Tracks with Graffiti

Pasadena Terracotta Brick Factory

The graffiti-decorated ruins of the Pasadena Terracotta Brick Factory — or “Brooksbrae” as Google maps calls it — exist in the woods alongside Pasadena Woodmanse Road in Manchester Township, NJ. If you allow Google Maps to direct you there, it will lead you down treacherous mud roads. Instead, drive down well-paved Pasadena Woodmanse Road* and look for graffiti on the road, park your car, climb the hill, climb over the train tracks and walk into the woods. Spray painted trees, discarded spray paint caps, the smell of aerosol paint, and random yucca plants will show you the way.

There’s no missing it once you get there. Walls, doorways, and foundations — most without rooves or floors — trees and grasses reclaiming the land — graffiti scripts and modern-day hieroglyphics covering anything mad-made. Most graffiti is bubble-letter tags, but there are enough illustrations & variety of vibrant colors to make it interesting. It’s reminiscent of the graffiti road in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Brick Factory

Graffiti on a wall

the vestibule

* The best way to get there is to start at Hot Diggidy Dog in Chatsworth, get yourself some hot dogs, then go north on Main, and make a right onto Savoy Boulevard and take Savoy all the way to Mt. Misery Road. Make a right onto Mt. Misery, and then a quick left onto Pasadena Woodmanse Road, and look for the graffiti.

Graffiti on the road

The brick factory is not far from Hot Diggity Dog, the Franklin Parker Preserve (more train tracks), Evert Trail Preserve (floating swamp trail), the Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve, and something called Hidden Lake.

I’ve always been curious about the Pine Barrens, thanks to the legend of the Jersey Devil, John McPhee’s book The Pine Barrens, and reading dozens of Weird NJ magazines. As a child, I collected rocks and minerals; someone gave me a hunk of rainbow-colored glass from the Batso glassworks, and at the time I vowed to visit Batso but never made the trip until 2019. Later in life, I made trips to Manchester to look for Megatibicen auletes cicadas — the largest cicada in North America. Summer of 2021, with nothing else to do, I started visiting the Pines almost every weekend.

More from the Pine Barrens:

The Gingerbread Castle in Hamburg, NJ

The Gingerbread Castle/House in Hamburg, NJ, is a mythical place I remember visiting as a child — or at least being told that I visited (constructing memories from photographs). While most families went to the Jersey shore or more exotic places like Florida for vacation, my family preferred the woods of Sussex County NJ and local amusements like the glowing rocks of the Franklin Mineral Museum and this Castle. I accidentally drove to it while testing some car repairs in July of 2021.

Gingerbread castle

The castle is small compared to actual castles of Europe or fantasy castles of Disney World & Land. It’s composed of stone, cement, and something like stucco. Colors are true to frostings you would find on a high-end gingerbread castle: white, pink, pastel blue, and ginger. Unlike the mostly rectangular construction of modern gingerbread cracker-based castles, this castle has rounded spires, columns, and very few rectangular parts.

The grounds surrounding the castle feature many public-domain fairy-tale characters like a Dragon, a sassy Humpty Dumpty, and a giant frog.

Looming over the Castle are the remnants of a large mill and factory that made cannonballs during the Revolutionary war, and later flour for troops during the War of 1812. The mill continued to operate and supply ground flour and baked goods to New Jersey up until the 1900s. I’m guessing Gingerbread Castle was made as a way to promote their consumer goods.

Mill and Castle

Both the Castle and Mill are locked up behind a fence and/or plywood and are inaccessible to the general public. Urban explorers might find a way in… maybe Scuba gear, as the first floor of the mill seems to be flooded.

The mill is flooded

War of the Worlds Monument in Grover’s Mill

Last Saturday, I was looking for Brood X cicadas in West Windsor Township, New Jersey. I visited Van Nest Park and Ronald Roger’s Arboretum in West Windsor, as well as the Lenape Trail & Waters Edge Park in nearby Plainsboro.

Of all the local parks, Van Nest Park had the best abundance of cicadas. Van Nest Park, located in the unincorporated community Grover’s Mills ( located within West Windsor Township), is home to a metallic monument to the 1938 War of the World’s radio broadcast by Orson Welles. Welles’ radio play told the story of a Martian invasion of Earth — and people thought it was real! In the story, the Martians invaded Grover’s Mill. Orson’s story was remade into at least two movies and Orson went on to be a famous and successful film actor and director.

