This past weekend I finally got to see the annual Chicago Oddities and Curiosities Expo at the Odeum in Villa Park. The event proudly proclaims itself geared for “lovers of the strange and unusual” and features taxidermy, specimens, artwork, and just about anything bizarre. My teen daughters, Leia and Jade, joined me and although the event took place both on Saturday and Sunday, our schedules only permitted Saturday a.k.a. one of the hottest days on record. The unholy mix of southwestern temps and midwestern humidity made for an uncomfortable journey but, in the end, we all agreed it was worth it.
While traveling to Horrorhound Weekend/MASK-Fest convention in Indianapolis, my friend, Jason Schoolcraft, and I decided to stop in Elkhart. This little detour inspired by a unique museum an old comic book geek like myself couldn’t resist. Even the building is modeled after the “Hall of Justice” I grew up watching on the Super Friends cartoon. Although I grew up a Marvel Comics loyalist when it came to print, I did enjoy the DC heroes on TV and film. Now that comic book heroes, especially Marvel, has punched their way into mainstream, my devotion has changed from hiking two miles to the nearest drug store hoping the next issue of “Secret Wars” was out, to reading all my favorite comic stories in hardcover Omnibus collections while gazing at the MCU movie posters in my living room. I don’t know about Jason, but there was no way I was going to pass up the chance of visiting the Hall of Heroes a.k.a. the world’s only known superhero museum.
Last April, I discussed a trip I’d taken to Pittsburg – leaving off at the Kecksburg UFO. That same night we saw Weird Al perform at the Palace Theater in Greensburg, PA before checking out of our hotel the following morning. Rather than drive straight shot back to Chicago, we (my kids and I) took a different route through West Virginia. The original destination was Point Pleasant to see the Mothman Museum until I discovered yet another monster along the way. With just a week before we left on our road trip, I happily added Braxton County, “Home of the Flatwoods Monster,” to the itinerary. This story will be featured in an upcoming WEIRD USA story in Scary Monsters Magazine. So here you’ll get a less detailed version of events. On the flipside, you can see full-color photos from the experience – and this is one vibrant looking creature! Continue reading
We arrived at our hotel in Connellsville, PA that Friday and spent the remainder of the evening watching my son’s favorite show, Ghost Adventures. The following day I’d planned for us to see the Pittsburgh Zoo but worried we’d never get back in time for the Weird Al Yankovic concert that evening. Rather than risk being late, I decided to let the kids sleep in and looked for things closer to do. I was surprised to discover our hotel was only twenty-five minutes from the Kecksburg UFO which I’d visited almost exactly four years earlier. This development inspired me to hold off on my originally planned story for Scary Monsters Magazine #109 and feature this locale in the next WEIRD USA column instead. Since I’m saving all the details for the magazine (which is your cue to subscribe to it) I’ll just share some photos taken that day…
Last week, I took a mini Spring Break road trip from Chicago to Pennsylvania. I brought along my two youngest kids; Jade (16) and Luke (14) who were both with me last summer when I made a pit stop at the world’s biggest twine ball in Minnesota. I love bizarre roadside attractions and that one had been memorialized in song by the great Weird Al Yankovic, himself. This adventure would also feature Weird Al as I had VIP tickets to see him outside of Pittsburgh. It was one of the stops of his “The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” with Emo Phillips and my tickets granted a meet and greet with the multi-Grammy winner afterward. To plan a road trip around something like this without a bunch of strange stops along the way would be downright irreverent. Our first stop was the Toledo Zoo to see their prehistoric flying reptile replicas before making our way to Cleveland to see the actual house used in A Christmas Story – fully restored to its on-screen appearance.
There’s a common misconception that the multi-Grammy Award winning Weird Al Yankovic only performs parody songs. For those of us who’ve been buying his records/cassettes/CD’s for nearly four decades, however, we know full well that some of his funniest stuff is completely his own. These Al-riginals include “Dare to be Stupid,” “This is the Life,” “One more Minute,” and my favorite of them all, “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.” It was included on his UHF (1989) soundtrack and revolves around a family road trip to a rather unique roadside attraction. These folks have a penchant for pickled wieners and visiting as many bizarre places in the United States they can find with the Twine Ball their clear favorite. Most of the locales mentioned in the song are real places and I had the opportunity to visit the “Mecca of albino squirrels” (Olney, Illinois) last November.
If you’re in North Dakota and looking for something fun to do (and chances are if you’re in North Dakota, you DEFINITELY will be), then make sure to stop by the Space Alien Grill and Bar! It was the tail end of our family road trip and we were joined by my eldest son, Alex, who is stationed in Minot. He’d spend the last two nights of our vacation with us in Bismarck as I planned that Saturday; our only full day together. North Dakota is the least visited state in the US and, since it’s 90% farmland, I can understand why. Another interesting tidbit – if North Dakota ever seceded from the United States, it would be the country with the third most nuclear weapons. Amid all the nukes and cows lies Bismarck, an oasis of sorts with a small zoo, museum, and all the usual stores and chains (including my favorite coffee place, Caribou, which is now extinct from the Midwest) most of us take for granted. Imagine my happiness when I not only discovered this novelty restaurant but that it was right down the street from our hotel!