spooks of yesteryear, down carolina-way

I was going to talk about chocolate. Then I was going to talk about cookies. But then I remembered that I had forgotten to share one of my favorite parts of my May trip to the Great American South. How could I? After all, this is memorable.

I’ll let the photos speak on their own after explaining their location.

In planning this trip to the south, multiple people exclaimed that we absolutely had to stop at South of the Border. Have you heard of this place? It’s right on the North Carolina / South Carolina border, along Highway 95. Sources tell me it’s America’s Favorite Highway Oasis, a title that I suppose one could be proud to claim. Established in 1949, it’s a kitschy tourist trap of epic proportions, that will henceforth be remembered by me as the place where it was difficult to find a bathroom. I did consider buying a replacement mercury thermometer for my mum, since I broke hers a while back after two decades of enjoying having a fever – just so I got to use the shakedown thermometer. I always knew I was truly sick when I couldn’t shake it back down all the way. I’m sorry I didn’t buy you a replacement, mum. I guess I was eager to get out of Tacky Town, rather than spend the $2.50.

Clearly, South of the Border held no attraction for me. But the place you see here, which was just on the other side of the highway, did. We walked around quietly, I much more muted than usual. Who abandons an entire motel, leaving everything in it to rot and be looted? Who leaves such an iconic playground to decay?

I grew up with a rocket ship, similar to the one in the photos here, close to my house, and climbing up into it was to imagine myself among the previous generation of rocket ship-admirers. I have since made up for the generation discrepancy as best I can: in high school, by wearing cat eye glasses, and ever since by purchasing every 60’s-styled Bobbie Brooks clothing item I find at Goodwill.

But wait, we’re just about to discover the best part of my favorite highway oasis.

In case you feeling like taking a dip, please notice that a sign clearly demarcates no lifeguard on duty here. Bummer.

This wasn’t the only fully-abandoned motel we noticed on the drive home – it seemed to be a trend, with other such curiosities noted at least as far north as Petersburg, Virginia. I can’t think of a more interesting way to break from the monotony of endless highway driving, or to catch a glimpse of a more prosperous past.

Don’t stop at South of the Border, if you can help it. There’s nothing of substance there. But despite the obvious desolation on display here, there was something magical about wandering amongst the carnage of time and weathering. Surprises such as this are often the best-remembered parts of my travels. What sticks with you most?

28 thoughts on “spooks of yesteryear, down carolina-way

  1. Wow, what a place. Interesting that according to the official website, the owner had two hispanics working for him and everyone decided to call them Pedro…hmmm, I wonder if anyone remembers what their real names were.
    I didn’t think that mercury thermometers were still able to be purchased!

    1. Mum, like I said, I don’t exactly recommend a visit to South of the Border. It’s a sociocultural artifact, I suppose. But after reading what you found, I guess it’s a little more politically-charged than my ol’ standby, the World’s Only Corn Palace.

      Maybe that’s the other reason I didn’t buy the thermometer… after hearing from you that they couldn’t be purchased any more, I was a bit sketched to see a whole heap of them. They’ve probably been around since South of the Border originated in 1949.

  2. Wow. The journalist in me wants to start investigating and write an article on this!! I’m sure it has some interesting story behind it…

    1. sophia, I feel the same way about this, and this was also how I felt about all the gorgeous (but abandoned) architecture in Roanoke, Virginia. There’s so much out there that’s proudly on display – but also proudly decaying, at an alarming rate. I wish I could learn more…

    1. Ooh, I bet it would have made for a good episode on one of my favorite kids’ shows, Eerie, Indiana!

      I like how modern-day life rolls on across the highway in the background, while this relic grows decrepit in the fore.

  3. I love these pictures. I’ve never seen a playground quite like that. It belongs in a museum.

    I’d be lying if I said I didn’t remember food the most during my travels. I also seem to remember the sweet encounters with local people. I’m surprised now when people are genuine and nice (sad and pessimistic I know) so when traveling I remember when people are the nicest.

    1. sarah, I now feel motivated to find other similar rocket playgrounds across America! It could make for a good coffee table book:)

      As I’ve become a wee bit of a less-shy individual, I’ve come to appreciate kindness from strangers as well. However, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to label that as a memorable experience. I’m glad you brought it up – I like the way you think!

