Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Twine

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
We are waist deep in summer right now, which is a great time of year if you’re in the podcast business, because it’s road trip season.

Vivian Le:
Time to hop in the car, queue up your favorite podcasts …

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Vivian Le:
… and hit the road.

Roman Mars:
That’s producer Vivian Le, and we recently sent her on a 1,200-mile road trip through the Midwest.

Vivian Le:
And I saw a lot of things along the way. Bob Dylan’s childhood home, a guitar made out of a bedpan, the inside of about 400 boxes of Chicken McNuggets, lots of horses.

Vivian Le:
Ooh, horses.

Roman Mars:
But we didn’t send Vivian out to look for horses or to check a few states off her bucket list. She was on a mission that required equal parts science, philosophy, and daring, in search of something that’s been hotly contested for decades, the world’s largest ball of twine.

Vivian Le:
I began my quest by following in the footsteps of the great “Weird Al” Yankovic …

“Weird Al” Yankovic:
“I want to see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota”

Vivian Le:
… to a twine ball I heard about in Minnesota.

Roman Mars:
About an hour west of St. Paul is a tiny little city called Darwin. It isn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find a great wonder of the world. The population is only about 350.

Vivian Le:
I accidentally circled the entire downtown in about two minutes while looking for parking. The main street is only three blocks long. There’s a bank, a water tower, and a nine-ton ball of twine entombed in a plexiglass gazebo.

Vivian Le:
It says, “World’s Largest Ball of Twine Made by One Man.” It’s very round, very round and nicely shaped. It’s hard to get a good look from the outside, because of the reflection of the glass, but once you press your face up against those windows, you’ll see this enormous perfectly round orb that’s comprised of brown twine.

Roman Mars:
The ball is the pride of Darwin, but before Courtney Johnson moved here, she had never even heard of it.

Courtney Johnson:
When I first came to the area, I didn’t know anything about the twine ball.

Vivian Le:
Johnson’s husband grew up in Darwin, so she asked him.

Courtney Johnson:
I was like, “What is this?” And he’s like, “It’s the twine ball.” And I kind of laughed at it, because it is kind of silly if you think about it. And he’s like, “Don’t laugh, because we’re related to them.”

Vivian Le:
Courtney’s husband is a distant nephew of Francis Johnson, the man who rolled the Darwin twine ball, and she and her husband actually inherited the Johnson family farm.

Roman Mars:
Which is where the story of Great Great Uncle Francis and his giant ball of twine begins.

Vivian Le:
I’d like to tell you that Francis Johnson had a vision of doing something majestic, rolling the largest ball of twine the country had ever seen, but the truth is, he just had too much twine lying around.

Roman Mars:
Johnson was a farmer, and his farm, like all farms really, was lousy with twine. And one day in 1950, while cleaning up after his nephew Harlan, Johnson started rolling some of that extra twine into a ball.

Courtney Johnson:
So he of course picked up the twine, yelling at Harlan that he’s just young and needs to start picking up after himself. Well, before you know it, he had a six-inch twine ball. Well, the six-inch twine ball would get into a foot.

Roman Mars:
And for reasons unknown even to himself, Johnson rolled that ball of twine for the next 29 years.

Vivian Le:
The twine ball was easy enough to roll in its early stages. Johnson would work on it in the basement, but as it got bigger, he had to move the ball outside, or it would get stuck down there for good. Here’s an interview with Johnson from an early ’80s TV show called Real People.

Francis Johnson:
I had to roll it out of the basement while I could still get it through a 30-inch door. And it’s been outdoors ever since.

Roman Mars:
And it was outdoors on his front lawn that he rolled it for four hours a day every single day.

Courtney Johnson:
It became an addiction, an obsession, and it was something that he wanted to do, because it sparked something inside of him.

Roman Mars:
Francis Johnson was a perfectionist, and he was adamant that his twine ball should be a perfectly round sphere. As it got bigger, he rolled it around the yard to make sure he added twine evenly, so it remained beautifully symmetrical.

