Do you like your historical travel served with a side dish of outsider art and unusual monuments, like I do? Then when you’re in Orlando, your trifecta of Retro Roadmap fun should be capped off with a quick jaunt south to wonder at Kissimmee’s Monument of the States!
Our fave Florida tour guide Rick Kilby of Visual Ephemera was more than happy to escort us to this site, just a few blocks off of the main strip in Kissimmee.
(You, like me, may be curious about the name Kissimmee and here’s what I’ve been able to gather. It was originally known as Allendale but renamed Kissimmee when it was incorporated into a city in 1883, with the origins of the name Kissimmee being a bit of a mystery.)
I’m not going to try and reinvent the wheel here with my clumsy writing style, so I’ll leave it to the established resource and my favorite go-to to learn of many wacky roadside attractions – Roadside America to describe the origins of the Monument of the States:
Begun in 1942 after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the Monument of States was the vision of Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis, a local tourism booster, who wanted a physical symbol of American unity in the dark days of early World War II. He wrote letters to every governor and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to send him local rocks. (No clue where the President got his rock.) The donations arrived in a variety of formats — blocks of native granite, chunks of quartz, small boulders, fossils, hunks of old buildings. One contributor even sent a human skull.
Or a “Human Shoe”, from Illinois – as seen below:
Through the years the monument has been augmented with additional rocks – originally ones collected by Dr. Pettis and his wife during their travels, then others that people had sent throughout the years.
As “RA” so aptly put it:
The Monument became a big tourist attraction in pre-Disney Florida, and the easygoing residents of Kissimmee apparently felt that the more rocks, the merrier.
Throughout the years when tourists turned to more corporate vacation destinations, the monument did fall into a bit of disrepair, but was updated in 2001, and luckily the renovations could not diminish the unique charm of this tower. There’s even a time capsule to be opened up on the 100 year anniversary of its building.
The thing that is so inspiring to me about the monument is that it would not even exist except for the vision and the dedication of just one regular person – just like you and me. By sharing this vision with other people and getting them excited about it, he actually received the Literal building blocks to create his vision. While the idea was his alone, it wasn’t a self serving effort – he wanted to create something to be shared with everyone, and bring them together.
As the brass plaque embedded in the base of the monument states, he was recognized “For his untiring efforts in the betterment of the community.” - I don’t know about you, but I would not mind having that as my epitath.