Two incredible roadside attractions in one this time! One is a flea market, known for its incredible collection of kitsch. The other is a Christian Megachurch that has been home to two of the most (in?)famous statues of Jesus ever built. Both live virtually next door to each other just off Interstate 75, about halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton.
We are going to start our trip over at Trader’s World. At it’s heart, Trader’s World is just your run of the mill flea market. Back when we first came across it, on a random drive through the Ohio countryside (probably 1985-6) there were only 3 buildings there. Now there are 16! There are also dozens of outdoor vendors. Now, flea markets around the country are all pretty much the same. So what makes Trader’s World so special? It’s the atmosphere.
Driving up to the place, you get the sensation that you’re in for something just a bit different. The bright yellow welcome sign reminds me a bit of driving under the sign entering Walt Disney World. Instead of Mickey Mouse, though, you are met with statues of gorillas, dinosaurs, and oh so many giraffes.
The external design of all the buildings on one side of the market share a German / Bavarian theme. Back in the 1990s, this theme was carried through the entire place. All the way down to polka music piping through the sound system. It was bizarre…but it was also quite fun just walking around outside.
Over the past few years,the buildings on one side of the complex have gotten away from the Bavarian theme. They have gone to painting large murals on the ends of all the buildings. There are murals of sharks, the beach, and rural Ohio life in the good old days. The murals aren’t necessarily life like, but they are pretty nice, and add a new spark of interest to a theme that might have been getting a bit tired.
Once you go inside the market building, you are inundated with all the typical sights and sounds of a flea market. Kids yelling, parents yelling at the kids, some of the worst tattoos you’ve ever seen, people trying to hard sell Shamwows…but Trader’s World has another trick up it’s sleeve. It’s a museum in disguise.
The walls and ceilings are festooned with old wagon wheels, vintage advertising signs, classic sayings and idioms on wooden signs. In some parts of the market, there are even displays with classic cars and real suits of armor! There is something interesting to look at in almost every direction.
I also highly recommend spending some time in the central food court area. There is usually someone performing music, and the food smells so amazing. The music selection changes quite often. I’ve seen polka bands, I’ve seen piano players singing showtunes, and I’ve seen a guy singing his heart out to obscure 50s pop songs.
Unfortunately, the future looks a little unsure for Trader’s World. Several of the buildings are suffering from a dearth of vendor booths. There is another, smaller flea market directly across the highway, and it seems to be flourishing. A few of the Trader’s World buildings are now sitting more than half empty. While there’s still all the wacky kitsch to look at in these areas, it is somewhat concerning to see a place which thrived so well 10-15 years ago begin to fade in this way. I do hope it turns around because I would hate to lose this piece of true Americana.
Solid Rock Church
If you use the back entrance or exit to Trader’s World, and you go just a bit further down the road, you will come across the Solid Rock Church. SRC started humbly in Middletown in the late 1970s as the Middletown Evangelistic Center. In the early 1990s, they decided to take that step to become a Megachurch, and the complex just off I-75 was built. What brought Solid Rock Church it’s first moment in the pop culture spotlight was the 2005 installation of King of Kings, a 62 foot tall statue of Jesus rising out of the ground.
Nearly immediately, this statue became a pop culture icon. Many people called him Touchdown Jesus. Ohio State fans used him as the H in O-H-I-O photos. Comedian (and National treasure) Heywood Banks even wrote the song “Big Butter Jesus” about the statue.
Unfortunately, in 2010…karma happened, and the statue was struck by lightning. This might not have been a big deal if it had a lightning rod, or hadn’t been built out of a flammable martini of Styrofoam, wood, and Plexiglas. This lightning strike led to a couple truly amazing photos. The first: the statue en fuego…
…and the charred remains of the inner metal skeleton the next day (aka Terminator Jesus).
Undaunted by the tragedy, the Solid Rock Church built a new statue in 2012 entitled Lux Mundi (Light of the World). This one almost instantly got nicknamed $5 Footlong Jesus.
It doesn’t quite have the drama of the original statue, but it does have a lightning rod and a more fire-resistant build quality. It’s also still a 50+ foot tall statue of Jesus just off a major interstate. It has major roadside attraction value.
As you pull in to the church grounds, there is a sign that points towards the Sanctuary. This is the easiest way to access the path that goes near the statue. Unfortunately, you can’t get up too close to the statue – it actually butts up against an outdoor stage. There is a large fountain / pond that you can walk around to get a good view. I would say it’s a nice, peaceful spot, except for two things. First of all, the church blares Christian Country music from the stage at all times. Second, the walkway is only a couple hundred feet away from Interstate 75.
Oh boy! A helicopter egg drop!!
It is a nice, flat little walk though, so if you go I do encourage folks to get out and do a lap or two of the horseshoe shaped path. While I was the only person walking around the statue area, there were quite a number of cars around the church, and I can’t shake the feeling the I was being watched the whole time I was on the grounds.
There are a couple other buildings on the property, several more statues, and an old-timey Western town off in the distance. I wanted to explore that town, but the feeling of being watched / followed kept me at a distance.
If you’d like to see more pictures, I encourage you to check out my albums on Flickr.
And the Google Map of the area (the church is just to the north of Trader’s World):
Thanks for reading!