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Atlas Obscura Gift Guide: 8 Presents for the Americana Buff

The holidays—a time to celebrate our country’s greatest quirks. (Photo: Everett Collection/shutterstock.com)

Does someone in your life love all the quirky wonders America has to offer, from drive-in theaters on Route 66 to sardine history museums and delightfully derpy dino parks? Do they shudder at chain stores or anything that has become too popular? The following gifts are an absolute must for the discerning patriot. 

This is one part of Atlas Obscura’s eight-part 2015 gift guide. See the rest. 

What’s in your wallet? (Photo: National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History

8. Hawaii Overprint Note

$0.99 to $14,500 at Collectors.com

No wallet is complete without a historical, custom-printed Hawaii banknote. In 1942, the U.S. issued an emergency series of bills stamped with “HAWAII,” the idea being that if Japan invaded the islands, the American government could immediately identify and devalue its currency, rendering it worthless to the Japanese. Though this never happened, you can still get your hands on all sorts of Hawaii greenbacks—so get bidding!


A lot goes into creating those signs. (Photo: Courtesy Coursehorse)

7. Introductory Class on Neon Glass-Blowing

$595 at Brooklyn Glass

If you’ve ever wondered how the bright, squiggly glass lights of America’s most iconic signs are made, then this is for you. Crafting neon in its traditional, glass-blown form is an art that takes years to master, but with this introductory course, you can learn the basic skills behind heating and bending glass tubes, no experience necessary. You’ll even get to illuminate your creations with noble gases such as neon and argon. A definite way to brighten your holidays.


Your living room wall definitely needs a jackalope. (Photo: Courtesy Wall Drug)

6. Jackalope 

$11.99 (fake) or $119.98 (real) at Wall Drug

Need a quirky addition to your interior decor? Consider buying a jackalope—a jackrabbit that has somehow grown antelope horns, a mystical hybrid that began appearing in the west in the 1930s. You can buy both “real” and fake ones on the website or in the actual store of Wall Drug, an iconic highway rest stop in South Dakota. Wall Drug is known for its curious attractions—including a jackalope big enough to ride—and its many, many billboards. 


Shade balls galore! (Photo: Screenshot from LasVirgenesMWD/YouTube)

5. Shade Balls

$0.36 at Precision Plastic Ball Company

If you care about America, you’ll want some plastic shade balls, originally created in response to California’s drought. Spread on the surface of reservoirs, they can protect water against dust and wildlife, though their main purpose is to reduce evaporation, with the capacity to preserve millions of gallons of drinking water. The balls will let you reduce exposed liquid surface area by up to 90 percent and potentially reduce odors, and even insulate heated liquids. They’re great for everything! Buy yourself a truckload today.


The envelope for a Western Union Telegraph, c. 1861 (Photo: Library of Congress)

4. Send a Traditional Telegraph

$7.15 at Telegramstop.com

At some point mid-novel, we’ve all probably paused and thought—wow, telegrams sound romantic. Well, don’t just sit there—send one! Thanks to this website (and iPhone app) you can have a message delivered via telegram to anyone in the world for just a matter of dollars and cents. Back in the 1920s, Western Union, the world’s most famous telegram agency, had messengers sending more than 200 million telegrams a year. While Western Union shut down its telegram service in 2006, the simple missives are still considered so classy and cool that 20 million continue to be delivered each year. Yours could become one of them.


A perfect weekend read. (Photo: Courtesy Christopher Payne)

3. North Brother Island book

$29.15 at Amazon

Until September 11, 2001, North Brother Island was home to the worst loss of life in New York City history. Located on the East River between the Bronx and Rikers Island, the island was uninhabited until the city purchased it in 1885 to build a hospital for patients suffering from contagious diseases. Then in 1905, a steamship caught on fire near the island, causing a loss of over 1,000 lives. The island has since been abandoned and closed to the public. In 2008, Chris Payne was one of only a few photographers allowed on the island, and his photographs capture a glimpse of its jarring history. 


Time to try your hand at being blue. (Photo: Galeria de Léo Pinheiro/WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0)

2. Blue Man Unitard

$84.35 at Amazon

Ever wanted to be a member of the Blue Man Group? Well, you can at least try it out on your own—simply start by buying this blue unitard, putting on a swim cap and covering your head in blue paint (specific color: International Klein Blue), and finding a set of drums. Who knows, maybe the Group will have an open call—and with this unitard, you could be just the right fit.


Bryce Canyon National Park by Zack Frank

Bryce Canyon National Park by Zack Frank, one of many beautiful posters available. (Image: Courtesy of See America Project)

1. See America Posters

$25 at See America Project

There’s nothing like a drive across the country to get a glimpse of the great American Dream, a phrase that was coined in 1931 in the book Epic of America. But if you don’t have the time to take a cross-country road trip, these posters are another great way to see America. This extensive collection captures the beauty of iconic destinations like Yosemite, Cape Cod, Glacier National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and many, many others.