The United States has many impressive national memorials and monuments honoring great presidents, concepts such as freedom and tragedies (see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor). But for every such famous memorial, there are probably 100 others in the U.S. honoring bizarre incidents or obscure individuals. There are other memorials and monuments honoring worthy causes or individuals, but their size and/or design relative to their surroundings or legacy makes them stand out. Here are the top 10 unusual monuments and memorials in the United States.
10. The Gateway Arch
There’s no question the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is strikingly different, both in size and design, from other monuments, but it is also world-famous, and has become such an accepted part of the American landscape that it no longer seems that unusual. You could make the case that many of the United States’ most famous national monuments are unusual. Four giant presidential heads carved into a mountain in South Dakota is unusual. So is a giant statue of a woman holding a torch in New York Harbor. Over time, however, we come to accept monuments such as Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and the Gateway Arch as normal. As for the Gateway Arch itself, it was finished in 1967 and commemorates America’s expansion to the west. Standing 630 feet tall, it is the tallest man-made monument in the U.S.
9. Boll Weevil Monument
For millions of Southerners, the boll weevil brought untold misery, as the tiny beetle decimated the region’s cash crop, cotton, in the early 20th century. Yet where other communities saw menace, the residents of Enterprise, Alabama, saw a blessing. When the tiny beetle devastated the area’s cotton plants, farmers diversified their plantings, resulting in greater prosperity, So to honor the boll weevil, the city leaders erected a statue in 1919 in the center of town. Unfortunately, local youths vandalized and even stole the statue many times through the years, finally destroying it in 1998. The original was recovered and is on display in the nearby Enterprise Depot Museum. A 13-foot replica of the statue now stands in the town square – this time monitored by security cameras.
8. Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota has been under construction in South Dakota for more than 60 years, and its completion date is still unclear. Despite that, the monument-in-progress is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re in the area visiting Mount Rushmore, less than 20 miles away. Begun in 1948 as a tribute to the Native American warrior Crazy Horse, the statue’s construction has hit several roadblocks through the years, but eventual plans call for the monument to be 641 feet wide and 563 feet high, with Crazy Horse’s head projected at 87 feet high. By comparison, the presidential heads on Mount Rushmore are only 60 feet high. Yet there is some question over when the monument will be finished, and how it will be received, as even Native Americans have questioned whether Crazy Horse himself would approve of the destruction of a sacred mountain to make a memorial in his name.
7. Jefferson Davis Monument
The South boasts numerous memorials and monuments to former Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis, yet not even Georgia’s famed Stone Mountain can match the surreal qualities of the Jefferson Davis Monument in Fairview, Kentucky. The monument, patterned after the Washington Monument, towers 351 feet above the rural countryside, marking the spot of Davis’ birth in 1808. Built between 1917 and 1924 for an estimated $200,000, the monument is operated by the Kentucky Department of Parks as a state historic site. If you’re going, take the elevator to the top, where you’ll be treated to a view of miles and miles of rural countryside. Beware this informational tidbit from Wikipedia, which notes that the monument is the tallest unreinforced concrete structure in the world. That does not sound too reassuring for those heading up top.
It’s hard to classify Carhenge, it’s so bizarre. We’ll call it a monument, because it’s patterned after the world-famous Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in England. Carhenge was built to Stonehenge’s scale, but instead of using stones, Carhenge consists of 38 stacked cars covered in gray spray paint. Despite its somewhat remote location in Alliance, Nebraska, Carhenge has drawn tens of thousands of visitors and been featured in movies and other popular culture since construction on the monument began in 1987. Because of all the publicity, Carhenge has begun to seem almost normal in some respects, hurting its ranking on this list. It has also spawned many imitations around the United States, including Fridgehenge, near Santa Fe, New Mexico, which has since been removed because of complaints from people who didn’t want a bunch of old refigerators stacked up in their neighborhood.
5. U.S.S. South Dakota
The coasts and harbors of America feature a number of old aircraft carriers, battleships and submarines that have been decommissioned and now serve as floating memorials to our military veterans. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is more than 1,200 miles away from the nearest ocean port, but that didn’t stop the city from building a memorial to the USS South Dakota, which served with great distinction in the Pacific in World War II. After the ship was sold for scrap in the early 1960s, city leaders commissioned a memorial to the ship at a city park. Workers poured a concrete outline of the ship, and the Navy sent one of the ship’s propellers, an anchor, the ship’s bell and other artifacts to install at the site. The result is truly surreal.
4. Astoria Column
Standing high on a hill overlooking the Columbia River and Astoria, Oregon, Astoria Column is patterned after Trajan’s Column in Rome. Built in 1926, the concrete column stands 125 feet tall and has an observation tower at the top. Its most striking feature, however, is a spiral mural depicting events from Oregon’s early history. The tower made some history of its own in 1949, when it served as the tower for the first cable television system in the United States.
3. San Jacinto Monument
No one can argue that there shouldn’t be a monument to those who lost their lives in the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle in Texas’ war of independence from Mexico. But the result, a monument built in the 1930s to a height of 567 feet, making it the tallest monumental column in the world, seems a bit much. As they say, everything is bigger in Texas. The monument in La Porte, Texas, near Houston, is a popular tourist attraction as part of the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.
2. Keeper of the Plains
The Keeper of the Plains is a leading tourist attraction and popular gathering spot for locals in Wichita, Kansas, but the monument is largely unknown outside the city. Standing 44 feet high, atop a 30-foot rock pedestal, it’s located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers, which is sacred ground to Native Americans. The monument was unveiled in 1974 to help celebrate the United States bicentennial and to honor native Americans. The Keeper of the Plains is worth a visit during the day, but it is particularly awe-inspiring every night just after sunset, when torches surrounding its base are lit for 15 minutes.
1. Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Indianapolis
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is a striking monument in several respects. Its neoclassical design would seem more suited for an ancient European city than the heart of middle America. The intricate artwork and sculptures surrounding the main 284-foot monument are noteworthy in themselves. And the monument’s location at the very center of downtown Indianapolis makes it a popular public area and the focal point of the downtown. The monument was begun in 1889 and dedicated in 1902 and serves as a tribute to Hoosier servicemen who lost their lives in American wars in the 18th and 19th centuries. Here’s more evidence of the unique qualities of this monument. A city of Indianapolis report estimated that the monument would cost a half billion dollars in today’s dollars to replace.
One More: Bennington Battle Monument
Like the Jefferson Davis and Battle of San Jacinto monuments noted above, the Bennington Battle Monument wouldn’t look out of place if it was in Washington, D.C. But standing 306 feet tall, the Bennington monument seems surreal viewed against the surrounding countryside in rural Vermont. Construction on the tower began in 1887 to commemorate the centennial of the Battle of Bennington during the American Revolution. The battle itself took place about 10 miles to the west across the state line in New York, where it is commemorated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. If you’re in the area, take the elevator to the observation tower for a view of three states.