We all know America’s famous sights – Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, the Sears Tower, the Saint Louis Arch – but many of us are unfamiliar with the more bizarre sites the United States has to offer.
From sea to shining sea, you’ll find an eclectic array of sites. Stretches of highways that include enormous sculptures of instruments, families, and even… insects. Museums that include brains of famous scientists or random people. Art installations that feature vintage guards and enormous metal sculptures, some of the largest in the world. Massive mansions that are either built on isolated rocks in bays, or with haunted pasts and an inexplicable number of doors, windows, and stairways. A town where the dead outnumber the living. A hidden subterranean section of a large beachside city. A palace decorated with corn murals. Two massive animals that serve as pseudo mascots and landmarks. There’s even a center that answers the age old question – where does our lost luggage go?
If any of this has piqued your curiosity, keep reading to find a list of the fifteen most bizarre sites to visit in the United States.
15. THE WAVE ORGAN
If you’ve ever wanted to see a larger than life sized instrument, you’re in luck. This enormous sculpture on the shore of San Francisco Bay is exactly what it sounds like – a giant organ. Built in 1986 by the Exploratorium, this instrument uses twenty five PVC organ pipes and interacts with the waters of the bay to produce sound. Even stranger, the parts used to make the organ were salvaged from the Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco. There are multiple benches and platforms situated around the organ, so you can sit near the pipes and listen to the tunes.
14. MUTTER MUSEUM
Want to see Albert Einstein’s brain? The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia is the only place you can see it. It’s a medical museum in Philadelphia where you can see a whole host of oddities, including the aforementioned brain. The original collection was donated in 1858 by Doctor Thomas Mutter for research, but has now expanded into a varied collection. You can find such gems as the conjoined liver from the Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, antique medical equipment, wax models, and a even a piece of tissue that was removed from John Wilkes Booth’s thorax.
13. UNDERGROUND TUNNELS OF LOS ANGELES
We’re all familiar with Los Angeles’ crowded above ground streets, but did you know that there are eleven miles of underground tunnels beneath its downtown area? Visitors can access the tunnels beneath the LA County Hall of Records and the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. These tunnels have a storied history – once used as a transport system for illegal goods, criminals, and cash. There are unused tunnels from the time of the Los Angeles Pacific Electric Railway, now closed to the public, but once the site of the city’s premier underground transit system.
12. UFO WATCHTOWER
Just north of Hooper, Colorado you’ll find the UFO Watchtower. Strategically located with a panoramic view of the San Luis Valley, the area has long been the location of a multitude of UFO sightings – going all the way back to the 1600s. Set up by Judy Messoline in 2000, the watchtower now consists of an observation platform, campground, and kitzchy gift shop. Tens of thousands of visitors make the trek to the watchtower hoping to catch a glimpse of UFOs. While I’m not sure you’ll glimpse any aliens, the UFO Watchtower is definitely a site to take in for the good natured weirdness of it all.
11. CUSHING BRAIN COLLECTION
In the mood for more brains? Head to the aptly named Cushing Brain Collection in New Haven, Connecticut, a collection engineered by the neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing. Also a World War I veteran and Pulitzer winning author, Cushing devoted his academic life to studying the brain. You’ll find the exhibit below Yale’s medical school library. One you enter the museum, you’ll find an… interesting collection. The collection includes eerie drawers of infant skulls, a signed steak by Ivan Pavlov, and items from Cushing’s medical career. Even if you’re not into… brains; the museum offers a host of interesting medical history.
10. MILES THE MONSTER
Looming over the Dover International Speedway, you’ll find “Miles the Monster”, the mascot of the speedway. His construction cost six million dollars and he stands at nearly fifty feet tall, weighing twenty tons. Miles the Monster may be an ominous site, with his hulking body and glowing red eyes, but he’s the mascot of Dover International. You’ll find his image on tickets, T-shirts, and even on the winner’s trophy of the races. At the base of the giant cement monster, you’ll find plaques commemorating all the Dover NASCAR winners. If you’re interested in seeing this odd site in person, head to Delaware and take in this larger than life monster.
9. CADILLAC RANCH
This public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo Texas was created by several groups of an art group called Ant Farm – Hudson Margues, Chip Lord, and Doug Michels. The installation consists of old or junk Cadillacs, showing the progression of the car line from 1949 to 1963. Even cooler – or weirder – the installation features the cars half buried in the ground, and their angles are similar to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. You can see the installation from the highway; to get a closer look make your way through an unlocked gate.
8. UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE CENTER
Ever wondered what happens to the poor unclaimed baggage that clogs airport baggage claim areas? The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama answers that question, and brilliantly. It’s four thousand square feet of lost luggage, repurposed into a department store. The sections include jewelry, electronics, men’s, women’s and even a children’s section. There’s even a so called “roll-outs” section for new deals that arrive every hour on the hour. The center opened in 1970 and has been selling lost luggage ever since. It’s now one of Alabama’s top – and bizarre – tourist destinations.
7. CORN PALACE
The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota is just what it sounds like – a giant palace decorated with corn. It’s a design based on the Moorish Revival style, and emblazoned with “crop art”. Believe it or not, Mitchell was merely one of many cities in the Great Plains that built “crop palaces” to promote their product. Murals, made from corn and other grains, that cover the exterior change their themes yearly. The current murals have been designed by Cherie Ramsdell since 2003. Nearly half a million people for year visit this strange attraction.
6. LUCY THE ELEPHANT
Want to see a giant man made elephant? Just south of Atlantic City, New Jersey, you’ll find Lucy the Elephant, a six story building designed in the shape of an elephant, made out of wood and tin. Lucy was constructed by James Lafferty in 1881, and has served many purposes – a summer home, real estate office, and a tavern. Now, visitors can enter the uniquely shaped building for a tour. There’s a spiral staircase in one of her hind legs, and as you enter you can see photographs detailing her history. At the top, you can find cool views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Clingstone is called “The House on the Rock” by the locals who live in nearby Jamestown, Rhode Island. It’s an apt description, because that’s exactly what it is – a three story, twenty three room, ten thousand square feet home built on a tiny rock island in Narragansett Bay. It was built in 1905, and designed by J.S. Lovering Wharton and William Trost Richards. Wharton spent his summers there until he died in the 30s. Though it took heavy damage from a hurricane, it was purchased in 1961 by architect Henry Wood, and it is still standing, an odd landmark in the Rhode Island Bay.
4. TRUNDLE MANOR
Trundle Manor, located in the Pittsburgh suburb of Swissvale, Pennsylvania, is actually a collection of oddities. There are collection of taxidermy such as “pigeon shark” and “rat bird”. There are coffins on the front porch and inside lining the walls. There are also medical devices and suspiciously rusty cleavers, along with various “dead things in jars”. There is even a shelf full of animal penises and a jar full of human skin flakes. A popular tourist site in Pennsylvania, you can take a tour of the bizarre items by calling or emailing ahead to make an appointment.
The motto of Colma, California, is: “It’s great to be alive in Colma.” This very tongue in cheek quote is due to the fact that Colma has more dead residents than live ones. Located on the north of the San Francisco peninsula, Colma was initially founded as a necropolis in 1924. There simply wasn’t enough room for many burials in San Francisco, so the dead souls were transported here instead. Now, there are two million dead residents, and merely fifteen hundred live ones. In addition to its fitting motto, the town is also called “City of the Silent”.
2. WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE
In San Jose, California, you’ll find the Winchester Mystery House, a mansion that once belonged to the wealthy widow Sarah Winchester. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because her late husband, William Wirt Winchester, was a gun magnate of the Winchester rifles. Sarah believed the mansion was haunted by the ghosts of those killed by the rifles. In addition to the alleged paranormal activity, the mansion has no master building plan – which is not surprising given that is has two thousand doors, ten thousand windowns, and forty seven stairways and doorways. In addition, it has nine kitchens, thirteen bathrooms. This architectural oddity is a popular tourist attraction.
1. ENCHANTED HIGHWAY
In North Dakota, there’s a stretch of road between the towns of Regent and Gladstone. It has earned the name the “Enchanted Highway” because its dotted by various sculptures / roadside attractions. These sculptures include: The World’s Largest Grasshopper, which is exactly what it sounds like, and the world’s largest metal sculpture, Geese in Flight. You can also see a sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt, the Tin Family, consisting of a mother with barbed wire hair, and various other artworks. While driving down this stretch of road, be sure to leave plenty of time to pause and take in this unique outdoor museum of sorts.
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