Illinois Road Trip & Roadside Attractions
Things I learned last weekend on my Illinois road trip…
…exit numbers correspond to mile markers (who knew!)
……Google Maps does not know the difference between a legitimate road and a rocky unpaved stretch of hilly gravel.
………southern Illinois towns really have to get on labeling their roads with the county road number or at least the right name.
I planned a three-day weekend road trip around Illinois to go out in search of the weirdest Illinois attractions I could find. You know the kind: the world’s biggest so and so, the world’s tallest this and that. Roadside attractions, fun places off the highway you might never know existed if you didn’t know to look for them. I’ve always wanted to take a weird trip like this and finally decided that I’m an adult now and can do the things I’ve always wanted to do. So I planned this wacky road trip and got three of my friends (Joe, Nadia, and Jen) to come along for the ride. Here’s what we did and all the cool places in Illinois that we found….
ILLINOIS ROAD TRIP MISSION: SEE THE ABSOLUTE STUPIDEST ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS IN ILLINOIS WE CAN FIND IN THREE DAYS!!!!
ILLINOIS ROAD TRIP DAY 1
I managed to thoroughly impress JoeJoe with my roadtripping skills by not only showing up early but also bringing along goody bags (that included car games, snacks, and Simpsons pens). He then proceeded to eat all of the fruit rollups I brought him before we even reached Jen’s House.
With Nadia, Joe, and Jen in tow we left “Chicagoland” and headed south in search of the best Illinois tourist attractions we could find. And boy did we find them.
WILMINGTON: GEMINI GIANT – SPACE AGE MUFFLER MAN
The Gemini Giant is a Muffler Man wearing a space suit and carrying a rocket that advertises the “Launching Pad” drive through that it is attached to. We stopped inside for some mini corn dogs (how did 3 of the 4 of us decide on mini corn dogs?), fries, and milkshakes. Yummmmm. Great food and a great giant? What a way to start a road trip!
NORWAY: AGRICULTURAL CRASH MONUMENT
So, have you ever come across a crashed airplane on the side of the road? Maybe it was an agricultural crash monument! This was a crashed plane on the side of a country corn road, just kind of hanging out. It was dedicated to farmers who lived “thru” the Agricultural crash of the 1980’s. It’s kind of graffitied up by now…but kinda neat. And kind of scary.ro
PERU: WORLD’S LARGEST POT OF COFFEE
The “World’s Largest Pot of Coffee” in Peru isn’t really the world’s largest pot of coffee…it’s a sign for a chain of truck stops. I knew this, and it was a pretty pathetic site, but, as I told the crew, there were no other things to see for over two hours, so might as well stop there!
That was it for sightseeing on Friday, so we drove a bit more to stop at a Super 8 in Wenona for a good night’s sleep…We had a lot of weird Illinois destinations to get to the next day! Extra bonus surprise that our hotel had a fighter jet parked in the parking lot! Add one more site to my list! (JoeJoe kept saying two for two, etc. as we went along and found roadside attractions on my list of sites to see to see…I don’t think he believed that we’d find any of the tourist attractions I wanted to find on our mini vacation…he should learn to trust me more.)
ILLINOIS ROAD TRIP DAY 2
ARCOLA: RAGGEDY ANN MUSEUM
After a bit of driving (OK, OK a LOT of driving) we made it to our first stop of the day…Arcola! Arcola, Illinois is the birthplace of the creator of the doll Raggedy Ann. We stopped by the museum, but since we didn’t have much time, we didn’t really have time to actually go through the museum. But we visited the gift shop! It was run by some very nice people who seemed rather devoted to the doll. And we signed a petition to get Raggedy Ann’s (boyfriend? brother? Illegitimate love child?) Raggedy Andy into the National Toy Hall of Fame.
ARCOLA: ONE AND ONLY HIPPIE MEMORIAL
Around the corner from the Raggedy Ann Museum was the “One and Only Hippie Memorial.” It, well, looked like something that should be memorializing hippies. It was basically a long wall along the train tracks decorated with junk. Very odd. Very odd indeed. But a cool place to visit none the less!
MATTOON: THE ORIGINAL “BURGER KING”
Now, where else would you stop for lunch on a road trip of oddities other than Burger King? Wait…what? Now, don’t you worry, this wasn’t just any old Burger King. It was the Original Burger King, and by that I mean it wasn’t a “Burger King” at all! Basically this restaurant had an Illinois trademark on the name “Burger King” before that famous international chain came about, so they got to keep the name. It was a nice little local hamburger joint with much better burgers than that other place. And they had Chocolate Coke! And I at least thought it was delicious! We also totally got the four double cheeseburger and a half pound of fries special. Mmmmm.
