Interstate 75 runs for nearly 2,900 kilometres, and many of them are the dullest lengths of tarmac you will ever travel, unspooling before your windshield in a deadening grey litany of fast food outlets and generic outlet malls.
So when a 62-foot statue of Jesus Christ suddenly appeared next to the highway back in 2004, it was sightseeing salvation – now here was a little fun. Like many drivers, I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but there it was – a super-sized Son of God, rising from a reflecting pool in front of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio.
As I later learned, the congregation had spent more than $250,000 to build its roadside shrine, which was made from sculpted foam laminated with a skin of weatherproof fibreglass. The statue, called King of Kings, became known as Touchdown Jesus, thanks to its upraised arms – which conjured up a football referee signalling a goal. But it had other nicknames, too, including Super Jesus, Butter Jesus (due to yellowing of the fibreglass skin) and Quicksand Jesus (the statue was cut off at the waist, and depending on your perspective, could be seen as either rising from the waters beneath, or sinking into them.)
Like the Son of God, Touchdown Jesus had an abbreviated earthly existence: the statue was struck by lightning in 2010, and burned to a crisp. Seen with the benefit of hindsight, this was almost inevitable: set in the table-flat plains of southern Ohio, the statue was the highest point for miles in any direction, and had a steel frame inside, making it a natural target.
Although I’d mocked Touchdown Jesus many a time, I had to admit that I missed it – the long I-75 run just wasn’t the same without that giant piece of religious kitsch. I mourned each time I passed the barren spot.
But now there’s good news – the Solid Rock Church installed a new Jesus statue this fall. It’s slightly shorter, and the arms stick out the side instead of reaching for the heavens (it has already been dubbed Hugging Jesus).
Unlike Touchdown Jesus, the newly erected Hugging Jesus has a lightning rod on top of its head. Good idea. Interstate 75 needs a saviour that’s built to last.
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