From off-the-wall festivals to outrageous legends, Wisconsin takes home top honors in the weirdness category. So when it comes to strange roadside attractions, it should surprise no one that the state boasts an impressive collection. Here's your guide to seven of Wisconsin's quirkiest roadside attractions:
The Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc is full of interesting artifacts, but only one arrived to the museum by crashing down from the sky. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik IV on May 14, 1960. Due to a rocket malfunction, it drifted in space for years before falling out of its orbit on September 6, 1962. Nearly all of the spacecraft disintegrated before reaching the earth, but one 20-pound chunk of Sputnik made a permanent dent in downtown Manitowoc. The city of Manitowoc has honored the fallen piece of Sputnik since 2008 with its annual Sputnikfest.
Chatty Belle, the world’s largest talking cow, was Wisconsin’s contribution to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Today, she resides happily in Neillsville. According to worldslargestthings.com, Belle recites the following greeting to her many visitors: “Hi, so nice to see you. My name is Chatty Belle and beside me is my son, Bullet. Bullet doesn't talk yet but he's learning. What's your name? Well, nice to meet you. Did you know I’m the world's largest talking cow? I'm 16 feet high at the shoulders and 20 feet long, seven times as large as the average Holstein." Unfortunately, Bullet no longer stands next to her, but Belle certainly is keeping in touch with modern times: She recently joined Facebook and Twitter.
This unusual monument was created in honor of Dr. Kate Pelham who in the early 1900s was a family doctor to residents in an area of approximately 300 square miles in northern Wisconsin. In 1953, Dr. Pelham began fundraising for a hospital in her small hometown of Woodruff, and a local high school class made it their mission to “save their pennies” and donate $10,000 to the future hospital. The class raised $17,000 and national attention, which led to Dr. Pelham appearing on the popular 1950s television show This is Your Life. The hospital opened shortly after and the giant penny statue was unveiled in 1954.
James Frank Kotera (who goes by JFK) began building the world’s heaviest ball of twine in 1979. He continues to work on making the ball larger but estimates that it currently weighs more than 20,000 lbs. During the summer months, JFK regularly greets visitors who come to take pictures of the wonder, as he’s often outdoors working on growing this gigantic twine ball.
Fiberglass Animals Shapes and Trademarks (FAST), located in Sparta, Wis., makes thousands of signs and other products every year. Waterslides that look like open-mouthed frogs? They make ‘em. Giant fiberglass Musky (see #7)? They make those, too! A ton of their old and abandoned products can be found in the “graveyard” located next to their workshop, which visitors can stroll through at anytime. This is likely the only place in the world where you can see giant fiberglass mold signs from the last 20 years.
On April 24, 1995, a 55-ton boulder rolled down a hill and crashed into the home of Dwight and Maxine Anderson. (How's that for a bad day?!) A few weeks later, a man named Jon Burt bought the house and turned it into a unique roadside attraction. With just a $2 honor system cost, the former Anderson residence is available for visitors to see 24/7 from April to October.
The largest object in the small town of Hayward draws 100,000 visitors each year. The National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is inside the world’s largest fiberglass fish, which is, more specifically, our state fish: the Muskellunge (or “Musky” for short). Visitors enter the museum through a door in the Musky’s tail and explore the collections inside the four-story fish. At the height of the museum’s stairs, visitors can enjoy the breathtaking views from the observation deck inside the fish’s mouth.
Price County native Fred Smith began creating the Wisconsin Concrete Park back in 1968. Something of a Renaissance Man (i.e. lumberjack, tavern owner, farmer and dance hall musician), Smith constructed more than 230 figures depicting his vision of local and international culture. To this day, his work is highly regarded as one of most extraordinary displays of folk art. Smith's more recognized statues include Ben Hur, the Lincolns, Sacajawea and Paul Bunyan.
Which weird roadside attraction is your favorite? Comment below!