#64 Lake George – Magic Forest Clown

IMG_20120709_132113Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 8.56.01 PMIf you like giant fiberglass statues, then Magic Forest in Lake George, NY is the place for you. This fairy tale theme park has four Muffler Men and many other statues.  Magic Forest opened in 1963.  It features a 40 foot tall Uncle Sam statue which is the twin to the one in Ottawa Lake, MI.  There Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 6.12.38 PMis also a Santa statue, an 11 foot tall Tire Salesman, a Caveman, and three modified A&W Root Beer Family statues.  All of these statues were produced by International Fiberglass which made the Muffler Men.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 6.07.48 PMIn addition, there are many statues that were produced by other fiberglass companies including an Archer, a couple of Astronauts, an Indian, a Caveman and a Cavewoman, several storybook characters, as well as various animals.  Many of Magic Forest’s statues, including at least one of the Muffler Men and the Uncle Sam, came from the Danbury Fair which was located in Danbury, CT and closed in 1982.

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One of the most unusual statues at Magic Forest is the Giant Clown.  To my knowledge, International Fiberglass never produced a Clown model. This particular Muffler Man actually started out as a Pirate.  The company only made about four Pirates.  One of them still stands in Ocean City, NJ, another one is in

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.51.11 PMOcean City, MD, and one has gone missing. The Lake George statue originally stood at Ocean Playland Amusement Park in Ocean City, MD.  It was installed high above the entrance to the park.  After a few years, the park’s name was changed to Playland Park.  At that point, the Pirate was transformed into a Clown. Balloon clown pants were added, the hat was altered, and the statue was Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.50.33 PMrepainted.  The Clown remained there until the park closed.  It was purchased later by Magic Forest. Today, the statue looks about the same as it did when it stood at Playland Park. It is possibly the creepiest clown statue in existence with its still recognizable Muffler Man features.

Thanks to Terry Nelson for the vintage pictures of the pirate and clown when they stood in Ocean City and also to Debra Jane Seltzer for her editing help and research.

Texaco Big Friend TV Commercial

Big Friends wating for deliveryI’ve mentioned Texaco Big Friend statues in a previous post at this blog.  Of all the Muffler Men statues that International Fiberglass produced, I find these to be the most intriguing. About 300 of these statues were produced in 1966.  However, nearly all of them are gone now.

Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 12.13.15 AMI recently came across a TV commercial from 1966 on YouTube.com.  It shows how Texaco planned to use the statues in its advertising campaign. Texaco service station attendants were portrayed as your car’s “Big Friend.” While this commercial was being aired, the giant statues were being deployed around the country. However, for reasons that are still unknown, Texaco changed its mind about the statues.  While the TV commercial was still being aired a year later, the statues had all been removed from the company’s gas stations.  It is believed that those statues and the ones that were still in storage were destroyed.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 9.22.01 AMTo my knowledge, there are only three Big Friend statues that escaped Texaco’s purge.  They are located in Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada.  All three of those statues have either been heavily modified or damaged.  Recently, I was contacted by Ryan Lindstrom who lives in Chicago.  He owns a well-preserved Big Friend head which was bought at a antique shop in Georgia in the 1980s.  He is considering displaying the head at Route 66 exhibits in the future.

For more about Texaco Big Friends, see this blog post.  Texaco also produced Big Friend signs.  If you missed it, you might enjoy the recent Ray Carr Show interview which covers a lot of Muffler Men topics as well as the Texaco Big Friends and more pictures then are shown here. 

 

 

#63 Lake Luzerne, NY – Bunyan

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IMG_20120709_145251The Lake Luzerne Muffler Man statue has always been one of my favorites. Ever since I saw a photo at RoadsideAmerica.com of this Paul Bunyan standing in the woods without a head and coming apart at the waist, this unfortunate statue has intrigued me. It is located near Lake George, NY where there are five other Muffler Men.  Among them is the statue from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York now standing at Around the World Mini Golf in downtown Lake George. The rest of the area’s Muffler Men are located at Magic Forest, a recreational park for children.

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It is not known when the Lake Luzerne statue arrived. The earliest report is that it was already installed at the Swiss Campsites entrance in 1976 when the parents of Lynn Kinsman purchased the property.  Her parents changed the name of the campground to the Swiss Trail Campground and repainted the statue’s shirt to reflect the new name. After they sold the campground in 1985, the statue began falling apart and vegetation began obscuring it from view.

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

In the fall of 2002, the statue’s head was knocked off during a storm.  It landed on the lawn, close to the side of the road. Soon afterwards, Debra Jane Seltzer, the creator and manager of RoadsideArchitecture.com, spotted the head and became its caretaker.  She was in the area at a dog agility trial.  When the competition wrapped up for the day, she went to take photos of the statue.  She noticed the statue’s head lying on the ground in full view of the road.  She worried that it might be stolen or destroyed by vandals.  Back at the trial site, she mentioned the situation to a friend who insisted that they go get the head to save it from harm. They drove up to Lake Luzerne in the middle of the night and parked across the street from the statue. The head was light but awkward and slippery.  They finally

Photo Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

managed to get it across the road by using the nose and ears as handles. Getting the bulky head into the van was even more challenging and stressful.  Dogs were barking and cars passed by now and then.

