America’s Oddest Roadside Attractions

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We’re reaching the last few precious weeks of summer before the kids head back to school. Now’s the time to hit the road for an adventure. Any dope can go to Disneyworld, though; you want to find something out of the ordinary. It’s a big, crazy country out there, and there’s plenty to see:

President Kennedy’s Bomb Shelter (Peanut Island, Florida)

(Image source: New York Times)

At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, everybody in America – including our fearless leader – was convinced that hydrogen bombs were going to rain down on us with a vengeance. In a speech from 1961, President Kennedy urged all Americans to begin building their own fallout shelters “as rapidly as possible.”

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But what do you do when you live in the most important house in the country? You build a fallout shelter a thousand miles away. The shelter was known as the “Detachment Hotel” and it was located near the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach, Florida, as part of the Palm Beach Maritime Museum. The shelter includes a decontamination shower and had space – and food, presumably – for up to thirty people for a month.

The site is part of the Palm Beach Maritime Museum and it’s open to the public.

The Desert of Maine (Freeport, Maine)

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

Everybody goes to Freeport to raid the L.L. Bean store, but there’s another tourist attraction in the area known as the “Desert of Maine.” In the late 18th century, farmers migrated from the original colonies in Plymouth and what would become Boston, up the coast to modern day Maine. Farmers weren’t big on understanding soil erosion at the time, and they planted and harvested the same patch of land again and again for years. Eventually, the topsoil disappeared, leaving 50 acres of sand.

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The Ames Shovel Museum  (Easton, Massachusetts)

(Image Source: Stonehill College)

It’s now known as the “Arnold B. Tofias Industrial Archives at Stonehill College”, but for years it was known by the less high-falutin’ name of the Ames Shovel Museum. Our summer reading list this year included the great Stephen Ambrose history Nothing Like It In The World about the people who built the Transcontinental Railroad. Two of the earliest supporters and financial backers of the railroad were Oakes Ames and Oliver Ames, Jr., brothers who inherited a shovel manufacturing company – Ames Shovel Shop – in Easton, Massachusetts.

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The Arnold B. Tofias Industrial Archives at Stonehill College not only features 783 examples of early shovels, but 1,500 linear feet of manuscript material chronicling not only America’s early construction history, but the history of one of its most successful businesses. The Ames brand of shovels and rakes lives on as Ames True Temper, a massive multinational corporation in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

Muffler Men (All Over America)

(Image Source: Flickr)

In the early 1960s, towering fiberglass giants terrorized America with enormous mufflers clutched in their hands. Starting in 1963, a company called International Fiberglass started churning out these statues. Orders came in primarily from Texaco, but all kinds of businesses bought them for the next few years.

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The statues were created by a visionary inventor named Steve Dashew, who held a patent for a tilting trailer that would stand the men in place when they arrived at their appointed location. Dashew was a genius who invented an embossing machine that made early credit cards possible.

Over the years, Muffler Men have morphed from hocking mufflers to just standing around with their arms empty, awaiting the next consumer good to hold onto. has a map that shows all of the current Muffler Man locations. Chances are good there’s probably one within a day’s drive of where you are.

The Thing (Dragoon, Arizona)

(Image Source: Signs of Arizona)

At one point along Interstate 10 between El Paso, Texas and Tucson, Arizona, 247 billboards lured suck…er, “patrons” off the new highway to the remote location of Dragoon, Arizona to see “The Thing,” purchased by Thomas Binkley Prince the mid-1960s, is the featured item in a number of attractions at the site, including a Rolls-Royce claimed to have once driven Adolf Hitler.

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The World’s Largest Ball of Paint (Alexandria, Indiana)

(Image Source: World Record Academy)

It started out as an ordinary baseball on January 1, 1977, but when Michael Carmichael let his son dip a baseball into a gallon of paint, it started a 40 year obsession, which is now up to more than 23,000 layers. The ball – which hangs from the ceiling in a display space – now weighs more than 4,000 pounds.

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The least common color in those 23,000 layers? Maroon, with just three layers. The most common is yellow, which has coated the paint ball 3,278 times.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at