Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa (Singapore)

Heather suggests this bizarre attraction in Singapore.  From CNN: “Built in 1937 by Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par — best known for introducing the pain-relieving ointment Tiger Balm to the world — the park has more than 1,000 statues and dioramas vividly depicting Chinese folk tales, myths and Confucian beliefs…  the brothers certainly achieved something unique. Nowhere else in the world will you see a diorama of a woman breastfeeding an old lady — one of the charming displays in Haw Par’s hellishly popular underworld section.  The graphic, sometimes downright terrifying figures make the park a mutant mashup of Gaudi’s Parc Güell, in Barcelona, and a Madame Tussauds wax museum. Its intended purpose? To educate visitors in morality.”


Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden

Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden (Bang Saen, Thailand)

A fascinating folk art garden which is sort of the Buddhist equivalent of the Texas “Hell Houses,” depicting the grim reincarnation fate that awaits you if you commit a variety of sins in this life. If you believe in that sort of thing, that is. For me, it’s a wonderful slice of morbidity on earth. I’m not positive on the location, though I did find the following: “The Temple of Hell is located at the end of soi (street) 19 in Bangsaen.” (Thanks to Steve O’ for the suggestion.)

The Garden Of Eden

The Garden Of Eden (Lucas, Kansas)
A Comtesse travelogue to see the glass-covered tomb of a true American Eccentric!

The Garden Of Eden
Lucas, KS
May 20, 2005

Samuel Dinsmoor was an eccentric Civil War veteran who built his vision of the Bible out of concrete in the tiny town of Lucas, Kansas. His labor of love was created from 1910 to 1930. Which is all good and well, but this is the morbid sightseer, after all, and the real reason why anyone of morbid disposition should wish to visit the Garden Of Eden is to see old Samuel himself: in his self-built mausoleum, behind glass. Dinsmoor is alleged to have said, “I promise everyone that comes in to see me (they can look through the glass lid of the coffin and see my face) that if I see them dropping a dollar in the hands of a flunky, and I see the dollar, I will give them a smile.” As B. Amundson states, “The coffin is not airtight, so the smile will not endure forever. See it while there’s still a grin on Dinsmoor’s crumbling face.”Therefore it should come as no surprise that when I was assigned the unenviable task of having to work in Topeka, Kansas (ie. The Dullest Spot On Earth) for several weeks in 2005, the first gleeful thought that came to mind was that I’d actually have a chance to view Samuel’s moldy old face. Of course, I’d have to wait until the weekend and I’d have to drive over two hours to get there, but hopefully I’d be able to bring back some lovely photographs of the crypt to make it worth my while.Unfortunately, as with most great things, this one did not quite come to fruition. Although I did make it to the Garden of Eden and I did get to see Samuel in all his moldering glory, I was not allowed to take photographs inside the crypt. You know, “out of respect for Mr. Dinsmoor”. Whatever! He’s the one who put himself on display for all eternity!! Annoyance, you are a cruel bedfellow indeed! So, it is with an apologetic heart that I present to you this photo gallery of The Garden Of Eden, missing its most fascinating feature. Hopefully, there is enough mental instability to be found to make up for it!It was a brutally hot Saturday when I arrived in Lucas, Kansas (aka The Middle Of Nowhere, population 436). I parked down the street from the Garden Of Eden and as I walked up towards the house, I could see the insanity all around me. It’s really hard to miss – especially since there is nothing else to see in Lucas. The first thing I passed was the crypt containing Samuel himself. Kinda looks like an unfinished pyramid, doesn’t it? The inscription on this side of the crypt is for Dinsmoor’s wife. She must have been touched.I then caught my first glimpse of the crazy cement statuary that Dinsmoor created. At first glance, it’s hard to understand exactly what he was trying to represent with his wacko figures, such as this wolf or coyote or something barking up a tree or this Native American taking aim, and something like this just screams schizophrenia. But I was sure that the tour guide would explain it all to me, and make figures like this one take on significance. However, even after taking the guided tour, I can’t say I understand it much better. Of course, that could have something to do with my very shaky memory…We met for the tour inside the cabin that Dinsmoor constructed. The walls were covered with some portraits of old Sammy and his first wife. And I think this is a family portrait with his second wife, who was 20 years old when he was 81. Lucky old coot, eh? But he had a way with the ladies, as you can tell by this picture with its caption, “Dinsmoor showed his flair for showmanship by marrying his first wife on this horse, August 24, 1870.” Now, that’s a honeymoon stallion!The furnishings inside the house were rather threadbare and creepy, such as the chair made from pieces of dead animals and the like, but there were some interesting old pieces of artwork to be seen as well. I thought the best piece of furniture in the house (if you call it that) was this fireplace near the gift shop. We also got to see the room in which Mr. Dinsmoor died in 1932. Look, there’s the bed that he croaked on! I could almost feel his creepy old face scowling at me as I took the pictures.

