Roadside Attractions

“Wait, did you see that? Pull over.” If this sounds familiar, you may be one of those people who whizzes by a two-story concrete gorilla, only to pull to a screeching U-turn 50 yards up the road. You may have even posed for a snapshot next to a blue-and-yellow termite the size of a school bus. If you’ve never heard of Queen Connie of Concrete or the Big Blue Bug, it’s time to engage a subculture that celebrates New England’s outsized oddities. There are at least 10 destinations well worth the ride.


“Wait, did you see that? Pull over.” If this sounds familiar, you may be one of those people who whizzes by a two-story concrete gorilla, only to pull to a screeching U-turn 50 yards up the road. You may have even posed for a snapshot next to a blue-and-yellow termite the size of a school bus. If you’ve never heard of Queen Connie of Concrete or the Big Blue Bug, it’s time to engage a subculture that celebrates New England’s outsized oddities. There are at least 10 destinations well worth the ride.

VERMONT
Queen Connie of Concrete, Pioneer Auto Sales, Brandon

Sometimes you get an offer you can’t refuse. That’s how a 20-ton, 19-foot concrete gorilla happens to be towering over this car dealership in central Vermont. Clutching a real VW Beetle high overhead, her other hand is held low to welcome the public. The gorilla—dubbed “Queen Connie of Concrete” thanks to a contest among local schoolchildren—was crafted by sculptor T.J. Neil, who offered to build something that “would make the business stand out,” says Joan O’Neil, Pioneer Auto Sales president. About a month later, Queen Connie was born. “He was right—it has brought us recognition worldwide,” she says. 2829 Rt. 7, 802-247-4242.

Detour: Brandon is about 20 miles south of Middlebury on Rt. 7, a small college town in the Green Mountains. Visit the shop and gallery at the Vermont Folklife Center, where folklorists seek out stories and traditions of an ever-changing Vermont (802-388-4964; www.vermontfolklifecenter.org). Afterward, have an elegant lunch or dinner at the Storm Cafe overlooking Otter Creek (802-388-1063).

MASSACHUSETTS
The Tin Man, Good Time Stove Co., Goshen
He has a heart like his ancestor in The Wizard of Oz, but this Tin Man is 16 feet tall, and he holds a hammer and cutting shears, the tools of his trade. Richard “Stoveblack” Richardson, who restores and sells antique stoves at the Good Time Stove Co. (fascinating in its own right) in rural northwestern Massachusetts, says the Tin Man was built in 1955 for a local fuel company. Auctioned off after teenagers kept dressing him in funny outfits, he did a stint as a scarecrow and had his head and hands stolen. Finally, he was swapped to Richardson for stove parts. Richardson packed him off to a vocational school, where he got back his original head. “He was full of bullets,” says one student who attended the school. A store worker gave the Tin Man a heart for Christmas 10 years ago, and today, he faces Rt. 112, red heart glowing by day and night. “It gives people a sense of stability,” Richardson says. Rt. 112, 413-268-3677; www.goodtimestove.com.

Detour: Take a scenic drive on Rt. 112 north through the farm country of Buck-land to the junction of Rt. 2 and the village of Shelburne Falls (413-625-2544; www.shelburnefalls.com). A bridge suspended over the Deerfield River spans 400 feet and boasts more than 500 varieties of plants, including flowering vines and shrubs. It’s called the Bridge of Flowers.

The Big Chair, Gardner
A 20-foot-high wooden ladder-back chair sits in front of the Helen Mae Sauter School, an elementary school on Elm Street. This north-central Massachusetts town is about an hour northwest of Boston. Gardner, known as the “Chair City of the World” in its furniture-making heyday a century ago, claims that its original big chair, a 12-foot-high Mission model erected in 1905, was the biggest in the world. With other cities nipping at its title, Gardner replaced the Mission chair with a larger one in 1928. It was supplanted by a 16-foot colonial Hitchcock seven years later. In 1946, the chair traveled to Fenway Park, where Ted Williams sat in it, brandishing a huge bat made in South Gardner. The ladder-back chair here now took its place in 1976. 130 Elm St. (in front of the Helen Mae Sauter School).

