Every few years a book comes out titled, “America’s Greatest Roadside Oddities,” or something like that. Most list things like The World’s Largest Jack-In-The-Box in Middletown, Connecticut, or The World’s Most Scenic Urinal overlooking the beach in Kealakekua, Hawaii. And of course many of us have gaped in wonder at The World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle, in Collinsville. I’ve yet to venture to Weldon Spring, Missouri, to take a walk through the Nuclear Waster Adventure Trail and Museum or traipse out to St. Benedict, Oregon, to bask in the presence of the World’s Largest Pig Hairball. It’s located in a Catholic Abbey and you can view it online if you choose to skip the trip to Oregon or nuns make you nervous.
Hardly ever do I see Jacksonville listed in the oddball list and that’s a shame. Any stroll around the downtown square after ten p.m. will. . .well, never mind. Suffice it to say that we have our share. . .
The Ghost Car Rental
I recently had to rent a car in town so I called the local agency to reserve a buggy. Their electronic greeting thanked me for calling then gave me a choice of four departments from which to choose. I poked in a number, picked out a Chevy Malibu, and headed for their place of business. But here’s where it gets spooky. When I walked into the place there was only one employee in sight and in this particular business the whole shop was in sight. Four departments, one employee? This left several options for my surmising, but the thought of all the other department heads using the same restroom at the same time was more than my imagination could stand. The only other option: Rental Ghosts.
The Gymnasium that Time Forgot
I’ll give you a little test. Go to Washington Elementary School and try to find the gym within fifteen minutes. The place is located in the bowels of the great old building and to find it you must first navigate a labyrinth of alleys, hallways, basement rooms and cafeterias that would leave Waldo guessing. Rumor has it that a recent visitor was trying to find the gym at Washington and accidently bumped into a basketball team that had been groping its way around the maze since 1955.
The Methodist Maze
But even Washington School can’t hold an Advent candle to the maze that’s to be found within the confines of Grace Methodist Church. The floor plan of that grand old church was obviously the workings of a Methodist committee that kept saying, “Let’s add another room. . .no, two…no, maybe six.” I’ve been blessed to many times be a recipient of Grace’s graciousness as they’ve hosted many plays and concerts for the Jacksonville community, but once I stray away from the gorgeous sanctuary I get lost every time. One little room leads to a narrow hallway which leads to another vestibule and after two left turns I find myself trapped. There’s been a story passed around that the ghost of John Wesley haunts the upper rooms of the church. He’s not trying to scare anyone, he simply can’t find his way out.
The Creepy Piano
There’s a house on West State that contains a grand piano in an upstairs room. I’ve seen it. Nothing unusual about that unless you look around and notice that there’s not a door big enough for the piano to have been hauled through nor is there a window that’s anything close to piano size. The only explanation: It simply appeared. That’s enough to strike a chilling chord in anyone.
The Weird Water at WLDS
Ron Gray, former station manager told me this tale and Ron never lies. He said that years ago they were having trouble getting their broadcast signal out to the far reaches of our area. Then one day (and I forget the reason why) someone watered the area around the transmitter. Suddenly the WLDS signal could be heard for miles away. There was something in the water. You figure it out.
The Disappearing Drive-up
Okay, this one is a few miles from Jacksonville but it’s weird enough to make it worth noting since I witnessed it myself. Virginia, Illinois, has a restaurant with a drive-up window. Nothing odd about that. . . until you pull ahead to pick up your sandwich and find that there’s no pick-up window.
Hocus Pocus Rangoon
Okay, this one’s minor but it’s the oddity that I encounter most often in Jacksonville. Every time I eat at the Best Buffet and head for the Crab Rangoon, the fellow ahead of me takes the last one.