Thursday, 19 August 2010


Over the decades, a lucky handful of offbeat attractions have grown in recognition and stature, celebrated frequently in magazine photo essays, in calendars, as backdrops for music videos and movies. These Great Monuments are rhapsodized as the embodiment of American hopes and dreams, folly and failure, art and commerce, materialism and spiritualism. Professional authors and screenwriters know a pre-baked, easy-to-get symbol when they see it. Who are we to buck the trend?

The Cadillac Ranch, located along the tatters of historic Route 66, was built in 1974, brainchild of Stanley Marsh 3, the helium millionaire who owns the dusty wheat field where it stands. Marsh and The Ant Farm, a San Francisco art collective, assembled used Cadillacs representing the "Golden Age" of American Automobiles (1949 through 1963). The ten graffiti-covered cars are half-buried, nose-down, facing west "at the same angle as the Cheops' pyramids."

In 1997, development creep forced Marsh to move the entire assemblage about two miles further west. The line of cars is far enough out in a field to allow for suitably bleak photography. The distance from any authority also encourages ever-mutating layers of painted graffiti, which Marsh doesn't seem to mind.

Visitors are encouraged 24/7 - just don't steal any of Stanley's colorful signs. The 62-year old Marsh has had a few interesting run-ins with the law over his brand of enforcement. In 1994, he was accused of threatening an 18-year old with a hammer and penning him inside a chicken coop. He's been sued by a family claiming Marsh tricks teens into working for him after catching them red-handed with one of his signs.

Sounds like Marsh is just adding an unexpected thrill around a ranch visit, but then we didn't try to steal a sign. In 2005, the Cadillacs were painted pink in a tribute to breast cancer victims. Since visitors are encouraged to add their own graffiti, this look probably won't endure...

Other bits of Marsh art can be found in the vicinity. There is a pair of legs between Amarillo and Canyon, Texas.

The Cadillac Ranch influenced subsequent artistic works wrought in Detroit metal. Witness Alliance, NE's over-the-top Carhenge and Berwyn, IL's Cars-on-a-Spike.

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