The War of the Worlds monument:

Van Nest Martian Landing Monument

A cicada sharing Orson’s microphone:

Cicada sharing the mic with Orson

Look for Park Martians around West Windsor Township:

Park Martian

The Ronald Rogers Arboretum Monument:

Ronald Rogers Arboretum

According to the plaque, Ronald was adored for planting trees throughout the community.

Roger's hat

Half-wit

New Jersey Half-Wit

New Jersey Half-Wit — no, I don’t mean New Jersey residents. Not us (I am one) — we’re all geniuses. I mean the Half-wit style muffler man poised/posed/paused in front of the Intergalactic Pizza and Dracula’s Domain paintball range on Monmouth Road in Jackson Township, New Jersey.

Half-wit muffler men remind me of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Numan. Interesting story about the inspiration for Alfred E Numan. Worth noting that Dracula’s Domain has a Dracula muffler man, but he’s only around at Halloween time.

A Half Wit

 

Homosassa & Spring Hill Florida

While I was in the Weeki Wachee area for the Mermaids, I decided to stay an extra day and check out other local attractions.

My hotel was kind of crusty, kind of weird. Red/orange carpets. Stucco & a spray-on ceiling to cover stains, leaks, & burns. Cigarette burns on the sink countertop in my room. I shared an elevator ride with a brunette woman in a crimson nightgown, holding a lit cigarette. She said, “God bless you”. I did not sneeze. I don’t remember the hotel room having lights, except in the bathroom. The air conditioner was making a racket. I tried to fix it. The filters were caked with gray-brown filth. I rinsed them off in the shower. The noise persisted, but the room smelled better. I looked out the window. Old gray macadam, Florida vegetation, saw palmetto, anole lizards everywhere. There was a bar & bowling alley across the highway. Why didn’t I go? I’m a fool. Instead, I watched videos on my phone. Watched the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 — the one with music by New Order — and thought “that looks good”. The front desk clerk was sassy, humorous — the kid needs to get out of Florida and move to LA or New York. Be a stand-up comic, find more people like you “sassy front desk man”! Plenty of local magazines featuring gun ranges & stores. Good bedtime reading to remind me where I am.

Some of the local sights:

Bubbles the Manatee. Bubbles the Manatee resides at the entrance of the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, which I recommend you visit. They have actual manatees.

Bubbles the Manatee

The Manatee Tours – Weird Statues as Roadside America calls them. They have a great white shark, mermaids, a Mer-Goofy, a collapsed dragon, a giant mushroom — and mermaid tours.

Manatee Tours Weird Statues

Pepto-Bismol Dinosaur. Big pink dinosaur outside a massage parlor. I did not partake. The dino was decorated for Christmas. Nice pink sunset to compliment the pink dinosaur.

Pink Dinosaur

I stopped at a Checkers fast-food joint. I got a chili hot dog, a fish sandwich, fully loaded fries, and a Mr. Pibb. Enjoyed a sunset over a fan store that shares my name.

Dan's Fan City

What else?

A shack that sold mullet fish and boiled peanuts! Yeah, I wanted some. Yeah, showed up after it closed. I’m not happy about that.

Mullets and Boiled Peanuts

There were these mysterious places like Spinners & Fish Games.

Surf the Web and make friends? Fish games? Go fish?

Spinners Fish Games

I kinda didn’t want to leave.

3 Mermaids

Weeki Wachee Mermaids

Weeki Wachee is a Florida state park located in Spring Hill (formerly Weeki Wachee), Florida. The park offers kayaking, a spring-fed water park, wildlife shows, a riverboat cruise, and — what it is famous for — Mermaids.

I visited the park on December 9th, 2019, during my grand tour of Florida. Weeki Wachee — like the House on the Rock, Graceland & South of the Border — makes the bucket list of most fans of roadside attractions & tourist traps, so I had to check it out. Plus everyone likes mermaids, right?

I had the opportunity to purchase a ticket for the mermaid show and a riverboat cruise. I opted for both. The riverboat cruise takes you and a dozen other tourists down a vegetation-lined, spring-fed stream with a beautiful turquoise stream bed. The stream eventually connects to the sea, allowing manatees to swim into it, but we didn’t see any that day. The boat captain told a story about an island that was inhabited by monkeys. Not sure what happened to the monkeys. Didn’t ask.