  4. This motel is a mixture between scary and beautiful for me.
    I love your pictures!

    1. Silvia, I guess there is a resounding theme of fright amongst the viewers of these photos! All I can say is, if I had been there at night, it most definitely would have been a bona fide creeptastic experience… but during the day, it seemed more sad than haunted.

      And thanks!

  5. So much rust! And yet…it makes me want to travel and explore again :)

    I guess, like others have said, I remember food pretty easily…but then, since I’m a bit of a documenter/diary keeper/blogger when I travel, I basically remember everything!

    1. Laura, wow, I wish I could say the same. My memory is like a very fine sieve that only occasionally clogs up, allowing me to save one or two memories at random. I need to keep better records, I know this!

      Have rust, will travel!:)

  6. I’ve gotta admit… I use to beg my mama to pit stop at south of the border as a young kid; I was in awe of the weirdness. A few years ago I drove past it and wondered what the hell I ever saw in that tourist trap highway chaos!

    1. Ashley: Hah! Another conspirator in this South of the Border biz (albeit from the days of yore)!

      Glad you’ve changed your mind in recent years, as its trashiness nearly made my eyes sore;)

    1. El: And retro I love to talk about! It was a strange place to spend time… can a place seem haunted in the middle of a bright and sunny day??

  7. Emma,

    I have so enjoyed your following your summer travel tales. I felt like you took all of us along for the ride with you:)

    I used to take road trips like that when I was a kid and I always loved to find the unexpected gems. That abandoned hotel is so irry and cool – great images.


    1. Erin: I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my summer travels… how appropriate that as you left this comment, I was off on my final adventure of the summer!

      It has been my pleasure to take everyone along in my (small) car cross-country, to view sweets, abandoned buildings, strange tree forts, and, or course, chocolate:) Here’s to many more travels – – I look forward to seeing more of yours, as well!

  8. What a surreal place. I’ve always found decay and abandon to be most fascinating, in the sense that at one time, they were shiny, new and loved. A similar—but not half as profound feeling—is the one I get when I see huge, big-screen TVs sitting on the curbside waiting for their final departure on a garbage truck. I look at them and know how expensive and sought after they were at one point…yet eventually, they’re just trash.

    Anyways, on a lighter note, the decayed structure above appears to be a sibling of this surviving structure in Des Moines, Iowa: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferrodriguez/3925514633/ …luckily it’s still being played on by locals, and perhaps it will live a longer life.

    Thanks for sharing. Your blog is an enjoyable read.

    1. leftylimbo, I had a great summer of experiencing decay and abandon in the south. Between this surreal motel and playground, and my time in Roanoke, Virginia, I got to see a lot of decrepit strangeness. It was awesome !

      I love the looks of that Des Moines playground – that’s America:)

      Hmm, I’m trying to figure out why I didn’t play on this abandoned playground while S. of the border. After all, my tetanus shot is up to date. Oh yes, I was afraid of snakes who may have been lurking in the grass:/

      Glad you left a comment, as you’ve opened my eyes to every Smalltown USA that I’m now eager to visit !

      1. Hi Emma:

        I have a picture in my Flickr favorites that is probably what that playground looked like when it was shiny and new (yes, Madonna reference intended).

        Miracle Equipment Company ad, Parks and Recreation, Sep 1968 p56-57

        This has, of course, sparked a whole new interest in the history of that now-dilapidated structure, especially its very inception on that property. My mind wanders in the possibilities. Did a rep from Miracle Equipment Company see the hotel and pitch his sales jargon to the owner for the win, or did the hotel owner think of it himself and contact them? Hmm.

  9. I live in NC and had family in SC…so I’ve been passing both SOB and the old motel/playground for years now. We had this exact same playground equipment at a park where I grew up on Ft Bragg, wonderful memories. I finally stopped on one trip through about 15 years ago and actually climbed up the Rocket Slide to take a ride down. Halfway up, seeing holes in the flooring, I was second guessing my decision…but I couldn’t turn back. I made it down in one piece with a huge smile!

    I was passing through again yesterday and the playground equipment has been completely removed and the old motel has been demolished…just 2 huge piles of rubble are all that remain. So sad the slide wasn’t salvaged. Or…maybe it was?? Anyway…just wanted to share my memory. Thanks so much for your post and great photos!!

    1. This is so sad, so disappointed to hear that it’s gone! At least I got to see it while it was still there…

      Those Rocket Slides are tricky to get up into, huh?

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