The next day, the head was the talk of the agility trial. Everyone wanted a look at the bearded Bunyan face under the tarps.  Debra Jane’s next challenge was getting the head into her New York City apartment.  It just barely squeaked through the door.  For the next eight years, the head lounged comfortably next to a radiator in her apartment.  From time to time, she considered returning it.

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

Then, in September 2010, David Magliato posted a comment on RoadsideAmerica.com.  He had recently purchased the Swiss Trail Campground and renamed it the Adirondack Memories Campground.  One of his first orders of business was the Muffler Man.  In his on-line comment, he expressed his desire to restore the statue and inquired if anyone knew the whereabouts of the head.

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

After reading the comment, Debra Jane made a pilgrimage to return the head in 2011. When she arrived, she noticed that the statue had been repainted and looked great with the exception of the missing right arm and head. There was no answer when she knocked on the door of the house next to the statue.  So, she placed the head next to the garage door and hoped for the best.

IMG_20120709_121955The following summer, I was visiting many of the New York Muffler Men.  I drove to the Lake Luzerne campground on July 9th. To my surprise, when I rounded a bend in the road, I saw that the statue had been re-headed.  The Paul Bunyan stood on a hillside next to the road holding a big saw.  The head had been repainted to match the recently painted body.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 8.42.45 PMShortly afterwards, I posted my discovery at RoadsideAmerica.com.  Debra Jane was delighted to learn that, after all these years, the head had finally made it back on top of those broad shoulders. She said later, “It was a pleasure having the giant’s company all those years. But it is a far greater joy to know the head has been reunited with its body and in public where it belongs.”  The Muffler Man is still missing his right arm.  Maybe that, too, will turn up one day or a replacement will be installed.

Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing and to Roadside America for the information they have shared.

#62 Stony Point, NY – Bunyan

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IMG_20120704_131116In early 2012, I visited the Muffler Man in Stony Point, NY.  This statue is located at Camp Bullowa which is used for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts activities.  It appears to be one of the early Paul Bunyans produced in the mid-1960s by International Fiberglass.  While I was at the Camp, I met Ranger Joe Langdon and spoke with him about the statue.  It is not known where this Muffler Man was located before it arrived at the Camp in the mid-1990s.  It stands next to the parking lot near the main entrance.

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The statue was previously located next to the cafeteria on a steep hill overlooking the lake. It

became a popular prank for young campers to push the statue down the hill. Joe found the Muffler Man in the lake several times.  Since these fiberglass statues are hollow, this statue floated and could be easily found.  Enough was enough and, by 2000, Joe moved the statue to its current location near his house so that he can keep an eye on it.

IMG_20120704_124324Joe enjoys making large footprints in the snow and convincing Boy Scouts that the giant statue walks around at night.  This Muffler Man is in remarkably good condition considering the number of tumbles and swimming escapades it has been through.  The only damage is a crack on one of the statue’s boots.  The wooden axe that the statue holds is a replacement of the original.

Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for reviewing and editing this article. 

American Giants on the Ray Carr Radio Show

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Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 1.41.12 AMOn January 7, 2014. Ray Carr of Cleveland’s WCSB 89.3 did a phone interview with me about Muffler Men for his radio show. His program features in-depth, live interviews with movers-and-shakers: politicians, journalists, athletes, and guys like me who are into Americana. He also features unusual oldies and comedy interludes from the 1950s and 1960s.

I asked if I could put the interview on the American Giants  blog. He agreed to that so I  decided to go the extra mile and added video to the audio. So above is the enhanced Ray Carr interview. Ray is going to check back with me from time to time to catch up with my latest adventures. The next interview is scheduled for March 4, 2014 on Cleveland’s WCSB 89.3 at 8:00 AM.

Report From Arcadia, FL – Indian Muffler Man

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Photo Credit: Terry Nelson

Photo Credit: Terry Nelson

In May 2013, I took on a huge trip to see Muffler Men in Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada.  I saw more than 20 statues and made some interesting discoveries. One of my stops was at the Big Indian Smoke Shop in Irving, NY.  There are two Indian Chief statues there.  One stands next to I-90 while the other is currently in storage awaiting repairs.  According to the owner, one of the statues was originally located at the Iroquois Brewery in Buffalo, NY.  She also explained that there were two other Indian Chiefs in Buffalo.  One of these is now at the Big Indian Smoke Shop and the other went to an unknown location.  I jotted down the information for a future search and forgot about it.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 6.28.13 PMThen a few months ago, Debra Jane Seltzer of RoadsideArchitecture.com sent me a link to a photo at Flickr.com taken in the 1990s of an Indian statue at a Florida campground. This statue was located at the Peace River Campground in Arcadia, FL and was toppled by Hurricane Charley in 2004. After that, it was reported as missing at RoadsideAmerica.com.  I think everyone assumed that it had been trashed and was gone forever.

