Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Top Christian Tourist Traps

10. Golgotha Mini Golf - Cave City Kentucky

What better says family fun than an attraction that translates to “Hill of Skulls” in the original Aramaic? The first nine holes offers such old testament highjinks as the Garden of Eden and Moses parting the Red Sea while the back nine concentrate on the miracles of the new testament. Various angel statues dot the landscape while Christ himself stands watch at the 18th hole…talk about pressure to perform!

It’s evident that the owners were short of funds when creating the park since many of the scenes are recreated with whatever ornaments could easily be found. Small plastic statues of armadillos and poodles are lined up to enter a shoddily constructed ark and elves from the Wal-Mart garden department helpfully stand in for various religious icons. I never knew St. Peter wore lederhosen!

Alas, Jesus’s accession into heaven with a golf club has seen better days; when last I visited it shook my soul to see that the place has been closed for a few years and the religious fervor for putt putting on astroturf is slowly being consumed by crabgrass and kudzu. A realtor sign at the front gate confirms that, at least when it comes to golf, religion is for sale.

9. God’s Ark of Safety – Frostburg Maryland

In 1974 Richard Green kept having visions of a giant ark on the side of a hill. Night after night his sleep was troubled by visions of a gigantic boat filled with all of God’s creatures. Finally Richard decided this was the voice of God instructing him to build a full size replica of Noah’s ark. A few days later, with $300 to spend, Richard started construction on an ark that was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Work has been slow since it all depends on donations of manpower and materials but, as Richard says, “As God provides, we will build.”

32 years later, only the steel support structure is completed so far, but architectural drawings show how it will look when finished. Exciting touches include a theater that shows a film about the original vision to build the ark, a 4-story atrium complete with statues of cows and pigs, and a 2 story water cross in which unsaved souls can be baptized. At the current rate of progress the ark should be finished somewhere around the year 2085.

8. Cross Garden – Prattville Alabama

The Cross Garden isn’t pretty. It isn’t meant to be. It’s a warning about what awaits if you don’t find Jesus. Hundreds of home made crosses made from telephone poles, 2 by 4’s, and scraps of lumber, stand in the kudzu covered clay. Scrawled across all of them are warning labels of what lies in the afterlife. “Hell is hot, hot, hot” zigzags across one and “No ice water in hell” states another. The number 27 is painted mysteriously over and over again on the crosses, discarded washing machines, and mechanical debris that litter the site. This vista is a testament to a man with a feverous idea in his brain that he had to get out.

The creator of this foreboding landscape is W.C. Rice who spent over 20 years creating this masterpiece to the afterlife. He claimed to have been inspired from seeing a cross at his mother’s funeral and just kept on at it like “a bird building a nest.” W.C. passed on 2 years ago but his family says they have no plans to take the Cross Garden down. Indeed the place has become a local tourist attraction for outsider art enthusiasts and perhaps others who just need to be reminded of what is to come.

7. New Holy Land Tour – Eureka Springs Arkansas

Ever wish you could see what life was really like when Jesus walked the earth in leather flip flops? Well then look no further 'cause the fine folks in Arkansas have got an attraction for you! At the New Holy Land tour you can interact with the Big J and other classic good guys from the bible…or at least local teenagers being paid 7 bucks an hour to pretend to be them. Why travel to the real Mideast and dodge Hezbollah rockets and Israeli artillery strikes when you can stand around a man made pond in Arkansas and pretend it’s the real thing?

I think the place could really pack in the crowds if they would add a little more excitement to the place. Show an adulterer getting stoned to death by a crazed crowd. Have a Lot’s Wife salt water taffy stand. Get a zombie Lazarus running amok and trying to eat tourist brains. The possibilities are endless.

6. Super Sized Saviors – various locations

Nothing says USA like oversized icons and what better way to celebrate the Lord than by creating a huge statue of him. Like Godzilla stalking the citizens of Tokyo, these titanic Saviors gaze down upon the masses always ready to stomp a sinner down with an oversized foot.

One of my favorites has to be the “Drowning Jesus” in Monroe Ohio, a 62 foot statue of the Savior rising out of a lake with him arms outstretched. I hope someone is able to bring him some giant water wings pretty soon.

The “Christ of the Ozarks” in Eureka Springs Arkansas stands 70 feet tall and appears to have been caught in mid-exercise. Locals call him “Stumpy” because his feet were left off so the statue wouldn’t require a warning light for low flying aircraft. I’m guessing the creators didn’t think a blinking red light on the king of kings’ noggin was such a good idea.

Of course the champion of any duel between of the lofty Lords would have to be Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil whose 125 foot height puts him well above any of our local boys. However it’s well known that all foreign Jesus’ statues were created by heathens who will burn eternally in hellfire…so that statue doesn’t count.

5. Ave Maria Grotto – Cullman Alabama

Deep in the heart of Alabama lies a testament to one mans obsession with making tiny things. For over 40 years Benedictine monk Joseph Zoetti labored to reproduce in miniature the great religious sights from all over the world. Packed tightly together over a small area rests very small versions of St. Peters, St. Juan Capistrano, and even the city of Jerusalem. Zoetti made the creations in his spare time from shoveling coal at a power plant and used whatever he could get his hands on; stones, cement, and odd junk he found laying around the grounds.

