Tag Archives: Cadillac Ranch

Dredging up memories of a true-blue eccentric … or weirdo

A fellow and I spoke this afternoon about someone I no longer think much about, but someone who occupied a most unique position in the community where I once lived.

The individual with whom I spoke said he is putting the finishing touches on a documentary film he is producing about none other than the late Stanley Marsh 3.

He and I hope to meet face to face at a later date. We will discuss Marsh in greater detail. The gentleman, who said he lives in Austin, is looking for a more longer-range view of Marsh. He thinks I can provide it.

How is that? Well, as I told the filmmaker, I did not know Marsh well. I mostly knew of him. Indeed, this individual’s reputation was, to put it kindly, far-reaching in the extreme.

Marsh was a premier eccentric. He also possessed tons of money. He was the purveyor of avant garde artwork, such as the lawn signs that cropped up on people’s yards all over Amarillo. They had flaky, sometimes nonsensical phrases. But they were fun to read and they often drew a laugh. The signs were the product of the Ant Farm, a Stanley Marsh 3 “organization”; he employed young people, mostly boys, to work at the museum.

That is my segue into the darker side of Marsh’s life. He was accused of doing nasty things with these young men. It provided plenty of grist for social commentary throughout the Panhandle. I reckon that the documentarian with whom I spoke will want to talk about that, too, and about Amarillo’s reaction to the allegations.

Arguably, though, Marsh’s greatest “contribution” to Amarillo’s popular culture rests with the Cadillacs that are buried nose down in that field just south of Interstate 40 and west of Amarillo’s city limits. Cadillac Ranch has been immortalized in a Bruce Springsteen song and is actually identified on the official Texas highway map.

I told the documentary filmmaker that I spoke with Marsh perhaps three times over the nearly 18 years I served as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News; twice by phone and once in person. Marsh was kind enough to tell me a time or two that he liked my work at the newspaper and I took that compliment as the highest praise imaginable.

Well, Marsh died in 2014. He left a decidedly mixed legacy. Folks admired him for his philanthropy and his generous contributions to health and higher education in the Panhandle, as well as his goofiness or reviled him because of the allegations that were leveled against him.

I will look forward to visiting with this filmmaker. My task now is to dig deeply into my own memory of what I can recall about a man who, depending on your point of view, was either an icon or a pariah.

Has the latest drought ended — for real?

Amarillo and Texas Panhandle residents — and millions of visitors to the region — know what this picture depicts.

Cadillac Ranch was under water earlier this month. The picture, snapped by KFDA NewsChannel 10 reporter Jami Seymore, illustrates the good news/bad news situation that is occurring throughout Texas.

I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex these days. I spent 23 years in Amarillo, visiting Cadillac Ranch many times.  I don’t recall ever seeing the Caddies under water in this fashion. Wherever he is, the late Cadillac Ranch founder Stanley Marsh 3 is smiling.

The region has been punished by drought since the beginning of time. It also has been restored by heavy rain over that same span of time. The Panhandle and much of the rest of the state well could be undergoing a restoration at this moment.

We’ve been wet in Collin County of late. I have bemoaned the rain at one level, in that it makes running errands a bit problematic on occasion. I’ll suck it up and endure right along with the rest of my fellow travelers.

As for the Panhandle, the good news quite naturally is that the moisture replenishes farm and ranch land. The dryland farmers who don’t irrigate their crops, relying exclusively on rainfall to do that for them, are ecstatic. So are the ranchers whose livestock depend on rainfall provide them feed to fatten them up for market.

Lake Meredith, the huge reservoir in Hutchinson County that provides potable water for communities throughout West Texas, also is seeing a resurgence. Remember when it sank to a depth of 26 feet about five years ago? It’s at more than 75 feet today — and it’s getting even deeper!

Is the drought over? I don’t think we should act as though it is. The Panhandle is wetter than it’s been for some time. So is the Metroplex, where communities as recently as two years ago were enacting water-use restrictions on residents. Water remains a finite resource and it’s more vital than any of the oil and natural gas we’ve been pumping out of the ground since the early 20th century.

We gripe about all the “bad news” we hear and read. I want to share this post — and the picture — to cheer you up. Are you cheerful now?

Good! Have a great day.

