At breakfast this morning, my grand-daughter Opal brought along two books: Angry Animals, in the Horrible Science series from UK Scholastic, and volume 4 of The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, in a series about two best friends, Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang. In the current book, Lydia and Julie have just finished sixth grade and are setting off on a “rocky road trip” across the US to visit with their grandparents; family drama plays a big role in the book.
Along the way, one of Julie’s fathers drags them to off-beat roadside attractions, including two in Illinois: the Kaskaskia Dragon (which breathes real fire) and The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle. The girls are totally taken with the dragon, and feed it with $1 tokens again and again and again to get more fire. They are less taken with the catsup bottle, but it occasions a argument about semantics: is the structure, a water tower disguised as a catsup bottle, a structure that has never contained catsup (or ketchup — the girls argue about spelling, too), actually a catsup bottle?
These are real roadside attractions, so I can show you photographs.
The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle occasioned discussion around the breakfast table of other structures that are billed as The World’s Largest X, The Giant X, or The Big X. These are common in the US and in Australia (where they constitute a kind of national preoccupation; there’s even a Wikipedia page on The Big Things of Australia). Opal’s mother has visited a fair number of these, so she could talk with some authority on big roadside attractions.
Meanwhile, Opal really wants to experience the Kaskaskia Dragon and was disappointed to hear just how long the trip from Palo Alto to Kaskaskia is.
The Kaskaskia Dragon.
The Kaskakia Dragon, located in Vandalia, Illinois just off Veterans Parkway has become a tourist destination, local hot spot, and stop for people from across the country. This unique, fire-breathing dragon was built to be on the side of the road to attract visitors to put a token in to watch the dragon breath fire. Since then, it has become a destination for visitors to Vandalia, a GeoCache location for GPS enthusiasts and much more. (link)
You buy a token at the liquor store across the street, drop it in the coin box, and watch out for the (propane) flame. Especially enjoyable at night.
The World’s Largest Catsup (or Ketchup) Bottle.
The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle® stands proudly next to Route 159, just south of downtown Collinsville, Illinois [east of St. Louis]. This unique 170 ft. tall water tower was built in 1949 by the W.E. Caldwell Company for the G.S. Suppiger catsup bottling plant – bottlers of Brooks old original rich & tangy catsup.
In 1995, due to the efforts of the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group, this landmark roadside attraction was saved from demolition and beautifully restored to its original appearance. (link)
Once we were on to giant bottles, we were of course drawn to The Giant L&P bottle in Paeroa NZ:
Lemon & Paeroa, also known as L&P, is a sweet soft drink manufactured in New Zealand. Traditionally made by combining lemon juice with carbonated mineral water from the town of Paeroa, it is now manufactured by multi-national Coca-Cola.
Lemon & Paeroa can be found only in New Zealand and in specialty New Zealand stores abroad. The paradoxical advertising slogan “World famous in New Zealand” has become a popular New Zealand saying, meaning that if New Zealand included the whole world, then the drink would be world famous. (link)
Big Australians: The Pineapple. Now on to big roadside attractions in Australia. From the Big Things of Australia site:
The Big Things of Australia are a loosely related set of large structures or sculptures. There are estimated to be over 150 such objects around the country, the first being the Big Scotsman in Medindie, Adelaide, which was built in 1963.
Most Big Things began as tourist traps found along major roads between destinations.
The big things have become something of a cult phenomenon, and are sometimes used as an excuse for a road trip, where many or all Big Things are visited and used as a backdrop to a group photograph. Many of the big things are considered works of folk art and are being heritage-listed.
A sampling of the big things, in no particular order:
Merino, ram, lamb, lobster, banana, penguin, guitar, mushroom, apple, ant, avocado, axe, beer can, cheese, orange, poo, prawn, spider, trout, barracuda, crab, dugong, golf ball, mango, peanut, pumpkin, kangaroo, shoe, oyster, rocking horse, platypus, slide rule, Tasmanian devil, abalone, cigar, Ned Kelly, strawberry, worm, crocodile, tennis racquet, sundial
My daughter has experienced (at least) the koala, the (rock) lobster (in two different locations, on opposite sides of the country), and the pineapple. The pineapple is actually life-like:
The Big Pineapple is a tourist attraction and working farm situated at Woombye near Nambour, Queensland. The Big Pineapple is 16 metre high and was originally opened on the 15 of August 1971. It is situated on a 165 hectare site. (link)
Continental America has at least one big pineapple, and it’s not out in the open spaces, but in Baltimore MD. From the snarky Roadside America site:
On the roof of an industrial building. Good luck symbol? Or a giant fruit ordered from Hawaii that never got delivered? (1211 Bernard Drive, Baltimore, MD)
The Tasmanian Penguin. Finally, one of my totem animals, the penguin:
The Big Penguin, unveiled in 1975, was constructed from fibro cement to mark the centenary of the proclamation of the township of Penguin in Tasmania. The penguins in question are fairy penguins — so this is a big little penguin.