Tag: losses

Having attended college in San Marcos, Texas, I was fortunate enough to live just a couple of blocks from the legendary Aquarena Springs, famous for its live mermaid show, while the park was still operational.

I even had the pleasure on several occasions to sit in its submersible auditorium and witness the underwater ballet of breath-defying swimmers, performing the same subaquatic stunts that made the park nationally famous when it opened in the 1950s. Having friends in the show, I even got a couple of unauthorized behind-the-scenes tours and got to meet the famous Ralph the Diving Pig, the world's most celebrated swimming piglet.

I regret never taking the opportunity to work their myself, but at least I can say I'm still friends with a couple of genuine merpeople.

Sadly, the show was closed for good after my alma mater, Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State), purchased the property in the '90s and turned the park's focus to ecological preservation and education. The underwater theater itself, long out of use, was finally demolished last year. Maddeningly, they don't even use the name Aquarena anymore. ... Continued

Fairgoers at the State Fair of Texas this morning witnessed a shocking scene as the famous 52-foot-tall icon known as Big Tex was engulfed in fire.

Big Tex greets visitors every fall, when he's erected in Dallas's Fair Park for the annual three-week-long fair. He can be heard throughout the day, making announcements in his signature booming voice.

Fox 4 News reports that the fire apparently began around the head, which is animated when he speaks, leading some to believe that the fire was electrical in nature. Only Tex's arms and metal frame remain.

Having joined the fair in 1952, this year marked Big Tex's 60th anniversary.

The motley collection of junk-metal sculptures known as Jerry Hall's World of Imagination, which has for years fascinated visitors to northwest Tucson, Arizona, has sadly been disbanded.

I had the pleasure of visiting Jerry in 2006 when I was doing research for Weird Arizona, and was even honored to see the inside of his home where he had created an array of glass-bead murals, which were not viewable by the general public.

His bizarre collection of metal creatures, which inhabited every square foot of his front and side yards, was one of the most fun assemblages of so-called "junk" art I've ever encountered. And Jerry himself, a very generous and welcoming individual, was a pleasure to talk with.

Sadly, Jerry Hall succumbed to cancer in 2010, and this past weekend, his family was forced to sell his artwork in an estate sale. Word is the house, too, will be put on the market. ... Continued

Dublin Dr Pepper, the only version of the soft drink to have never switched formulas to incorporate high fructose corn syrup, has been lawyered out of existence.

The small-town Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Company, located about 80 miles southwest of Fort Worth, Texas, has been producing the original formula, which uses Imperial Pure Cane Sugar rather than the cheaper sweeteners, since 1891. Folks, including myself, overwhelmingly insist their version tastes better than that available on regular store shelves.

As such, the quiet town of Dublin has enjoyed a great deal of tourism from those looking to buy the uniquely produced soda and to stop by the visitor-friendly bottling plant. The town even held an annual celebration and linked much of its identity with the drink. ... Continued

During a phone interview with The Arizona Republic yesterday, I discovered that the state's unusual little Bead Museum, which boasted a reportedly world-class collection of ornamental roundness, was shut down last year. And it reminded me of my own brief, and fruitless, visit to the establishment during one of my research trips for Weird Arizona.

Turns out, the museum wasn't much interested in my interest in them, but I used the opportunity to write a little something about them anyway. However, the resultant pair of articles, a spotlight piece and a personal account of my visit, which I wrote together in 2006, were never published. So, in honor of the now lost assembly of orbs, I present them here. ... Continued

Looks like Texas has lost yet another of its great roadside attractions. Before, it was Austin's Cathedral of Junk. This time, it's Forbidden Gardens, the Chinese tiny town that's quietly stood outside Houston for the past 15 years.

It was the pet project of reclusive millionaire Ira Poon, who spent a reported $20 million recreating the extensive imperial palace in Beijing known as the Forbidden City in one-tenth scale, as well as a one-third-scale recreation of the awe-inspiring 6,000-piece, terra-cotta army of Emperor Qin.

