10. Blue Earth, Minnesota
First-time travelers along Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota are greeted by a stunning sight in the town of Blue Earth — a 55-foot-tall statue of the Jolly Green Giant. Blue Earth is located in the so-called “Valley of the Jolly Green Giant,” where the popular food brand got its start in the early 20th century. Erected in 1979 to commemorate the completion of I-90, Blue Earth’s beloved mascot draws an estimated 10,000 annual visitors. Said a spokesperson for the local chamber of commerce, “It really is unbelievable how many people stop by to see the statue.” The statue now also features a museum thanks to local resident Lowell Steen, who donated his vast Green Giant memorabilia collection.
9. Great Neck, New York
A giraffe as a town mascot may not make sense, but in the town of Great Neck, you would expect nothing less. The Village of Kensington in this town of nearly 10,000 people in Long Island is home to a hard-to-miss steel giraffe, which appears to be eating the tall trees in the village green. Designer and local resident Nat Epstein created the enormous sculpture, which has been on display since 1980. The sculpture often draws stares from visitors who think it’s missing its head (the steel wiring gives the impression that the animal is, indeed, headless).
8. Hell, Michigan
It would be a sacrilege to say this hamlet of 300 in southeast Michigan had an ironic sense of humor and was known for its angels and all things holy. If anything, Hell, Michigan, is known for its kitsch, playing up its dark name and its pitch-fork-wielding mascot. There are many T-shirts proclaiming, “Been through Hell and back!” as well as annual events that proclaim the same thing. The biggest tourism day in the town’s history happened a few years back, when huge crowds turned out on June 6, 2006 … or 6/6/6. If you’re sick of going to Hell and only getting a lousy T-shirt, you can get a signed and sealed diploma from the “fully, non-accredited” Damnation University. If a Dam U decal or license plate frame doesn’t suffice, you can even be Mayor of Hell for a day. You’ll even get one square inch of land in this most unholy (named) town. No one quite knows how this town got its peculiar name. It’s been said that an early German traveler proclaimed, “So schoene hell!” which, ironically, means, “So nice and bright.” Another popular theory is that when asked what to name this tract of land, early settler George Reeves declared, “You can name it Hell for all I care.”
7. East Dublin, Georgia
The redneck may not be the official mascot of this central Georgia town, but he takes a star turn every summer during the annual Summer Redneck Games, which the official event website bills as “More Fun Than Indoor Plumbing.” The first games were held in 1996 as a spoof, after cynics joked about the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta being the “Redneck Games.” Since that tongue-in-cheek beginning, the town’s one-day annual event has grown steadily in size, drawing thousands of fans for such events as the Hubcap Hurl, Dumpster Diving, the Big-Hair Contest, Redneck Horseshoes and Bobbin’ For Pigs Feet.
6. Fossil, Oregon
When renowned Oregon artist Dixie Jewett heard this village of 470 got its name from the mammoth bones unearthed nearby, she shipped her hulking sculpture of a mammoth to this community in the foothills of the Cascades, 175 miles east of Portland. Known as Woolly Willy, this life-size, three-ton mammoth likeness is fashioned from thousands of iron scraps, which have been heated, twisted and welded together. A former Alaska bush pilot, Jewett loaned the behemoth to the community, and the Wheeler County Cultural and Heritage Coalition helped raise the $55,000 necessary to keep him in Fossil, with donors symbolically “adopting” Willy.
4. Griggsville, Illinois
When Griggsville officials resolved to combat the town’s mosquito problem in the 1960s, little did they know the wheels were in motion to put Griggsville on the map as the “Purple Martin Capital of the Nation.” With growing concern over pesticides, resident inventor J.L. Wade suggested a more natural approach: the Purple Martin. This near-endangered species is a voracious eater of flying insects, and happened to migrate right through town. Wade’s company began manufacturing birdhouses for these large members of the swallow family. Now, as one wanders through this community in west-central Illinois, it’s hard to miss the more than 5,000 birdhouses in town, highlighted by the 70-foot-tall Purple Martin birdhouse in the middle of town.
