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Author & cultural historian

Chris EptingChris Epting is an accomplished roadtripper, cultural historian, and the author of eight books including James Dean Died Here, Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here, Roadside Baseball, Elvis Presley Passed Here, The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra, and Einsten's Brain, and Led Zeppelin Crashed Here. He is a regular contributor to a variety of travel publications and the spokesperson and co-creator for the Hampton Inn's "Hidden Landmarks" program. Originally from New York, Chris now lives in Huntington Beach, California, with his wife Jean and their two children. He has contributed sage advice for roadtripping with children and shared some tips about Arizona highway roadside attractions.


These are a few of my favorite things…

As summer approaches, we begin the always-fun task of looking over maps deciding where to drive off and explore. What is it that we want to see? What do we want the kids to experience? Will it be a return to a favorite place, a new exploration or a combination of the two?

We all have our stories of classic must-visit sites that we pass along to each other and so I thought I'd take a little space here to recommend a few places I discovered while researching and writing my latest book, The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra and Einstein's Brain: The Locations of America's Pop Culture Artifacts.

Up until now, I focused my books on the places where cultural and historical events in North America took place. But then I got to thinking… what about all of those items related to historic events? We know JFK was assassinated in Dealey Plaza. But where is the limo he was riding in? Marilyn Monroe famously posed over a subway grating in The Seven Year Itch. But where is the white, billowy dress?

I discovered many interesting museums, collections, roadside oddities and more during the course of creating this book. Now, as you might be planning your next road trip, I'd like to offer some of the artifacts that I find particularly interesting (and that you might enjoy visiting when you hit the road)…

The Farmer's Museum
Located one mile north of the village of Cooperstown on State Route 80 on the west side of Otsego Lake

The Cardiff Giant is a 10-foot-tall stone man discovered October 16, 1869 by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. "Stub" Newell in nearby Cardiff, New York. It became the subject of huge interest and debate, with some saying it was an ancient statue and others saying it was a petrified human giant from days of old. Eventually it turned out that the Giant was a hoax -- the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull who spent $2,600 having the Giant carved and buried, but who sold the creation for $37,500 to a syndicate of five men headed by David Hannum. It drew such crowds that showman P.T. Barnum offered $60,000 for a three-month lease of it. When he was turned down, he made a plaster replica and put it on display, claiming that his was the real giant and the Cardiff Giant was a fake. As the newspapers reported Barnum's version of the story, David Hannum was quoted as saying, "There's a sucker born every minute." This was in reference to the suckers paying to see Barnum's giant. Over time, the quotation has been misattributed to P.T. Barnum himself. Today, you can see the original Cardiff Giant resting peacefully at the Farmer's Museum, just down the road apiece from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia
214 California Drive
Burlingame, California

Austrian candy executive Eduard Haas invented Pez candy in 1927. The original little candy bricks were peppermint. In fact, the word Pez is an abbreviation of the German word for peppermint (Pfefferminz). The first Pez dispensers, known to collectors as "regulars", did not have character heads. Around 1952, cartoon heads and fruity flavored candy were introduced. Since then, over 250 different heads have been made. Here at the museum you can see thousands of PEZ dispensers, incredible exhibits, memorabilia--you can even create your own personal PEZ candy dispenser.

Hormel SPAM Museum
Chris Epting
SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota

Chris Epting
Madonna's bustier


1937 Spam Boulevard
Austin, Minnesota

In 2001, here in Austin where Hormel is located, the 16,500 square-foot SPAM Museum opened. Museum visitors are welcomed to the world of SPAM Family of Products with a variety of interactive and educational games, fun exhibits and remarkable video presentations. The museum houses 4,752 cans of SPAM from all over the world and covers the 66-year history of SPAM.

Frederick's of Hollywood
6751 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, California

In 1986, Frederick's of Hollywood created the world's first "Bra Museum" in this, the flagship store. Walk up some stairs in the back and you'll see many famous items, including Madonna's bra, a black and gold bustier from her "Who's That Girl" tour. Other famous things include a girdle worn by Ethel Merman in There's No Business Like Show Business, a fur-trimmed negligee and bra worn by Cybill Shepherd in the TV series Moonlighting, the bra Tony Curtis wore in his famous cross-dressing performance in Some Like It Hot and Phyllis Diller's training bra (marked "This Side Up!").

Delta Blues Museum
#1 Blues Alley
Clarksdale, Mississippi
The Delta Museum contains thousands of artifacts related to Blues, but perhaps none is as stunning as the cabin where Muddy Waters grew up. In the cabin sits the life-size wax statue of former Clarksdale resident, Muddy Waters. Muddy was a sharecropper on the Stovall Plantation in the 1920's and early 1930's. Discovered by musicologist Alan Lomax, he would be a part of the Northern migration of Blacks in the 1930's. Muddy Waters would be credited with electrifying the blues when he plugged his guitar into an amplifier in order to be heard over the noise of the city of Chicago.

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial
Chris Epting
Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial

Fellowship Lake Shrine
17190 Sunset Boulevard
Pacific Palisades, California

The Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine was dedicated by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1950. The grounds include the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, where a portion of Gandhi's ashes is enshrined; a small museum with exhibits on Paramahansa Yogananda's work; and a gift shop with arts and crafts from India. The hilltop temple overlooking the lake was opened in 1996.

Harry S. Truman Library
U.S. Highway 24 and Delaware Street
Independence, Missouri

The famous "The Buck Stops Here" sign that sat on President Truman's desk in his White House office was made in the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma. Fred M. Canfil, then United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri and a friend of Mr. Truman, saw a similar sign while visiting the Reformatory and asked the Warden if a sign like it could be made for President Truman. The sign was made and mailed to the President on October 2, 1945. It has been displayed at the Library since 1957.

National Museum of Funeral History
415 Barren Springs Drive
Houston, Texas

Originally commissioned in 1963, JFK's Eternal Flame burned bright 24 hours a day, rain or shine, for over 25 years. In 1998 the flame was replaced with a newer unit allowing for a longer service life of the flame. JFK's Original Eternal Flame was then placed into the National Museum of Funeral History on permanent loan to show the general public not only its glory, but also its general operation.

The African Queen
The African Queen

Holiday Inn Key Largo and Marina
99701 Overseas Highway
Key Largo, Florida

Though the boat in the 1951 classic John Huston film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn appeared to be blown apart in Kabalego Falls, Uganda (where the film was shot), the African Queen actually still exists here in Florida. Since the early 1980s, it has lived on as a tourist treat at this hotel.

400 East Saratoga Street (Corner of Holliday)
Baltimore, Maryland

The diner was actually shipped in from Oakland, New Jersey when director Barry Levinson needed a meeting place for his 1982 film, Diner, about college students in 1959. Though it's been relocated from where it was used in the film, it still remains in Baltimore (as the Hollywood Diner).

And so there you have a few of my favorite, most intriguing items on display throughout our country. Happy hunting, and if you find something seriously historic or off the wall, I'd always love to hear about it.


Chris Epting
May 14, 2006


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