Water getting harder to reach

Toad Hall goes on the block

I became a bit wistful this morning when I saw the story in the newspaper about Toad Hall going on the market.

What is Toad Hall? It’s the estate of the late Stanley Marsh 3 and his wife, Wendy, that sits just off West Amarillo Boulevard.

I’ve never been there. I don’t expect I will, either. I certainly know plenty about Stanley — which is how I’ll refer to the late eccentric businessman/artisan in this blog post. If you mention the name “Stanley” to virtually any longtime resident of Amarillo, there’s a good bet they would know about whom you are referring.

His estate is going on the market for a hefty seven-figure amount.

Why the wistfulness? I guess it has to do with Stanley’s reputation, the good and bad parts of it, and whether this sale spells the end of the legacy that Stanley left us after he died in 2014.

He founded the art endeavor that produced some curious exhibits on our landscape. The “Floating Mesa” along Boys Ranch Road is one of them.

Stanley was proud of his quirkiness. He seemed to relish the notion that many of his fellow Panhandle residents considered him to be bordering on insane.

The last time I saw him he was leading a counter protest in 2006 in front of Amarillo City Hall; he marched at the head of a procession banging cymbals that sought to drown out some message being delivered by Ku Klux Klansman at the steps of City Hall.

I guess my major question now is this: What is going to happen to Cadillac Ranch, the goofy roadside attraction west of Amarillo on the south side of Interstate 40? Given the trouble Stanley found when he was indicted on several counts of sexual abuse involving young men and boys, some folks around the Panhandle have said out loud that the Cadillacs should go. They don’t want any vestige of Stanley’s art staining our countryside.

I hope the Ranch stays put. I am not privy to how that decision will be made. My preference would be to just enjoy the Caddies’ presence. Time well might temper some of the hard feelings many folks harbor toward Stanley and his memory.

Toad Hall as many of us remember it might soon be history. Just leave Cadillac Ranch alone.

Cadillac Ranch: May it stand for a very long time

caddies

I’ve just made my second trip to Cadillac Ranch in the past three days, taking members of my family out there — on the south side of Interstate 40 just west of Amarillo — to see this unique roadside attraction for the first time.

My cousin asked me today as we drove out of Palo Duro Canyon, “What is Cadillac Ranch, precisely?”

My answer: “It’s art.”

Those of you who’ve seen it know of what I speak. For those who don’t: It is 10 Cadillacs stuck nose-first into a pasture. They’re lined up perfectly and they purportedly are angled to face the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt … or so legend has it.

The trip today was fascinating for another reason: the number of motorists who had pulled off the highway to take a gander at this place.

The site was strewn with spray-paint cans on this glorious, sunny day on the High Plains. And many visitors were partaking of the chance to leave their mark on the Caddies.

Whenever I bring visitors to the place, I am compelled to tell them of the ranch’s origin. I tell them it was the creation of the late Stanley Marsh 3, the eccentric/weird Amarillo “art patron” who thought it would be cool, I guess, to stick the Caddies in the ground.

Marsh’s died not long ago. His legacy is — to say it charitably — a mixed bag. His eccentricity is legendary in West Texas. So is his philanthropy, as he and his wife have given a lot of money to fund higher education, as well as the arts, in Amarillo and elsewhere.

But there’s a darker side to Marsh’s history: the allegations of sexual misconduct. Given that such acts are in the news these days as they involve a certain Republican Party presidential nominee, I find it timely to mention here today.

Marsh had been charged with crimes involving young males. Even as he battled the cancer that eventually would take his life, Marsh was forced to defend himself against some serious allegations of misconduct. He ended up paying a lot of settlement money to those who had filed criminal complaints against him.

Then he died.

In the period immediately after his death, some of Marsh’s more strident critics called for the demolition of Cadillac Ranch. They want it removed from alongside the highway, believing the Cadillacs remind the community of the illegal acts for which Marsh had been accused.

My own thought is that the Cadillacs ought to remain for as long as they can withstand the sometimes-harsh High Plains elements.

The many motorists who pull of the highway to gawk at the cars, take “selfies” with them in the background or engage in some spray-painting fun likely don’t know — nor perhaps care about — the complete history of the Man Behind the Cadillacs.

Let’s keep them there. Cadillac Ranch remains to this very day a major attraction for those who choose to learn just a little about the quirky nature of this part of Texas.

