The Funny Farm

Another roadside attraction

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I love roadside attractions.

Back in the day—before corporations ruled the land—these homegrown cultural phenomena offered welcome diversions from the tedium of long-distance driving. You could stop, stretch your legs, and pet the baby pigs, as it were.

These idiosyncratic pieces of Americana are largely gone, replaced by Subways and Quiznos. Yet some diehards remain, driven by a stubborn aesthetic that refuses to yield to the corporate world.

North of Bend, Oregon, there is a place like no other in the American west. The Funny Farm is a hard to describe creative labor of strange love that pushes the boundaries of art and culture. It’s an outpost of irony and down-home comfort. A contradiction? Sure. Sketchy? A little.

The Funny Farm—or Fun Farm, as it sometimes known—was born in 1977 on Highway 97, about five miles north of Bend in the high desert of central Oregon. Originally called Buffet Flat, the Farm was the creation (obsession, perhaps) of Gene Carsey Jr. and his partner Mike Craven. Craven died in 2005. His memorial took place beside the Love Pond (a giant arrow in a heart-shaped pond) on the grounds.

In recent years the Funny Farm has fallen on hard times, and it’s a bit rundown, which is unfortunate. Still, the weeds that have grown up among the bowling balls in the bowling ball garden add a certain cache, the gravitas of passing time. Owner and creator Gene Carsey is wistful: he remembers days gone by and is not hesitant to say so.

The Wizard of Oz plays a prominent role in the mythology of the farm. An “electric kaleidoscope”  in an outer wall reveals the 1939 film in endless loop. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore.

There is no real path here. Wander where you will. All roads lead to home (if home is someplace very strange). This is AdventureLand for folks who find the world of Disney too bland and middle of the road; a rare opportunity to step out in the noonday sun and be surprised by plastic chickens or fainting goats. To wander around the tire totem pole or the pink flamingo rookery. Visit the three-legged bowler or the antlered space lady.

The bowling ball garden resembles celestial bodies from an alternate solar system. Objects are stacked and layered in unusual ways. Incongruous juxtaposition is the law of the land here. It’s like visiting one of Stanley Kubrick’s dreams.

Carsey also rents costumes—his collection is epic and bizarre. If you lived in Bend, you’d be set for Halloween parties for the rest of your natural life.

The Funny Farm is a roadside attraction not to be missed. You should give this man money, and lots of it. He’s got a strange, burning vision and unyielding—and yes, obsessive—visionaries like Gene Carsey Jr. need our support.

For more info about the Funny Farm, call (541) 389-6391

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