CHARLESTON: WORLD’S LARGEST AND UGLIEST LINCOLN STATUE
Yes, it was tall. Very tall. Yes, it was ugly. Not as ugly though as I hear it used to be (a resort is being built around this gint Lincoln statue, so I think the resort people had him painted and cleaned up…and maybe took the bullet out of his head…). He was very very very very tall though. And kind of an awesome attraction, because…well, who builds a gigantic president? This was one of very few sites where we saw other tourists.
GAYS: TWO-STORY OUTHOUSE
Yup, you read me…a TWO-STORY OUTHOUSE! Too bad they don’t let you use it 🙁 Or maybe not so bad. But this tourist trap was once used and actually worked.
EFFINGHAM: GIANT CROSS
This is a giant cross. Yeah, that’s about it. It is surrounded by plaques of the ten commandments. Each commandment had a rock that spoke affirmations or something. Jen sat there listening to commandment one for about twenty minutes before giving up. Who has time for that? We get the gist of it!!! Still, the Effingham Cross at the Crossroads is a popular place to visit in Illinois because it’s one of the few roadside attractions clearly visible from the highway.
OLNEY: HOME OF THE WHITE SQUIRRELS IN ILLINOIS
Olney is the home of the white squirrels. They have some weird breed of albino squirrels that live there, and not many other places in the world. While it was definitely a fun diversion to try and spot a white squirrel, after wandering the park for a bit, and many false alarms, we could not find any. 🙁
METROPOLIS: BIG JOHN, GROCERY CLERK
Our first stop in Metropolis, Illinois, was not the most obvious. Before getting on to that, we stopped at the Big John to see the Big John. Big Johns are a little-seen chain of grocery stores with giant men with grocery bags in their parking lots. He’s kind of a cousin to the muffler man.
METROPOLIS: SUPERMAN STATUE
OK, OK, next it was time to see one of the best southern Illinois attractions, and what Metropolis is really known for: Superman! In the town square (Superman Square) they’ve got an area dedicated to the super hero who graces Metropolis. There’s a giant Superman statue! There’s a museum (again, no museum, it was closed when we got there anyways)! There’s a phone booth to run and change in! OK, so in the scheme of things, it is kind of the most pathetic display you’ll ever see…but for the purposes of our trip, I don’t think you could find a better mecca of cheese! Top that off with the fact that it was 7oclock and there wasn’t an open restaurant in site, and the only thing that was open was the kryptonite tattoo shop, and you have one perfectly crazy town!!!!
ALTO PASS: BALD KNOB CROSS OF PEACE
So…you kind of know you’re in trouble when it’s 9oclock at night and you realize that you next destination is truly in the middle of nowhere, through winding roads of vineyards and your directions stop before the point where you have to drive 4 miles up a mountain…and you didn’t even think a mountain existed in Illinois. So, after much assuming, because we could not find a single road that was on our directions, we finally found a sign that pointed to the road we needed to take to find the Bald Knob Cross of Peace (read: giant cross at top of mountain). I drove us in the pitch black through a tiny gravely winding road up the mountain. It was damn creepy. DAMN CREEPY! We truly expected to break down in front of a deserted house only to have someone run after us with an ax. Or for the road to just stop and for us to plummet down a mountain. Or some equally creepy horror-film in the making moment. The road was black and covered in trees and I could hardly see a damn thing. Finally (finally!) we realized that we were, in fact up the mountain, and saw the cross…way off in the distance in a place that looked like there was no way we could actually drive to. But with the sun setting behind it, and the sky a beautiful shade of purple, we trudged on. Finally (finally!) we made it to the cross! My camera was kind of wonky and would not take pics because it was basically pitch black by the time we found the cross. And there were these holes in the cross that made it sound like it was breathing. And there was this other couple who drove us but stayed a bit down the hill. And we thought they were murderers who were going to slash my tires and kill us. But it was beautiful to be up there. Amazing really.
After the cross we drove to Chester to look for Popeye and hotels, ready to call it a night on the second day of our mini road trip in Illinois. But all the hotels in town were either booked or very creepy looking bed and breakfasts. And the whole town was very dark. And we’d had enough creep, so we backtracked a bit and went to a Best Western out of town that insisted over the phone that they were not a Best Western. So when we got there we were rather surprised to find that the sign said Best Western…and the soap and the keys and the everything…except the receipt the next day 🙂
ILLINOIS ROAD TRIP DAY 3
CHESTER: HOME OF POPEYE
By the light of day Chester isn’t so creepy…unless you count that the town is fully devoted to Popeye the Sailor Man because the creator was born there. We first found a little park with a statue of Wimpy (Popeye’s hamburger-loving friend). Then we drove to the Popeye statue, which was dangerously close to the “cross the Mississippi and no-turning-back leave the state bridge, thus ruining the only in Illinois road trip). But we found the Popeye just before the bridge! He was, well, Popeye. The woman at the gift shop near Wimpy told us that they plan on getting the whole crew of Popeye characters to join him in the coming years. We’ll have to come back!