The park grounds are decorated with dozens of sculptures of mermaids & nude swimmers. Sorry to disappoint/happy to relieve: the actual mermaids & swimmers in the exhibits and neighboring water park are NOT nude.

Weeki Wachee Park Entrance

Mermaid Gymnastics

The Mermaid Mold-a-Matic molds you a plastic souvenir in a matter of minutes. I got a blue mermaid. Yes, that’s the only choice. There’s also a souvenir shop in the main building.

Mermaid Moldomatic

On to the show!

I entered the Newton Perry Underwater Mermaid Theatre, then descended down a long cement ramp (sort of like descending into a cave) and entered the seating area. If memory serves, the seats were like high-school bench bleachers. The air was humid, but not hot. Everything felt almost moist.

Mermaid Theatre

The entertainment started with a park ranger who gave a talk about the local geology, fauna, and flora. Don’t be shy — ask a question, and the ranger will have an answer. Snakes, birds, lizards, manatees, what type of stone the grounds are made of — the ranger knows.

Once the ranger left, the Mermaid show began. The “ring leader” announced the start of the show, the curtain rose, and I COULD NOT BELIEVE WHAT I SAW. Yes, three beautiful mermaids & their ring leader/announcer, but also the amazing sight of a huge, bubbling blue natural spring… held back my three thick glass windows. EYE-POPPINGLY AMAZING! If memory serves, the mermaids & the ring leader performed about a dozen “dances” & skits — all underwater, with the help of air hoses, and a lot of athletic talent (you try swimming underwater for 45 minutes).

It’s definitely worth seeing the show if you’re in the area, especially if you’re a mermaid or mermaid enthusiast.

The ring leader fights off the alga monster (alga is a problem with the local springs):

Algae Monster Attacks

The ring leader and mermaid breathe oxygen through hoses:

Mermaid Performers

Since I visited in 2019, a lot has happened. The park was closed due to the 2020 pandemic, the town of Weeki Wachee was dissolved by the state, but the area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Egg aka the Betsy Orb

“The Egg” aka the Betsy Orb is a sculpture of an ovoid egglike entity wedged between two buildings on Ocean Court in South Miami Beach, close to the intersection of Ocean & 14th Place. It’s named for the Betsy Hotel that it is wedged against.

Update: the Orb is actually a walkway between the buildings!

Miami egg

I last saw the Egg on December 7th, 2019. I was impressed, but somehow expected more.

South of the Border Neon Sign

South of the Border at Night

South of the Border is a roadside attraction that needs no introduction. I’ve written about it before: South of the Border, the Quintessential Roadside Attraction  (if you do need an introduction).

I visited the attraction twice in December of 2019 — once during the day (12/3), and once at night (12/10). During the day, all the shops & restaurants are open for business. At night, the shops are closed & the place becomes a neon ghost town.

I didn’t plan on visiting South of the Border at night, but when I passed it — all lit up like a bowl of electric candy — I could not resist. How often do you get to explore a tourist attraction when you’re the only tourist? Rare. I stopped, walked around, it was worth it.

I saw one other guy, and we were both taking photos of the giant Pedro statue:

Pedro Lit up at night

The Hot Tamale restaurant & “hot dog” statue:

Hot Tamale

Fort Pedro Fireworks store:

Fort Pedro Fireworks

Pedro’s Pantry convenience store:

The Pantry

Ice Cream shop with Christmas Tree:

Ice Cream

Giant neon sombrero tower:

South of the Border Tower

“Never Fart” (Josh) sticker on a dumpster:

Never Fart

The big, colorful neon South of the Border sign visible from the highway:

South of the Border Neon Sign

Bordeaux Center Eiffel Tower

Fayetteville, North Carolina is a solid half-way stop between New Jersey and Florida. I’ve stayed there overnight several times — Marriott Springhill Suites is my top hotel recommendation.

On my last trip, I nearly crashed my car when I caught this roadside attraction out of the corner of my eye. It is a reasonably large Eiffel tower replica at a strip mall called  Bordeaux Center. Maybe not as exciting as a giant pink dinosaur or mermaids, but surprising none the less, and worth a stop for a photo.

Bordeaux Center Eiffel Tower

Last visit: December 3rd, 2019.