Detour: Gardner and surrounding towns still make furniture, and factory outlets here sell brand name furniture at discount prices. A few of these outlets include the Factory Coop, LaChance’s Furniture Showroom, R. Smith Furniture, Templeton Furniture and Winchendon Furniture Co. (www.gardneroutlets.com).

Salty the Sea Horse, Dunseith Gardens, Mattapoisett
Perhaps the starfish was already taken when the late Henry Dunseith was seeking an emblem for his gift shop in the 1950s. Instead, he built a 36-foot-high plywood sea horse, a fish that has never inhabited the waters near this coastal town between Cape Cod and Rhode Island. When he died in 1988, Dunseith left his 3.3-acre property to the Mattapoisett Land Trust, which turned it into a public park. In 1999, the Land Trust gave the shopworn Salty a $20,000 makeover—about the cost of sending your 30-foot fiberglass sailboat to the shop for a total renovation. Salty’s glowing deep blue eye is now solar-powered. Corner of 38 North St. and Rt. 6

Detour: Take a right on North Street to stroll the wharves and waterfront of this pretty seaside village. Then take another right on Water Street for lunch at the Kinsale Inn (508-758-4922; www.kinsaleinn.com), the oldest seaside inn in the country, or keep going on Ned’s Point Road to a beach near Ned’s Point Light, where the stone lighthouse was built in 1837.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Redstone Missile, Warren

That’s a real (deactivated) intermediate range ballistic missile in the center of Warren (pop. 904) just west of the White Mountains. It’s a Redstone, the kind used to launch the first manned U.S. space flight, piloted by New Hampshire native Alan Shepard in 1961. Ted Asselin, a local man, trucked in this missile in 1970 while in Alabama with the army, hoping to inspire local children with an interest in science. “The welcoming committee in Warren had a false start. When informed that the Redstone was approaching Wentworth [a nearby town], they jumped into vehicles, and racing south, they soon discovered that the Redstone sighting was a local septic pumper,” wrote Asselin in a brochure that answers the question, “Why Here in Warren?”

Detour: Warren is less than 10 miles from hiking trails on Mt. Moosilauke, a 4,802-foot-tall peak in the White Mountain National Forest (Plymouth Office, Holderness, 603-536-1315; www.fs.fed.us/ra/forests/white-mountain)

MAINE
Wilbur the Lobster, Ruth & Wimpy’s Restaurant, Hancock

Southwest of Ellsworth on Rt. 1 and just past the turnoff for Rt. 3 to Bar Harbor, Wilbur the Lobster guards the parking lot of Ruth & Wimpy’s Restaurant, resting one enormous claw on a lobster trap and waving the other in the air. The 7-foot-tall fiberglass mascot is named after Wimpy and Ruth Wilbur, owners of the seafood eatery. Wilbur looks tough, but he’s a cream puff—his fiberglass shell overlays a Styrofoam core. The real Wimpy, who looks anything but, can sometimes be found slinging wood into the outdoor boiler that heats steaming kettles of live lobsters and clams. 792 Hwy. 1, 207-422-3723.

Detour: About 10 miles south on Rt. 1, halfway between Ellsworth and Bucksport, stop to rummage at the Big Chicken Barn (207-667-7308; www.bigchickenbarn.com), Maine’s largest used bookstore with more than 20,000 square feet of floor space. With antiques and collectibles from 52 dealers, you never know what you’ll find.

Paul Bunyan Statue, Bangor
From where he stands, 31 feet tall in front of the Bangor Auditorium on Main Street, the bearded giant in the belted mackinaw has a clear view of the mighty Penobscot River. Paul Bunyan’s double-sided ax and peavey (a tool for breaking up logjams) characterize the mythical lumberman whose legend spread throughout the logging camps of northern forests. The former Lumber Capital of the World (pronounced “Ban’-gore”) erected the 3,200-pound metal-and-fiberglass statue as part of its 125th anniversary celebration in 1959. Inside his concrete base is a 1959 time capsule, to be opened on Bangor’s 250th anniversary, February 12, 2084. Main Street (in front of Bangor Auditorium).

