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Grand Central Means Great Photo Stops

Rhythm and Routes Mural

Duncan, Oklahoma

Elvis Presley owes a debt to a mother-son team from the small town of Duncan, a small town in southwest Oklahoma.

“Hoyt Axton was born just south of Duncan,” said L.D. Jones, executive director of the Duncan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “He and his mother, Mae Boren Axton, famously wrote the song ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and gave it to Elvis. She said the song was penned in the lobby of a hotel in southwest Oklahoma. Considering that she lived in Duncan and we only had two hotels at the time, we’re pretty sure they wrote the song in one of the buildings here on Main Street.”

That building is now a hardware store, and its exterior features a mural commemorating the town’s place in pop music history. The Rhythm and Routes Mural, as it is called, has become a popular photo stop for people visiting Duncan.

“It has an image of Hoyt playing guitar and an image of Mae handing the song to Elvis,” Jones said. “There’s also a massive image of Elvis in his costume. If you position it just right, it looks like Elvis is stepping on you.”

The mural is one of several in the historic downtown district. Another depicts the crape myrtle, which is the official tree of Duncan.

Many groups also stop for photos at sites around town related to the Chisholm Trail. The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center is a Western heritage museum and has a large bronze statue depicting a Chisholm Trail cattle drive. Chisholm Trail markers around Duncan also commemorate sites that were important in the area’s history.

Old Mill

North Little Rock, Arkansas

In the early 1930s, a real-estate developer named Justin Matthews was seeking to create a memorable park in the Lakewood neighborhood in North Little Rock, so he built the Old Mill, a replica of a water-powered gristmill that might have been constructed by Arkansas pioneers. The mill was constructed in 1933, and soon after that won unexpected fame.

“The Old Mill is most popularly known for being in ‘Gone With the Wind,’” said Stephanie Slagle, communications manager for the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s in the opening credits of the film. It’s supposed to look like an old abandoned mill — there are no windows or doors.”

The mill is the last structure from the film to remain standing and, as such, the only “Gone With the Wind” setting where travelers can have their photos taken. Groups often include a photo at the Old Mill as part of their tours through Little Rock and North Little Rock. Locals use the mill as a backdrop for their wedding, engagement, family and school pictures, too.

In addition to taking a photo at the mill, visitors often take time to explore the surrounding T.R. Pugh Memorial Park, which features gardens and a number of distinctive architectural touches.

“There are several bridges you can walk across, and all of them were designed by an artist who used a special technique with concrete,” Slagle said. “He would use utensils like forks to make the concrete look like wood. He called it his rustico style, but it’s really just fake wood.”

The park also has picnic tables and a small amphitheater, which groups can use for eating boxed lunches or holding guide presentations.

Route 66 Red Rocker

Cuba, Missouri

In its heyday, Route 66 was famous for its quirky roadside attractions where travelers would stop for photos as they made their trips westward. In Cuba, a small town in central Missouri located along historic Route 66, a local man has revived that tradition.

“We have a giant rocking chair that used to be the world’s largest,” said Dan Sanazaro, former owner of the Fanning 66 Outpost. “It held the record from 2008 to 2015. Now, we call it the Route 66 Red Rocker. It’s 42 feet tall, painted red, and it’s quite a sight.”

The outpost opened in 2007 after Sanazaro bought an old roadside service plaza and transformed it into a Route 66 general store. Building the rocking chair was a way to attract visitors to stop in, much like the original Route 66 roadside attractions.

“As a kid, I was totally amazed by a 10-foot rocking chair I saw out in front of a restaurant,” Sanazaro said. “We needed some type of draw to get people to stop here, so I decided to build the world’s largest rocking chair. People kind of thought I was crazy, but we held the world record for eight years.”

Although the Red Rocker no longer holds the world record, and the store closed earlier this year, the rocker is still very popular among travelers tracing the historic Route 66, who often stop to take photos.