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New England Oddities A to Z

A Guide to Weird, Strange, Wacky and Odd Attractions in New England

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Gillette Castle Odd Attraction in CT

Didn't expect to find a castle in Connecticut? Gillette Castle is one of New England's coolest oddities.

© 2003 Kim Knox Beckius
Updated June 20, 2014

When you think of New England, you probably instinctively see white-painted, steepled churches; recall such patriotic events as Paul Revere's historic ride; taste the succulent flavor of lobster drowned in butter; and envision winding country roads splashed with the wondrous colors of fall. But--New England also offers its share of oddities. I'd never want to spoil your pristine visions of the region that gave birth to our eclectic nation, but if you're looking for a slightly different side to New England, here is your A to Z guide to some of the region's weird, strange, wacky and odd attractions

America's Stonehenge - And you thought you had to go to the "old" England to see a prehistoric archaeological enigma! No! Just head about 40 miles north of Boston to North Salem, New Hampshire, where you can explore 30 acres of cavelike dwellings, astronomically aligned rock formations, a sacrificial stone and other mysterious structures left behind by an unknown people. Call 603-893-8300 for more information.

Barnum Museum - Phineas T. Barnum, the crown prince of oddities and founder of "The Greatest Show on Earth," was born in Connecticut. The Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut, pays homage to the creativity of this genuine American entrepreneur and his cast of characters, including General Tom Thumb: the "smallest man alive." General information, including admission prices, hours and directions, is available at the museum's Web site, or call 203-331-1104. 2014 Update: The Barnum Museum is closed for restoration due to damage sustained in a June 2010 tornado. However, the attraction has several events planned in 2014 and has reopened its People's United Bank Gallery three days each week, Thursday through Saturday, for visitors interested in seeing "Envisioning the Future!" This exhibition features artifacts from the collection including the newly acquired Centaur of Tymfi. Admission is free.

Center Church Crypt - Here's something you don't expect to find in the basement of a church: tombstones that date to as far back as 1687! Venture down to the low-ceilinged space beneath Center Church on the green in New Haven, Connecticut, though, and you'll discover a remarkable crypt that is the final resting place for a number of notable people including the city's founder, Benedict Arnold's first wife and the grandparents of U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes. For information about crypt tours, call 203-787-0121.

Desert of Maine - New England's not exactly known for its deserts, but thanks to a glacier that left behind a large deposit of sand some 11,000 years ago, Freeport, Maine, is now home to a genuine desert which visitors, tired of New England's babbling brooks and verdant hills, can tour. The desert is open from early May to mid-October. Call 207-865-6962 for more information.

Equinox - The Equinox is a historic hotel in Manchester Village, Vermont, that has hosted many famous guests since it opened in 1769. According to stories, one guest who hasn't checked out and who continues to haunt the hotel is Mary Todd Lincoln, a frequent guest of the hotel following the assassination of President Lincoln. To book your stay with the spooks, call The Equinox toll free at 800-362-4747.

Fabulous Fixtures - Are you into plumbing fixtures? Well, golly, then you're in luck! Watertown (how appropriate!), Massachusetts, is now home to the Plumbing Museum (formerly the American Sanitary Plumbing Museum in Worcester). You'll find everything here... including, uh, the kitchen sink! The museum is open to the plumbing-appreciating public Monday through Thursday by appointment only. Call 617-926-2111 for information.

Gillette Castle - Actor and Connecticut native William Gillette, known for his portrayals of Sherlock Holmes on stage, spent more than $1 million, quite a fortune at the turn 20th of the century, constructing his castle in East Haddam, Connecticut. Now a Connecticut State Park, the castle and all of its intricate hidden mirrors and creative decor is open for visitors to explore. Admission to the grounds is free, and there is a charge to tour the castle. For more information, call 860-526-2336.

Holy Land USA - Perched on the hill overlooking Waterbury, Connecticut, this now-defunct but still often visited miniature Jerusalem with its Hollywood-style sign and towering steel cross was a legitimate tourist attraction in the 1960s and 1970s. Closed since 1984, it is still a Waterbury landmark and a lure for the curious and the pious. As of 2014, efforts are underway to reopen Holy Land USA.

Isinglass Mountain near Grafton, New Hampshire, is home to Ruggles Mine, where you can spend all day hammering away and searching for your own semi-precious gems! The oldest mica, feldspar and beryl mine in the U.S. is open daily from mid-June to mid-October and on weekends earlier in the season. Admission is $25 for adults and $13 for children ages 4 to 11. Call 603-523-4275 for directions and information.

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