural hill so that it actually slopes left at the same time…. and then on the other side of the curve it’s a fairly tight S curve back to the right… so if you don’t know it’s coming you’re in trouble. And like I said plain states drivers aren’t expecting something like this. Apparently the house that was on the receiving end of drivers who took it unprepared and too fast finally up and moved their house because their front porch was repeatedly getting hit by cars
While driving on dead man’s curve is in effect a tourist attraction, and as such has been kept up, so to speak… On the North end of the curve, and then immediately across a street from it, there is one short piece of the original route 66 which they have not re-paved. This bit however ends pretty quickly at a farm-house.
Other than this one short bit, which you can drive onto…. from the town’s boarders (at either end) they have maintained the original route 66, but, not as a roadway for cars. Instead they’ve kept the original paving and opened it only to those who are walking, or on bicycles
UPDATED: I first visited here in August of 2018, came back again two months later:
The Gemini Giant is 28 feet tall fiberglass “bit Thing” named after the Gemini space program of the 1960’s, located on Historic Route 66, (it was one of the very first major highways in America, was built in the 1920’s … and is also known as the Will Roger’s Highway, the Main Street of America, or the Mother Road). This roadside attraction was built during the very beginning of the space race as a way to lure travelers off the road with a photo opportunity, in the hope that they’d stay long enough to buy a hotdog or a drink.
The statue stands directly adjacent to Route 66 (yes, really, it’s the nondescript two lane road in the picture)
and is in the parking lot of the Launching Pad restaurant (which was once a drive-in)
The restaurant was built in 1956 at which point it was a 600 square-foot shack…they actually hired Hopalong Cassidy (well, the actor who in the 1950’s played the character in a series of sixty-six movie serials based on the character, William Boyd) to come and cut the opening ribbon (Boyd is the one in the cowboy hat)
(According to the owner of the Launching Pad, who was thrilled to share the places history with me, after the show ended Boyd had gone to the studio and bought the licensing rights to the name Hopalong Cassidy for $450,000, a lot of money in those days… and in a few short years turned it around into $5 million by putting his picture and name on lunch boxes. I will note that Wikipedia disputes some of this but hey…) The new owner went on to tell me that the same family owned it for the next 50 odd years, passing it through the generations (and it was always wildly successful that whole time, open from around 7am to midnight — at least I think that’s what he said — with a staff of 20, and always doing good business) until 2010 at which point they sold it to somebody outside of the family who ran the business into the ground in the course of two short years (by buying cheaper ingredients, refusing to run the air conditioning, etc, all in an attempt to increase his profit margins I assume). As such, this Route 66 landmark business quickly went broke as its bread and butter local customers abandoned it, and has stood empty until this new owner bought it in 2017. The new owner is financing it solely from his own pocket and with any money he’s made by merchandising the image on T-shirts and bumper stickers and what not.
He told me he has licensed the image of the giant (something the previous owners never bothered to do), so that nobody else can replicate it and he has tracked down all the old recipes for their dishes and intends to have the kitchen up and running in about two months. ￼Till then, he’s filled the restaurant with a random collection of memorabilia intended to keep visitors happy.
Even without the restaurant up and running, he told me that nn a slow day he says an average of about 200 people showing up in the store/resturant, while on a fast day it’s 500 to 800 people coming in from all over the world because they’ve heard about this place. Just during the time I was there, for about half an hour at about 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, I saw a Chinese guy and a French couple stop in to check the place out, all of whom were folks that were road-tripping Route 66 on motorcycles.
Return 2 months later:
Full circle achieved. Stopped here the first time while driving from Pennsylvania (Pennsic) to San Francisco via I-80, and came back two months later while doing Route 66 in Atlanta, IL, where I came across this sign about an hour down south of here.
Had a nice long talk with the wife…. last time I met the husband… and bought two T-shirts from they. While these guys have a lot of the same Route 66 stuff other people do, the wife has also put in the effort to have a whole SLEW of T-shirts made up that commemorate THEIR store, the Giant out front and route 66 all at the same time. (My major complaint with businesses/cities along the route is that most are just lazy and order stuff that I could easily and cheaper buy from Amazon).
She apparently recognized me (although we had not met) which makes me think they saw this blog post…. and talked with me about the renovations that they’re doing. One of the things I noticed immediately was that the front rooms, which on my last visit were CRAMMED with stuff so that the tables rather than being available for customers were instead covered in collectable chachkies that were NOT for sale… which included a whole collection of expensive guitars and Blues Brothers dolls had now been cleared out… (see images from my first visit). I asked her what had become of them, “didn’t these tables used to be covered in stuff? Where did it all go?” and she took me into a back where they are creating a dedicated museum space in the back of the restaurant… which was not there last time I came.
Then she talk with me about what they’re doing redoing the plumbing and the timetables for that, and how they didn’t did not want to get funding from the 66 foundation in order to be able to pay for it, and why… but would rather do it out of pocket and owe no one. That said, she said that had done a REALLY good business this season in the T-shirts and collectables.
She said that their timetable currently is to be serving food by March, but it will be simpler stuff like hot dogs and ice cream and things of that sort, while they continue to renovate the kitchens… and that they hope to be back to full diner status maybe by November of 2019. Since that’s the end of the tourist season, they’ll be able to start up slowly, serving the local community, and then be “ready” when the tourist season begins the following spring.
Located about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago is the small city of Pontiac Illinois. To be honest, the only mentions of this place that I ever heard growing up referred to the state prison located at the south end of town. In recent years however the city has made a concerted to transform itself into a tourism destination, and in my opinion is well on its way.
Firstly, in the center of town is a very attractive turn of the century styled Town Hall.
Until I approached it I hadn’t known that this was one of the towns included in the National Park Service’s Looking for Lincoln Trek.