Vivian Le:
But eventually the ball got so big that he couldn’t roll it around his yard anymore with just his body weight, and so Johnson invented an ingenious method to rotate the ball using railroad jacks. He would tuck a jack under the ball and use it to nudge the ball forward.

Courtney Johnson:
And then the twine ball would roll. And of course, on the other side of it he would have something to stop the ball from rolling completely.

Roman Mars:
He repeated this process over and over, rolling the ball, adding twine, rolling the ball, adding more twine.

Courtney Johnson:
He rolled it around his yard. He chained it to a tree so no one would steal the twine ball. I mean, who would steal a twine ball? But that was the way he was.

Vivian Le:
The ball attracted a lot of attention, both in and out of Darwin. It appeared on television, got written about in newspapers, and Weird Al would eventually write a song about it.

Roman Mars:
The ball had made Johnson famous, even if he wasn’t willing to admit it.

Francis Johnson:
Well, I don’t know about that, about being famous. I’m a modest little guy from the sticks. They got to take me as I am.

Vivian Le:
Francis’s twine ball was absolutely massive. It had to be the largest ball of twine in the world, so that’s what he called it.

Francis Johnson:
This is the biggest ball of twine in the world. There’s no one come forth with a bigger one.

Roman Mars:
Until… someone did.

Linda Clover:
I’m Linda Clover. I live in Cawker City, Kansas, and I’m the caretaker of the world’s largest ball of twine.

Vivian Le:
Cawker City is about 500 miles south of Darwin. They too have a massive ball of twine, and it’s Linda’s job to look after it.

Linda Clover:
The Wall Street Journal called me the Belle of the Ball, but to some local people I think I’m the crazy twine lady.

Vivian Le:
Cawker City’s population is a little larger than Darwin’s, but walking around you wouldn’t guess it. It almost felt like an empty set of a western movie, and in some of the windows of the abandoned storefronts, there’s twine ball-inspired artwork, the Mona Lisa holding a twine ball and one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers with a twine ball at the center.

Linda Clover:
We have things going on, but not much, but that’s okay. We have beautiful sunrises and sunsets and the wonderful lake.

Vivian Le:
They also have an absolutely gigantic twine ball sitting under an open-air gazebo right in the center of town. And unlike its counterpart in Darwin, which is trapped behind glass, this one you can walk right up to and touch.

Linda Clover:
We want people to be able to smell it, because twine has its own fragrance.

Vivian Le:
It certainly does. Ooh, it’s got a smell. Ooh, it smells moist.

Roman Mars:
Linda Clover may be the caretaker of the Cawker City twine ball, but it was rolled by a man named Frank Stoeber. Stoeber started in 1953, coincidentally right around the same time that Johnson was getting going up in Minnesota.

Linda Clover:
Amazingly, two men about the same time, one in Minnesota and one man from Kansas, did twine balls.

Roman Mars:
Stoeber was a farmer, just like Francis Johnson, and he got started rolling his ball of twine in basically the exact same way that Johnson did.

Linda Clover:
He started it because he was cleaning up his barn, and the man just was picking up the twine, because it was on his barn floor, thinking he would roll it into a ball, put it into a tub to get it out of the way.

Vivian Le:
Stoeber and Johnson were both raised with a Depression Era reluctance to waste anything at all.

Roman Mars:
Except for time.

Vivian Le:
And Stoeber may not have been the first person to try to roll the world’s biggest twine ball, but he certainly had a talent for it.

Roman Mars:
By 1956, just three years in, Stoeber’s ball was already seven and a half feet tall and weighed over 4,000 pounds, nearly the size of the Darwin twine ball.

Doug Kirby:
I think it starts with people maybe making fun of them, because it’s such a ludicrous thing, but then you quickly realize there’s something about them that, you know, it’s somebody who took what should have been insignificant little pieces of twine or string or garbage, and they’d made something that’s essentially made them immortal.

Vivian Le:
This is Doug Kirby, the co-founder of Roadside America, which is a website dedicated to documenting the quirky, kooky, and kitschy roadside attractions along our highways.

Doug Kirby:
The balls are pretty much a pilgrimage site for different groups now, because you really can’t go through Minnesota or Kansas and not detour to see those balls.

