For forty some-odd years, the Jensen Beach Elementary School, in the mid-eastern Florida coast town of Jensen Beach, has had an 18-foot fiberglass Viking warrior standing watch outside their front door. Jenguard, as he's known, has survived hurricanes and vandalism and stands looking every bit the ferocious Norseman, what with his horned helmet, blond beard and locks, blue tunic and yellow tights. And being a European visiting Florida, he's also wearing white tube socks with his calf-strap sandals. He started out as an employee of the Viking Carpet chain back in the 1960s. Back then, they used these longboating behemoths as eye-catching barkers for their flooring emporiums along the open road. Nowadays, the surviving statues appear mostly as Viking mascots in front of schools much like Jensen Elementary. You can get the whole saga here from road scholar Debra Jane Seltzer on her indispensable roadside architecture website.
And even though this is Florida and Vikings weren't known to winter or even summer here, Jenguard seems appropriate because Jensen Beach is named after John Laurence Jensen, an immigrant from Denmark who set up a pineapple plantation here in 1881. May the Norse be with you.
An autographed photo of Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren at the Bodega Country Store. Wish we'd bought it when we were there.
The Tides Restaurant, a crucial location in "The Birds." This is how it looks today.
The Bodega schoolhouse...
...where everybody has to get into the act.
It is with sadness that we learned of the passing of the great actor Rod Taylor today. Among other roles, he starred with Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," which is one of our all-time favorite movies. So much so, in fact, that a few years ago, we made a special trip to the two California towns about an hour north of San Francisco that Hitchcock used for location shooting, Bodega and Bodega Bay. Both places are beautiful, rugged northern California villages that still revel in being part of such a classic film, even fifty years later. You can read our earlier post about them here.
As for Mr. Taylor, we're imagining he's being fitted for his own pair of wings right about now.
The Collinsville, Illinois tower dates back to 1949, and when the Brooks company relocated to Indiana in 1959, the bottle remained.
In 1993, the bottle's owners wanted to sell the property and the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group was formed to keep it standing.
If you have $500,000 lying around and you're in the market for a 70-foot tall, 100,000-gallon water tower that carries bragging rights as the world's largest catsup bottle, have we got a deal for you. Bethel-Eckert Enterprises, the owners of the bottle, decorated in 1949 to resemble Brooks Old Original Rich and Tangy Catsup which used to be bottled at the plant next door in Collinsville, Illinois, just outside St. Louis, put the bottle and the property on which it sits up for sale last June and so far offers, much like ketchup pouring from a bottle, have been rather slow. It came as a surprise to us, and many other of the bottle's fans, that it was privately owned, as it has been on the National Register of Historic Places for some time and has been the source of a Catsup Bottle Preservation Group and yearly catsup festivals in Collinsville. A Mr. Mike "Big Tomato" Gassman, leader of the Preservation Group, is optimistic a sympathetic buyer will be found soon.
We hope so, too, because if the future of the bottle is in a pickle, we hope a buyer will mustard the strength to overcome doubt and relish it, if you catsup our drift.
Among the flora and fauna of the northern Everglades nature preserve known as the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Preserve in western Boynton Beach, Florida sits a decidedly more man-made bit of wildlife. Artist CR Grey of Key West has fashioned an alligator made out of stones and wire that looks quite real at a distance is very amusing up front. He sits sunning himself, as if to say "Welcome to the Everglades, y'all." Good on you, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Preserve for throwing in a bit whimsy with the wildlife...you rock our world and that's no crock!
We'd like to extend this laurel, and hearty handshake to the florist in our new hometown of Coral Springs, Florida with the delightfully eccentric name of Floral and Hearty. We imagine if Ollie were alive today, he'd say something along the lines of "Well, here's another vine mess you've gotten us into."
There are a lot of times when we're out and about that a single word will catch the eye. Maybe it's funny, maybe it's obvious, maybe it's poignant, mundane or ironic. Here are a few we've seen along the way.
A rendering of the Johnny Rockets restaurant/drive-in theater concept. Go, Johnny, go!
We've just read a news dispatch that seems just too good to be true for all of us eccentric roadside attraction fans. Johnny Rockets, the restaurant chain with a retro 1950s hamburger joint theme, has partnered with a drive-in theater company (they still have those?) with the intent of building 200 new drive-in theaters (with Johnny Rockets drive-through restaurants attached, of course) by 2018. 200! It seems like a great idea to us... the theater brings in all kinds of folks: young people who have never experienced cinema al fresco before, budget-conscious families (tickets will probably cost around $6) and older folks nostalgic for the good old days. And then Johnny Rockets get to lure everyone to their fine dining establishment for a full night of retro fun and rake in the dough. Whether or not people drive up in droves is anybody's guess (thriving drive in theaters are few and far between) but good for Johnny Rockets for having the vision to look in the rear view mirror while looking ahead.
Here's a gallery of some of the drive-ins we've come across, both thriving and abandoned, on our travels:
We've been delighted a few times on our eccentric road travels by the chuckle-inducing sculptures of a Mr. Seward Johnson that seem to pop out of nowhere. His 26-foot tall treatment of "Unconditional Surrender," the famous sailor-kissing-a-nurse photo, and a several-stories-tall version of Grant Wood's "American Gothic" made us stop in our tracks in Sarasota, Florida and Chicago, Illinois, respectively. Seward, who inherited a portion of the Johnson and Johnson pharmaceutical fortune (oh, that Johnson), has been a prolific sculptor for decades and back in 1992 he used his impressive wealth and talent to purchase the New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Hamilton Township near Trenton and turned it into a beautiful, 42-acre sculpture park and museum. You'll see lots of his whimsical works, both on a huge scale and more real-life proportioned, some of every day people and others famous 2-D art masterpieces come to 3-D sculptural life. The park isn't just a vanity piece, though, as other talented sculptors' works are also exhibited among the lushly landscaped grounds. It's a real hoot to sit on a shady bench and watch real people mixing with the art...sometimes it's hard to figure out who is more life-like. And all this beauty and pleasantry is just outside Trenton, which, while very nice, is not exactly a place known for either its beauty or pleasantry. Art establishment snobs pooh-pooh Johnson for being kitschy and copyright-holders may sue him for infringement, but we're not here to judge. Maybe we don't know art, but we know what we like and we love Seward Johnson and his Grounds for Sculpture. He's got whimsical-art-in-a-lovely-location-for-the-masses-to-see down to a, well, fine art.
This blog is devoted to old fashioned American roadside attractions... the wonderfully big, bizarre, crazy, wacky, quirky, weird, funny, unique and mundane sites you see travelling cross-country by car in the USA, where getting there really is all the fun!