I also found it was quite attractive on the inside as well, although not quite as nice as on the outside (they need to work on that). It’s a bit too spartan (other than the floors) and why is Lincoln looking at the ground?Also, one does not expect with a population of just shy of 12K people to have four museums (I went to two of them, the Auto museum and the Gilding arts one, and they were both worth the visit). In addition, the city has been embracing the tourism tactic of hiring artists to pain murals around the downtown area to beautify itAnd another very cute thing that they’ve done is to scatter these cars for kids on street corners around town
I really have to give my props to the Mayor and city consul of Pontiac Illinois for transforming their little town from a town whose major employer was a state prison into something worthy of extended visits from those doing the route 66 trek, as well day trips for people living in the Chicagoland area.
Located just off Route 66 in Pontiac Illinois, is the interestingly named Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum… the name confused me a lot till I look in Wikipedia and apparently the Pontiac brand was originally called the Oakland, but was produced in Pontiac Michigan, and ultimately the name was dropped in favor of being called Pontiac. As I discussed in the post about the Gilding Museum, Pontiac Illinois has decided to turn itself into a tourist destination that people will actually stop at. To do this, they have offered empty store fronts to people with museum worthy collections, and are hiring people to come in to professionally set up the exhibits. Where gilding actually has nothing to do with the town, what could be more apropos than a museum dedicated to the Pontiac brand of car in Pontiac Illinois?
When you first enter it’s to what seems to be a fairly large gift shop, but one that’s reasonably sized once you realize how bit the museum space is.
The woman who owns it was working there and she says they’re opening up a second one in Flint Michigan and her husband also runs a magazine for Pontiac collectors
If you’re into cars, and even if you are not, this museum is well laid out and well worth a visit.
The Museum of Gilding arts in Pontiac Illinois is a very high quality museum dedicated to Gilding (applying thinly beaten gold to things). Located just off Route 66, It’s located in an abandoned storefront in the city center. The Town of Pontiac, in an attempt to draw tourism offers these locations free to any small high quality museums that are willing to locate their collections here.
I’ll admit a bias, a very old friend of mine helped set this museum up. And when I say old I mean we’ve known each other pretty much our whole lives. When my dad was graduate student he did consulting work for her dad, our families went to the same synagogue, and then in high school we ended up hanging in the same click (I was a Freshman and the rest of them were Juniors. Growing up my friends were almost alway older than I was, and I didn’t tend to fit with kids my own age.)
The Docent walked me through the whole collection. She was very nice and helpful and probably could have kept talking … but I was on a schedule. First she showed me a very thin sheet of pounded gold, pounded so thin that you could the light through it… and then a box full of sheets of the stuff, where you can turn the box and see thing and light it is. I told her that in fact I’ve spent a lot time in Japan, where gilding is still a very active art, and knew all of this already. (In Japan I have eaten cakes topped with gild — very thin gold — and some where in all my boxes I have a little canister of the stuff should I ever want to put gold on a cake.)
According to the docent, … The Smithsonian wanted the collection that’s on display in Pontiac…. but they only wanted it for a temporary exhibit and the people who owned it — a family that had owned a now closed gilding company on the east coast — wanted a permanent space.
Then guilders who live in Pontiac, (hobbyists, there was never a gilding industry here) heard about this and connected the owners with city, like I said before, the town for all intents and purposes gave them that location to put their exhibit into. There’s no real connection between Pontiac and gilding otherwise
As I’m writing this, I googled the name in this board and found this, W H Coe Mfg Co Inc, Gold Leaf Manufacturer in 10 Love Ln, Hartford, Connecticut 06112. — but I couldn’t find more which makes me think the company really has gone out of business .
There is also a small gift shop selling goods that I assume are made by the local gilders who helped bring the collection to Pontiac. I bought Chai Magnet, and gave it as a gift to my friend whose home I was going to be staying at as soon as I got back to Chicago.
Located just North of Pontiac Illinois is an iconic route 66 Barn that advertises the Meramec Caverns, which are located in Sullivan, MO a good four hours (265 miles) away. When ever you see this iconic image in photos you get the impression that it’s much bigger and MUCH MUCH MUCH closer to route 66 than it actually is.
If anything the fact that this advertisement, located on the side of a barn is THIS far way from the attraction it advertises kind of tells you just what a tourist trap it is.
But seriously they couldn’t have put in the gravel path at least… I walked out a few steps but was worried about picking up a tick with lime disease along the path, and stopped
Finding the place wasn’t that easy either…. One questions if Route 66 didn’t use to run a bit closer to the barn because you can just barely see that thing from the road, and the you’re seeing in the picture isn’t even it… that’s a turn off from Route 66 which was only marked by this tiny little sign….
This Standard Oil Station is YET ANOTHER restored gas station photo-op that is used for nothing more creative than a gift store selling for the most part route 66 stuff. It’s located on Route 66 in Odell Illinois … at some point I have to count up just how many of these things I’ve seen over the last month and a half… but let’s just say I’ve seen my fill (joke intended)
I looked this up and according to a 2004 estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency there are somewhere just shy of 200,000 abandoned gas stations in the USA. I even found a web page from the National Park Service explaining to local towns what they need to do to convert theirs into a historic attraction. Along this route I’ve only seen ONE that sold stuff worth buying.
NOT only was most of the stuff they were selling utter junk, but it was EXPENSIVE junk
$10 for the fake license plate (I’ve seen it selling elsewhere for half that) and $35 for a rock engraved to say Illinois Route 66. I mean seriously? That and… and I am not overstating things when I say this… the woman inside the building, at BEST, grunted at me a few times. I kind of got the feeling that she doesn’t really like her job.
No hello, no smile, no “do you have any questions?” None of that… just a couple of grunts.