His name was Elwood and he lived in Ames, Iowa. I had dreamed about the day that he and I would someday meet.
No, I’m not cheating on my boyfriend. Elwood is the world’s largest concrete gnome. And I had become obsessed.
It took six hour to reach Ames, Iowa from our home base in Chicago. The minutes felt like hours and the hours like days. There was snow on the ground, but the sun was shining brightly. All felt right in the world.
Elwood lives in the Reiman Gardens on the campus of Iowa State University. He’s fifteen feet tall and weighs a whopping 3,500 pounds of pure gnome awesomeness.
We have Wausau, Wisconsin residents, Andy and Connie Kautza, to thank for this record-breaking gnome. Prior to their magnificent creation, a gnome named Chomsky (Gnome Chomsky…har har har) held the record. Chomsky, who resides in an upstate New York miniature golf course, measures a measly thirteen feet and six inches tall.
I couldn’t help but jump for pure unadulterated joy in the presence of Elwood. Since it was winter, there were very few living plants in the garden and even fewer human species. I had Elwood all to myself, just like I wanted him.
I felt the immediate impulse to climb Elwood. Even as a moderately-experienced rock climber, I found Elwood very difficult to summit. It seems that even the largest of gnomes aren’t built with intuitive hand holds and foot ledges.
A second big thanks goes out to my boyfriend and gnome photographer. Not only does he tolerate my gnome obsession, he even encourages it on occasion.
As I squealed and scurried about with anticipation and excitement, he held his fancy camera steady and got some amazing shots of Elwood.
A final thanks goes out to Reiman Gardens, which spent about $8,000 of private-raised funds to have Elwood built at National Rock & Sculpture in Wausau and transported to his current location in 2010. Elwood is composed of two layers of concrete, which includes an iron-welded cage and metal lath. Underneath Elwood’s nine colors of custom-mixed paint, he is painted black to add texture to the creases of the sculpture.
After the initial brouhaha, I settled in a nearby pavilion to spend some quality time with Elwood and reflect upon the day. My plush gnome companion, DJ Spaghetti Sauce, seemed to look up to Elwood like a big brother, although they barely knew each other.
Once you spend a few hours with Elwood and stroll the outdoor trails around the gardens, you should check out the small, enclosed botanical gardens near the entrance. You’ll a pleasant array of native plants and a 2,500-square-foot indoor butterfly habitat. It’s warm inside and the friendly staff loves to tell you about its collection.
As you regretfully make your way back to the parking lot, take a quick peek into the gift shop to see if any smaller gnomes are available to accompany you back home to your own garden. If you have a few hundred dollars to spare, make sure to pick up one of these university-themed gnome replicas, which stand a couple feet tall.
I was actually disappointed to find an utter lack of smaller gnomes in the Reiman Gardens gift shop. The shelves carried a typical fare of locally-made crafts and Christmas ornaments, but ironically, no gnomes.
Consumerism aside, if you find yourself anywhere in the near vicinity of the state of Iowa, make sure to pay Elwood a visit. Even if you’re not as obsessed with gnomes as I am, he makes a great excuse for a road stop pit stop if you’ve already exhausted the college bar and country strip club circuit.