America's Strangest Monuments

auvet, flickr

Any road-tripper worth his GPS system has seen at least a few of the nation's major monuments: Mount Rushmore, the Vietnam Memorial, and the Liberty Bell. What you may not know, however, is that the U.S. has just as many (if not more) quirky monuments as it has famous ones. Across the country, lesser-known events and historical figures are remembered-from a meteorite that crashed through a suburban house to a man who survived an iron rod being blown into his skull. If you're willing to go off the beaten path, you can even find monuments to insects, creditors, and the boy who inspired the invention of the piggy bank.

Up your knowledge of Americana-and gather some facts that might help you win your next game of Trivial Pursuit-with our top ten list of strange monuments in the USA.

Lincoln Watermelon Monument
Unusual claim to fame: This watermelon statue is the nation's most obscure monument to Lincoln.
Location: Lincoln, Illinois

In the United States, there are many statues of Abraham Lincoln and many towns named after the late president. There is, however, only one town that received Lincoln's official consent to use his name and the town, called Lincoln, Illinois, also happens to be the home of the nation's most obscure Lincoln monument. When the future president visited the area in 1853, he was an attorney for the Chicago and Alton railroad (he was instrumental in planning a new town along the railroad line). According to the town's first inhabitants, he was eating a piece of watermelon when he agreed to let the town use his name, though he joked that "Nothing with the name of Lincoln has ever amounted to much." A life-size watermelon and plaque in front of the town's Amtrak station commemorates the day.

See the monument here.

Boll Weevil Monument
Unusual claim to fame: The world's only monument to an agricultural pest.
Location: Enterprise, Alabama

The Boll Weevil Monument, which features a woman hoisting a larger-than-life beetle over her head, was dedicated in 1919, a few short years after the Mexican boll weevil began terrorizing the region's cotton plantations. The insect attack devastated crops, and many farmers had to abandon the cotton plants they'd been carefully tending for years. Desperate for a new livelihood, plantation owners started planting peanuts instead, and to the surprise of Enterprise residents, economic hardship quickly gave way to a period of prosperity as the county became the nation's number one harvester of peanuts. Today, the Boll Weevil Monument symbolizes the importance of resilience, flexibility, and faith in the old maxim that when a door closes, a window opens: the plaque reads, in part, "in profound appreciation of the Boll Weevil and what it has done."

See the monument here.

Falling Star
Unusual claim to fame: Commemorates an object from outer space hitting a person.
Location: Sylacauga, Alabama

There's only one recorded instance of an object from outer space hitting a person. The victim was a housewife named Mrs. Ann Hodges, who was taking a nap when a meteorite crashed through the roof of her Alabama home and bounced off a radio before striking her body (she was seriously bruised but otherwise unharmed). The eerie event, which occurred on November 30, 1954, is forever remembered in the form of a white marble statue crafted by the artist Don Lawler. Falling Star sits proudly in front of the City Hall in Sylacauga- and the meteorite itself is on display at Tuscaloosa's Alabama Museum of Natural History.

See the monument here.

Memorial for Circus Showfolks of America
Unusual claim to fame: America's only memorial to deceased circus performers.
Location: Colma, California

The concept of mortality is rarely associated with the cartoonish clowns and colorful merriment of a circus. But the Showfolks of America, an organization of circus performers and executives, decided to honor their fallen trapeze artists, lion tamers, and jugglers with a whimsical monument inside a cemetery in Colma, California. A large yellow clown face, surrounded on either side by a big top tent and a merry-go-round, grins down at visitors who've come to pay their respects to old-fashioned entertainment and childhood memories.

See the monument here.

Run-Over Fireman Monument
Unusual claim to fame: Gravesite monument shows graphic end to memorialized hero.
Unusual claim to fame: Washington, D.C.

Memorials honoring slain war heroes and assassinated politicians are almost always discreet: a statue is likely to show a calm soldier on horseback, for example, not a soldier being stabbed or shot at close range. That's exactly why a gravesite monument to a young fireman in Washington, D.C., is so unusual. Benjamin Grenup was, according to the inscription, killed in the line of duty on May 6, 1856, when he was accidentally run over by a firetruck. The memorial's violent relief sculpture shows Grenup's body pinned under a large wheel, his face contorted in agony. Despite this graphic rendering of his tragic end, at least the fireman was remembered with great respect on the plaque: it reads "A truer, nobler, trustier heart more loving or more loyal never beat within a human breast."

See the monument here.

The Friendship Monument
Unusual claim to fame: World's only monument built by a debtor to honor his creditors.
Location: Cartersville, Georgia

In an economic climate characterized by recession, unemployment, and a growing distrust of bankers and policymakers, it's heartening to consider the Friendship Monument of Cartersville, Georgia-also known as the world's only monument built by a debtor to honor his creditors. After a series of unlucky events, businessman Mark Cooper found himself in serious debt in 1857 and his company, Etowah Iron and Manufacturing, went up for auction. Cooper was able to buy his company back after 38 friends and acquaintances lent him a total of $200,000. True to his promise, Cooper paid back all of his creditors ahead of schedule, then promptly built the Friendship Monument on the Etowah Town Square to honor his friends' generosity.

See the monument here.

Sh*t Fountain
Unusual claim to fame: World's only statue of dog waste.
Location: Chicago

Every city dweller in the United States has probably complained at least once about neighborhood dog owners who don't clean up after their pets. But one Chicago man - who is, importantly, also a noted sculptor specializing in religious artwork - decided that grumbling about soiled sidewalks just wasn't enough. Jerzy S. Kenar's S*it Fountain features a bronze replica of a real piece of dog waste, standing in front of the apartment building that the artist owns. Though the East Village sculpture is clearly an expression of frustration with his neighbors, Kenar, who owns a pit bull, says he intended the work to be funny and ironic, too. When he unveiled the fountain in 2005, he was quoted saying "This [work] is dedicated to all the dogs in the neighborhood."

See the monument here.

Piggy Bank Monument
Unusual claim to fame: Commemorates the world's first piggy bank.
Location: White Cloud, Kansas

It's a little-known fact that piggy banks have a meaningful history: there's a reason, believe it or not, why these old-fashioned coin-savers are shaped like pigs instead of like cows or bumblebees. In White Cloud, Kansas in 1910, a boy named Wilbur Chapman nobly decided to sell his prize pig in order to raise money for a leper colony. After catching wind of the story, the manufacturers of coin-savers started selling little banks shaped like pigs. A monument, which pays tribute both to the piggy bank and to the boy who inspired it, sits in the courtyard of the Community Christian Church on Main Street.

See the monument here.

Monument for Man with Metal Rod Stuck in His Head
Unusual claim to fame: Plaque commemorates a man with a metal rod in his head.
Location: Cavendish, Vermont

September 13, 1848 was not a good day for construction worker Phineas Gage. While inserting explosives into a hole with a large iron rod on a worksite in Cavendish, Vermont, the dynamite blew up, and the 3.5-foot rod was shot into his skull and through his brain before exiting through the top of his head. Incredibly, Gage survived, but his mental state was forever altered. The plaque mentions that "once an efficient and capable foreman, he was now increasingly erratic, irritable, and profane." The Gage accident became widely known in the medical and psychological communities; the case helped further initial concepts of how brain chemistry and personality interact. Gage himself remains a kind of strange celebrity whose experience is universally studied in neuro-psychology courses. In Cavendish, a small monument features a relief sculpture showing an iron rod puncturing a human skull.

See the monument here.
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