And look – there’s the toilet where he once sat! (Okay, maybe not, but maybe that bathtub was there when he was alive.) Here’s the room that I would have wanted when I was a kid – the attic! Something about those slanty walls just makes me all nostalgic for Grandma’s old house in Duluth. Ah, I can almost hear Grandpa yelling at me for sliding the bed across the floor now. Those were the days.

Be careful, don’t get vertigo! We’re going downstairs. Nice wood work, isn’t it? The stair railings, along with this door, were handmade by Mr. Dinsmoor himself. Talented guy, eh? And you haven’t seen the half of it yet.

I quite liked the kitchen with its old stove. They don’t make them like that anymore. Every now and again my old digital camera would act up and take bizarre photos, but I always liked to pretend that it’s because there was a ghost on the premises. So, given that concept, let’s welcome the ghost of Samuel Dinsmoor to the room! Oooh, creepy! Possibly even more creepy was the barbed wire collection. But, then again, this is Kansas, so what did I expect? I don’t remember what the story was with this gun cabinet, but it sure fit in nicely with the barbed wire, don’t you think?

Before leaving the house, we passed through this wonderfully creepy old basement storage area with a curved roof that had some wicked looking hooks sticking out of it. Of course, I don’t need to tell you where my mind went while wandering through this room. Of course, the official explanation was: “The ‘arched cave’ was used for storing home canned food and cured meats. It also served as a storm cellar against tornadoes.” Mmm-hmmm… and what else? Funny how they never tell you the full story in these tours.

With this, we left the arched cave and went back up the stairs to the first floor. We passed a 343-piece chess table made by S. P. Dinsmoor and I thought, “Okay, so now we know what he did on rainy days.” But it was time to let the sun shine on his outdoor creations!

Samuel Dinsmoor was a folk artist extraordinaire. If he’d lived in Georgia in the ’80’s, he would have been friends with Michael Stipe, for he was definitely the Reverend Howard Finster of his time. His specialty was sculpture and his medium was concrete – not exactly the finest of materials. But he did a very good job with what he had to work with. He was ever-so-innovative too! He used bottles to create these decorative arches on the porch. You’d never guess it, would you? 😉 He even signed the cabin, so no one would forget whose handiwork it was!

The first sculpture I saw up close was this very nice deer. You can see that it was originally painted brown, but a lot of the paint is worn off. This is true of all of the sculptures. The sculptures are supposed to be representations of Dinsmoor’s religious and populist political beliefs, but I don’t remember the explanations for most of them, so I might as well just let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy Dinsmoor’s dementia!

Cat fights snake with lightbulb in mouth!

Um… let’s see… America stands on a tree that says “Chartered Rights” on it while a couple of people saw off the limb it’s standing on with a saw that says “Ballot” on it.

Here’s a close-up of the Ballot saw…

Some chesty guy points the way. I’m a bit disturbed by how distinct Dinsmoor sculpted those nipples.

Imagine staggering home drunk one Sunday morning and looking up to see this lighting your path!

Here’s a view of the back of the house.

This strange-looking turkey/eagle bird carrying an American flag can be found at the front of the Dinsmoor tomb. Its symbolism is entirely lost on me.

Oh, look – there’s a naked woman pointing at the chesty man. Hey, wait a minute… why is the woman naked while the man has pants on? Was Dinsmoor from Hollywood? Or perhaps Samuel didn’t want to have to confront his latent homosexual tendencies by having to sculpt a concrete penis? Or maybe he was just a sexist? Will we ever know the truth?

This angel with pterodactyl wings hovers above the Dinsmoor tomb.

Here’s a close-up of the star spangled banner at the base of the entrance to the crypt.

