By Alex Perdikis
The family road trip is as American as apple pie. What better way to spend time with the entire family than embarking on an adventure? And, what better destination could there be than one of the many roadside attractions the U.S. has to offer?
“Whether you’re taking the family out just for the day or making a few stops on a longer trip, here are some captivating places you shouldn’t miss.”
— Alex Perdikis
DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum
What does a guy who discovered his first shipwreck at 14 do after 40 years of diving? If you’re Dale Clifton, you turn your collection of personal treasures into the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum.
Thousands of ships wrecked off the Delaware coast, and many still lie at the bottom of the ocean. Nor’easters, hurricanes and natural phenomenon took their toll, but pirates were also to blame.
Thousands of ships wrecked during what’s called the Age of Sail, the time period from approximately 1571 to 1862. Many carried gold, jewels and other treasures. Pirates lured ships to shoals with fake lighthouses. Ship after ship crashed. The pirates quickly recovered the spoils.
The owner of the museum is a one-of-a-kind character. As a kid, Dale visited museums with shipwreck displays. Few had actual artifacts to show because they’d sold them. Dale decided he not only wanted to discover shipwreck treasures but he wanted to keep and display them for the world to see. That’s exactly what he did.
Artifacts on display include everyday cookware, sculptures carved from human bones, a FeeJee Mermaid, treasure chests, weapons, coins and silver and gold bars. Dale changes the display each January, so there’s always something new to gaze at.
The DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum is located on Fenwick Island. The museum sits over a shell shop in a strip mall. Admission is free.
Museum of Wonder
You don’t even have to leave your car to see awesome sights at the Museum of Wonder in Seale, Alabama. Artist and collector Butch Anthony created this masterful mix of art and oddities and the museum brings visitors from across the country.
Butch began collecting curiosities as a child, but his artistic destiny began when a turnip with an oddly human-looking “face” turned up in his garden. Butch’s friend, John Henry Toney, drew a face on the turnip. The friends jokingly stuck a $50 price tag on their masterpiece and placed it for sale in a local shop. Imagine their shock when someone actually bought it.
Butch became a well-respected and prolific artist. With fame came attention, however, something an artistic mind like Butch didn’t relish. He came up with the idea to turn shipping containers into outdoor display cases.
Butch installed windows and went to work on his exhibits. When it opened, the Museum of Wonder was the world’s first drive-thru museum. It was so popular in fact, that when word got out, so many visitors drove through that Butch had to repair the road.
Although Butch changes the displays periodically, some of the artifacts you might see include the World’s Largest Gallstone, the turnip & face that started it all and a terrifying collection of Sunday school instructional “aids” created by a minister in the 1930s. Apparently, the minister thought homemade models of his version of hell would keep children on the straight and narrow.
The Museum of Wonder is open 24-hours a day. Displays are backlit at night making some of them even more dramatic. The “self-service” museum requests a $1 per adult donation.
The Monster That Wouldn’t Die
If you and the children are up for a little monster fun, check out the Monster That Wouldn’t Die in West Virginia. An eerie experience in 1952 led to the creation of several must-see stops in and around the small town of Flatwoods.
In September 1952, beautician Kathleen May and National Guardsman Gene Lemon climbed to the top of a hill with five younger boys. They’d seen what appeared to be a flying saucer and hoped to get a better view from the hilltop.
They saw something, but it wasn’t a flying saucer. The terrified group looked on in horror as a monster came out of the mist and headed straight for them. The group ran, but later described a monster with a green body, searchlight-like eyes and a hooded head. A couple of witnesses also described clawed hands.
Although the sighting stirred up attention when it first happened, it was nearly forgotten over time. But, when Andrew Braxton became the Braxton County Visitors Bureau director, all that changed.
Andrew knew how the legend of the Mothman brought tourists and their dollars into another West Virginia town. Why couldn’t Flatwoods do the same with their monster?
His first step was to pay tribute to the monster, which he dubbed “Braxxie,” with giant chairs. He painted the chairs with unique designs and placed them in strategic monster-related settings around Flatwoods and the surrounding area.
Andrew commissioned the same company that made the Mothman statue to create a Braxxie mascot. The Braxxie mascot debuted at the tourism fair in 2017. It was a huge hit.
To experience the Monster That Wouldn’t Die legend yourself, begin at the Flatwoods Monster Museum. Then take a tour of the monster chairs and end up at “The Spot” for some food, ice cream and a monster photo-op.
Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.