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Hazlett

In these days of Twitter, Instagram and other small-screen digital attractions, you’d think old-fashioned billboards would have a hard time competing to capture people’s attentions.

Yet, the old familiar roadside structures are still advertising messages and entertaining passers-by.

Recently, my husband and I took a drive along Interstate 44 through Missouri. Many of you Route 66 fans know I-44 follows much of the original historic highway just as I-55 does here in Central Illinois. Signs highlighting Route 66 appear along I-44 which made me, a Pontiac native, feel right at home.

The billboards dotting the rolling hills of Missouri are among the most entertaining I’ve read. Certainly, they bring back childhood memories.

For example, there are the endless advertisements for Meramec Caverns. Signs for the largest cavern system in Missouri appear all over the Midwest, but along I-44 as you begin to approach the cavern turnoff at Stanton, exit 230, the signs seem to be everywhere. According to Wikipedia, there are 50 Meramec Caverns billboards on I-44.

In large letters, the signs claim, “Family fun!” and “Greatest Show Under the Earth.”

Tourists reading the advertisements during sweltering Midwest summers may be lured by promises of “The caves are 60 degrees warm.”

Meramec Caverns even erected a billboard inside the caves in 1960, claiming it to be the world’s only underground billboard.

Back on the Earth’s surface, we saw multiple billboards for the Jesse James Wax Museum, also at exit 230. These signs feature the mysterious image of a bandit wearing a handkerchief mask. According to legend, brothers Jesse and Frank James hid from the law in Meramec Caverns in the 1870s.

When I was a kid, my dad and his wife took the family on a summer trip to St. Louis. We hit all the major tourist spots: the St. Louis Arch, Six Flags and, naturally, Meramec Caverns. I recall reading the caverns’ advertisements from the back seat of Dad’s car.

With every mile and every sign, I grew more and more excited. By the time we arrived, my enthusiasm had reached a fever pitch. Meramec Caverns billboards had done the trick. What kid wouldn’t be amazed by slippery limestone formations after having read promotional messages for two hours?

No video or Facebook "likes" needed to draw attention, just a bunch of big boards along the highway. Ah, the good old days.

The key to successful roadside advertising appears to be a short, catchy phrase which can be read in a matter of seconds by drivers zooming by. Some messages are very direct and to the point.

Such as, “Zipline. This Exit.”

Other messages may leave you wondering: “Fireworks Supermarket. Finale cakes. Buy one, get one free.”

What’s a finale cake, I pondered for two miles. (I looked it up so you don’t have to: a finale cake is a bunch of Roman candles connected together by a high-speed fuse used for a long, dramatic effect at the end of a fireworks show.) So, buy one, get one, must be a good deal.

Near St. James, Mo., I was entertained by a roadside advertisement which read, “Get Sucked In.”

This catchy slogan promotes the “world’s first” Vacuum Cleaner Museum and Factory Outlet. (Over 800 vacuums in the collection and all in working condition!)

But my favorite billboard of the trip points visitors to a candy store in … (get ready to giggle) Uranus, Mo.

I laughed aloud when I read the billboard message: “The Best Fudge Comes from Uranus.”

Of course, it’s all natural with no preservatives.

Even on the return trip, when I read the sign a second time, it still struck me as hysterical.

The drive along I-44 has a lot going for it: picturesque valleys and hills, entertaining advertisements, and according to local sources, great homemade fudge.

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Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.

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