NASHVILLE: TINY CHURCH – THE TRAVELER’S CHAPEL
The tiny church was a little wooden church in the grassy alley behind a gas station. It was kind of cute and kind of out of place. Unfortunately they closed it off so we couldn’t get inside, but I am still determined to marry JoeJoe there.
COLLINSVILLE: WORLD’S LARGEST CATSUP BOTTLE
WHO DOESN’T LOVE KETCHUP!!!!! IT IS MY FAVORITE CONDIMENT!!!! The world’s largest catsup bottle is a Route 66 icon and pretty much looked like it held the amount I normally take on my hamburger. It was a water tower made to look like a catsup bottle in honor of a catsup plant that used to grace the town. The plant isn’t there anymore, but the catsup is!!!! And, in my opinion, this roadside attraction was one of the best places to visit in Illinois by far.
ALTON: LIFE SIZE STATUE OF WORLD’S TALLEST MAN
At 8’1″ Robert Wadlow was the biggest man ever! Even bigger than my friend Scott! He was born in Alton in 1918 and he sold shoes because, obviously, he had big feet (hmmm, you know what they say about men with big feet.) They erected a statue to him in Alton, just off the Great River Road. The statue is life-size so you can see how tall he really was. They also had a replica made of his chair. I sat down and just kept sliding and sliding and sliding back. I thought it was going to eat me whole!
ALTON: LEGEND OF THE PIASA BIRD
On the side of a cliff in Alton there is a big painting of the “Piasa Bird.” It basically looked like something Napoleon Dynamite would have drawn, with a legend to match. ‘Nuff said.
LIVINGSTON: BEACH GUY AND PINK ELEPHANT
The beach guy was not a muffler man, but he was tall. And he made friends with a PINK elephant, so he’s cool in my book. They stand outside an old high school turned antique mall looking all hawt. Did I mention that the elephant was PINK?
SPRINGFIELD: LAUTERBACH TIRE MUFFLER MAN
Another muffler man! This one carried a flag. Not as exciting as a rocket but still good. We make sure to visit the most important thing in our state’s capital, Springfield. We have our priorities straight.
SPRINGFIELD: LINCOLN’S LUCKY NOSE
We did at least go to see Abraham Lincoln’s grave. Of course, that was only to rub his lucky nose. But whatever. Lincoln has a very off color nose. Someone should blow it for him!
SPRINGFIELD: 30-FOOT-TALL SKINNY LINCOLN
Again, when in your state’s capital and looking for sites to see, it is always important to go to the things that really matter. Such as a tall skinny statue of our 16th president made to look as if he was truly Greg Brady.
LINCOLN: GIANT LINCOLN ON COVERED WAGON
Then it was on to Lincoln to see…more Lincoln! This time Abraham was sitting on top of a large covered wagon and reading a book about law. Man, that man gets around!
LINCOLN: LINCOLN WATERMELON MONUMENT
AND NOW…TIME FOR QUITE POSSIBLY THE STUPIDEST TOURIST SITE POSSIBLE!!!! It was…a monument to Abraham Lincoln…that was…seriously and solitarily…a slice of watermelon!!!!! A SLICE OF WATERMELON!!! Isn’t melon what you think of when you think of the president???? It had to do with him christening the town with melon juice or something. And I think it’s the damn stupidest thing I will ever see!!!! (In a totally good way, obviously.) Congratulations Lincoln!!! (Oh, I also totally managed to lick it while taking this picture. It was kind of gross.)
ATLANTA: MUFFLER MAN HOLDING HOT DOG
Another muffler man on our Illinois road map! This one had a hot dog. He actually used to live a lot closer to me in Cicero but was relocated here in 2003. Nadia remembered him from her childhood in that area.
EAST PEORIA: ROOSTER IN A TOP HAT
We arrived in East Peoria only to see our rooster straight off the highway. He was a cock in a hat outside of a bakery that had really dumb hours.
We capped off our day in East Peoria at a Twistee Treat…an ice cream joint that was shaped like an ice cream. They had a damn good fake-strawberry shake. Mmmmmm. A perfect way to end the day 🙂
So, that was my Illinois road trip!!!!! I thought it was tons of fun!!! I hope everyone else did too. Or at least I hope they don’t think I am too crazy for dragging them around the state to see a whole lotta crap. I was satisfied 🙂 I mean, we found so many unique things to see and do in Illinois so it was definitely a win for a quick weekend getaway!
I am proud of myself for being able to plan out a pretty awesome trip…and for driving the entire time! I don’t think I would have/could have done any of this even a year ago. I’m really happy I was able to convince a few of my friends to follow me in an adventure around the state in search of stupidity…Maybe there will be more road trips to come…there are so many weird and wonderful tourist attractions left to see!!!!!!