The large number of cars and people I saw today illustrates the interest the Cadillacs create in those who are passing through.

Cadillac Ranch keeps drawing ’em off the highway

cadillac ranch

Maybe you’ve seen these cars as you’ve sped along Interstate 40 through Amarillo.

If you haven’t taken time to stop your vehicle, walk a few hundred yards south of the freeway and spray-paint some graffiti on one or more of the vehicles, perhaps you haven’t quite lived a full-enough life.

Ralph Duke, a local photographer, snapped this recent picture of the Cadillac Ranch, the renowned creation of one of Amarillo’s more, um, colorful characters.

Stanley Marsh 3 and his merry band of artists stuck these cars into the ground about 40 years ago. They’ve become one of Texas’s premier roadside attractions. The Caddies are so ingrained into Amarillo’s identity, they are noted on the official state highway map, the map with the picture of the governor and his wife. You’ll see their location marked with a red dot with the words “Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch.”

One of my sons lives in Allen with his family. Whenever he comes for a visit, a quick trip to Cadillac Ranch is a must-see for him. He swears that Stanley Marsh communicated with space aliens using underground transmitters wired to the cars.

Marsh got into some legal trouble a few years ago. Some young men accused him of sexual abuse. Marsh died a couple of years ago and some residents actually began clamoring for the Caddies to be removed from their location just west of the Amarillo city limits to protest the allegations that were leveled against Marsh.

Fiddlesticks! They should stay.

Whenever I drive by them, I think of a time I had taken an out-of-town visitor to see the cars. A big tour bus pulled up and out of it poured about three dozen or so tourists. I started chatting one of them up. He was from Australia, as were the rest of his bus mates. They were traveling from coast to coast and stopped in Amarillo to gawk at Cadillac Ranch.

The young Aussie was dumbfounded. “Who in the world does this? Who sticks cars in the ground like this?” I gave him the 30-second elevator speech that it was done by someone with a lot of time on his hands … and a lot of money in his bank account.

Then I said, “Welcome to America.”

He and I both laughed.

The Cadillacs have been painted in rainbow colors to honor the victims of the Orlando, Fla., slaughter. They’ll be “decorated” again with graffiti, if they haven’t been already.

Whatever. They provide a reminder to those just passing through of the brand of weirdness that can make people smile.

Amarillo would benefit from arts/culture designation

lovitaart

It took me some time to get my arms around it, but it finally happened.

Amarillo officials want the Texas Commission on the Arts to designate a portion of the city as an arts and culture district.

It won’t happen overnight. It might take a year or even longer for the arts folks in Austin to make that designation. From what I’ve been able to learn about it, the district’s creation will contribute to the city’s evolution into what some groups and leaders believe could turn the city into an arts destination.

I met recently with my good friend Beth Duke, the executive director of Center City, which is spearheading this effort. Duke knows the city inside and out, up and down, in and out. You name it, she knows it. She’s lived here all her life and for 30 years she covered the city in several capacities as a reporter and editor for the Amarillo Globe-News.

She transitioned years ago into her new role as an effective and articulate spokesman/advocate for her hometown.

Duke told me she has heard over many years how surprised visitors to Amarillo are when they learn about the art that is offered here.

She talked about all the performing arts: symphony, opera, theater, Broadway play series. She talked also about the visual arts: museums, art galleries and outdoor art exhibits such as, say, Cadillac Ranch.

The Cadillacs? I know what you’re thinking. The exhibit just west of the city is little more than a conversation piece. But take a look on a sunny day at the number of vehicles parked on the access road next to The Ranch. Duke thinks the Cadillacs can become a major draw for visitors.

The district encompasses a good chunk of downtown Amarillo, Sixth Avenue, Wolflin and the San Jacinto neighborhood.

What does it mean for the city in tangible terms?

It means the city could apply for grants to promote certain exhibits or performances that come to town.

In the longer term, though, it means, according to Duke, that visitors who come here might be enticed into staying an extra day or two once they discover what they can enjoy. They might want to tour the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, on the West Texas A&M University campus. They might discover Palo Duro Canyon just a bit east of there and south of Amarillo. They might want to tour the Amarillo Museum of Art, or take a gander at the galleries that occupy what used to be a significant shopping mall at the Sunset Center.

