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Discover the Eccentric Side of New York State, Visit Unique Sites, Picnic with Ghosts & Follow the Jello-Brick Road

October 2, 2013 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

From America’s tiniest church to its largest kaleidoscope and whimsical Jell-O brick road, New York State is home to some of the nation’s most extraordinary and unusual attractions.

The founders of the Weird U.S. books series and website, Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran have been seeking out the weird and bizarre for more than twenty years. While everyone has their own idea of weird, says Sceurman, “it’s clear that New York has more than its share.”

Sceurman says, “New York is called the Empire State for a reason. As all New Yorkers know, ours is the state by which all others are measured. We have the Baseball Hall of Fame and a really big waterfall, but there’s something else we’ve got so much more of….weirdness.”

In fact, every region has its own unique attractions. What follows is just a sampling from and other sources. Keep your ears open, eyes peeled and you’re sure to make your own weird discoveries as you explore the state! For some off-beat places to stay along the way, check out

The Leading Duck. Eight-feet wide, thirty-feet long and twenty-feet tall, the Big Duck, in Flanders, still delivers on what its name promises. The duck-shaped building was commissioned by Riverhead farmer Martin Maurer back in 1931 to promote his egg and duck sales. It is from the Big Duck that the term “Duck Architecture” grew to describe the once popular roadside creations built to market what is sold inside. When the farm closed, the Big Duck Warwick Hotel San Franciscowas sold to Suffolk County and added to the National Register of Historic Places. No longer in the poultry business, the ducks sold by the landmark Big Duck these days are painted on t-shirts and other memorabilia. Nevertheless, the Duck is a popular stop on the road to the chic beaches of the Hamptons.  While on Long Island, you can also visit the Atlantis Long Island Aquarium and the 18th Century Old Bethpage Village Restoration.

Big on Candy. The giant Dolly Dimples statue at the juncture of Routes 5 and 20 in Silver Creek invites passersby to stop at Valvo’s Candy and taste their original home-made chocolates and sweets. Chocolate covered strawberries and peanut clusters are year-round favorites; crunchy sponge candy is their signature winter-only favorite. Plus, Dolly Dimples and sponge candy are not the only quirky things here. The store has one of the state’s largest collections of antique silver candy molds, with pieces dating back to the early 1900’s, and sells fountains, birdbaths, religious statuary, life-sized celebrity and other statues. While this may seem quite unrelated to candy, owner Joseph Valvo points out, “They’re all made from molds.” While in the Chautauqua-Allegheny region, you can explore the Amish country, thrill to the zipline at Holiday Valley and attend a class or a lakeside concert at Chautauqua Institution.

The Leather Guy Make Over. You’ve probably seen pictures of Mayfield’s famous Big Leather Guy. Standing along Route 30 near Great Sacandaga Lake, the Leather Guy swaggered onto the scene in the 1970’s sporting black horn-rimmed glasses, big sideburns, a suede fringe jacket and knee-high boots. For years, he stood in front of Alvord’s House of Leather, successfully promoting the shop. He came down for a makeover by a log cabin builder in 2006, still sporting lots of leather and tailored to look like Daniel Boone.  Big Leather Guy moved down the road a bit to the builder’s shop and now stands in a field near the newly-renovated Rice Homestead Museum on Riceville Road. If you want to see—or buy him—come soon; the builder has moved and put the land up for sale and Big Guy may be in for another makeover! While in the Capital-Saratoga region, you can experience the hands-on science at the Schenectady Museum, try fresh-pressed cider at Eagle Mills and catch a thoroughbred race in pretty Saratoga Springs.

The World’s Largest Kaleidoscope. Over 56 feet tall, the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope is more of an experience than object. It was the brainchild of artist Charles Karadimos, who designed it to delight and amaze visitors. The device incorporates video footage by psychedelic art pioneer Isaac Abrams and his computer-artist son Raphael along with a musical score by local composer Gary Burke, who has worked with the likes of Frances Ford Coppola and Bob Dylan. Visitors, who lie on their backs to watch one of three ten-minute “kaleidoshows” have been flocking to the Emerson County Store in Mt. Tremper to the see the man-made wonder since it opened in 1996 and to peruse the shop’s fanciful kaleidoscopes. While in the Catskills region, you can board the scenic Catskill Mountain Railroad, catch a concert at nearby Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, site of the original Woodstock concert, and  tube down the Esopus Creek.

