59 Jaw-Dropping Roadside Attractions: Midwest
Our top reasons-from giant mazes to outdoor churches to the world's largest ball of twine-to pull off the side of the road and visit a while
Bill Shea's Gas Station Museum
Back in 1946, when Bill Shea started pumping gas on legendary Route 66, a car would go by every 10 minutes. Now, he says, it takes 10 minutes just to cross the road. Stop in for an earful of stories and a look at Shea's gas station memorabilia from nearly 60 years on the Mother Road. 2075 Peoria Rd., Springfield, 217/522-0475, $2, kids $1.
World's Largest Catsup Bottle
Once America's best-selling catsup, Brook's Old Original Tangy Catsup was so popular that the company's owners built themselves a massive landmark. The bottle--12 miles east of St. Louis on Route 159--is really a 170-foot-tall water tower, but it's definitely more fun to pretend otherwise. 800 S. Morrison Ave., Collinsville, 618/345-5598, catsupbottle.com.
Living in perpetual darkness, the fish in Bluespring Caverns have evolved to a state of blindness--see for yourself on the one-hour boat tour. In the winter months, Bluespring runs organized caving tours for groups of kids, with an overnight stay in a limestone cave, where hibernating bats also make their home ($23). 1459 Bluespring Caverns Rd., Bedford, 812/279-9471, bluespringcaverns.com, $12, kids $6.
Grotto of the Redemption
Father Paul Dobberstein's geological tribute to God is one of the largest collections of precious stones and gems in the world. The nine grottoes tell the story of redemption through Christ; its curators estimate its value at $4 million to $5 million. In December, if the pond freezes, there's ice-skating. 300 N. Broadway, West Bend, 800/868-3641, westbendgrotto.com, suggested donation $5, kids $2.50.
Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz
Tours of the cottage, carefully done up to resemble the one in The Wizard of Oz, are led by one of 18 Dorothy look-alikes--they're dressed in pigtails, blue gingham, and ruby slippers. Strangely enough, the house is on Yellow Brick Road--and you thought that was in Oz! 567 Yellow Brick Rd., Liberal, 620/624-7624, $5, seniors and kids $3.50. Toy ruby slippers: $13.
World's Largest Ball of Twine
Made from over 7 million feet of sisal twine, the World's Largest Ball of Twine measures 40 feet in circumference and weighs almost nine tons. Housed under a canopy in Cawker City on Highway 24--100 miles northwest of Abilene--the ball is a work in progress, so bring some twine, wrap it around, and consider yourself part of the record books. Cawker City Hall, 785/781-4713, free.
The Van Gogh Project
Part of an ongoing venture to reproduce all seven of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings in seven countries around the globe, this 768-square-foot reproduction of Three Sunflowers in a Vase is easy to spot. It stands on an 80-foot easel along I-70, in the town of Goodland. Artist Cameron Cross painted the work--the other two completed paintings are in Canada and Australia; thebigeasel.com.
Henry Ford Museum
When Thomas Edison was dying in late 1931, Henry Ford decided he wanted to capture the inventor's final gasp--so he had him breathe in a test tube and corked it for posterity. It's now part of the Henry Ford Museum's permanent collection, along with other pieces of American history, including the Rosa Parks bus, Kennedy's presidential limousine, and Lincoln's blood-stained chair. 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, 313/982-6001, hfmgv.org, $14, seniors $13, kids $10. Ford Model A toy: $32.
Jolly Green Giant
Ho, ho, ho! The 55-foot-tall statue of everybody's favorite Jolly Green Giant--at the midpoint of Minnesota along I-90, America's longest interstate--has a smile that's 48 inches wide and a shoe size that's somewhere around 78. He was erected in the town of Blue Earth back in 1979 to celebrate the area's longtime affiliation with canning--Green Giant was once the Blue Earth Canning Company. Intersection of I-90 and Hwy. 169, Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce, 507/526-2916.
Beware of flying objects. Raise your hand at this Sikeston restaurant and a server will toss a wheat roll from across the room. Credit the practice to owner Norman Lambert, who was once so busy he couldn't bring the rolls to a table--so he threw them. No injuries have been reported. 2305 E. Malone St., 573/471-4261, throwedrolls.com.