It’s hard to say which sculpture is the strangest at the Garden Of Eden, but this one would be my pick. This is called the Crucifixion of Labor. Here’s how Samuel himself described it: “This is my coal house and ash pit, with Labor crucified above. I believe Labor has been crucified between a thousand grafters EVER SINCE LABOR BEGUN, BUT I COULD NOT PUT THEM ALL UP SO I HAVE PUT UP THE LEADERS – LAWYER, DOCTOR, PREACHER, AND BANKER. I DO NOT SAY THEY ARE ALL GRAFTERS, BUT I DO SAY THEY ARE THE LEADERS OF ALL WHO EAT CAKE BY THE SWEAT OF THE OTHER FELLOW’S FACE.” Indeed.

Here’s a close-up of the doctor (upper left) with his wicked scalpel.

Here’s the lawyer (lower left) in all his greedy glory.

Here’s poor Labor being crucified. I don’t know about you, but I really feel for the guy…

Here’s the heartless preacher (upper right). Notice that he reaches for Labor’s hand as if to offer his support, while he continues to pontificate with his other hand? Bloody typical.

And, finally, here’s the Banker (lower right). He looks rather vacant and dull, don’t you think? But then again, have you ever met a banker?

There were a couple of animal cages in the middle of the yard. I can’t recall what sort of animals were held here though.

This cart was displayed along the back edge of the yard. Doesn’t it just LOOK like it was 200 degrees this day, which it nearly was?

Here’s another view of the animal pens. Charming, eh?

There are actually a few structures in the yard that don’t look like the work of an insane person. This little shed and multi-leveled planter are two of them.

Here is the best part of the tour – the Dinsmoor tomb where you can view S.P. Dismoor in all his moldering glory.

From this angle you can see the “angel” that appears to be waiting to pounce on whoever dares to take a photograph of Mr. Dinsmoor. I wasn’t willing to take that chance…

See what I mean? This thing was VICIOUS! See that poor defenseless starling in its hand? A second after this picture was taken, GULP – down the hatch. Now, I hate starlings as much as your next native-bird-loving ornithologist, but I still thought that this was bit extreme. I wasn’t about to mess with this wrathful mass of concrete.

After this, I was led inside the mausoleum and was able to view (under flashlight) the moldy-looking face of Samuel P. Dinsmoor. He’s in pretty good shape for his age, actually. He is laid in the same hand-made concrete, glass-topped coffin that is shown in the above picture. (Which is a double exposure of himself looking at his corpse that was disappointingly taken prior to, not after, his death.) That’s one way to save on funeral expenses, eh?

I thought this shot kind of summed up the disoriented feeling of stumbling through the life’s work of a crazy man in a tiny town in the middle of Kansas on a blazingly hot day quite well, don’t you?

Here’s another shot of that crazy light near the house. This guy scared me almost more than the angel did. Almost…

I think this is supposed to be one of Dinsmoor’s profound political statements. It’s a cat sneaking up on a bird sneaking up on… something.

Here’s another angle on the cat/bird sculpture. I still can’t figure out what that thing on the end is supposed to be. And from this angle, I’m not even sure that’s supposed to be a cat. There are so many questions to be found here!

Here’s a close-up view of one of the planters in the yard. I bet Samuel had to complete some practical projects like this to keep the wife happy.

Here are some close-ups of the animal cages. You can see that Samuel created some nice little concrete tunnels for whatever sort of critters he kept here.

This pond marked the back corner of the property. Seems pretty normal, doesn’t it?

And it’s a sign of how horrendously hot it was this day that I was nearly compelled to jump into this water. Luckily, common sense prevailed.

One of the sheds contained this collection of Dinsmoor’s tools of the trade.

I quite liked this mustachioed devil figure. Kinda reminds me of the French Taunter.

Finally, after wandering around to the other side of the house, I came across the famous “Adam and Eve” statues which grace the end of a long foliage tunnel. Very nice, aren’t they?

Here’s another angle, looking straight down the tunnel.

Here are a couple of close-ups of Eve and Adam. And the Apple. And the Serpent. It looks like Adam has a beard a bit like Samuel’s, which makes me wonder if perhaps he related a bit closely with the character?

I walked out to the road to get this shot of the side of the cabin. This is the portion of the estate where my favorite sculptures can be found.

I think these are supposed to be vultures. Their mouths are open and lightbulbs shine out of them. This must be a very strange place to be at night…

This is one of my favorite sculptures – the woman with Rapunzel hair approaches a soldier in the act of shooting. Look at the detail in the soldier – this is definitely Dinsmoor’s best work.

This section of the yard also contained this girl on a swing.

