While popular tourist attractions are certainly worth visiting (they’re popular for a reason, after all), we’ve uncovered some lesser-known attractions that are also worth a look. Here are seven spots that are weird, wild, and off the beaten path.
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
The glassy eyes seem to follow you as you trek Doll’s Head Trail, a spooky path that derives its name from the toys arrayed on its edges, left behind when the South River flooded the site. Part nature preserve and part alfresco gallery, the 125-acre park was once a 19th-century brick company. When the factory was abandoned more than 50 years ago, its excavation pits filled with rainwater that created Constitution Lakes. In 2003, the county installed walking trails beside the water that since have attracted a mix of bohemians and birders. Visitors are encouraged to craft their own tableaux from the accumulated detritus, and the projects have grown steadily from there. The objective here is quirky repurposing; each piece must be “found art,” not new trash. Bring your camera and watch for snakes. 54
Three good ol’ boys were driving down Bankhead Highway in 1953 when they claimed they struck an extraterrestrial scurrying to board a flying saucer. To be fair, the two-foot tall, hairless creature did look otherworldly. An autopsy, though, determined it was a monkey. Turns out, the men had bought the animal at a pet store and slathered it with depilatory. Today, it remains ghoulishly preserved in formaldehyde, with its mouth agape, at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab Museum. Other exhibits at the museum include a swatch of carpet that belonged to a serial killer; a hatchet inscribed with a voodoo curse; and a case of fraudulent Vienna sausages, considered a crime in its day.
You might want to sit down for this. In 2008, the Guinness Book of World Records created a new category to honor Barbara Hartsfield’s unusual collection. She owns the world’s largest stash of the world’s smallest chairs—more than 3,000 of them. The following year, she opened the Collectible and Antique Chair Gallery in Stone Mountain. The exhibits are not dollhouse furniture, she is quick to clarify, just diminutive chairs. And the variety is overwhelming. There are chairs celebrating every holiday; chair lamps; twig chairs; a Christmas tree with more than 100 chair ornaments; chairs inside bottles; 150 chair salt-and-pepper shakers; a chair garden in a bath-tub; and more. You might survey this array of stuff and wonder: Why? Hartsfield works with schizophrenics at Grady Hospital. She was writing an article about mental illness and pregnancy when she decided she needed props for inspiration She bought a doll and a chair. Something about the cuteness of the chair struck her fancy, and she has been collecting ever since.
The Commuter Gallery is the sculpture garden created by outsider artist Clark Ashton. He began his career as a welder, and his elaborate pieces—one cathedral-like creation with spires stands 35 feet— pleasantly distract motorists stalled in gridlock on North Druid Hills Road. They are invited to veer into his driveway and get the guided tour, free of charge. “I harvest souls from the chaos as they’re lost in the mundane ritual of the daily commute,” says Ashton, who is prone to grandiose proclamations. “My goal is to manufacture psychic unity for the masses.” The half-acre attraction holds hundreds of sculptures that include a variety of figurative entities—from buzzards to fertility icons—interacting with machines. Note the shrine for horror legend Bela Lugosi.
The Star Community Bar, a rockabilly music venue in the heart of Little Five Points o ering live music, dance parties, and a fun vibe, used to be a bank. The proprietors have transformed the treasures of its vault into a campy, eclectic shrine to Elvis Presley— it’s one of the largest assemblages of the icon’s memorabilia this side of Memphis. It is a cluttered, glittery hoarder’s paradise, including numerous portraits of the snarling King from all phases of his life (both lean and bloated), an altar, a throne, and a painting of Presley’s mother— displayed reverently over a full-size gilded toilet.
At the David J. Sencer CDC Museum, the sleuths wear lab-coats. This one-of-a-kind venue tells the stories of heroic Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists who combine old-fashioned detective work with high-tech science to squelch pandemics. It features award-winning exhibitions that examine a variety of public health topics, from diabetes to Ebola. The museum also maintains a staggering archive of more than 3,000 items for researchers or the curious public, including equipment, photographs, papers, films, documents, audio recordings, oral histories, and storied microscopes. Check out the Hidden History section, which explores the more colorful stories behind these items. One example: Shapona, the Yoruba god of smallpox, an African idol that symbolizes the international e ort to eradicate the disease.
The Waffle House chain began with a modest, 14-stool diner in the Avondale Estates community. It had a simple mission: “Take care of the poor old cash customer.” Today the site comprises two buildings: the diner restored to period perfection from its 1955 inception and a small museum of memorabilia. You can see the way servers’ uniforms and menus—and prices—have evolved, and also learn about the trademark lingo (“scattered, smothered, and covered” was incorporated into the menu during the 1980s). Note the vintage jukebox with tracks by Elvis, Sinatra, and Gladys Knight. Waffle House is known for its inclusive stance on integration during the Civil Rights era, and its role in responding generously to the public during natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. The complex holds four “open house” days a year, but free private tours can be booked through wafflehouse.com.
DO NOT OPEN
Note to would-be burglars: The Crypt of Civilization at Oglethorpe University contains no gold or jewelry. However, it does hold just about everything else. Sealed in 1940, it is not supposed to be opened until May 28, 8113. The crypt preserves microfilms of 800 authoritative books on every subject deemed important by its creator, then university president Dr. Thornwell Jacobs (1877-1956), who has been dubbed “the father of the modern time capsule.” Jacobs believed it is “our archaeological duty” to provide a thorough record of life in the 20th century. The crypt, which measures 20 feet long, 10 feet high, and 10 feet wide, preserves drawings of all of our inventions; a record of sports, amusements, pastimes, and games; and an apparatus for teaching the English language in case it is no longer spoken. Visitors cannot go inside it, but they can pay homage at its steel door.