Famous American tourist attractions include the natural, like Niagara Falls, and the human-made, like the Parthenon (yes, there's one in Tennessee). Some of these spots might be considered American tourist traps (hello, Cabazon Dinosaurs), but we love them anyway. Some are older than you might think; North America has been inhabited for more than 13,000 years, and the continent's Indigenous inhabitants created structures that have stood the test of time, such as Serpent Mound.
Even people who have visited these American tourist hot spots don't know all the stories behind them. Facts about these tourist destinations might even make you pack up your suitcase for a road trip.
Niagara Falls isn't among the 50 tallest waterfalls in the world, but the 167-foot-high spot is still one of North America's top tourist areas. Like many other tall tourist attractions, Niagara Falls also attracts thrill seekers and those with sadder intentions.
As such, Niagara Falls has been the site of about 5,000 fatalities since the early 1800s. Going over the falls without a barrel or flotation device is almost always unsurvivable. Kirk Jones was the first person in recorded history to survive a trip over the falls without any aid. (He perished 14 years later while attempting another jump over the falls.) Even professional daredevils have a 25% mortality rate when attempting to go over the falls.
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Nashville’s Parthenon Replica Was Supposed To Be Temporary But Became Beloved
Nashville, TN, is home to an exact-scale replica of Athens's Parthenon, the temple to the goddess of Athena that was completed in the mid-fifth century BCE. This re-creation of the original temple even includes a 42-foot-tall statue of Athena covered in gold.
The Nashville version was built in 1897 for the Centennial Exposition in Tennessee, held to celebrate the state's entry into the union, in honor of Nashville's nickname, "the Athens of the South." It was supposed to be torn down, but the citizens of Nashville decided to keep their Parthenon. It still stands today.
Hollywood's iconic sign might not exist today if not for the intervention of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. In 1978, the sign was deteriorating after 55 years of use, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce needed $250,000 to restore it. Hefner held a fundraiser where each letter of the sign was auctioned off for $27,000. Buyers included stars like Alice Cooper and Gene Autry. The sign was completely replaced after about three months.
Then, in 2010, Hefner personally donated $900,000 to prevent a group of land developers from purchasing the 138-acre plot where the sign is located.
“It’s become something iconic and represents not only the town but represents Hollywood dreams, and I think that’s something worth preserving," Hefner said.
The decisive three-day Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 was one of the biggest conflicts in the American Civil War. Altogether, about 160,000 soldiers from both sides participated. Because they fired hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition, the site in Southeast Pennsylvania is still home to thousands of artifact musket balls.
However, it's against the law to loot a battlefield operated by the federal government, an offense punishable by $20,000 and up to two years in jail. Even so, park rangers occasionally find evidence looters have taken bullets from the site.
"Four Corners" is the name for the only spot in the United States where four states converge at one point: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Tourists travel to the site and stand in the one place where you can be in four states at the same time. A monument was built on the spot in 1875.
The location of the tourist attraction isn't precisely where the states converge, however. According to a study by the US Geological Survey in 2009, the monument is about 1,807 feet east of where it should be. Considering the original survey of the area was conducted in 1868, it's not too far off.
Colonial Williamsburg is a 301-acre living history museum that's part of the historical district of the city of Williamsburg, VA. It's essentially a re-creation of the city when it served as the capital of the Virginia colony.
Construction on the district actually began in 1928, when Williamsburg officials opted to build it as a way to celebrate the city's heritage and attract tourism. Although some homes from the 1700s were restored to their colonial-era appearance, many modern buildings had to be demolished. The city purchased homes and lots throughout the district and demolished 442 dwellings to make way for Colonial Williamsburg.