Giant horses, enormous cows, men that tower over the skyline… some of them are permanent fiberglass structures, some temporary inflatables, almost all of them are advertisements for a business. They’re cool, and I take pictures of them.
Pictures of… stuff that’s big. Like Mr. Bendo of Ralph’s Muffler, giant chickens, cows, horses, etc. There are lots of these roadside art/advertising objects in and around Indianapolis.
Sadly, since I started photographing in 1999, Some of Indy’s "Big Things" have been lost to time, due to businesses closing or natural disasters. Here are my photographs in tribute to Indianapolis icons that are lost to time.
These big things are often seasonal, related to holidays (Santa, pumpkins, ghosts) or are used as advertising to highlight a sale or grand opening. They’re usually temporary, so catching them is more challenging, and often more fun.
On a trip with my girlfriend to a VW Beetle car show in Virginia, we visited Dinosaurland in Winchester, Virginia. Dinosaurland is a tacky 60’s tourist attraction featuring 40 huge dinosaurs and other "big things" like a giant King Kong.
We traveled out to Kansas for my cousin’s wedding in the summer of 2006, plotting out many "Big Things" to photograph along the way.
In the summer of 2007, we took Stephanie’s New Beetle – Phoebe – on the annual Roswell2k pilgrimage to the mother ship in Roswell New Mexico. This year’s mass bug caravan was special – we traveled the whole of Route 66 out to California, with a trip to the Grand Canyon, too.
Where Are They?
So far, I’ve covered Indianapolis and much of Indiana photographing "Big Things" with the help of family, friends and helpful strangers who’ve sent me information through e-mail. I’ve also taken several trips around the midwest. There are still several Indiana day trips I need to make to photograph:
- Giant Egg in Mentone, Indiana
- Giant Peach near Vincennes, Indiana
- Big Chicken in Spencer, Indiana
- Giant Red Rooster in Hobart, Indiana, Hwy 6
- Giant Rocking Chair in Amity, Indiana
- Giant Indian in Toto, Indiana
- Giant Cross, Terre Haute, Indiana
E-mail me if you know of any big things in Indiana that I’ve missed.
Why do I Take Pictures of Big Things?
When I was a kid, my family used to stop at the Happy Chef in Ottumna, Iowa, which featured a Giant Chef, complete with chef’s hat and wooden spoon. If you pressed a button at the base of the statue, the chef would talk to you. It scared the crap out of me, but I still wanted to stop every time.
I resumed my fascination with "Big Things" on a road trip in 1996 to Tucson, Arizona. My friends were moving, and I helped them drive the moving van out west. We took Route 66 for part of the trip, so we saw lots of big things. Unfortunately, my crappy camera didn’t capture many of them, but when I got home, I started snapping pictures around Indianapolis.
As a designer, I’m fascinated by "Big Things" because I’m interested in their effectiveness as advertising. To catch people’s eye, the advertiser took something ordinary and distorted its size in relation to the objects that surround it. You’re driving along, and you see "building building, giant cow, building" and you think, "Wait a minute, giant cow? That’s not right. What is that?"
Another interesting aspect of the "Big Things" phenomenon is that big people like Mr. Bendo are the decendents of American folklore. Part of our American archetype are folk stories of giant men like Paul Bunyan, who strode across the landscape, stepping over trees and buildings as he helped tame the wilderness.
Closely related to "Big Things," mimetic architecture are buildings in the shapes of objects, like the long-gone Polk Dairy building, which featured smoke-stacks shaped like large milk bottles. This building was one of the few examples of Mimetic Architecture in Indianapolis.
Me and "Big Things" in the papers
On January 5, 2005 an article on on my "Big Things" photography hobby was the cover story of Nuvo Newsweekly. I did an interview, and had my picture taken with Mr. Bendo for the article.
My "Big Things" Photos On TV
Dick Wolfsie and Barney the Dog, from WISH-TV Daybreak News interviewed me about my "Big Things" at 5:50 a.m. Tuesday January 15th, 2002, from Ralph’s Muffler on 16th street, home of Mr. Bendo.
I’ve been mentioned several times on the website roadsideamerica.com: "Akin to the mad building frenzy of the Winchester Mystery House widow, Steph must keep photographing giant things in Indianapolis or die."
My "Big Things" Photos In Print:
Indiana Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, and Other Offbeat Stuff
by Dick Wolfsie (Author)
I have photo credits in Dick Wolfsie’s new book, of the giant Steer in Kokomo and the ladies leg sundial that I photographed. I was featured on Dick’s show for my photography of "Big Things."