Detour: Stroll Bangor Waterfront Park (Main Street, northeast of the Paul Bunyan statue) on the Penobscot River, about 500 yards north of Bunyan on the opposite side of Main Street. An acclaimed children’s museum, the Maine Discovery Museum (207-262-7200; www.mainediscoverymuseum.org), is less than a mile north of Bangor.

Big Boy, Big Boyz Cycles, Augusta
On Rt. 201 in Augusta, an hour inland from the coast, Harley-Davidson riders know how to find Big Boyz Cycles, a Harley repair shop on Augusta’s northern outskirts. They just look for Big Boy. Twenty-one feet tall, he stands on stubby legs behind a chain-link fence, wearing a black apron and cap. Mufflers dangle from each beefy hand, but his Popeye forearms must have once hefted heavier stuff. Owner Jamie Green bought the statue 10 years ago from a now-deceased New Hampshire man. The only thing Green has done to Big Boy, besides name him, is to paint the cap black. “It was a striped railroad cap, which didn’t go with what we do,” he says. 685 Riverside Drive, 207-621-1001; www.bigboyzcycles.com.

Detour: Big Boyz is near a seriously good hot dog stand, Bolley’s Famous Franks (207-622-2951) in Hallowell, on Rt. 201 south of Augusta. Not into meat? Try the homemade ice cream at Hamilton’s Dairy Barn (207-622-2458), a few miles north off Rt. 201 in Vassalboro.

RHODE ISLAND
Big Blue Bug, New England Pest Control, Providence
“Business exploded when we put the bug on the roof,” says Tony DeJesus, a manager at New England Pest Control in downtown Providence. Nibbles Woodaway, a two-ton steel-and-fiberglass termite bolted to the roof, was erected in 1980. “We threw around ideas about different insects,” DeJesus says. “Termites are psychologically more appealing than, say, cockroaches.” At 58 feet long and 9 feet tall, with 40-foot-long wings, the Big Blue Bug is now a staple of traffic reports. He has appeared on lottery tickets and in the movie Dumb and Dumber. “At Christmas,” DeJesus says, “we dress him as Rudolph.” 161 O’Connell St., 401-941-5700; www.bluebug.com.

Detour: Nearby Federal Hill is an Italian-American neighborhood with tempting cuisine. Try Venda Ravioli (401-421-9105; www.vendaravioli.com), a retail store and deli with 150 kinds of fresh pasta, or its companion restaurant Costantino’s Ristorante & Caffe (401-528-1100).

CONNECTICUT
Thread City Crossing, or “The Frog Bridge,” Willimantic

Four green bronze-and-copper frogs, each the size of a VW Beetle, cling to towering spools of thread on the bridge that crosses the Willimantic River in northeastern Connecticut. Opened in 2001, the bridge, which links Routes 66 and 32 about 7 miles south of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, commemorates Willimantic’s bygone thread-making industry and a local legend. Awakened by raucous shrieks one night in 1754, it is believed the inhabitants of the village feared they were under attack. No bullets or arrows came, but morning revealed the real culprit: hundreds of casualties—of bullfrogs. They had fought to the death over the last puddle in a drying stream. Junction of Routes 66 and 32.

Detour: Follow the frogs’ gaze to the Mill Museum, formally known as the the Windham Textile and History Museum (860-456-2178; www.millmuseum.org), two blocks east at the corner of Main and Union streets, and learn the story of Connecticut’s textile industry. Toward evening, hop on Rt. 195 North to Rt. 44, then drive about 8 miles to Ashford, and enjoy smooth music in a variety of genres, as well as wine and a light repast at an urbane new club, Quartet 44 (860-487-0044; www.quartet44.com).