Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Big What?

RHYS BOWEN: I’ve been traveling a lot in Europe this summer and one thing that struck me everywhere was the plethora of museums (don’t you love that I’m educated enough to use words like plethora?).
Every little town seems to have a museum these days. Not just local history bu strange, esoteric museums. During my travels I came across a museum of the nut in France. A museum of water (I never got a chance to go inside to see if they had ancient and preserved water from Roman times)  Then there are museums of farm implements, of WWII tanks, of buttons
                Some are surprisingly interesting. I recommend the sewer museum in Paris.

Some…well you could hear the locals thinking what they could do to keep tourists in their village a little longer. I hear there is a Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb,

and a Museum of Bad Art in Massachusetts. And speaking of that—another phenomenon I’ve never really understood is the concept of THE BIG…….
                It’s always a large , and usually tasteless, statue of something in the middle of a non-descript town in the middle of nowhere. I’ve seen the Big Cheese in Australia, the Big Boxing Croc in Northern Territory, Australia, the Big Pineapple in Queensland, Australia and the Big Walnut somewhere in the US. So I’m curious whether people actually come to these destinations to witness for themselves the Big Cheese/Croc/Walnut.
                I suppose they started back in pre-war days when people had cars and were starting to tour and small towns needed something to induce travelers to stop a while. Taking a picture next to the Big Cheese was probably a highlight of a trip in those days. These days not so much. But they still stand—a real product of folk culture. Do you have a BIG something near you? Have you ever made a pilgrimage to see one?
                Here are Debs and I standing beneath Big Tex who is at the Texas state fair.
(But I have to tell you we’re cheating. This was a large painting in a London flat that Debs had rented).

So have you come across anything BIG this summer, or any museum stranger than Broken Relationships? Do tell!


  1. The Museum of Broken Relationships? Really? There's no way to top that one . . .
    I fear we are dull and uninteresting folks --- no strange museums, no BIG thing . . . .

  2. I live in Delaware, so nothing is allowed to be big.

    This spring, I went to the new town museum in my hometown. Mrs. Barker, my 9th grade English teacher, was the driving force behind its creation. I'd been at home with all of my siblings and their spouses and my parents for six days, older brother and I escaped one morning to the museum. The board had converted the tiny old town library and painted it pink. (When we parked, my brother and I looked at it and both said, "Pink?") Inside were displays about sugar cane and sharecropping but there was also a temporary exhibit for Memorial Day. Much to our surprise, front and center was our cousin Eugene, who served in Vietnam and was quite the hero--but also a quiet hero. He never talked about his experience, though I remember vaguely when he was shot and briefly MIA. The exhibit highlighted his heroics,his Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and the map he'd used to find his way out of the jungle with his men.

    After the tour, I asked after Mrs. Barker. The docent said she was there that day, so my 9th grade English teacher appeared, and I told her who I was and she remembered me, and I got to tell her how the day she'd pulled a romance novel out of my hands and put Les Miserables into it and said, "This is the kind of book you should be reading" had changed my life. Telling her was something I'd always wished I could do. She got teary and so did I. I told her I'd moved to Pennsylvania and now Delaware, and she said I was the first person she'd ever known who actually lived in Delaware. Which I actually hear all the time.

    Sorry to be so long-winded, but I guess you can go home again. *sniffle*

  3. When I moved to Atlanta, I asked directions to somewhere, and a the person told me to "Take a left at the Big Chicken."
    I said--the what?
    She said: You'll see.
    I did.

  4. Me too Joan, crazy for the museum of broken relationships.

    Ramona, amazing story--what a special moment!!

  5. There are a lot of weird big things in the US; in fact, there's a website devoted to them somewhere on the Internet.

    Our local claim to fame was the "Big Butter Jesus", aka "Touchdown Jesus", a most bizarre, enormous statue of a bearded Jesus, half-submerged in a pool outside a mega church next to I-75. Jesus was holding his arms up in the "touchdown" signal, and he appeared to be waist-deep in some gigantic hole. The statue was butter yellow, too.

    Well, a couple of years ago lightning struck the statue and burnt poor Jesus to a crisp. This was actually the second time lightning hit it, but the first time didn't do much damage. The very odd thing about this story is that there's a Hustler store nearby, on the other side of the highway, and high up on a hill. Which remains untouched by lightning.

    They've replaced BBJ with a different, almost equally strange statue, nicknamed "Hug Me Jesus" because of the aggressively stretched out arms. One could also call it "Zombie Jesus", if one were irreverent enough to do such a thing. 0:-)

  6. No big anything here - well, we had the big Duck in town on the river last year, but that was temporary.

    I've always wondered about the big ball of string - can't remember exactly where it is though.

  7. Great lines, Ramona:

    1.I live in Delaware, so nothing is allowed to be big.

    2. She said I was the first person she'd ever known who actually lived in Delaware, which I actually hear all the time.

    I love how modest Delawarians are.

    Sweet story about meeting up again with Mrs. Barker, too.

    In Maine there is an Umbrella Cover Museum on Peaks Island, an enormous Native American statue in Freeport (called the Big Freeport Indian, or just BFI, as in, "to get to South Freeport, hang a right at the BFI") and a giant Paul Bunyan lumberjack statue at the foot of Main Street in Bangor.

    On the Jesus front, there is an artistic rendering outside a Catholic Church in South Portland of Jesus looking heavenward, presumably while on the cross It gives the image an odd effect. The church is generally referred to hereabouts as "the Googly-Eyed Jesus Church."

  8. Sorry, I haven't come across any strange museums this summer. Although I did spend time in Yosemite, which has plenty of big mountains.