It’s impossible, it appears, to put a precise dollar amount on the impact such a designation would have on Amarillo. I happen to believe the impact could be significant.

It is important to note, though, that Amarillo isn’t exactly blazing a trail in this regard. The state already has established 26 such districts — including one in Lubbock, which has its share of events annually that bring significant tourist revenue to that city.

OK, so we’re not the first to climb onto the arts and culture district bandwagon.

The way I figure it, though, there’s still plenty of room aboard it.

 

Marsh’s art now becomes a target

cadillac ranch

Mention the name “Stanley Marsh 3” and you’ll likely get a variety of responses.

Many of them — if not most of them — might be negative.

The late millionaire is back in the news. He’s been dead for more than a year but he left behind some works of art that a number of individuals want removed.

Why? The art reminds the alleged victims of Marsh’s misbehavior of the deeds the late “eccentric” committed.

They want to rid the city of the art work.

I heard about this last night. I slept on it overnight and have concluded: The art work should stay put.

Yes, we’re talking about what arguably is the most iconic symbol of Amarillo: Cadillac Ranch.

The Caddies have been sticking out of the ground west of the city for 40-plus years. They’ve become one of the city’s major tourist attractions. You mention to anyone in the world where you’re from and you might get a response like this: Oh, isn’t the city with that big steak and the cars stuck in the ground?

I sympathize with those who are aggrieved by what Marsh has been accused of doing to them. Before his death and then afterward, allegations came forward about sexual misconduct involving Marsh and some teenage boys.

Removing the art work won’t be a simple task. All of it — and that includes those ubiquitous lawn signs — sits on private property. The individuals who want to remove it will have to get the property owners’ permission to take it all down.

As for Cadillac Ranch, I think that would be a gigantic mistake to wipe them off the Caprock. Eric Miller of the city’s Convention and Visitors Council, doesn’t want the cars taken down. They have become one of the more recognizable symbols of the city and they give us locals a chance to explain to visitors just what the heck they’re doing out there on that vast expanse of ranch land.

One of my sons years ago posited this theory: They are hooked up to underground telecommunications devices that enable Marsh to communicate with extraterrestrials.

I’ve long thought that Marsh was one of those individuals about whom you could say almost anything … and it would have the vaguest ring of believability.

His art work ought to live on.

Your thoughts?

Cadillac Ranch popularity is evident

Having just returned from visiting Cadillac Ranch, a curious thought popped into my skull.

I took my great-niece who’s here for a visit to the late Stanley Marsh 3’s iconic roadside attraction. That’s when it hit me: Interstate 40 has zero signs in either direction telling motorists that the Ranch is just ahead.

Why not?

While we were at Cadillac Ranch — the internationally known art exhibit featuring 10 vintage Cadillacs planted nose-down in the High Plains dirt — we noticed cars from Alabama, New Jersey, California and an unknown location, as it was too far away for me to read.

We walked among the Cadillacs for a few moments, snapped a few pictures, turned to walk back to our vehicle and noticed an even larger gathering of vehicles. Visitors were streaming through the rickety gate. I heard a couple of foreign languages spoken; the visitors speaking the languages likely are European.

Cadillac Ranch is one of the more unique attractions in the U.S. of A. It’s even identified in red letters on the official Texas state highway map, the one with a picture of the governor and the state’s first lady on it.

The state, though, doesn’t put any signage on I-40 to let motorists know they’re approaching the Cadillacs. I didn’t think to ask the motorists if they saw the cars in the field and turned their vehicles around to take a closer look or if they knew the Cadillacs were there all along and made a planned stop alongside the freeway.

I’m wondering about whether the state should give motorists a heads-up on Cadillac Ranch or whether the site’s popularity and notoriety is so evident that signage is unnecessary. Suppose the state did publicize the Ranch. What would SM3 think of the state, Potter County or Amarillo reaping some financial windfall?

Anyone have thoughts on that?

Hoping the Caddies stand forever

Amarillo seems to be known around the country — if not the world — for two things:

That big ol’ 72-ounce steak that one can eat for free at the Big Texan Steak Ranch … and Cadillac Ranch.

And that brings to mind the thought I’m sure is on the minds of a lot of people in the wake of Stanley Marsh 3’s death: What’s going to happen to the Cadillacs?

