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

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

Lucy the Elephant

Margate New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant

New Jersey prides itself on its weirdness, whether that be cultural, architectural, historical, or cryptological weirdness. There’s a magazine devoted to it: Weird NJ. We have a hockey team called the Jersey Devils, named after a mythological demonic chimera that torments the Pine Barrens.

But why?

New Jersey might be “weird” because is not an easy place in which to live — it’s ridiculously expensive, it’s polluted, it’s unforgiving, and I’m guessing the first human to be called an “asshole” was born here — the Garden State grows more of them than tomatoes, blueberries, and corn combined. Perhaps weirdness is both a product of and a refuge from the harshness of Jersey. I also think that a lot of what we Jersians label as “weird”, might actually be perfectly normal — we just call it weird as a defense mechanism to keep the assholes at bay.

I scoured Roadside America’s New Jersey page (Doug Kirby used to live in Jersey, btw) and my own memory, for the roadside attraction in Jersey that is both weird and magnificent. Something you might travel from another state to see. My answer is Margate City, New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant (9200 Atlantic Ave, Margate City, NJ).

A square photo of Lucy:

Lucy the Elephant

Lucy is a stunningly beautiful, 65 feet tall statue of an elephant that spends her days admiring the Atlantic ocean. She has lovely painted nails. You can visit her at her home in Margate City. You can take a tour, climb through her insides, ride her back, and get the best view of the beach and sea in town. She’s so wonderful that it pains me to call her “weird”, but since “normal” on the Jersey Shore is a beige condo complex or a gaudy McMansion (with too many “voids”), weird is a compliment.

I was working on my “bucket list” on the 31st of March and realized that I’d never seen Lucy in the flesh. I thought “I can check this one off my list today”, entered my vehicle, and steered toward Margate City.

You have to pay a toll (“the Downbeach Express”) to get into and out of Lucy’s hometown. E-ZPass won’t work, so bring 4 singles. Seeing Lucy for the first time was an experience. Not cathartic, but definitely worth the trip — worth bringing others with you. There are a plethora of souvenirs to purchase — stuffed elephants, t-shirts, mugs, keychains, pens, candies — I got a fridge magnet.

I recommend stopping by the Margate Dairy Bar & Burger for a snack while you’re in town.

Lucy’s Toes (on fleek):

Lucy the Elephant’s Painted Toenails

A water tower featuring Lucy:

Lucy Watertower

It wouldn’t be New Jersey, without an asshole:

Lucy's rear end

Calico's Face

Calico, the “Evil” Middletown Clown

New Jersey has many massive & memorable business mascots, including Margate City’s Lucy the Elephant and Asbury Park’s Tillie. My personal favorite promotional character is Calico the Clown: an enormous, primary-colored clown, located at 853 Route 35 North, Middletown, NJ. Calico now stands before a Spirits Unlimited liquor store, but he once was the mascot of Food Circus Super Markets, Inc., a company that operates a bunch of Foodtown supermarkets (more info). I can see the connection between “Food Circus” and a clown, and … liquor makes folks “act like a clown” as well.

Calico has garnered the unfortunate name “the Evil Clown of Middletown”. The look on his face conjures up terms like wily, scheming, bemused, or vexed. His eyebrows are reminiscent of the Rock’s “people’s eyebrow” – but with both eyes. I don’t see “evil” when I look at Calico. I see a complex individual, often misunderstood and under-appreciated, stoic, with a healthy disdain and sense of humor about the world around him. I guess I see myself in Calico.

Middletown Booze Clown

The clown has been profiled by Weird NJ and Roadside America over the years. There is a Facebook page dedicated to preventing his destruction (Save Calico, The “Evil Clown” of Middletown, NJ). There are even songs about him.

One “controversy” with the clown is: “what is he doing with his right hand?” Some dirty-minded folks say he is making a lewd gesture. He is — or at least he should be — holding a balloon string. The “SAVE” circle on the sign is actually a balloon:
The Hand

Also, note that the original drawing of Calico features all 7 chakras:
Clown with Chakras

It appears that his third eye was omitted or removed from his roadside manifestation. I also wonder why they chose to paint his finger red.

Big John: Metropolis’ Other Hero

Driving through Metropolis on your way to the World’s Largest Statue of Superman, you’ll find another large statue of a “super man”: Big John (37.144369, -88.716370).

Big John

Big John fits in the genre of roadside attractions known as Muffler Men: giant statues of square-jawed he-men, that beckon you to buy mufflers, or in the case of John, to buy groceries. John looks like a cross between the happiest lumberjack ever and Al Capp’s L’li Abner.

If you lived in Southern Illinois, wouldn’t you shop at Big Johns?

Big John

Read more about Big John in this lengthy article.

Last visited: May 24th, 2015.