Vivian Le:
Kirby’s been tracking the status of the balls for a long time, and when I went to meet with him, he even sketched out a little cartoon timeline for me. He says that for a stretch of time, it looked like Stoeber’s ball in Cawker City might have taken the lead.

Doug Kirby:
There’s no record, and we have our speculation on the website, which is that Cawker City’s hit 11 feet in 1961.

Roman Mars:
By this point, Stoeber’s ball had become a popular attraction in central Kansas. He would take it to local fairs, and people would try to guess the weight. It was such a hit that town officials asked Stoeber if he could bring the twine ball into the town to put it on permanent display.

Vivian Le:
And then finally after decades of speculation, the world’s largest ball of twine became official in pretty much the only way these sorts of things can.

Linda Clover:
Yes, it was in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Vivian Le:
Officials from the Guinness Book of World Records came to Cawker City, Kansas in 1973 and declared Stoeber’s ball the official “World’s Largest Ball of Twine” at 11 feet in diameter. Unfortunately, his glory was short-lived, because he died the following year in 1974.

Roman Mars:
Meanwhile, up in Darwin, Minnesota, Johnson was still alive and kicking and rolling twine. He kept going until he surpassed Stoeber’s ball and dethroned Cawker City for the Guinness World Record just a few years later. And without anyone left to challenge his place in history, Johnson retired from twine ball rolling. He died 10 years later from emphysema at the age of 85.

Courtney Johnson:
The reason for his death, a lot of people say it was a lung disease that did kill him. And you look at family history, there is no history of it, so a lot of people say it was inhaling twine and chemicals and all that throughout those years that probably was the reason of his death.

Roman Mars:
His family contends that Johnson’s lifelong passion ultimately killed him.

Courtney Johnson:
Yeah, but I don’t think he’d change anything. If someone were to tell him, “You’re going to die from this,” he’d be like, “So?” And he would keep doing it.

Vivian Le:
And the story could have ended there, with two dead twine men, the largest ball of twine in the world, and the second-largest ball of twine in the world. But Cawker City wasn’t finished yet. Stoeber had left the twine ball to the city after he died, and for a few years it just sat there in the downtown gazebo, a tribute to the second-greatest twine ball roller in history. But then the town decided they didn’t want to settle for second best.

Linda Clover:
We decided, let’s have some fun. We started having what we call our annual Twine-A-Thon.

Roman Mars:
Residents of Cawker City decided to jump in and start adding more twine to the Stoeber ball to see if they could beat the record again. But this time it wouldn’t be the product of one man, but an entire community.

Doug Kirby:
The town had what was a brilliant idea, which was let’s let the community keep rolling it.

Vivian Le:
Here’s Doug Kirby from Roadside America again. He says that Cawker City started holding Twine-A-Thons once a year where everyone in town would gather to help grow the twine ball. And eventually they started allowing visitors to wrap the twine ball on a daily basis. Getting to wrap the twine ball became the reason to visit Cawker City.

Doug Kirby:
So whether it was townspeople or visitors, let’s just have the ball set up so that the spool’s ready. You can add to the ball. You’ll see immediately that you’re adding to this world record. So it’s a different approach.

Vivian Le:
Linda Clover literally keeps spools of twine on her at all times, on the off chance that she runs into someone who wants to add to the ball.

Linda Clover:
If you go to my car or my pickup truck, either one has twine that I have ready to let people add twine onto the ball. Now, no one else in town carries twine with them, but Linda Clover does.

Vivian Le:
With so many people participating, the Cawker City ball continues to grow bigger and bigger. The latest estimate has it at 20,500 pounds, over 2,500 pounds heavier than Johnson’s. And when you see it in person, it’s unquestionably larger in circumference.

Roman Mars:
But not everyone agrees that rolling twine balls should be a group project, especially in Darwin. Courtney says that Johnson’s ball is particularly impressive, not just because of its perfectly round shape, but because it was the sole accomplishment of one man.

Courtney Johnson:
It needed to be done by him, because it needed to be perfect. It needed to be solid. It needed to be done with only a certain type of twine. You know, he was just so particular and needed things done by himself.