All the headlines I’ve seen from across Texas and the nation have referred to the death of the “creator of Cadillac Ranch.” Yep, you have to link Marsh with the 10 Caddies stuck nose down in that pasture about three miles west of the Amarillo city limits on the south side of Interstate 40.

http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/texas/article/Stanley-Marsh-3-creator-of-Cadillac-Ranch-dies-5559319.php

It’s become a tourist stop for those passing through the Texas Panhandle.

On one visit to the Ranch — where I was taking yet another out-of-town visitor — I ran into a huge tour bus full of tourists from Australia and New Zealand; they were en route from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. They had to stop and see the Caddies. Two young men and I were talking and they couldn’t believe the sight of the cars stuck in the ground, all covered with spray-painted graffiti.

“Who does this kind of thing?” one of them asked. I mentioned Stanley’s name, told them Marsh called it “art,” and then said, “Welcome to America.” We had a big laugh.

So, what will happen to the Caddies? I’m not privy to any knowledge about that, but my sincere hope — perhaps it’s a hunch — is that the Marsh family is going to take great care of it in memory of Stanley.

Stanley Marsh 3 engenders widely varied reactions from people whenever his name comes up. Some of that reaction isn’t entirely favorable.

However, he did create a unique roadside attraction for Amarillo to enjoy — and it gives tourists something by which they can remember Amarillo.

Those memories have made a lot of people for the past 40 years or so smile. What can be so terribly wrong with that?

SM3 leaves behind unique legacy

The news that swept across Amarillo today that Stanley Marsh 3 has died leaves me with very strange feelings at this moment.

I didn’t know Marsh well. I had made his acquaintance during the past 19-plus years I’ve lived in Amarillo. But like many of us here, I surely knew of him, his quirks, his “eccentricities,” his generosity, his art and his legal troubles.

Marsh’s death is huge at more levels than I can even count.

He’d been in failing health. The details of his death aren’t yet known as I write this essay.

Marsh’s legacy will be difficult — indeed, likely impossible — to replicate.

* Cadillac Ranch remains arguably the most unique roadside attraction in the United States of America. That’s Marsh’s creation. My sons love the place. One of them has declared it to be his “favorite place anywhere in the world.” Whenever he comes to visit, Cadillac Ranch is a must-see event. He has told me he believes the Cadillacs serve as antennae for an underground communication system Marsh uses to talk to beings in outer space. I laughed when he said that the first time; over time, I’ve come to believe just about anything associated with Marsh.

* Those yard signs sprinkled all over Amarillo, with the quirky sayings, poetry verses, witticisms, theories of life, whatever, also are part of Marsh’s legacy.

* The estate he shared with his wife, Wendy, just north of Amarillo Boulevard, is named Toad Hall. I’ve never been there, but I only can imagine how it looks.

* The “art projects” he developed across the Panhandle’s landscape also are part of his legacy. Perhaps you’ve seen the “floating mesa” off Boys Ranch Road. How about the dinosaur overlooking U.S. 60 near Miami?

* Stanley and Wendy Marsh also gave generously to West Texas A&M University and to Amarillo College. Wendy Marsh was appointed to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board by the late Gov. Ann Richards. Their commitment to higher ed was beyond question.

* And, yes, there is the legal trouble. In recent times, some individuals have leveled accusations of sexual abuse against Stanley Marsh. That’s all I am going to say about that at this time.

How do you sum up this man’s life? He was born into wealth. He married into it. He was well-educated and sought — usually through some highly unconventional means — to make a name for himself.

I’d say he succeeded.

The last time I saw Stanley Marsh 3 in the flesh was in 2006. I stood on the parking lot at Amarillo City Hall awaiting the remarks of Ku Klux Klansmen who had gathered there to make some kind of statement. Marsh and a large group of protestors came marching onto the lot, banging drums, blaring horns, clanging cymbals and other noise-makers to disrupt the Klansmen’s effort to be heard.

Marsh and I spoke briefly on that warm day. He said some nice things about the work I was doing at the time for the newspaper.

What should happen now to the art this man leaves behind? I do hope he’s taken care of it, particularly the Caddies out there west of the city.

Stanley Marsh 3’s journey on Earth has ended. Wherever he’s going, I’m certain it’s going to be quite a ride.