4. Mount Horeb, Wisconsin
Threatened with a 1980s highway project that would bypass this community located west of Madison, city leadership sprung into action. Recalling that truckers passing through often commented on the trolls displayed outside a local gift shop (i.e. “I just passed by your mother-in-law” could commonly be heard on the CB radio), city officials decided to highlight the troll theme. They enlisted the help of local woodcarving artist Michael Feeney to create more than a dozen life-sized trolls, which now line the historic Main Street (AKA “The Trollway”) in this town of 7,000. Many local businesses have adopted troll themes, including the Grumpy Troll Brewery, and the community even has a troll mascot, Jorgen, who can be found at special events. It’s perhaps not surprising that Mount Horeb would become the self-proclaimed “Troll Capital of the World,” considering that more than 75 percent of its settlers were from Norway, where trolls are an integral part of Scandinavian folklore.
3. Fruita, Colorado
This town of 12,000 on the Utah border has earned quite a bit of publicity because of its most famous resident — a headless chicken. One day in 1945, local farmer Lloyd Olsen went to kill a young rooster, but after chopping off its head, the headless rooster continued to walk around. Needless to say, the rooster, who was christened “Mike,” became a local curiosity, and then a national sensation, touring the country, appearing in sideshows and being featured in Time and Life magazines. Doctors determined the blade narrowly missed Mike’s jugular, and a clot prevented him from bleeding to death. Farmer Olsen turned from foe to friend, and used a dropper to feed his headless chicken through the opening in his esophagus. Mike went on for 18 months like this before choking to death. His indomitable spirit lives on, though, in Fruita. There’s a Mike sculpture in the center of town and Mike has a fan club, a Facebook page and has been featured in a documentary, Chick Flick: The Miracle Mike Story. Crowds descend on Fruita each May for the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival. As the Fruita, Colorado, website dryly notes, “Attending this fun, family event is a NO BRAINER.”
2. Villisca, Iowa
Can a house be a mascot? In the case of Villisca, Iowa, we would say “Yes.” It’s amazing to consider an event that happened almost 100 years ago has shaped this otherwise nondescript town of 1,300 people. In the wee hours of June 10, 1912, an unknown assailant entered the home of Josiah and Sarah Moore, and used an axe to murder the couple, their four children under the age of 11, and two young sisters who were spending the night in the house. Many suspects, including a state senator, emerged in the coming weeks, months and years, but no one was ever convicted of these grisly slayings. Nowadays, visitors can allegedly contact the “spirits” of victims or murderer alike, as tours and overnight stays are offered at the home painstakingly restored to what it looked like on that infamous day. Given the brutal nature of the unsolved crime, and media attention from shows such as Ghost Adventures, ghost hunters and history buffs alike regularly visit this town an hour’s drive east of Omaha.
1. Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
By now, you know the story very well, whether through annual news reports, or the movie Groundhog Day: Every Feb. 2, Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog comes out of his hole in this tiny Pennsylvania town. If he sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. In case you’re wondering, in the more than 120 years the current Phil and his predecessors have been predicting the weather, they’ve spotted their shadow 100 times. So just how did this town of 6,000 residents northeast of Pittsburgh spawn such a strange tradition, which annually draws up to 30,000 people from around the globe? The roots of Groundhog Day go back to Punxy’s earliest settlers. It’s believed they brought their German tradition of predicting the weather to the New World, with a twist. It was said if a European hedgehog cast its shadow, a long winter lay ahead. With no European hedgehogs around, the groundhog became the living embodiment of the Farmer’s Almanac. Throughout the year, this furry media darling is tended to by local dignitaries in the “Inner Circle” — those snazzy-looking guys in top hats and bowties who surround Phil during his moment of glory each Feb. 2.