When you open Strange 66, take a look beyond the all-American sheen to the seedy, creepy, and just plain weird stories behind America's Mother Road.
Route 66 conjures images of an innocent golden age of car travel: shiny V8s powering down hot, two-lane blacktop, sucking 20-cent-a-gallon gasoline, and periodically depositing their occupants at mom-n-pop greasy spoons, neon-lit motels, and tourist traps. But America’s Mother Road wasn’t all about ruddy-cheeked, summer vacationers. Route 66 and the regions it traverses have a side more seldom seen, rich with weird tales (mimetic architecture, paranormal phenomena, and even cryptozoology) to the downright sordid and seedy (murder, mistreatment, and other assorted mayhem).
In Strange 66, bestselling Route 66 authority Michael Witzel explores the flip side of Route 66 to offer details on infamous Route 66 locations that once served as hideouts for the James Gang (Meramec Caverns), Bonnie and Clyde (Baxter Springs, Kansas), and Al Capone (Cicero, Illinois).
There are the stories of unspeakable crimes committed along 66, such as the Stafflebeck “murder bordello” in Galena, Kansas, and Arizona’s “Orphan Maker of Route 66.” Witzel also explores the people that passed through the region, including the Dust Bowl exodus and the Trail of Tears tribute in Jerome, Missouri.
Then there are the lighter, though still strange stories, such as the Route 66 Great Transcontinental Footrace and the origins of various roadside colossi, like the Blue Whale of Catoosa and Giganticus Headicus in Walapai, Arizona. And speaking of heads, what about steak? Eat one as big as your head at the Big Texan in Amarillo—and it’s free!
All of these stories culminate in a look at Route 66 unlike any other, completely illustrated with modern and archival photography and written by an acknowledged authority on the Mother Road.