  9. When we lived in Minnesota people were told to head out of town on the county road and take a left at the happy face. Someone had a big happy face painted on a shed in a field. Confusion will reign if they ever paint over it.
    My sister just sent me a picture of her and a friend standing by a giant pecan. I live in Houston and we have tons of museums, but 2 interesting small ones are the Funeral Museum and the Art Car Museum.

  10. I recently toured the Jay History Museum in the tiny city of Jay, Florida where my grandmother lives. Someone had rescued from the high school dumpster all the framed graduation pictures from the last 40 years. So there on the wall was a picture of my mother with her 60's beehive hairdo at age 17. What fun to call and say her picture was in a history museum!

    As for big, drive just across the state line to Elbert, Alabama and you'll find realistic looking, life-size dinosaurs that look as if they are strolling in the woods. They aren't near any tourist destination and you can't see them from the road. Weird, but great for a photo op! My little brother would love a picture of me being eaten by a dinosaur.

  11. Can't think of anything Big or too unusual around where I live, but further east from us is the Bourbon Trail (actually I think Owensboro is a part of that now, as we have a bourbon bar certified by whatever certifies bourbon bars). Included in the Bourbon Trail are eight historic distilleries, each one offering a tasting at the end of its tour. I think I know why the site says to allow three days for the trail. And, of course there are some large casks and other large apparatus to see. I haven't done this trail tour yet, but I'm now wondering why I haven't. Link to Kentucky Bourbon Trail is There is a Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, KY.

    Along with our bourbon, Kentucky is famous for its horses, and at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, you can find a giant statue of Man o' War that marks the magnificent horse's grave.

    And, talking of Big, there is something of that nature that I've thought of near me. The Corvette Museum (that famous sports car made in Kentucky) is in Bowling Green, an hour away from me. Recently, a giant sinkhole opened up in the middle of the museum's showroom floor, taking with it some classic models of the car. Now, that is one Big hole.

    One of my most memorable museum visits was when my husband and I stopped at the Kit Carson Museum on our way driving out west many years ago. It was a quaint, crowded little place and its host was a little old man whom I swear must have been alive with Kit Carson. I thought it was in Kansas, but I googled it and can't find one there. It probably doesn't exist anymore, as that was 35 years ago.

  12. Ramona, great story!

    As you can see from the photo, Dallas does have one very BIG THING, Big Tex, the icon of the Texas State Fair. And how weird that the flat I stayed in last time I was in London had a huge photo-realistic painting of Big Tex on the sitting room wall. The owner said he had no idea what it was--he had bought the painting (along with several others) from some guy back in the seventies.

    Big Tex burned a couple of years ago. They think his wiring grew faulty. It was the top of every news story in Dallas for days.

    He has, thankfully, been resurrected. It wouldn't be the State Fair without him.

    (He talks, too, by the way. It's very weird...)

  13. How about the big ball of string?

  14. Not so much that's big around here (well, northern Wisconsin is Paul Bunyan country, but we aren't the only state that lays claim to him). However, Wisconsin does boast the Mustard Museum in Mt. Horeb:

    Of course, two states west of here, in South Dakota, you start with the Corn Palace in Mitchell, wend your way through the Black Hills, make a stop at the infamous Wall Drug, and then catch Mount Rushmore before you leave the western end of the state. That road trip is the essence of America and should be on everyone's bucket list.

  15. Speaking of the Black Hills, what about the Crazy Horse Memorial, being carved out of the side of the mountain?

  16. This post really struck a chord, Rhys.

    I've always been drawn to unusual museums, and, over the years my daughters have grumbled as they were dragged to "weird museums." But now, they recall with pleasure such stops, including my favorite during our walking trip in the Lake Distrcit--the Pencil Museum in Keswick.

    Adults now, they like to discover "weird museums" to show me. Top of the list was the Presidential Pet Museum near DC, sadly now closed --I hope, just for remodeling and not forever.

  17. I'm not sure why I forgot this (well, yes I am), but did you all know about the Penis Park in South Korea? The actual name is Haeshindang Park, but since there are giant penises (penii?) that's what everyone calls it.

    This is the legend, copied from Wikipedia:
    A tragic legend known as the "Legend of Auebawi and Haesindang"[3] shrouds the statues of the park. According to the legend, a woman was once left by her man on a rock in the sea while he worked, the man was later unable to retrieve her because of a storm, and the woman drowned. After that, the village people were not able to catch fish. Some said that it was because of the dead woman. To soothe her spirit, the village people made several wooden carvings and held religious ceremonies on her behalf. After a while, the fish slowly returned and the villagers were able to live comfortably again. The place where the woman died was named Aebawi Rock and the building where the religious ceremony is held twice a year was named Haesindang. The ceremony is still honored today as a traditional folk event.

    Sounds like a thinly veiled way to pay homage to man's favorite bits, to me.

  18. On I-81 near Alexandria Bay, NY, there are three HUGE iron crows in a field. They are quite a site and very unnerving the first time you see them. Photos are on the Roadside America site under Big Crow statues.

  19. Deborah, I loved Big Tex and cried when I saw the news that he'd burned up in a giant funeral pyre. But he's been resurrected? Yahoo, BIG TEX!!!!!

    Rhys, I can't think of anything big, like Big Tex or the Big Boxing Croc, in Tucson. I'll have to think about it some more. Although I recall a nightmarish giant chili dog-shaped stand from my long-ago days when I lived in Los Angeles.

  20. In Falmouth we have a couple of museums of regular stuff like art and history. But Baltimore used to have a Slavery Wax Museum -- I took a small group of students there once. I had previewed it, so I made up a special permission slip -- it was GRAPHIC!