The Top 10 Odd Things in Connecticut
This is the companion list to our popular Top 10 Haunted Places in Connecticut. Unlike that list, however, this isn’t so quite cut-and-dried — where every place on that list is known for being a haven for alleged paranormal activity, the places and things (there’s a few of each) in this group are here for more nebulous reasons, such as they’re just weird, unusual or curious.
Damned Connecticut’s Patented Disclaimer: Like any list, this is totally subjective and your opinions are welcome — as I said last time, any list will inspire debate and comment. No doubt there will be suggestions for things omitted or criticism of what was included, which is fine. Feel free to let me know what you think!
Again, this is in no particular order other than the way that I thought of them, and I determined the things listed by how popular they have been on this site.
The Top 10 Odd Things in Connecticut
1. Holy Land USA, Waterbury – Even before the recent murder there, this former popular tourist attraction had been drawing the wrong type of attention for years. Besieged by vandals since it closed down in 1984, this eclectic collection of 200+ miniature buildings designed to emulate Jerusalem had lapsed into squalor, a long way from its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s when it drew tens of thousands of devout visitors. A labor of love by a local attorney who was following a heavenly vision, one might ask why god would need someone to build a shrunken replica of one of the most revered cities on the planet, but who are we to question blind faith?
2. Gillette Castle, East Haddam – When you think about it objectively — a medieval fieldstone castle overlooking the New England countryside — you begin to realize just how eccentric its builder (and lord) was. William Hooker Gillette was an actor (renowned for bringing “Sherlock Holmes” to life) and a brilliant playwright, but also an ingenious designer who created a different wooden lock for each of his home’s 47 unique doors. He also had other quirky aspects built into the castle, like a series of mirrors that allowed him to view guests in the living room from upstairs so he could make a grand entrance at the proper moment. Obviously, his ego was almost as big as his castle.
3. The Glass House, New Canaan – Designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson as an ideal Modernist residence — and his own personal castle — this iconic structure stands in New Canaan, proof that there’s more than one way to showcase your uniqueness in architectural terms. Like a giant fish tank, each wall of this official National Historic Landmark is made of clear glass, and allowed any passerby a free view of what Johnson (who lived there for 56 years, until his death in 2005) was doing at any given moment. Chances were, he was never casting stones at others.
4. Dunnellen Hall, Greenwich – Speaking of personal castles, this Jacobean mansion originally built in 1918 for the daughter of industrialist Daniel Grey Reid seemed to be a dream home for the first three decades it stood. Since having been sold to steel magnate Loring Washburn in 1950, however, stately Dunnellen Hall has gone through a string of seemingly luckless owners, each meeting financial ruin or a bad demise, including most recently Harry and Leona “The Queen of Mean” Helmsley. Consequently, the exorbitant residence — with its 28 exquisite rooms — sits unoccupied on 26 acres of the most expensive real estate in the nation. Is it just a slow housing market, or do some truly believe the property to be cursed?
5. The Frog Bridge, Willimantic – Sporting four 11-foot-tall green frogs perched upon giant spools of thread, this nearly 500-foot bridge spanning the Willimantic River is an ode to a unique event in the town’s history. The “Battle of the Frogs” occurred in 1754, an infamous event where an especially raucous confrontation between bullfrogs was mistaken by the local town folk as some sort of otherworldly attack, resulting in hysteria (and hilarity, at least to others) to ensue.
6. Joseph Steward’s Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities, Hartford – Come on, who doesn’t want to see a two-headed calf or the horn of a unicorn? Artist Joseph Steward realized this and opened his original “cabinet of curiosities” in Hartford in 1797, making it one of the first museums in the new nation and possibly launching the curiosity-seeking tourist industry that we still enjoy today. The current museum occupies a second-floor room in the Old State House, and is only a short distance from where Steward’s original attraction stood.
7. Gungywamp, Groton – Archaeologists know that much of this mysterious neolithic site is over 2,000 years old, they just don’t know exactly what it is — is it a settlement that had some interesting stone alignments was used by ancient Native Americans for seasonal rituals and then by European colonists for a multitude of mundane purposes (probably), or is it a mystical calendar with possible interdimensional portals built by globe-traveling ancient Celts (uh, rather unlikely).
8. Skull & Bones, New Haven – Considering it’s supposed to be “a secret” society, Skull & Bones is one of the best-known organizations that there’s not a whole lot known about. Sure, we know that former presidents (both Bushes and William Taft), influential powerbrokers and elite Yale alums the world over are purportedly “Bonesmen,” but exactly what goes on inside the windowless Egyptian-style tomb tucked away on High Street in New Haven is a mystery to everyone else.
9. The Voynich Manuscript, New Haven – “A puzzle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” as they say. Known as catalog item MS 408 at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Library, this indecipherable 234-page medieval manuscript has sparked much debate. Does the thus-far unreadable script that it’s written in hold mystical secrets of alchemy, or is it simply an elaborate centuries-old fake? Until someone can crack the code — and it has withstood all efforts to date — the book’s contents will remain a secret.
10. The Melon Heads – When I first wrote about the Melon Heads for this site, I never had any idea that this would be one of the most popular items. No matter what damned-type topic is in the public eye at the moment, the legend of the Melon Heads are always near the top of the list of stories searched and read here. It could be because there is a dearth of information about them out there, but it’s more like that almost everyone who has grown up in certain parts of Connecticut — such as Milford, Monroe, Seymour, Weston, Oxford, Southbury, Trumbull and Shelton — seems to know the legend of the giant-headed freaks lurking on the edge of town. Long live the Melon Heads!
Other things that merited consideration included the replica of the Feejee Mermaid at the Barnum Museum, the world’s largest jack-in-the-box in Meriden, the giant tiki head in front of the Timexpo Museum and the Jesus Tree in New Haven.
Feel free to add anything or any place I might have missed!