Vivian Le:
And remember, Johnson had his own special technique for rolling a perfectly symmetrical sphere. The people of Cawker City don’t have that. They have no way to wrap the top and the bottom of the ball, so it just keeps getting wider and wider. In fact, it’s not really a ball anymore, more an oval with a flat bottom. So Cawker City’s ball might be bigger, but the Darwin ball is definitely nicer to look at.

Edward Meyer:
Darwin is by far my favorite ball.

Vivian Le:
This is Edward Meyer, and he’s currently retired, but up until a year ago, he had probably the coolest job I’d ever heard of.

Edward Meyer:
My primary focus was to buy exhibits to put in the museums, which Ripley’s calls Odditoriums, spelled O-D-D, around the world.

Vivian Le:
Meyer was Vice President of Exhibits and Archives with Ripley’s Believe It or Not, meaning it was literally his job to find the weirdest things in the world and put them on display. And back in the early ’90s, he had his eye on Darwin’s giant twine ball.

Edward Meyer:
The Darwin ball, it’s almost romantic. It’s one man’s dream, and it takes him a long time, and he has certain rules that he plays by and doesn’t break. You know, I’m getting silly, I guess, but it’s an accomplishment, like climbing Everest.

Roman Mars:
Meyer had been interested in the Darwin twine ball for years, and as luck would have it, Johnson’s nephew had inherited his entire estate, including the twine ball. Johnson’s nephew called Meyer up one day to ask if he wanted to come to Darwin and possibly purchase the ball for Ripley’s.

Edward Meyer:
He invited me, and I said sure, I’d love to come.

Vivian Le:
Meyer was asked to pitch the town on the idea of putting Johnson’s twine ball in a Ripley’s museum. Personally, he thought what better way to honor Johnson’s accomplishment than to put it on display where possibly thousands of people a week would see it?

Edward Meyer:
I gave a presentation and told them that I wanted to buy it. The reaction was, “Over our dead body.” It was probably one of the most uncomfortable evenings of my entire life. I was literally in fear of my life. I was not sure how this was going to end.

Roman Mars:
Spoiler alert – he wasn’t murdered by a mob of angry townspeople, but they were pretty upset. For one, the people of Darwin thought the twine ball could bring in tourism to the area. But more importantly, the ball had become part of Darwin’s identity.

Josh Johnson:
The twine ball is a good analogy. We say it’s the twine that binds that represents not only how we support that, but our support of each other.

Vivian Le:
This is Josh Johnson, the mayor of Darwin. The town had adopted the ball as their own, so much so that they even started an annual tradition called Darwin Twine Ball Day, which includes a number of twine ball-related activities, like a Twine-K, which is kind of like a 5K.

Josh Johnson:
It starts out with a 17,400-foot run. That’s a 17,400-foot run to celebrate a 17,400-pound twine ball.

Vivian Le:
They pass out candy to kids, roll miniature versions of the twine ball down the street, and have a parade.

Josh Johnson:
It probably lasts around 35 minutes, which is the right length for a parade these days, in my opinion.

Vivian Le:
Francis Johnson’s ball had become central to life in Darwin, and Darwin made it clear that if Meyer wanted a giant twine ball for Ripley’s, he would have to get it from some other town.

Roman Mars:
And that’s exactly what Edward Meyer did.

Edward Meyer:
Well, I literally read it in an airplane magazine, that this guy in Texas had been inspired as much by Cawker City as he had been by Darwin.

Vivian Le:
As it turned out, while Darwin and Cawker City were batting it out in their public twine ball arms race, a third ball was rapidly growing in Texas, at the hands of a man named J.C. Payne.

Roman Mars:
Payne was a retired brick mason who was the type of guy who was always in search of a new project. And in the late 1980s, he found one. Payne had read about the battle of the balls in Darwin and Cawker City and had a clear favorite in the race.

Edward Meyer:
From the beginning, J.C. Payne did not want Cawker City to beat Francis Johnson.

Roman Mars:
Apparently, Payne was not a fan of the fact that the Cawker City community effort was about to beat Johnson’s solo project. Payne believed in the great man theory of twine ball rolling.