Okay, what sort of insanity is this? I’m guessing there’s probably some sort of Biblical reference, but not having read the Bible, I can’t comment on that. But there’s definitely a sword-carrying, long-bearded old man with wings standing beside a huge eyeball. I have no idea what it means, but it’s forcing me to love it.

Ack! It’s another of the creepy lunging angels!!! TAKE COVER!!!

And this bad news is just below the angel. Looks like some of its victims, perhaps? Amazingly, the concrete body looks almost as rotten as Dinsmoor’s actual body. He was definitely a man of rare talents.

Here are a couple of happy-looking people frolicking on a tree.

This flag has weathered better than the rest of them and you can see the colorful paint that once covered all of the sculptures. Don’t ask me what’s going on around the flag though – it looks like a mishmash to me too.

I’m not sure exactly what this is but it looks like an octopus is attacking people… but it sort of looks to me like Cthulhu arising. (Though, I know it’s not.) In any event, it’s pretty bizarre.

This shot came out interesting with the backlighting. You can see the Mr.Bill-esque head at the top of the tree rather well.

I liked this Native American shooting his arrow as well.

As I passed along the front of the cabin again, I was able to get this angle which shows the dog chasing cat chasing bird sculpture, one of the planters, and the mausoleum in sequence.

Here’s another angle showing the canine figure howling up at the cat.

As I turned to leave, I took one more shot looking down the side of the house…

I also took a couple more shots of the mausoleum from the road…

as I passed by it on my way to the car.

And as I got back in the car, I stopped and took one last final shot at The Garden Of Eden – truly a baffling landmark of modern art.

I could probably end my story here, but I thought I’d share a few more strange things that I stumbled across on my drive across Kansas back to Topeka. Coming from a pretty non-religious part of the country, I get a kick out of the Olde Tyme Religion that is on display on the backroads in places like this. Therefore, I had to stop and take a couple of shots of these great signs on display in front of this tiny old wooden church in Lucas. It’s almost like they were written just for me!

“Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read… VERILY THERE IS A REWARD FOR THE RIGHTEOUS… Psalm 58:11”

“Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures… FOR YET A LITTLE WHILE, AND THE WICKED SHALL NOT BE… Psalm 37:10”

Lest we forget that we are in Kansas, I passed by a sign proclaiming Lucas to be the hometown of the 2002 International PedalPull Champ, Amanda Steinle. I took a picture to remind myself to Google “Pedal Pull” when I got home to see what in the hell it is. Turns out it’s pretty much what it sounds like – pulling carts with a pedal tractor. Yes, they actually have competitions for this! What a wacky world…

Update 7/25/13:  I received the following e-mail from Amanda herself!




So my friend showed me the web site about the Garden of Eden you have and she said my name was mentioned so I had to check it out.  Nice web site and yes I was an International pedal pull champ when I was younger haha…. I thought your page was amazing and enjoyed reading it…. I thought I would add a little more interesting info and let you know that S.P. Dinsmoor was in fact my great great uncle! Small world huh?! I bet you never thought that when you took the picture of my sign! Haha.


Amanda Steinle

Thanks for writing, Amanda!

Although culturally Kansas may be a wasteland, it does offer some very scenic views and I stumbled across some picturesque homestead ruins that I had to explore on my way home. Here, then, are a few more shots of my Kansas cross-country tour:

A nice view of the Kansas countryside.

An interesting Native American sculpture at the top of a hill, which brings back very tragic thoughts of yesteryear.

As I was driving, I spotted some ruins nearly concealed by this tree. I drove off the main highway, up a rural road to reach it and began to hike up the grassy hill.

As I approached the ruins, I wasn’t convinced that it would be worth risking ticks to visit…

An old bed frame lay unceremoniously on the ground. Not a very attractive start to the festivities.

However, things turned much more photogenic as I approached the ruins themselves.

Whenever I’m in places like this, I can’t help but wonder when it was built…

and who used to live here…

Was it somebody’s dream home before the dream turned into a nightmare?

What tragedies did these stones witness?

Did someone die in childbirth in this room?

Does this tree shield the remains of a baby lost in a miscarriage?

Did a weathered old man walk through this door each morning to greet the backbreaking toil of a new day on the farm?

Did a pie once cool on this windowsill as a lonely wife waited for her husband to return home to her?

Was a garrulous young woman driven to insanity by the incessant loneliness of the plains?

Did these walls hear the cries of a heartbroken mother whose eldest child has just died of diptheria?

