Like many suburban American kids, I lived for the Scholastic Book Fair. I’d shove my spare change in my pockets, wait patiently in line with my classmates (always at the end, in alphabetical order), and excitedly enter our school library to determine what literary treasures I could make mine.
While I reached for a long sought-after Magic Treehouse book, my classmates had circled around a large green book, collectively gasping, laughing, and shouting. To see what the fuss was about, I shouldered my way through the group, only to discover them flipping through a copy of The Guinness Book of World Records (2002).
After my classmates grew bored, I had the chance to leaf through the book on my own. I, too, was grossed out by the World’s Longest Fingernails (and still am), riveted by the World’s Tallest Man, and totally intrigued by the helpful guide on “How To Use the Web.” But I stopped when I came across some of the world’s biggest objects: the Tallest Paper Cup, the Longest Scarf, the Biggest Piggy Bank. Even without photographs, big things capture our imaginations, beckon us to envision enormity.
So when I recently came across a Facebook post advertising a raffle that will allow up to four individuals to sit atop the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, I was sold. The winner of the raffle—run by Big Things in A Small Town, a local tourism organization in Casey (pronounced Cay-zee), Illinois—will be selected on September 28, and will get a chance to sit in the rocking chair on December 7.
But those entering the raffle need to act fast. Like many small towns, Casey does things the old fashioned way: All raffle entries are to be printed out and (snail) mailed along with a cash entry fee to the Big Things in a Small Town P.O. Box, coincidently located down the street from the World’s Largest Mailbox.
In 2011, Jim Bolin—a lifelong resident of Casey—went on vacation in Silver Plume, Colorado with his wife and daughter. There, his family became enamored with a tea shop, and on the long road trip back to Illinois, they discussed opening a similar shop in their own small town.
Bolin runs Bolin Enterprises, a company that employs dozens of people throughout Casey. He was wary of starting another business in a town of 2,700 people, where the family would have to compete for the attention of the same small population. They needed to think outside the box. “I started thinking of something that would bring customers off the interstate,” Bolin says. “That’s where I came up with the World’s Largest Wind Chime.”
Wind chimes have always reminded Bolin of his grandmother, Lisa Whitling, so he decided to make a giant wind chime in her honor. His wife and daughter named the family cafe—The Whitling Whimsy—after her as well.
What started as a marketing ploy for one restaurant soon became a huge tourist draw for the town of Casey. “It was just going to be one-and-done, but when we saw the amount of cars pulling in to see the World’s Largest Wind Chime, we thought we’d build one more,” Bolin says. “And that led to another one, and another one, and now we have several Guinness World Records. Plus, we have several objects that are not in the Guinness Book of World Records.”
Today, the town of Casey holds seven Guinness World Records for the world’s largest wind chime, golf tee, knitting needles and crochet hook, wooden shoes, pitchfork, mailbox, and rocking chair. The town is also home to several other “Really, Really Big” objects (as the town dubs them), including a pencil, yardstick, bird cage, rocking horse, baseball bat, bookworm, spinning top, token coin, and even a giant Minion from the Despicable Me franchise. Over the next several months, Casey will unveil six more potential world record-holding objects, including a giant barber’s pole, a teeter-totter, and a gavel.
Bolin estimates there are between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors who come to Casey each week just to see the collection of big objects. In a town of fewer than 3,000 people, the population nearly doubles on weekends thanks to the oversized items.
“I just drove through there this morning, and there’s probably—in a three-block region—30 parking spaces on both sides of the street, and they were just full all the way through town,” Bolin says.
Atop a giant
Since its creation, no one—except for Bolin, a few of his employees, and a few media representatives—has been atop the rocking chair. But a business in town, Special Delivery by Kim’s Crafts, has a green screen and creates souvenir photographs for tourists who are interested in convincing their friends they’ve sat on the giant chair.
“To this day, when people see the photographs, they think people have been on top of the rocking chair,” says Deb Bohannon, the marketing, media, and human resources manager of Bolin Enterprises. Bolin didn’t anticipate how popular the rocking chair would become, so he didn’t build the structure with stair access. “With all of our other attractions, you can touch them, feel them, and go inside them,” Bohannon says. “With the rocking chair, you want to get on top of there, but you can’t.”
One lucky raffle winner won’t have to convince their friends that they’ve been atop the 56-foot tall, 46,200-pound rocking chair. On September 28, Bolin will draw one ticket, and the winner can bring up to three friends or family members to climb on top of the rocking chair. The climb will take place on December 7, during the town’s annual Candy Canes on Main holiday event (or, if the weather is bad or the rocking chair is icy, an undetermined date in the spring of 2020). For the safety of all climbers, they must be 12 or older, and those under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Proceeds from the raffle will be used to create new big objects, support Casey tourism initiatives, and finance the September 28 event, where Guinness World Record officials will determine whether the six new creations are the biggest in the world. According to Bolin, it costs $18,000 to fly in, house, and create an event for Guinness officials who determine whether or not the objects are big enough for the world record.
Raffles and fundraisers like this one help Big Things in a Small Town keep the giant objects free to the public. “All of our attractions are free, and most of them are outdoors, available 24/7,” says Bohannon. “That makes this a very economical, fun family vacation.”
Even if you don’t win the raffle, there are still a dozen giant structures you can touch, climb, and even ride in Casey.
A few of the objects are particularly close to Bolin’s heart—such as the massive bird cage, which people can climb into, or the brand new, enormous teeter-totter, which visitors are able to play with on weekends. But all of the creations hold some personal significance because Bolin—with the help of his company—has designed, built, and unveiled every single record-holding structure in town.
Most of the oversized objects take about two years to build, “not because it’s too much work—though it is a lot of work—but because we work on them between our jobs,” says Bolin. “They don’t take precedence over our customers or keeping our business open. We just work on them in our spare time.”
Bohannon’s personal favorite structure is the World’s Largest Mailbox. Visitors can climb stairs to the top, look out through the front of the mailbox, and see across town. But the mailbox is not only interactive, it’s also functional. “Anything that is mailed out of the mailbox gets stamped by the post office with a stamp that says, ‘Mailed from the World’s Largest Mailbox,’” Bohannon says. “We’ve had brides mail out their wedding invitations. We’ve had a couple of weddings actually in Casey.”
During the Candy Canes on Main event in the winter, kids love to come to Casey to mail out their letters to Santa directly from the giant mailbox.
Recorded in print
If kids still go to Scholastic Book Fairs and run their fingers over the glossy covers of new books, I hope they open up the cover of next year’s Guinness Book of World Records to find six new entries, all based in Casey, Illinois. And, even more than that, I hope they get the chance to pull off the interstate during a Midwestern road trip, looking to stretch their legs, only to get out of the car, look up, and discover they’ve entered a world of objects bigger than they’d ever imagined.
In the span of his life, Bolin has seen the population of Casey decline, tourism dwindle, and businesses close. But, since the creation of the giant wind chime back in 2011, Bolin has seen the community completely turn around. From the beginning, the Big Things in a Small Town initiative has been put on by a small group of family, friends, and coworkers in order to support their community. Since then, the town has blossomed from a quirky roadside stop to a destination on its own.
“We have a successful family business and we employ quite a few people,” Bolin says. “Really, it was just a way to give back to our community.”