Edward Meyer:
He thought that it was a shame that Cawker City was going to soon be bigger than Darwin’s, because the whole town was involved in it. He thought that this was … I use the word “cheating”, but that’s my interpretation, and said that if Francis’s isn’t going to be the world’s biggest, then I’m going to be the world’s biggest.

Vivian Le:
Payne didn’t start rolling his ball until 1987, a full 37 years after Johnson, but by 1992, the Guinness Book of World Records declared it the largest ball in the world. In a few short years, Payne managed to create a ball that was 42 feet in circumference, 13 feet tall, and weighed 6 tons.

Edward Meyer:
Part of it is that he had a tool – used technology – to add the string to it. He had a tractor, he had a hook-type implement that prevented him from getting his hands wrecked, that he wasn’t literally even touching it at some point. Part of was that he used whatever he could get in terms of string, nylon specifically.

Roman Mars:
Which bothered a lot of twine ball purists who like to think of twine in the more traditional, more natural sense.

Linda Clover:
I’ve seen the pile of plastic.

Vivian Le:
Here’s Linda Clover from Cawker City again.

Linda Clover:
We’re talking apples and oranges, something completely different.

Vivian Le:
The main gripe about J.C. Payne’s ball was that he used artificial colored nylon twine, while Johnson and Stoeber both used sisal twine. Sisal is an earthy-colored plant-based material and has that classic farm look.

Roman Mars:
Whereas nylon just looks like city slicker twine.

Vivian Le:
Nylon also weighs less, making Payne’s ball much lighter than both Cawker City and Darwin’s. The end result was a multicolored artificial lighter weight monstrosity.

Roman Mars:
And Edward Meyer from Ripley’s had to have it.

Edward Meyer:
My buying it was a backhanded, “I’ll buy this because … ” I’d missed out the one I really wanted, but I can still get one.

Vivian Le:
So he flew to Valley View, Texas to meet Payne in person and see the ball for himself.

Edward Meyer:
Nice man, salt of the earth, a little bit on the competitive side, but just a basic farm-type guy. And his ball, when I first saw it, looked pretty darned good.

Roman Mars:
But it didn’t look good for long. Pretty soon they realized that they’d have to move this six-ton ball to a new Ripley’s museum being built in Branson, Missouri.

Edward Meyer:
Well, we dragged it out of the barn, and that messed it up a little bit. And then we had to lift it by a crane, which messed it up more. And then it was dropped onto a flatbed truck that flattened the bottom part of it. And then it was driven the roughly thousand miles to Branson, Missouri from Denton, Texas.

Roman Mars:
Still, this misshapen monster of a ball was going to be the piece de resistance of the new Ripley’s museum, and the ball was so huge that the building had to be constructed around it. If for any reason they ever need to move it out of there, they’ll either need to take the roof off or blast a hole in the wall.

Vivian Le:
Oh, wow. Yeah, it’s huge. I went to see Payne’s twine ball for myself at the Ripley’s in Branson. In person, it’s a little blobby-looking, like a ball of cookie dough that’s been sitting out for too long. And it’s comprised of shiny nylon strands, every color of the rainbow. It’s pretty impressive, but it sits on display between an ornate miniature palace carved out of camel bone and a six-foot ship made entirely of jade. And honestly, both are so beautiful that they make the ball look a little pedestrian. Not to mention something else I noticed.

Vivian Le:
I’m just noticing something right now, which is that on the sign, it doesn’t say, “The world’s largest twine ball,” it says, “World’s largest string ball.” So it’s not even technically designated as twine here at Ripley’s.

Vivian Le:
And this might be why the great American twine ball contest or string ball contest is never going to get a satisfying clearcut winner, because no one is ever going to agree on the rules of the contest. But at this point, all of the contestants seem to be okay with the version of the story where everyone wins. Each town has the largest twine ball, depending on what you mean by that. Darwin’s is the largest twine ball rolled by one man. Cawker City’s is the largest ball of sisal twine. And J.C. Payne’s is the largest nylon string ball. It’s a three-way truce, except …

Vivian Le:
Hi, JFK? Hi. Is it okay if we come over? This is very impressive.

