In small towns and on roadsides around the world, you can find the bittersweet remnants of the quest to be the best: objects that clinched the world record as the longest, largest, or tallest thing of its kind. And then lost it.
These eclipsed record holders don’t disappear after something greater replaces their title. They linger, pride a little marred, but continuing to shine nonetheless. Because it’s more than the physical item that’s being displayed; it’s the gumption of a town that wanted to create the world’s largest cherry pie and succeeded. A larger pie elsewhere can’t erase the glory of having once been the best.
These overshadowed has-beens might have lost a piece of their identity along with their record, but the monuments erected to these claims to fame were never only about being the biggest or the longest. They were about a moment in time, when forces combined to build something great, something that was the best, for a while at least.
In 1976, a town in Michigan made a 17,420-pound cherry pie, the world’s largest at the time. And it kept the record for just over 10 years, until 1987, when the citizens of a nearby city made a cherry pie that weighed in at 28,350 pounds. A few years later, a Canadian bakery made an even larger cherry pie—but they didn’t save the pie pan. So as of today, the world’s second biggest cherry pie pan sits in Charlevoix, Michigan, just about 50 miles from the world’s biggest.
San Diego, California
It took Louie Mattar about seven years and $75,000 to custom build his dream car and trailer. The 1947 Cadillac weighs 8,500 pounds and has special axles drilled to allow the tires to inflate, if low on air, while they’re turning. The trailer holds 230 gallons of gas for automatic refueling, too, which is how the car made a 6,320-mile trip from San Diego to New York and back in a record-setting seven days without stopping the car.
The record has been broken several times since. Recently, the car enthusiast Ed Bolian’s 29-hour drive from New York City to Los Angeles in 2013 entered into the Guinness Book. But cars require considerably less maintenance now, and regardless, none have had the ingenuity or style of Mattar’s fabulous car.
There’s a lot of love for the mythical jackalope in Douglas, Wyoming, the unofficial birthplace of the big-eared, antlered creature from North American folklore. In tribute, the town built an eight-foot jackalope statue in 1965 on a traffic island in town—the largest in the world, at the time.
When a car took it out in the 1990s, a similar 8-foot-tall concrete beast was erected in Jackalope Square, and it remained the largest until a 13-foot tall jackalope showed up on a hill overlooking the town. That animal’s glory was short-lived too though. In 2007, two years after the jackalope was made Wyoming’s official mythical creature, the city bought a larger jackalope from a man in the northwest. It is almost double the size of its nearby cousin.
Accord, New York
One of the most striking features of Kelder’s Farm, a roadside attraction in Accord, New York, is the towering jolly giant, Gnome Chomsky. He stands invitingly on the hill facing the highway, and at 13.5 feet, he was the world’s tallest concrete gnome at the time he was built in 2006. But he no longer holds the World Record: Reiman Gardens in Iowa is now home to a gnome that stands 15 feet tall. There is also a gnome in Poland who towers at 18 feet, but unlike Chomsky and the Reiman Gardens’ gnome, it’s made of fiberglass.
The 1974 Terex Titan was built to haul raw material around open-pit mines. Only one was ever made, and due to a drop in the coal market and high fuel costs, the intended market of open-pit mine operators never materialized, leaving the behemoth a unique example.
In 1991 it was retired and gifted to Sparwood as a tourist attraction (the town maintains a live web cam of the behemoth truck). Despite not being in service, it remained the largest truck for a few years. As of 2016, the Belaz 75710, about 5 feet taller than the 22-foot Titan, holds the record. But the Terex Titan is still huge, and still on display in the mountains of western Canada.
São Paulo, Brazil
In 2011, São Paulo snatched the title of the world’s tallest Lego tower. The first tower of its kind was built in London in 1988 and Toronto, Tokyo, Munich, Moscow, and Sydney had all held the title in the past. When completed, the tower, which had to be assembled using a crane, was composed of 500,000 individual Lego pieces. It stood just over 102 feet and took four days to build. When the final pieces were put into place, wires had to be attached to the tower to keep it from falling down in the wind. The record changes hands quite a bit, but the current tallest, in Milan, only had 50,000 more legos than Sâo Paulo’s 2011 structure.
Created in 2008, the World’s Largest Rocking Chair (as it is still called) was built for the express purpose of breaking the Guinness World Record for large rocking chairs. The nearby Route 66 Fanning Outpost commissioned the massive piece of furniture as a roadside attraction in the grand American tradition. The chair stands over 42 feet tall and is crafted out of welded steel, emblazoned with the logo for the Outpost across the chair back. But a chair in Casey, Illinois, erected in 2015, eclipsed the record, topping off at 56 feet, 6 inches tall. Missouri’s rocker only got to enjoy the limelight for about seven years.