The World’s Smallest Church. Accessible only by boat, the Cross Island Chapel is said to be the world’s tiniest church. Don’t take our word for it; although Guinness Book of Records no longer has a “smallest church in America” category, this tiny church in Verona (near Oneida) once held the title. It is located on a man-made island in a pond just off Sconondoa Road where a sign on the bank explains everything: “Built in 1989. Floor area 51 inches by 81 inches (28.68 square feet). Seats two people. Non-denominational. Dedicated as a witness to God.” Built by a local family, it has been the site of multiple weddings in which the bride, groom and person marrying them stand (because they can’t fit sitting) in the actual church while guests surround them on boats. While in the Central New York  region, you can explore Howe Caverns and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and cruise or bike along the Erie Canal.

A Secret Echo from the Past. In downtown Lake George, there is a giant circle cut into the ground. Local Native American legend says the ancient god Katchalototail appeared here and his wisdom can still be heard echoing around the lake by mortals standing in the circle. Myth or not, the circle is one of the state’s strangest wonders. A person speaking from circle’s center hears his or her voice answered with a mysterious echo. Those in the circle also hear the answer, but those outside of it only hear the speaker’s voice. The circle, a.k.a. the Mystery Spot, is just east of the intersection of Canada Street and Million Dollar Beach and looks like a giant ring with a compass etched into it. While in the Adirondacks region, you can enjoy its 3,000-plus lakes and ponds, follow amazing mountain biking, hiking and canoe trails and explore Great Escape, Splashwater Kingdom and Fort Ticonderoga.

Picnic with a ghost. There are many tales about the ghost of Boldt Castle. Located on Heart Island in the St. Lawrence River, the castle is said to be haunted by Louise, the wife of turn-of-the-century hotel magnate George C. Boldt. Sadly, she died just months before the dream home he was building in her honor was complete. The mansion and its grounds, now owned by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, are open to the public for picnics and exploring. The island is accessible by boat tours from Clayton and Alexandria Bay. While there, keep your ears open; many visitors report that they have heard her footsteps. While in the 1000 Islands-Seaway region, you can go rafting on the Black River, see historic 1812 military sites in Ogdensburg, Sackets Harbor and Oswego, and beach- and island-hop by boat.

The Mushroom House. You may think you’ve stepping into an Antoni Gaudi architectural sketch when you see what’s come to be called “the Mushroom House.” Nestled in the wooded hillside of Perinton, the private residence is a designated town landmark that fascinates visitors year-round. Designed by architect James H. Johnson in response to a request for a home with a “natural honest feeling” that was “informal, open and comfortable,” the home was modeled after Queen Anne’s lace. However, the inter-connected pod units remind most viewers of gigantic mushroom heads, and the name Mushroom House has stuck. The whimsical home is visible from the roadside near the entrance to Powder Mills Park. While in the Finger Lakes  region, you can follow one of the food and wine trails, or visit the Corning Museum of Glass, Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play and Genesee Country Village living history museum.

A Castle in Progress. Another Gaudi-esque building, Wing’s Castle in Millbrook is a most unusual bed and breakfast, complete with a dungeon and castle. Featured in HGTV’s Extreme Homes, fashion shoots and movies, its fairytale story began when Peter Wing proposed to his now-wife Toni Ann after returning from Vietnam in 1970. The couple is still reimagining their fanciful home over 40 years later and offer tours as well as lodgings. In fact, guests and visitors are likely to catch Peter out working on the Castle, which is made from 80% recycled materials, night and day. The art doesn’t end with the architecture; inside is a museum of antique memorabilia and collectibles and Peter’s wood-carvings adorn local shops as well as his castle.While in the Hudson Valley region, you can visit the nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, the Culinary Institute of America and the Rockefeller Estate.

Follow the Jell-O Brick Road. Yes, there is a Jell-O Brick Road. Although it’s not yellow and it’s in Le Roy, not Oz, it is brick and it leads to a magical place. Le Roy was home to Pearle Wait, inventor of Jell-O in 1897, and here Jell-O was made for 65 years. The road leads from Main Street, past the Le Roy Historical Society to the Jell-O Gallery, a museum dedicated to every aspect of the popular desert. Here, you’ll find original Jell-O oil paintings from the 1920’s, Jack Benny jingles calling it a “red letter” dessert (which explains the red lettering on Jell-O boxes) and some classic Bill Cosby commercials.While in the Greater Niagara  region, you can visit Niagara Falls, splash into the water park and wild rides at Darien Lake Theme Park, and see why Letchworth State Park is called the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

For additional activities to see and do in New York State, visit

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