While the results are beautiful, there are some rather odd design choices. Because the monk couldn’t visit any of the places he often only used a single photo to guide him on how a building should look. The result is that the size of a single structure varies widely from wall to wall and unknown sides of building would be given windows and doors as the monk saw fit. You’d do well not to mention any of this to the current monks who live there since they tend to get a little miffed at tourists talking trash about their “miraculous miniatures.”

4. Precious Moments Chapel – Carthage Missouri

This is definitely the creepiest place on the list. Built by Sam Butcher, the man who created those big-eyed figurines, the chapel stands proudly in Middle America as a tremendous icon of bad taste. Inside the large chapel is room after room of dead baby angel paintings with those huge eyes all staring down at you. These droopy-eyed monsters all share the same demented look of joy and it was all I could do to keep from screaming out in fear. One painting after another shows these sad eyed waifs cavorting in Heaven until you get the sense that the afterlife is only for kids who die before puberty. In fact the only adult you see in the place is Jesus and even he looks creeped out by all these big-eyed kids looking up at him.

Outside the joint is a large fountain filled with even more Big Eye kid statues that shoots huge geysers of water every few hours. It’s like being in Vegas at the Bellagio but instead of being surrounded by call girls and 2nd rate singers, you’re surrounded by tourists who think this would be the perfect time for the rapture to occur.

3. Holy Land USA – Waterbury Connecticut

Another landmark created by a man with a vision of the divine. Holy Land sits on a hill overlooking Waterbury like a crumbling version of heaven. A large neon cross still lights up the night sky, casting a soulful glow down onto the town. Built in the late 50’s by John Greco, this conglomeration of the highpoints in biblical history used to be a huge tourist draw in the 60's but fell upon hard times after the death of it’s owner in 1986. Greco willed the entire thing to a group of mysterious nuns who have refused almost all offers of help in maintaining the attraction. As a result the entire thing has been falling apart for 20 years, assaulted by the ravages of time and vandals.

But the property still holds a mysterious power to those who visit. The crumbling vistas of Bethlehem and the barren Garden of Eden are like the results of some epic power struggle between good and evil. Strange catacombs dug into the earth to give “the history of the church” now lend themselves to visions of ogres and molemen, eager to snatch up unwitting tourists. As time marches over the grounds of this strange attraction it only manages to enhance the weirdness.

2. Institute For Creation and Research – Santee California

There’s a lot of Christian museums out there that show how evolution is just hogwash but most of them come off as laughable because of limitations of budget and a devotion to the Lords “true word” that borders on obsession. The ICR is one of the few that has overcome that problem with its professional, well-designed experience. It’s only when you start looking more closely at the stuff they are presenting that you suddenly realize you’re in the midst of people who don’t go for all that “science mumbo-jumbo.”

Exhibits at the beginning show how both the Universe and the Earth were created at the same time. Another exhibit shows how the power of Universal Disorder is kept in check by the guiding hand of a higher power. Further on a helpful display shows how the theory of evolution being taught brought Hitler and the Nazi’s into power. Just beyond is a visual representation of the “tree of evolution” with such evil fruit as genocide, bestiality, murder, and the use of drugs all ready for the picking by us scoffers of intelligent design. Oh that nasty, evil, mean ole’ theory of evolution!

1. Holyland Experience – Orlando Florida

Topping the list at number one is the country’s only Christian theme park located just minutes away from that evil secular mouse. At Orlando’s Holyland Experience you can chomp down on a “Goliath” burger while you watch Jesus Christ get whipped by Roman guards and then nailed to a cross. This has to be the only place in the world that bills a public execution as “family fun.”

After leaving your child emotionally scarred for life, why not commemorate the experience with some souvenirs? The Roman shield and sword lets junior pretend to be a member of the ruthless ruling elite over any of his Jew friends while Bearnardo the Scribal Bear helps little Sally explore what life was like in the dark ages. Hey Sally, time to send your brothers off to kill the infidel Muslims!

Yes, the Holyland Experience is the perfect blend of tourism with Christianity. A celebration of the good old days when a man was the Son of God and a woman could get stoned to death for wearing too much jewelry. Don’t forget to bring the kids!

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Anonymous said...

This article leaves no room for dissapointment!
Sarcasm IS effective.Would it hurt to ask your opinion on REAL Holyland tours?
I kind of got the feeling you think they would be a waste of time?
Misguided effort maybe?
Do tourism and Christianity mix?...
(Your opinion?)

DeeJay said...

Great place for fun. Thanks a lot for everything!

Anonymous said...

I live in Alabama, and I must say this piece was great! Every day I drive past businesses and commercial vehicles (usually carpenters or plumbers) with Christian symbols to help up their image and serve their sales pitch. The kind of person who would use religion to sell their product or service is the LAST person I would call. That's all this tourist crap is - a way to make a buck off religion. Kinda like Bush and many other politicians have done, just on a much smaller scale.

JRE said...

I have to visit those places. It's God's will.