Roadside attractions have been breaking up the monotony of fast food stops and long stretches of highway for years. For travelers who delight in the weird or the wacky, they have become destinations unto themselves, rather than just diversions along the way. There is no need to plan a trip across the country, though! Indiana has plenty of oddities along its roads to satisfy your craving for quirk. Here are ten to get you started:
1. Periodic Table Display, DePauw University, Greencastle
The brainchild of Theodore Gray and Max Whitby, this display gathers all of the elements of the periodic table in one place. Each element is displayed in its own cube, arranged in proper order, and many include practical examples of their use as well. For example, the copper cube includes copper nails and a 3,000-wire telephone cable. Those that are too dangerous are replaced by a photo and a sign explaining the risk. The table can be seen at the top of the grand staircase in the Julian Science and Mathematics Center at DePauw University.
For another museum-worthy display on a college campus, visit the Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection at Indiana University in Bloomington.
2. Joe Palooka, Oolitic
In the 1940s, Joe Palooka was a character in a popular comic created by “Ham” Fisher. Joe was a boxer, enlisted in the Army, and was widely regarded as an American hero. In 1947, George Hitchcock, Sr. chiseled a 7-foot statue of Joe out of Indiana limestone. The statue weighs over 10 tons and was erected in June of 1948. Joe Palooka now sits in front of the Oolitic Town Hall, on Main Street, between Lafayette and Hoosier Streets.
If stone men are your thing, check out Stone Head near Story.
3. Toboggan Run, Pokagon State Park, Angola
Pokagon State Park is home to one of the few refrigerated toboggan runs in the United States. Approximately 90,000 riders brave the cold each year for their turn to race down the quarter-mile track, where they reach a reported top speed of 42 miles per hour. Toboggans that seat up to four can be rented by the hour for $13. Lines can be long, but there is a warming station that serves snacks and warm beverages. The run is open on weekends between Thanksgiving and the end of February.
4. World's Largest Ball of Paint, Alexandria
Imagine a baseball. Now imagine that baseball covered with over 24,000 coats of paint. If you have trouble envisioning such a thing, just visit Alexandria and call on Mike Carmichael. In 1977, Mike and his son accidentally dropped a baseball in a can of paint. Inexplicably, he decided to continue coating the ball with paint, just to see how it would turn out. Today, the ball hangs in a barn behind Mike’s house. It weighs over 3,000 pounds and is the size of a giant beach ball. It has been featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and has been verified as the World’s Largest Ball of Paint by Guinness Book of World Records. Visitors are welcome, but please call before dropping in: (765) 724-4088.
Want more “giant” attractions? Check out the World’s Largest Jack (Bloomfield), Big Peach (Bruceville), World’s Largest Candle (Centerville), World’s Largest Toilet (Columbus), KokoMantis (Kokomo), and the World’s Largest Egg (Mentone).
5. Backyard Roller Coasters, Bruceville
In Bruceville, John Ivers decided to build a working roller coaster in his backyard. John has no engineering experience and used no blueprint; he just really loves roller coasters. He built the coaster in his free time from spare parts and items purchased at the local hardware store. The Blue Flash is 188 feet long, 20 feet high, travels at 25 miles per hour, and features a 360-degree corkscrew turn. If you’re in Bruceville and you feel like a thrill ride, call John at (812) 324-9030, or stop by. John has also built a smaller, tamer coaster for the less courageous, Blue Too.
7. Century of Progress Homes, Beverly Shores
The 1933-34 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago featured a collection of homes designed to feature innovative building materials and designs. When the Fair ended, developer Robert Bartlett purchased five of them. He had four of them shipped via barge to the newly-formed community of Beverly Shores. The fifth was dismantled and moved by truck. Today the House of Tomorrow, Rostone House, Florida Tropical House, Cypress House, and Amco Ferro House are owned by the National Park Service, and listed on the National Historic Register. The homes are easily visible from Lake Front Drive, and one weekend each year in the fall, they are open to the public.
While you are in the area, check out several Lustron homes in Beverly Shores, Chesterton, and Porter.
6. Muffler Men (multiple locations)
Muffler men statues are sort of the iconic American roadside mascots. Called “muffler men” because the positioning of their arms suggests they are holding a muffler, these fiberglass figures were constructed by International Fiberglass in California from a master mold which could be customized. The original muffler man was a Paul Bunyan character for a restaurant in Arizona. Production ceased in the 1970s, but many still dot the nation’s roadsides. Indiana is home to six: an Indian at Camp Tecumseh in Brookston; Mr. Bendo at Ralph’s Muffler Shop in Indianapolis; an Indian in Montpelier, which is seen in the opening credits of “Parks and Recreation”; Paul Bunyan at Timbers Lounge in Muncie; a muffler man at MacAllister Rental and Supply, also in Muncie; and finally another Indian outside of Richard’s, a discount store and restaurant in Toto.
8. Pink Martini Elephant, Fortville
If you are trying to find Elite Beverages in Fortville, just keep your eyes open for the giant pink elephant with the martini glass. Paul Dyer originally purchased the elephant for $6,600 as the perfect mascot for his liquor store (then Wagon Wheel Liquors). The elephant sits in front on a trailer. Over the years his glasses have been stolen, and he’s had a few paint touch-ups, but he’s still enjoying that martini.
Believe it or not, there is another martini-drinking elephant in Indiana. Visit Kipp’s Nursery in Haubstadt. You can’t miss it.
9. Grave in Road, Franklin
When the construction crew started plotting out County Road 400 near Franklin, they found themselves in a “grave” situation. Nancy Kerlin Barnett had been buried smack in the center of where the road was to sit. Her grandson, Daniel Doty, guarded the grave so that no one dared attempt to move it. Eventually the county gave in and split CR 400 in half with one lane on each side of the grave. Cement markers were placed by the family, until eventually in 1982 an official county marker was dedicated.
This isn’t the only noteworthy grave in Indiana. There is a gravemarker shaped like a micrometer in Dupont, John Dillinger is buried in Indianapolis, and James Dean is buried in Fairmount.
10. Lady's Leg Sundial
This list would not be complete without mentioning what is certainly the raciest roadside attraction in the state. The Sun Aura Nudist Retreat features an enormous sundial, shaped like a curvy lady’s leg, with the toe pointed to show the time. Sun Aura is open year-round, and visitors are welcome, nudity optional.
So go ahead and plan your road trip! This list represents just a fraction of the roadside attractions that call Indiana home. Which is your favorite? And what else belongs on the list? Let me know in the comments and look for a follow-up to come later. Safe travels!