Today’s feature is bittersweet, because this attraction is actually completely gone now, and although it falls a little outside of our usual kiddie attractions, I can’t resist telling you my story of visiting the Haunted Monster Museum.
Driving south to the tourist mecca of Pigeon Forge Tennessee, (en route to visit totally different tourist traps) we found ourselves in need of gas. When we pulled off at the exit, we were greeted with this sign:
Holeeee-y crap! Look at it again and imagine yourself on a boring road trip making a necessary stop.
Imagine our amazement-What was this place? How have we never heard of it? Does that sign have feet?!Here we are on a 10 hour drive looking for amazing tourist attractions, and we accidentally stumble upon the mother-lode. What was this homegrown “Monster Museum” we were somehow completely unaware of? We felt like giddy children in the car. Unable to stop for the day, as we arrived after after closing, we eagerly vowed to stop on our return trip. What we found haunting the woods of Natural Bridge, VA amazed us and continues to be the stuff of roadside legend.
Inside a mostly respectable red brick natural park building, with creepy historic wax museums, a silly “toy museum” (that was one part toy store and one part thrift store) stood several attractions created by sculptor, Mark Cline. This was the first time I had ever heard of Mark Cline, and if you told me that I’d be lucky enough to get a tour of his most ambitious attraction given the man himself, I’d have called you a liar. Yet, here were were…in a colonial building reminiscent of so many field trips. This time it was different. This time we were buying tickets to a “Haunted Monster Museum”. We were told by a brown-haired woman that could have been anyone’s mom that we’d have to drive across the street and look for the “big monster gate”. The ticket seller assured us “You can’t miss it”. Nope, she was right. We didn’t miss it.
Once we passed through the gate and followed a short and creepy path through the woods, we found that a few other nervous travelers were already waiting outside the disheveled house. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There was a giant one-eyed skull on the front balcony, with skeleton shutters, a snake weaving in and out of upstairs bedroom windows, and gargoyles and bats on the roof. It was quiet, except for the sounds of cracking branches and the whispering of a small group of tourists brave enough to pay the inexpensive admission price to enter this bizarre “museum”. This wasn’t like any school trip I had ever been on!
We sat on picnic benches waiting anxiously waiting for something to happen. I started to get a little jumpy, unsure of what we had just gotten ourselves into, so when a smiling, wild-haired man came out in a neon green tee shirt and a fedora offering a “lights on” tour, I took him up on the offer; along with the family of a 6 year old girl. This man was the amazing artist, Professor Mark Cline.
Once inside, I felt very silly for being so nervous. Like all great ballyhoo men before him, Mark proved himself a great showman. The home-made gags were not very scary, and at best were reminiscent of boardwalk dark rides and included things like neon aliens behind chicken wire. Still-something about the ominous surroundings and homegrown nature made this place feel sinister. Once I’d gone through, Professor Cline let me out through the “Chicken Door” where I found a 10 foot tall fiberglass chicken on the back porch to mock me. That Professor, ever an entertainer.
Along with the admission to this attraction, you could visit the Dinosaur Kingdom in the surrounding forests, where this wonderful weirdo (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) made an entire dinosaur park based around civil war soldiers fighting dinosaurs. (I’ll be sure to feature that at a later date!)
As a triple whammy, just down the road, Mark Cline has built FoamHenge, a Stonehenge replica made entirely of Styrofoam as an April Fool’s Joke in 2004. Good jokes don’t grow old though. Ten years later it is still there, although a little worse for wear!
Sadly, as quickly as it appeared to us on our travels, it was gone-I was heartbroken to learn that the Monster museum was destroyed in a major fire and closed indefinitely in April 2012 along with Dinosaur Kingdom. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit it and see it as it stood in 2008. Next time you see a weird sign on the road and think about passing it. Do yourself a favor- Don’t. I’m so glad we stopped here, and didn’t try to “see it next time we pass through.” There was no “next time”. If you are a fan of Mark and his work, he offers sculpting classes in Virginia specifically focused on fiberglass attractions. I would encourage anyone with a love of kiddie park repair and restoration to consider attending!
Mark Cline is a special kind of person, and we’re all lucky he’s around and scaring little kids, making giant dinosaurs, and fixing broken whales! In a world where everyone is putting in 4D interactive theaters and virtual reality simulators, Mark is keeping it simple and keeping it real. He’s a hero to kiddie parks and boardwalks alike, and we can all be thankful for that!
If you never got to visit, Here is a video with some footage of this amazing attraction.