One of the joys of travel is coming across the unexpected and unusual– in America, we have endless roadside oddities that attract thousands of visitors who revel in the kitsch, the bizarre, and the beautiful. Pennsylvania is home to some pretty cool roadside attractions– read below to discover those in our home state and to learn the fascinating story of the artists and masterminds who created them.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Harriet Cole's Nervous System, Philadelphia
When cleaning lady Harriet Cole came down with tuburculosis in the late 19th century, she requested that her body be used for science. When she died, Dr. Rufus Weaver, of what is now Drexel's College of Medicine, worked for months to extract her nervous system from the surrounding tissue, then to shellac the nerves and mount them. To this day, Harriet remains displayed at Drexel. For a long time, she was the only fully intact human nervous system in the world, though now the Body Worlds exhibit displays its own.
2. Cyril Griglak's Zoo, Perryopolis
Cyril Griglak began creating plaster sculptures of animals in his backyard after he became too elderly to drive motorcycles or fly his Cessna airplane. Soon, he had over twenty ecelectic animals making their home in his backyard, including specimens with moving parts, like an elephant whose trunk bobbed or the gorilla who bounced up and down. Local children and visiting families loved the unique attraction. Little information from the past few years is available on the Griglak Zoo-- if you know what's become of the animals or if they're still there, please let us know in the comments!
3. Roadside America, Shartlesville
No matter how ambitious you ever were with your model train set, there's no way you ever came close to Laurence Gieringer's vision. He spent over sixty years creating the miniature village that is Roadside America, which includes a model railroad, but is much more than just that. An entire miniature town fills a vast hangar, complete with working lights, people, cars, power lines, fountains, and anything you might see walking down an actual street. Complete with a gift shop, Roadside America has been a Pennsylvania staple for over fifty year.
4. Haines Shoe House, Hallam
People do some wacky things when their heart is broken, but few, like Mahlon Haines, build a shoe empire. After a broken engagement in 1905, he biked to York County where he sold the engagement ring, bought ten pairs of shoes, sold them, and used the profit to buy more shoes. In a few years, he was running multiple shoe stores across the state. Eventually, he contracted an architect to build his shoe house (complete with an adjacent shoe dog house.) During his lifetime, he invited newlyweds and the elderly to stay as guests in the shoe home. Since Haines' death, his shoe house has been kept up as a tourist attraction.
5. Columcille Megalith Park, Bangor
Whether or not you're interested in the spiritual background of the place, the many stone structures of Columcille, concealed within the forest, will leave you in reverent awe. Founders Bill Cohea and Frederick Lindkvist modeled Columcille after the ancient Celtic Isle of Iona, which is a spiritual retreat off the coast of Scotland. Though significantly smaller, the Pennsylvanian version includes many standing stones and structures such as a chaple, gates, and towers. Though the area replicates a specific spirituality, its builders meant it to be a place of meditation and tranquility for people of all denominations and beliefs.
6. Randyland, Pittsburgh
Visitors to the nearby Mattress Factory will often pass the colorful Randyland and stop out of curiosity. Two houses and a sandwiched yard are covered in an array of offbeat and fun outsider art. The creator, Randy, is known to be an outgoing and welcoming host who aspires to spread his positivity to the surrounding community. Admission to view his creation is free, but donations are encouraged so that he can continue to make his art!
7. Magic Garden, Philadelphia
Isaiah Zagar has been working tirelessly for over forty years to cover a three-story house in South Philly with an assortment of glass mosaics and found objects such as glass bottles and bike tires. The amazing property attracts tourists from all over the city as well as the country, who come to wander in awe through the Magic Garden's winding corridors. The project is impressive not only in its vast scope but also in the level of detail that went into each square foot-- cryptic messages and tiny paintings adorn each tile of the Garden.
Pennsylvania certainly is home to artistic genius as well as a variety of unique places to visit. What offbeat attractions have you visited in PA?