IMG_0162In December 2013, I went to Arcadia in search of the long lost Indian.  At the campground, I met the owner, Johnny Lempenau.  She was surprised that I was looking for the statue and quickly called someone to take me out to where it was being stored.  As we bounced around in the golf cart, I noticed there were ATVs everywhere. The Peace River Campground is the only campground in Florida that allows them.  My driver IMG_0131pointed out the intersection where the statue had stood previously.  When the Indian was knocked over and damaged in a storm, it was hauled off to the woods.  The statue has been there for ten years now and is covered and hidden by brush.  The Indian is missing his feet and right arm.  The fingers on his left hand and portions of his face have also been ravaged by time and the elements.  His deep blue eyes stare up at the sky through the trees while the forest grows up around him more each year.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 12.31.05 AMBack at the office, Johnny presented me with a pile of photos and newspaper clippings with information about the statue’s history.  It turns out that this is the third Indian statue from Buffalo.  It was moved from Buffalo to Tonawanda, NY where it stood at an amusement park with other fiberglass figures, including a giant whale.  Then, in the mid-1970s, the statue was relocated to Perry, NY where it stood on a pedestal on Lower Reservation Road.  At some point, the Indian lost his saluting right arm.  The arm reappeared on a telephone pole at a private residence nearby.  The owner of the statue could not persuade the person to give the arm back.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 12.34.13 AMIn August of 1995, Johnny’s relatives, who owned the Indian, loaded him into a truck with his feet sticking out the back and drove him down to the campground in Arcadia. Initially, the statue stood in grove of trees next to the office at entrance.  Later, the statue was moved further inside the property.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 12.35.50 AMIt is unlikely that this Indian will ever stand again.  This is the most damaged and deteriorated Muffler Man that I have seen so far.  However, thanks to Johnny, I was able to get the statue’s history and link him to the other two Indians in upstate New York.  International Fiberglass made many Indian statues in the 1960s.  They were installed at IMG_0124

gas stations, car dealerships, and other businesses.  There are about two dozen still standing in the United States.  These statues came in two models.  The bare-chested bodies were the same but they had different headgear.  The Indian Brave wore a single feather in his headband while the Indian Chief had a full headdress.  While the Indian in Arcadia is missing much of his face, his headdress is still mostly intact. Although his condition is poor the camp hopes to one day get him up again.

I want to thank Peace River Campground for taken the time to share the Indian Muffler Man story with me and also to Johnny for the use of her pictures. Thanks to Terry Nelson for the use of his historical picture of the Muffler Man Indian at the Iroquois Brewery. Also want to thank Debra Jane Seltzer and RoadsideArchitecture.com for helping me edit this article.  

#61 Elmsford, NY – Bunyan

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Picture Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer RoadsideArchitecture.com

Picture Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer RoadsideArchitecture.com

In July 2012, I had the opportunity to go to New York to visit some Muffler Men that I had not seen before.  My first stop was the Orange County Fairgrounds in Middletown to see “Chief Towaco”. This was an Indian Chief model that had been there since the 1970s.  Originally, this statue was one of three Indian models installed at the Danbury Fair in Danbury, CT.  Vintage photos show that this statue always had this strange looking, duct taped body.  At that point, his head was in normal condition and stayed that way until the giant was taken down.

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I arrived at the Orange County Fairgrounds on the 4th of July only to find out that the statue had been removed and trashed just two days earlier! I was told that the head was saved by one of the men who helped take the statue down. The rest of the body was hauled off to the dump. While I was at the Fairgrounds, I checked out the giant fiberglass cow head and some neat lights which came from the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

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After that, I went to see the Muffler Man in Elmsford.  This Paul Bunyan model stands on North Central Avenue just off I-287. It has been there since at least the 1970s. From the style of the statue’s shirt sleeves and arms, this appears to be an early statue from the mid-1960s.  The statue’s right arm has been missing as far back as anyone can remember. It’s possible that this statue never had one or it was removed to fit next to the sign.

Picture Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer RoadsideArchitecture.com

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer RoadsideArchitecture.com

The statue was originally painted the standard Paul Bunyan colors with a red shirt and blue pants.  By 2001, his shirt had been repainted gold.  Around 2004, the Amoco station was rebranded as a BP station.  The statue was painted green and yellow to match the new company’s logo. The statue’s eyes were also painted green and a flower planter was built around its feet.  The statue is a classic Paul Bunyan and not the same style as Phillips 66 or or Texaco Muffler Men so I have my doubts this giant was purchased for the oil industry. I have yet to find out if this statue has always been at this site or if it was moved there from somewhere else.

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In 2007, a driver accidentally backed a truck into this statue and ripped the left arm off right below the shirt sleeve. The station owner put the arm in a storage room where it has remained ever since.  Although I begged to see the arm, the clerk would not allow it.  He said that the owner was going to reinstall the arm at some point.  While there are a few Muffler Men around the country with missing feet, I believe this is the only one with missing arms. At the time of my visit, the gas station was being remodeled and the pumps had been removed.  Hopefully, the statue is also on the owner’s “to do” list and that the left arm will be reinstalled soon.