From Giant Stained-Glass Crabs to Dead Things in Boxes: OTIS Miscellany IV

August 8, 2014 — Somehow, this is only my fourth OTIS Miscellany post in the history of the site. I’m pretty sure that were I to comb through my archives of photos (tens of thousands of images strong/stupid), I’d find fodder for five times as many. I guess I’m too lazy to do that.

But just like the first OTIS Miscellany, just like the second OTIS Miscellany, and just like the third OTIS Miscellany, here are ten oddities I’ve visited but don’t want to make a big, full-post deal out of. It’s not that they’re not way cool. They are. It’s just that their “way cool” is more obvious. I don’t need 1,000 words and eight images to convince you of the merits of each item in this list. Plus, if the Internet’s taught me anything (questionable), it’s that lists get way more hits than articles. So hit this:

Stained-Glass Crab, Baltimore, MD: Airports are great places to find oddity. They’re high-stress, purgatory-like places, so the least they can do is install something interesting to look at to combat the soul-dullness of security gates and waiting terminals and cattle-car flights. Like this stained-glass crab the size of a large riding lawnmower that has hung out at Baltimore Washington International Airport since 1984, give or take some storage time.

Technically, it’s called Callinectes Douglassi, but it’s Stained-Glass Crab for reals. I’m from Maryland, so anything crab-shaped makes me happy, I love to eat them. Love to chase them on beaches. Love to watch them exploit naïve yellow sponges for cheap labor. And I definitely love them when they’re made of 500 pounds of colored glass.

Hassell Massacre Marker, Nashua, NH: This oddity is here solely to illustrate a squishy moral about seeing the world outside our front doors. This plaque on a stone is literally a mile from my house, tucked away on a tiny blank plot of grass between two neighborhoods. Once upon a time, the spot was something more: The homestead of the Hassell family, who were killed and scalped by Native Americans in 1691 during a terrible, terrible time in our history that inspired a lot of sports mascots. The buried remains of the family lie somewhere on the site, and a nearby brook is named after them.

Metamorphosis, Charlotte, North Carolina: Giant things are mesmerizing and mirrored things are mesmerizing and moving things are mesmerizing, so a giant, mirrored head with individual slices that rotate will hypnotize you into walking like an Egyptian while clucking your eternal love for Susanna Hoffs in a Swedish accent. Created by Czech artist David Černý and installed in a large office park, the giant, shiny head is also a fountain. On my visit, it was spitting water into the pool that surrounded it, but the sections weren’t rotating. I still love you, though, Susanna Hoffs.

Bicentennial Moon Tree, Indianapolis, Indiana: I had to look at every tree on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse to find this guy and then make a guess based on the fact that its bark kind of looked like sycamore bark according to the tiny Google image I’d hastily pulled up on my phone in the full glare of noon. Later, indoor leisure Googling proved me right.

It would have been easier if the thing was marked. It does have a plaque, but it’s around the corner with a bunch of other plaques that are nowhere near the trees they identify. So why was I looking for this sycamore in the first place? Because it was grown from a seed that was taken to the moon in 1971 on Apollo 14. Oh.

Cheesman Park, Denver, Colorado: This bland-seeming little park on the edge of the city has a view of both the city high-rises and the Rockies. But it was once a graveyard. Still is, if you define graveyard as “a place where bodies are buried.” It’s not an unusual story for a city park, as many across the country started out as graveyards and then were transformed into parks by moving the headstones only and leaving the remains as a foundation for outdoor fun.

The graveyard that predated Cheesman Park was instituted in 1858, but when the city wanted what was becoming valuable land, it gave families the opportunity to move their loved ones. Since many in the cemetery were paupers and criminals, thousands of bodies went unclaimed, where they calmly repose today beneath the feet of joggers and dog walkers, except for every once in a while when park upkeep inadvertently unearths a skeleton here or there. The beautiful thing about this park is that it’s not ashamed of its past. An informational placard near the playground calls out the story like a mark of historical pride. As it should be.

Jurassic Subs, Bremen, Georgia: A dinosaur-themed sub shop? Wait. A dinosaur-movie-themed sub shop? Why not? Unless it’s junk food, eating has always been boring to me, so if you can surrounded me with dinosaur murals and name your sandwiches after hard-to-pronounce dinosaur nomenclature, good for you. I’ll admit, it confused my daughter when we ordered a platecarpus and an anchiceratops and were handed long pieces of bread stuffed with sliced animal flesh. “We’re the only one in the world,” the girl who made our sandwiches told us. “That’s because the world sucks,” is how I didn’t but should have responded.

Cosa Ruins, Tuscany, Italy: We had just visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa that morning and were driving the west coast of Italy back to Rome. We wanted to stop and get something to eat and would eventually find a strange eatery on a cliff in the middle of a residential neighborhood that I’m pretty sure only existed on that one day. I ate cuttlefish. After lunch, we randomly pulled into some nearby ruins that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise and which were all that was left of a city that had been founded in 273 BC. The place gets zero press in the tour brochures. That’s life in an ancient country: an embarrassing wealth of ruins.

Giant Abe Lincoln Bust, Laramie, Wyoming: Originally built to overlook a now-defunct highway named after him, Lincoln now glowers over a section of I-80 between Cheyenne and Laramie, where you can pull off at a visitor center to see him up close. Apparently the ashes of the artist who made it are interred somewhere inside it. Anyway, Lincoln looks like a gigantic robot golem, imprisoned in stone, ready to be released at the merest hint of trouble. “Emancipation Mode: Go.”

The Children of the World Dream of Peace Mural, Denver, Colorado: I told you airports are great places to find oddity, and Denver International Airport is notorious for its weirdness, like this mural by Leo Tanguma that’s supposed to be anti-hate and anti-violence, but comes off as a glory shot of an awesome villain in a comic spread. What I neglected to take a picture of, for some reason, is why the gas masked monster has been defeated in the second half of the mural…it’s by the children of the world getting over their ethnic and geographical differences and beating their swords into ploughshares. But if you ever see it in person, you’ll only remember the monster.

Decomposition Box, Birmingham, Alabama: So there I was, taking my family through the McWane Science Center, letting my kid jump into hurricane booths and make giant soap bubbles and learn how cartoons are made, when we suddenly came upon a dead bunny in a glass case decaying in its own fetid soup. Whatever its educational purposes, it’s going to stick with me for a long, long time. I can still taste it when I eat meat.

Sorry. That's a terrible way to end this post.