IF YOU GO
Cuba is about 85 miles west of St. Louis on I-44, but the best ride is the slower trip down Route 66. There’s chain hotels and a great Huddle House along the interstate, but I stayed at the wonderfully restored Wagon Wheel Motel on old Route 66 (573) 885-3411; www.wagonwheel66cuba.com.
Updated: January 17, 2013 12:02PM
CUBA, Mo. — Big things are in store when you visit tiny Cuba, Mo.
The biggest deal in town is the World’s Largest Rocking Chair. It is 42-feet-1-inches tall, 20-feet-3-inches wide, and weighs 27,500 pounds. Technically the steel and pine chair sits on Route 66 in unincorporated Fanning on the border west of Cuba, (pop. 3,400).
The first thing most people do when they see the World’s Largest Rocking Chair is run to the roadside attraction and push on it to see if it really rocks. That’s what I did.
Well, it rocks as much as Bill O’Reilly, but it did have to rock once to be included in the “Guinness Book of World Records.”
The chair was installed on April 1, 2008, at the Fanning 66 Outpost & General Store (573-885-1474; www.fanning66outpost.com), just four miles west of Cuba. The store includes Route 66 souvenirs, snacks, wine and big bottles of moonshine. A new archery center and pro shop have been installed in the rear of the store, whose main log cabin and brick building dates back to 1934. The outpost is owned by Dan and Carolyn Sanazaro.
“Everybody thought I was nuts,” Dan Sanazaro said. “We wanted a store on old Route 66. When we opened in 2007 we thought about gas, but no one would buy gas here. We had to have some kind of attraction [a staple on Route 66]. I had seen a 10-foot rocking chair when I was a kid, plastered against the windshield looking out the window. I thought, ‘Man, that would be neat to sit in’.”
The World’s Largest Rocking Chair seems incomplete without the World’s Largest Hassock. And Cuba is ready. The old-timey Hayes Shoe Store at the corner of Smith and Washington along Route 66 features “The World’s Largest Shoe.” The size 37AA shoe was worn by Robert Wadlow (1918-40), the “Giant of Alton, Illinois.” A pituitary disorder caused Wadlow to grow to 8-foot-11.1 inches in height, thus becoming “The World’s Tallest Man.” Current store staff is unsure how the shoe wound up in Cuba (especially since the chair had yet to be built), but reportedly Wadlow once traveled Route 66 in a promotional tour for the International Shoe Company.
One of the classic sights of a road trip is to see a stray shoe along the highway. Wadlowapparently obliged. The store also has a size 35AA shoe worn by the giant. His jet black shoes in a museum case don’t match.
It’s hard to find this much wacky fun in New York City.
In 1857, Cuba, Missouri, was named after the more famous island nation, which was fighting for independence at the time.
Jane Reed, media coordinator for “Viva Cuba!” betterment committee, took me around town. We did not smoke big cigars and drink rum.
“There was a post office between the chair and downtown Cuba,” Reed explained. “It was called Amanda. It was named after the postmaster’s wife. When they heard the San Francisco Railway (now the Burlington-Northern) was coming through, they decided they would lay out a town by the railroad. Some people wanted to name the town Amanda. Other people wanted to name it Cuba. They cast a stick. If it fell one way it was going to be Cuba. If it fell the other way it would be Amanda.”
Cuba has always enjoyed its name. Besides the “Viva Cuba!” organization, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s a local painter installed the sign “Cuba, Mo. — No Castro” at the west entrance of town on Route 66. The Cuba High School class of 1952 traveled to the island of Cuba for its class trip.
Joe Medwick is a welder who lives on the east side of town and has known Dan Sanazaro most of his life. A few winters ago Sanazaro called Medwick with a job.
“He asked if I had a busy winter planned,” Medwick, 50, recalled. “About a month later Dan rolled the [architect Johnny Bland] drawings out. I looked at them and said, ‘That’s a big old rocking chair!’ I looked at the dimensions and said I had done a lot of things in my life but I never built a big rocking chair.”
Medwick has been welding since he was 18. Before the chair, his biggest project had been a steel, self-propelled windmill for a mushroom farm in Oklahoma. It took Medwick and a partner about three months to assemble the chair on site. He also worked off a wooden 1/64th scale model Bland had built. Two cranes lifted the chair onto Medwick’s rockers. He then welded the chair to the rockers. Sanazaro said the project cost about $25,000.
Medwick added, “It had to rock to get the world’s record. When we got the chair welded to the rockers one guy stood at the tail end of the rocker [which sits on concrete pads] and made it rock. It will scare the hell out of you. I was afraid it would tip over backwards. We screwed around rocking it back and fourth for 45 minutes when we installed it. But we’ve never cut it loose since I welded it down.”
Of course there was a World’s Largest Rocking Chair before Cuba’s materialized. Sanazaro said, “‘Big John’ in (Franklin) Indiana was 34 feet.”
Just in the 20 minutes I was hanging out in front of the World’s Largest Rocking Chair on a sunny, early January afternoon, a couple of carloads of people stopped at the outpost. They raced out of their cars and stood by the chair for photoopps.
They all were smiling. And they pushed at the chair.
More than 4,000 people visit the chair during the summer, according to Sanazaro. British comic Billy Connolly tackled Route 66 on a motorized tricycle for a television documentary and stopped at the chair.
“Tons of people were in from Europe this summer because they saw that,” said Sanazaro, who was born and raised in town. “It’s nothing new to the locals now. They’ve been there and done that.”
Cuba is making the most of the World’s Largest Rocking Chair.
On March 23 the city will host the “Route 66 Race to the Rocker,” a four-mile race from downtown Cuba to the chair. The race begins at the Mizell Funeral Home, so watch your ticker on the way to the rocker ($25 pre-registration fee before March 1; www.jog-inc.com).
Medwick liked my footstool idea idea for adding a big footstool to complement the chair.
“As a matter of fact we looked at doing something last year with an end table and big bottle of root beer on top,” Medwick said. “We were going to incorporate a spiral staircase inside the end table and have a walk platform over to the chair. We put a bunch of numbers together and it was expensive. But once a year you can have your picture taken on the rocker. A lift takes people up and it’s amazing the amount of people who are uncomfortable when they get up there.” (The 6th Annual Picture on the Rocker Day is scheduled for Aug. 3. Make your plans now.)
As Chicago architect Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood... Make big plans; aim high in hope and work. ...”