Some may give you nightmares. Or spark your own creativity. But you won’t forget these attractions made of twine, beer cans, old cars, and junk.
Creativity takes all forms. Some people write sonnets, decorate cakes, or paint landscapes. Others follow a different path: they flatten beer cans and nail them on their homes, embed found objects in mazes of concrete walls, bury cars in fields, and build giant sculptures in the desert. Here are 11 places where a person’s creativity took the form of turning trash into a one-of-a-kind tourist attraction.
Beer Can House
WHERE: Houston, Texas
You may hear this house before you see it, as even a slight breeze causes a loud tinkling sound from thousands of garlands made of cut beer cans hanging from the roof of this small home. In 1968, retired upholsterer John Milkovisch began placing metal, rocks, and other objects into concrete in his yard so he wouldn’t have to mow grass any longer. That naturally (?) led to him flattening an estimated 50,000 beer cans and nailing them to the exterior of his home, then stringing curtains of garlands. His wife, Mary, good-naturedly went along on the condition the inside of the room remained beer-can free. The couple has passed away and the home is now owned by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art.
Philadelphia Magic Gardens
WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
It’s not your typical garden. Rather than vegetables, flowers, and herbs, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens has mazes and small rooms made of concrete walls embedded with objects like tiles, mirrors, bicycle parts, doll pieces, bottles, and broken pottery. Instead of walking on grass, visitors stroll down colorful tile-and-mosaic embedded lanes. It’s all the work of artist Isaiah Zagar, who took over vacant lots near his run-down neighborhood and began constructing the concrete walls over a period of 14 years. It opened as Philadelphia Magic Gardens in 2008 and is now an event facility, museum, and gallery space.
House on the Rock
WHERE: Spring Green, Wisconsin
Imagine an Infinity Room that projects 218 feet from the house and soars 156 above the Wyoming Valley; the world’s largest carousel; a 200-foot sea creature; and an entire life-size street that’s a recreation of a 19th-century village. These oddities and much more make up the House on the Rock. It all started in the 1940s when Alex Jordan began constructing a home on a 60-foot chimney of rock to house the varied items he obtained from his travels around the world. The house opened to the public in 1960. The result is a carnival-like (some say nightmarish) complex of odd-shaped rooms filled with objects.
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
WHERE: Joshua Tree, California
Described as a “junk Dada electronic wasteland,” the Outdoor Desert Art Museum is a 10-acre attraction made up of more than 100 large-scale sculptures created of junked electronics like barrels, televisions, bicycles, and tires. Los Angeles artist Noah Purifoy moved to the desert in Joshua Tree and spent the last 15 years of his life creating the sculptures. The museum and a cultural center are now run by the Noah Purifoy Foundation.
Old Car City USA
WHERE: White, Georgia
This 40-acre junkyard filled with 4,400 classic cars has a special appeal to visitors from around the world, as well as photographers who bring models here for photo shoots among the rusted old ruins of decaying car carcasses. But there’s more than just classic cars: Old Car City USA has a small indoor gallery filled with thousands of Styrofoam cups covered in ink. Owner Dean Lewis calls this his “Doodle Room.” He started creating the cups after a doctor told him to give up smoking 38 years ago and estimates he has made more than 4,000 of them, including one he worked on for more than 14 hours.
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The Cathedral of Junk
WHERE: Austin, Texas
Luckily for his neighbors, the Cathedral of Junk is mostly hidden from the street in the residential neighborhood where this shrine to, well, junk, has taken over the backyard of Vince Hannemann, who constructed the “cathedral.” While some may wonder why he saved these things that seem more suited for the dump, others are moved to tears by the site of items they remember from their childhood in the maze-like structures created of old lawn mower parts, bicycle parts, and anything else that outlived its usefulness. The Cathedral of Junk has even served as a wedding venue!
WHERE: Amarillo, Texas
You won’t find cattle on this ranch, but what you will find is a collection of Cadillacs buried in the ground. These brightly painted cars are part of an art project created in 1974 by three artists who called themselves Ant Farm. In 1997, the installation was moved from a wheat field to a cow pasture, where it continues to draw visitors and inspire artists who have written songs about it and filmed TV shows and videos here.
WHERE: Antonito, Colorado
This castle in the air is built out of cans, hubcaps, and other items saved from an eternity spent in the dump. Dominic “Cano” Espinoza constructed this three-story castle and while he doesn’t live there, he points out the art room, laboratory, guest room, steam room, and Jesus’ casita to visitors. He claims God built the castle using his hands while he was under the influence of Vitamin M, which he calls Mary Jane, a substance that is now legal in Colorado.
World’s Biggest Ball of Twine
WHERE: Cawker City, Kansas
Forget that second biggest ball of twine Chevy Chase wanted to take his family to see in the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. The biggest ball is in Cawker City, Kansas, where in 1953, Frank Stoeber placed the first bits of twine that would one day become the world’s largest ball of twine, measuring 8 feet tall and 11 feet in diameter. Now, the town comes together each year for its annual Twine-A-Thon, where all are welcome to add their own contribution, taking pains to maintain its ball-like shape.
WHERE: Niland, California
Calling his artistic style the “splooch” method, the late Leonard Knight blobbed paint on objects. So much paint that in 1984, he began creating an entire mountain out of cement, cement-covered objects, and coats of splooched-on paint. Sadly, after it reached a height of about 50 feet, it collapsed. Undeterred, he created a second mountain using adobe mixed with straw. People donated gallons of paint to his mountain, which still stands despite once being threatened with removal for being toxic waste.
Nit Wit Ridge
WHERE: Cambria, California
Arthur Beal (aka Captain Nit Wit, Der Tinkerpaw) spent 51 years building this home in Cambria, California made of collected junk: rocks, seashells, car parts, beer cans, TV antennas—you name it. The site is a state landmark.