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A Site For Tired Eyes
Frank Deford
April 18, 1977
Stanley Marsh's Amarillo spread—what with those buried Cadillacs, Night Tree and all—is something that will alter your vision forever. Intentionally
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April 18, 1977

A Site For Tired Eyes

Stanley Marsh's Amarillo spread—what with those buried Cadillacs, Night Tree and all—is something that will alter your vision forever. Intentionally

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Beer does figure prominently in some of 3's more involved high jinks. For example, it was after considerable amounts of same that he and some friends rented Indian costumes and went to visit John Ehrlichman when he was residing in Santa Fe, concerned with the red man. And when John Connally's trial opened in our nation's capital, Marsh thought it his responsibility to give the proceedings a proper Texas accent. He and several of his cronies dressed up in the most outrageous Western clothes, chaps and boots and bandanas and all, and hied to Washington. To further ensure authenticity, they carried with them a case of Lone Star Beer and a full bucket of genuine Texas cow manure, into which they dutifully dipped their hand-tooled boots before going to the courtroom.

Moving right along. Do you want to hear more about the office or about Toad Hall? Well, in both places the walls are covered with original bumper stickers (e.g.: AMARILLO: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT) and with all manner of items that can be affixed with pushpins. There are literally thousands of photographs, there is hate mail, strange mail, clippings and other oddities pinioned to the walls. The walls groan with pushpins. In his office the skin of a giant anaconda is pushpinned to the wall, underneath the photograph of Mrs. Onassis skinny-dipping, which appeared in Hustler. Television sets abound. There are at least a score in Toad Hall. A huge Barnum & Bailey poster dominates the office reception area. There is an arcane device for solar insulation known as a "bead wall" by Marsh's desk. There is an indoor-type Night Tree. There is Marsh himself, pulling on yet another Tab. This day, all day, he has on a green tam-o'-shanter with a red pompon, a brown polka-dotted shirt, a yellow beaded belt with his initials and patchwork-quiltlike pants. Sometimes for dress-up he wears a black-and-white checked suit of the same material in which his office desk chair is upholstered, so that when he sits in the chair, it appears that it has grown a head. A massive papier-m�ch� elephant head is also in the office, as well as a cardboard replica of the Cadillac Ranch, the tail fins all rising majestically at the angle of the Great Pyramid from the good earth.

The office can do strange things to people caught unawares. One night, by oversight, the doors were left open. A female intruder came in, but she took nothing. It can be determined, however, that the intruder was female because, evidently unhinged by the surroundings, she removed her top, went over to the Xerox machine, took a picture of her breasts, left it behind as a calling card and departed, disturbing nothing else in this unreal sanctuary.

Today, for midday picnic, Marsh has assembled a crowd consisting of Scotty, a rotund art dealer from New York; Hugh, a bearded partner in various ventures; Tom, Marsh's normal brother; and Marsh's wrestling associates: the aforementioned Dory Funk Jr., who is late because he went back to put a tie on, and Herman and The Ripper. Nobody has anything in common. Tom chats with Herman. Tom has sandy hair and wears various shades of tweed; Herman has a shaved head and wears an electric-blue suit with white socks. Tab flows like wine. Marsh crosses often to the bathroom. The Albuquerque campaign is outlined. Everybody has a real good time. "One of the fun things about living in a town of Amarillo's size is this great cross section," Marsh says. "Here, you have to learn how to make your own fun. People in larger cities—which is most of the people now—must have their fun catered. If you pick up the morning paper here and see on the front page a story about a new catfish farm, well, you can call up and see if you can't drop around for a look. And you get your family and go on over. Most of the people on the front page of The New York Times are just not open to drop-ins."

No doubt our modern urban-sprawl society encourages self-consciousness as much as anonymity. Each place soon enough appears like every other: a collage of franchise food establishments, shopping malls and green overhead EXIT signs. Only if you are deeply rooted in a place are you likely to possess the confidence to be an individual. So few of us, tourists in our own land, feel like we are at home anymore, at one with a town. Stanley Marsh 3 is. So, for that matter, is Dory Funk Jr. His father was a world wrestling champion before him—Amarillo's own. Junior's brother, Terry Funk, is world champion now. So, much as they are different, it is easy to discern great similarities between Marsh and Junior, both of whom are proud to call Amarillo home.

It is sad how cities really shy away from the unique. Take Amarillo. You would think it would tout the Cadillac Ranch and put up a sign: HOME OF THE FUNKS, WORLD'S WRESTLING CHAMPEENS. This is quite a thing, three world champions in the same family, even in a sport where most of the participants are so designated. But there is no sign at all and, instead, Amarillo is all put out over maybe losing its ordinary college football team. A lot of cities have college football teams, so Amarillo is bound and determined to keep its team, despite the fact that logic and attendance figures alike dictate otherwise.

Amarillo's college football team is West Texas State, the prime Panhandle university, just down the road in Canyon. West Texas once produced colorful teams, featuring such heroes as Mercury Morris and Duane Thomas. But along with these imports. West Texas had a squat, fat, controversial coach. So, they got rid of him, brought in coachy-type coaches discoursing on "the program," and the football team hasn't amounted to a hill of beans in years.

In a state chock full of big-time college football teams, West Texas has little chance to make it and no good reason to. But this is un-American! Un-Texan! What, no football team? They hustled up a telethon. Bona fide celebrities, such as Chill Wills, were flown into Amarillo, and the local businessmen and other devoted of the body politic pledged vast sums for the continuing glory of the West Texas State Buffaloes. Marsh would not permit the telethon on his channel; he thought the proposition ridiculous.

Now, when you come into Amarillo, on the Interstate, which replaced fabled Route 66, there is no tribute to the Funks. There is a bank sign, providing the time and the weather, alternating these hard facts with suggested approved pastimes: that you drive carefully, purchase Girl Scout cookies, attend the church "of your choice" and so on. (Why in America, when touting spiritual involvement, do we always specify "of your choice"? Do we fear that otherwise people might believe we are dictating that parishioners attend strange devotions against their will?) Across from the bank's sign is a billboard advertising Cadillac Coupe de Villes for $8,990, and nearby is the locally esteemed Helium Monument. This is the major official tourist attraction of your choice in the greater Amarillo area, commemorating, as it does, the 100th anniversary of the discovery of helium as an element of the sun. The monument is every bit as scintillating as the fact that occasioned it.

Also featured in the Amarillo tourist literature is the Panhandle Plains Museum and a flint quarry northeast of town. There is no mention anywhere in the brochures of the Cadillac Ranch. Thus, if you keep rolling on the new Interstate with the green signs, the old Route 66, suddenly the Cadillac Ranch is there—Brigadoon. It is there, but it does not really exist. It is nowhere designated as a landmark. It is not official, merely unique. Our cities are just like our rich, Philistines all. The bland attractions that municipalities prize are safe and sane things like inscribed monuments and football teams, the equivalent of stock-certificate Matisses on the wall. The Funks and the Cadillac Ranch, truly original and dear things, get short shrift.

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