James Frank Kotera:
This is the biggest ball of twine in the world.

Roman Mars:
Of course it is.

Vivian Le:
Yep, there’s a fourth ball, and this one is in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The man who’s rolling it is named James Frank Kotera, but he prefers to go by JFK. I visited him at the end of my road trip, and he doesn’t talk a whole lot, but he has handmade signs posted all over his property with the story of his ball. He writes that one night in 1975, God came to him and told him that he was going to stop drinking, turn his life around, and become the world-famous twine man. And that’s more or less what he did.

Vivian Le:
Does anybody help you with it at all?

James Frank Kotera:
No, no.

Vivian Le:
No one ever helps you?

James Frank Kotera:
Just one person, that’s JFK.

Vivian Le:
And JFK’s ball is a little different from the rest. He takes small segments of colorful twine and weaves and tucks the individual pieces into the ball, so the surface resembles a net. It’s also a lot harder for him to reach the top, so the ball’s a lot wider than it is tall. It almost looks like a modern art sculpture or a multicolored Funfetti potato.

James Frank Kotera:
Well, try and make it as round as you can, but it’s hard.

Vivian Le:
JFK claims that his ball is the largest by using a different metric, weight.

James Frank Kotera:
23,375 pounds.

Roman Mars:
JFK thinks that his ball is about 23,375 pounds, based on his calculations, nearly 3,000 pounds heavier than Cawker City’s. He says he knows this, because before adding twine to the ball, he puts it in a garbage bag, weighs it, and then adds the total to his overall measurements. If he’s correct, his is definitely the heaviest of the four twine balls.

Vivian Le:
But JFK is not looking for official records. He doesn’t need some outsider to come in and tell him what he already believes. Have you heard of the Guinness Book of World Records?

James Frank Kotera:
Sure.

Vivian Le:
Are you interested in having them come to measure it at all?

James Frank Kotera:
No, no. I do it myself.

Vivian Le:
So you don’t really care about what they have to say?

James Frank Kotera:
No, this is mine.

Vivian Le:
This is just for you?

James Frank Kotera:
Right.

Roman Mars:
So for now, a careful balance is intact. The four largest twine balls exist peacefully alongside one another, each content with their own version of superiority.

Vivian Le:
Because there are so many ways to have the biggest ball of something, like the largest ball of stamps in Boys Town, Nebraska, or the largest ball of VHS tape in Kansas City, or the world’s largest disco ball in the UK.

Roman Mars:
Let it go, Vivian.

Vivian Le:
But what about the world’s largest ball of paint in Indiana?

Roman Mars:
It’s time to come home.

Credits

Production

Producer Vivian Le spoke with Courtney Johnson, Darwin, MN resident; Doug Kirby, co-founder of Roadside America; Josh Johnson, mayor of Darwin, MN; Linda Clover, Cawker City, KS resident; Edward Meyer, former Vice President of Exhibits and Archives with Ripley’s Believe it or Not, James Frank Kotera.

Special thanks to John Dixon from the Branson, MO Ripley’s Believe It or Not; Grace Le; Josh Johnson; Andrew Zilch; and Erika Nelson

Comments (13)

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  1. Timothy

    Not exactly a pilgrimage, but we always seem to pass through Cawker City once or twice a year while storm-chasing. We always stop. We’ve met Linda Clover, who is happy to see extra tall people stop by, asking us to wrap the upper part of the ball. Last year, some British octogenarians on holiday were there as we pulled in. THEY had made it a pilgrimage.