Throughout its life, the park has seen little attendance due to Poon's unexplained aversion to advertising. Couple that with the staff's struggle to keep the park in shape due to the region's harsh heat and humidity, and the attraction has long seemed destined for an early closure.

Unfortunately, I didn't find out about Forbidden Gardens' demise till the last minute, and even then I was out of the state. So, with great regret, I was unable to attend the park's swan song, a mass sell-off that occurred over the weekend. ... Continued

On the very last stop on the very last day of my very last research trip for Weird Arizona, I met one of the state's most prolific, and friendliest, folk artists. His name was Jerry Hall, and his "World of Imagination," a collection of unusual, scrap-metal sculptures that took up the entirety of his front yard, had become a regional sensation.

I had been unable to contact Jerry before my arrival, but by sheer luck, he arrived at home moments before I finished taking photos and hit the road back to Texas. As a result, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours chatting with Jerry, learning about what made him tick, and even getting a personal tour of the wall art inside his house.

Jerry welcomed me like a friend into his home, which is why I was sad to learn that he had recently succumbed to cancer. He passed away on Oct. 19 at the age of 65.

To my regret, my story on Jerry Hall's World of Imagination was cut from the final version of Weird Arizona due to space concerns. But the story, presented with photos of Jerry's creatures, can be read in its entirety here at the Roadside Resort. ... Continued

For every strange, public attraction built around someone's personal obsession, there are untold numbers of people who've each built their very own world of wonder behind closed doors. Take, for instance, the Beer Can Man of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who personally amassed thousands upon thousands of vintage beer cans, witnessed by public eyes only briefly after his death.

Graphic artist Sean Tubridy snapped a few shots as they were hauling the collection out of the building where he works. Most, he said, were from the late '70s or older. Many were still unopened.

"So the deal is these belonged to a guy known as 'The Beer Can Man,'" Tubridy wrote. "He had a place in our building and collected these along with bar signs and all sorts of other stuff. He died a while back and it's all gone now and these are being hauled away. They can't be recycled for the deposit because they are tin and steel. Still, a few nice finds in there."

In the end, workers removed twelve trailer-size dumpsters full of cans. ... Continued

Update: The Cathedral of Junk lives on!

This has not been a good week for roadside oddities. First, Ohio's Touchdown Jesus was razed by God himself, and now the City of Austin, Texas, has forced the closure and dismantling of the long-standing Cathedral of Junk.

The immense, interactive, multilevel sculpture comprising countless found items — crutches, mailboxes, bicycles, bottles, typewriters, you name it — has stood for 21 years as one of Austin's most loved folk-art sculptures and a definitive example of the attitude that gave rise to the city's motto "Keep Austin Weird."

Unfortunately, city officials threw a wet blanket on the installation back in March when they began ordering changes and demanding permits. Since that time, the Cathedral's creator, Vince Hannemann, along with a small army of volunteers, had been working to bring the sculpture up to code and keep it open. The city had even been fairly cooperative in extending deadlines to make preserving the iconic structure possible. The Austin mayor himself contacted Vince back in May to try to help things along. ... Continued

Lo, it is a solemn day for lovers of religious-themed roadside attractions, for today one of the most recognizable of our nation's giant Jesuses is now nothing but a charred metal frame.

The 62-foot-tall "King of Kings" statue that once rose from the pond outside Monroe, Ohio's Solid Rock Church was struck by lightning last night and set ablaze. The figure, which many detourists lovingly nicknamed "Touchdown Jesus" or "Drowning Jesus," had little chance of survival due to its highly flammable plastic-foam and fiberglass construction. (Video below.)

Motorists are already feeling the loss. So many gawkers were stopping along Interstate 75 this afternoon that highway patrolmen were forced to begin issuing citations just to keep traffic moving. Reports indicate that some visitors were scooping chunks of molten Jesus from the pond as souvenirs.

Yet, the church has already announced plans to rebuild the iconic statue. "It will be back," said co-pastor Darlene Bishop, "but this time we are going to try for something fireproof." ... Continued