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The Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol along the American Highway

Karal Ann Marling
Copyright Date: 1984
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    The Colossus of Roads
    Book Description:

    A rich and lively examination of this curious and pervasive tradition. _x000B_Karal Ann Marling visits dozens of roadside attractions, viewing them analytically, intellectually, and enthusiastically, tracing each one through folklore and literature. Heavily illustrated, this book takes the reader on the road to examine these treasures and all that they represent._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9206-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. viii-xii)
    (pp. 1-5)

    The winter of 1937 was bitterly cold in northwest Minnesota. A furious Arctic wind drove the temperature to 30° below, and there it stayed. Between the worst weather on record and the economic chill of the Great Depression, tourism had all but ceased. Huddled together around the stove in the back room of a Bemidji store, the regulars fretted over a business climate as frigid as the gale howling outdoors. They consoled themselves with familiar, local stories, calibrated to the grotesque extremes registered on the plummeting thermometer.

    “Ever hear about Paul Bunyan and the Year of the Two Winters?” Sure....

  5. THE HOAX, THE AD, AND THE FRONTIER Mythological Giants Arise to Fill the Vastness of the American West
    (pp. 6-16)

    “And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually,” Nick recounts,

    I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes–a fresh green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees . . . had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to...

  6. ANXIETY, NOSTALGIA, AND WORLD’S FAIRS Colossi Mark the Borders of a Modern America
    (pp. 17-30)

    The literature of the crude, instinctual colossus appealed to an urban audience by virtue of exoticism and, perhaps, fanciful nostalgia, the implicit contrast between the American Adam and the cosseted society that craved word of his untrammeled exploits.35The giant was always a significant other, from another kind of place. The monstrous mountains and waterfalls of the Hudson River School stood at a point of geographic remove from the Broadway galleries and the neat, neoclassical parlors where the paintings were much exclaimed over. Such paintings pictured the upstate frontier of Fenimore Cooper and Natty Bumppo, a place out there where...

  7. FRONTIERS, HIGHWAYS, AND MINIATURE GOLF The Tourist Becomes a Roadside Colossus
    (pp. 31-39)

    The Colossus at Rhodes once separated Greek from barbarian, civilization from the terrors of the wine-dark sea. The Sphinx posed the conundrum of life at the border between the realms of the quick and the dead.64These wonders of the ancient world were wondrous because of their dazzling size but were more wondrous still by virtue of their placement at salient gateways, dividing one order of reality from another. The place itself was a locus of wonderment, revelation, and enchantment where, “for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath” and paused. The colossus is a stele that...

  8. THE GREAT AMERICAN ROADSIDE Tourist Sculpture in Minnesota
    (pp. 40-63)

    Lighthouses, skyscrapers, and steeples are landmarks by virtue of their height and are often so designed. The Eiffel Tower, the Cape cod lighthouse, the Dutch windmill, and the other stock accouterments of miniature golf courses are associated with special parts of the world and thus become landmarks in a global context. Strictly speaking, a building is not a colossus if it is not also a statue. Yet a dwarf replica of a Dutch windmill might give Pliny pause; insofar as the little structure is a three-dimensional representation of a prototype (and is designed as it is primarilytorepresent that...

  9. POSTCARDS, SOUVENIRS, AND COME-ONS Wayside Giants Sell the American Dream
    (pp. 64-81)

    Unnaturally large objects were illustrated on the tall-tale postcards that enjoyed a national vogue in the decade before World War I. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, however, the Midwest remained the major client for and producer of such trick images.125A card made from pictures taken by a Chinook, Montana, photographer, for instance, shows a massive spud, entirely filling a Great Northern flatcar. A sign affixed to the cargo reads: “The Way We Raise Potatoes in North Dakota.”126Similar pictorial greetings manufactured and sold in the Midwest today display an ear of Iowa corn larger than a tractor, a loaf...

  10. SCALE, PATRIOTISM, AND FUN Crossing the Last Frontier of Fantasy
    (pp. 82-100)

    According to the rhetoric of a debate that erupted in Germany in 1933 under the leadership of Hermann Broch and was brought to a raging boil in America by Clement Greenberg in 1939, the California Sphinx is a prime example of “kitsch.”159In its most restrained definition, the verb “kitschen” means to produce trash, or fake art, by manipulating real art, especially the art of past ages, in the manufacture of articles for mass consumption.160In the practice of the late 1930s, however, kitsch came to mean the antithesis of elite, high culture, particularly artifacts deviating from the canons of...

    (pp. 101-102)

    Regardless of its particular purpose, the colossus is always a place in itself–a stopping place in time, where the everyday rules of reality are suspended and an idyllic dream commences. Grotesque scale demands a pause–for edification, for commerce, or for the fantastic fun of it. The grotesquerie of fun–the aesthetic of the joke-is a principal and largely neglected ingredient of the midwestern colossus, especially of those roadside sculptures with tangential connections to products and services. The crude Paul Bunyans are fun because their crudity signals a suspension of the rules of sobriety and art. They are overblown,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 103-129)
  13. Map
    (pp. 130-130)
    (pp. 131-131)
    (pp. 132-132)
  16. Photo Album
    (pp. 133-140)