How many feet passed through the threshold on frozen nights to use the outhouse, shivering all the while?

Who cut these rocks and where did they come from? How far were they hauled, and how many oxen hauled them here?

Somehow, I could just feel the intense loneliness that must have overwhelmed people in the homesteading days.

Trees growing inside the foundation told me that it had been a very long time since anyone had inhabited this space. Maybe the fact that there was no roof might have been a little clue too.

I wondered if anyone was still alive that had ever lived in this house?

If not, when had the last of them died?

Yes, these are the things I wondered as I wandered…

Sadly, I would never know the truth…

But that’s okay, because chances are the truth would never be as good as my morbid imagination.

I began to complete the drive home and stopped to read a marker that commemorated one last bit of morbid Kansas history – the Indian Wars.

And then I was back in Topeka again, happy that I’d taken the time to get to know crazy old Samuel a little bit better.

Special thanks to Christopher Gabbert for suggesting this site!

Eleanor offers the following summary of her trip to the Garden Of Eden:
“I am thrilled to be able to report to you that I made a pilgrimage to the Garden of Eden and gazed upon Sam Dinsmoor’s face, or what is left of it. It was in 1988. A morbid fear of flying (I dearly love aircrash.com) kept me on the ground for many years, and I lost count of the number of times I crossed the country by car. I’d heard about the Garden of Eden, and Dinsmoor’s glass-topped coffin with the jug of water in it all ready for the Resurrection Day, but you have to make a fairly serious 25-mile detour off of I-70 to get there, and on several trips I had actually passed the exit that takes you there. When you’re crossing Kansas, you pretty much want to stick to business and get it behind you. This time, though, a friend and I were in his great big V-8 Oldsmobile, roaring along, heading west, when I realized we were getting close to that exit (just about exactly in the center of the state). We debated. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Yes? No? Were we too late? It was a September evening. The sun had already gone down, but there was still a fair amount of light. They’ll be closed, we told each other, it’ll be a big waste of time. We’re tired. There’s still so much of Kansas to go. But when that exit came up, my friend, who was driving, made the decision and swung off the interstate. He floored the Olds and we were in Lucas in about twenty minutes. We prowled around the completely nondescript streets in the fading light. It didn’t take us long to find it. Imagine a perfectly ordinary midwestern town of normal houses and yards, total nowheresville on the prairie flatlands, but right smack in the middle, occupying an entire lot, fortress-like, with a great arching gateway and biblical tableaux and odd statuary, all cast in cement and placed on high platforms up in tall dead trees (Adam and Eve, Lucifer, Cain and Abel, various Indian chiefs), was the Garden of Eden, looking completely deserted.
“Not completely. The caretaker was just locking up. There wasn’t another soul in sight. It was twilight by now. ‘Please,’ we said. ‘we drove all the way from New York to see this place.’ An exaggeration, but technically true. ‘Well, I’d sure hate to disappoint you folks,’ he said, and unlocked the door. ‘It’s been a slow day,’ he added. I somehow got the feeling that it had been more than slow–that we were the only visitors at all that day. He gave us the guided tour. It was incredibly cool. Just the three of us–the ‘stone log cabin’ house (also made of cement; the guy was a serious cement freak), the grounds, the tableaux, some of which were political as well as religious — ‘Labor Crucified,’ for instance, with Lawyer, Doctor, Preacher and Banker as the prominent villains. There were at least four American flags made of cement, in permanent mid-ripple. We were working our way to the best part of the tour, what we’d come all this way for, the grand finale, the Mausoleum. We’d glimpsed the outside of it earlier–an elaborate Masonic-style pyramid with many statues and another cement flag on top. It was completely dark by the time we got there. We followed the caretaker up the steps and inside, where he switched on his flashlight and shined it through the heavy plate glass of Dinsmoor’s tomb and the glass window in the lid of his coffin, all of which he’d planned and built himself. And there he was: shrivelled, dessicated, empty black eye sockets, mouth an open concave black hole, scraggly white beard clinging to his dried leather chin. ‘This don’t bother me at all,’ said the caretaker. ‘Nope,’ I said. ‘Me neither.’ And we stood and looked for a little while longer at the very, very dead face of Sam Dinsmoor in the beam of the flashlight.
“Worth the trip? Absolutely.
“We all know what’s the matter with Kansas. This was an example of what’s dandy in Kansas.”

Do you have pictures or stories to share regarding The Garden Of Eden?
Please – by all means – WRITE ME!