  2. David Galloway

    Hi Roman. Love this podcast if you have the budget send one of your staff to the east coast of Australia. We have a total thing with large iconic structures ( e.g. crayfish, bananas etc) that also serve as viewing platforms of the surrounding landscape. I think the reason d’être for these structures is different to the USA as they are landmarks in places which have no distinguishing features, rather than a demonstration of personal endeavour

  3. R Evan Lloyd

    The second segment of the episode after talking about TWLCotSVotWLT. You got on the topic of what will be the next version of the roadside attractions as modes of travle change. Airport art being the most concidered, bit side walk art already exists and is more akin the the folk nature of roadside attractions. Graffiti street art has a long colorful and regional history. It is a history that hits the 99pi topic: design, respones to the built environment, class and access, and a transformative arch from art of vandalism to auction house show stopper.
    $0.02 (usd)

  4. I loved this episode. It reminded me of so many childhood road trips between NH and MI. If a roadside oddity was free, we’d stop. Never could convince my mom to stop at one of the Mystery Spots in MI.

    In Lincoln MA there’s a field where a family placed a couple old rocking horses, the kind with springs that were popular in 1970s. People would stop to take photos on their way to the neighboring Audubon refuge. Fast forward a couple years and there is now a circle of horses, maybe 20. I thought of it when the artist at the end of the episode talked about smaller examples of public creativity growing in popularity today. Little Free Libraries and the towns that paint murals on their transformers/electrical boxes are other examples.

  5. Mitch

    Kansas native here! I’ve been quite a few times to Cawker City. When you were talking about Lucas Kansas at the end I hoped you’d stopped at The Garden of Eden which is incredible for many reasons… but if only to show you what concrete can do ;) Lucas Ks also has the “second best public restroom” which is an incredibly intricate art piece with mostly toys…. and also it’s an incredibly clean bathroom.

    Also to pitch rural… rural to most people… part of Kansas is the Cosmosphere in Hutchison…. It’s actually the worlds largest collection of Russian and American space artifacts together, the second largest collection of American space artifacts (second only to the National Air and Space Museum in DC) and the largest collection of Soviet space artifacts outside of the former USSR.

    Just incase you think we’re all tornados and wheat ;)

  6. Neto

    Roadside attractions are great… I’m very into the huge statues made in the 60’s all by the same company (that’s why they all look alike) nicknamed “Muffler Man”. They are just a long gone type of Americana that is kinda coming back, there’s no car lot without a an Inflatable man (99PI episode 143) or an inflatable ape or cartoon trying to sell mattresses. I love to hear a 99IP about those giants and how they made them and how they came to be a huge eye catch device and now they are a huge pilgrimage point to the Roadside junkie like me…

  7. Don

    Yes, Australia has more than it’s share of giant roadside attractions too, mostly built 40-50 years ago. But your guest at the end of this episode hit the zeitgeist with the thought that now even big urban environments need to attract foot traffic to areas they otherwise wouldn’t otherwise stop. Australian cities, especially Melbourne and Adelaide, have started reinvigorating the small lanes and alleys within the business district to create community and commerce where once there was simply fire doors and dumpster parking.
    Human’s are drawn to novelty like moths to a flame. So the cities publish tour guidebooks to help tourists find the best graffiti and street mural lanes or the best micro-bars, galleries or cafes (with unmarked doorways and standing room for maybe 7-8 people).

  8. Annette White

    Even average sized towns want to have an identity. Check out Elko, Nevada for their fiberglass cowboy boots all around town. These boots are about 5 feet tall, and scaled up from there…. about the size of a small adult. I believe it was a Chamber of Commerce thing. If your business wanted a boot you paid a smallish sum of money, then got someone to paint it in a way representative of your business. Even public buildings got in on the action. There’s a boot at the Library and a boot at the County Courthouse. There’s some pretty fine art on most of them.

  9. I thought you should have a link to the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things, so here is one: http://kansastravel.org/worldslargestcollection.htm

    Also, the novel Another Roadside Attraction goes with this story, especially with your discussion of why there are (were) roadside attractions. This novel was important to my high school years, though I think it is not as well known now. https://www.amazon.com/Another-Roadside-Attraction-Tom-Robbins-ebook/dp/B000FBFNWE/ref=sr_1_1?crid=27QUPBJODNE4A&keywords=another+roadside+attraction+tom+robbins&qid=1565527932&s=gateway&sprefix=robbins+another+%2Caps%2C257&sr=8-1

  10. Paolo

    Great Episode! The best part is during largest collection of small versions of largest….how Roman cant hold back his giggling ! 😂

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