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Roadside Attractions Fading from Landscape

Bill Beeny decided he was getting too old to run his Elvis Is Alive Museum in Wright City, Mo., so he put the museum up for sale on eBay.
Jason Beaubien, NPR
Bill Beeny decided he was getting too old to run his Elvis Is Alive Museum in Wright City, Mo., so he put the museum up for sale on eBay.

A staple of the American road trip could be slowly disappearing from the nation's interstates and byways. Owners of some roadside attractions are deciding that interest is waning in such treasures as the world's largest ball of string, Stinker the monkey or a flock of ducks escaping from a replica of the Titanic.

On Interstate 70 in western Kansas, the billboards call frantically to motorists to come see the world's largest prairie dog, an 8,000-pound rodent that's actually made out of concrete.

Visitors of Prairie Dog Town also get to see a six-legged cow, a five-legged steer, several stuffed Jackalopes and a wild Russian boar.

Larry Farmer charges $6.95 admission to what is essentially a large petting zoo with a couple of freak show animals. Farmer, who turned 68 this year, is no longer as passionate about prairie dogs as he once was. After 40 years and recent health problems, he has decided to put his miniature theme park up for sale.

But in the age of DVD-equipped minivans, iPods, and handheld video games, mom-and-pop attractions like this are having a harder time pulling customers off the highway.

The Elvis Is Alive Museum near St. Louis closed its doors earlier this month. The proprietor, 81, decided to auction off his museum on eBay.

Doug Kirby, who runs the RoadsideAmerica.com Web site, says that a lot of quirky attractions don't survive a transfer of ownership. Local building inspectors tend to crack down when a roadside petting zoo or an overgrown exhibit of hubcaps goes up for sale, he says.

But Kirby still has faith that the roadside attraction will persist in some form as an American institution.

For every Toilet Seat Museum or Prairie Dog Town that disappears, he says, someone has opened a backyard rollercoaster or a tribute to old glass bottles.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jason Beaubien
Jason Beaubien is a Peabody award-winning journalist. He's filed stories from more than 60 countries around the world. His reporting tends to focus on issues in lower-income countries. Often his reports highlight inequities, injustices and abuses of power. He also regularly writes about natural disasters, wars and human conflict. Over the last two decades he's covered hurricanes in the Caribbean, typhoons in the Philippines, multiple earthquakes in Haiti, the Arab Spring, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the drug war in Mexico.