Kitschiest Roadside Attractions in America
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bradstone/3249981070/" class="external" rel="nofollow">Brad Stone</a>
Sometimes the journey is the
destination, as our kitschy roadside attractions prove.
The landscape blurs as you drive Interstate
80 straight through Nebraska. Then suddenly you do a double take. Right in
front of you is an old-timey Western trading post, sitting in the shadow of a
30-foot-tall cutout of Buffalo Bill.
It just wouldn’t be a great
American road trip without kitschy roadside attractions like the Fort Cody
Trading Post in North Platte. Some of the
earliest got their start in the 1920s, when the birth of the U.S. highway
system set off a building boom. Drivers had to stop to refuel or rest, after
all, and enterprising businessmen were eager to dream up attractions that would
meet their needs and liven up life on the road.
Sometimes the winning concept
started small. Wall Drug, now a world-famous attraction in rural South Dakota,
was on the verge of closing in 1936 when founder Ted Hustead’s wife suggested
advertising free ice water. At the time, every drugstore gave away ice water,
but adding a sign was enough to attract droves of
customers. Wall Drug eventually added thousands more signs and a giant animatronic
T. rex, expanding from a pharmacy into a mall and theme park.
“A big part of roadside
attractions is making the biggest whatever. People take this really seriously,”
says Mark Sedenquist, who founded RoadTrip America with his wife, Megan Edwards. After they lost their home
in a 1993 wildfire, they embarked on an epic drive that lasted more than
six years and inspired their chronicles of roadside
These days, it’s never been easier
to locate kitschy roadside attractions, thanks to GPS devices and dedicated
websites. Even if you know what’s coming, it can’t ruin the cheap thrill and
nostalgic appeal of braking at a corn palace.
And there’s always a souvenir to
take home. Doug Kirby remembers being so fascinated by the petrified wood he
got at Wall Drug as a boy that he lugged it around for his entire vacation. As
an adult, he founded the website Roadside
America, which covers more than 9,000 oddball
“Some people visit these places to
make fun of them,” admits Kirby, “but you know you like them deep down.” —Jessica Su