Every city needs charm. Waco’s charm comes from all over, from the beautiful picnic areas along the Bosque to the many markets which dot the town. But true charm isn’t just the stuff most beloved or defining to a city. It’s also the aspects found in odd places and obscure circumstances. Waco wouldn’t be Waco without a sprinkling of weirdness thrown in every now and then. Here is a list of some of Waco’s most bizarre and strange oddities that only true Wacoans know about.
Man in Porta Potty
Newcomers to Waco driving down Valley Mills Drive may do a double take when they see a porta potty raised up on a pole with a person sitting inside. Rest assured, it’s not a real person, so there’s no need to call the fire department to save the poor guy. It’s just a mannequin which has been sitting up there for nearly three decades now.
Apparently, it was set up there in the 90s by the owner of B&S Port-O-Jon’s, a company which provided porta potties. It was meant to serve as advertising for the company, but no one anticipated it would stay up there, untouched, even after the company moved locations. Perhaps the people of the city see it as a sort of guardian, watching out for Waco upon its portable throne.
The Hauntings of the Dr Pepper Museum
Everyone knows Dr Pepper was invented in Waco, but who knew the old museum is certified as haunted? That’s right, the museum allegedly has some spooky spirits and ghouls running around the place. Many of the museum staff members claim to have experienced shadowy, ghostly figures and apparitions as well as disembodied voices while on the job.
The Museum building is over a century old now, and some wonder if even the spirits which inhabit it belong to the creators of Dr Pepper, like Charles Alderton himself. In 2009, the museum staff hired the McLennan County Paranormal Investigations to discover what they could about the hauntings. This resulted in phenomena such as floating orbs and voices from unknown sources. I’m not sure what a Dr Pepper ghost is doing around the museum, but it’s probably protecting that secret recipe!
Speaking of ghost stories, residents of Waco often speak in hushed voices about the Witch’s Castle, the ruined house in Cameron Park haunted by evil spirits. Allegedly, the house belonged to a witch that kidnapped people who strayed in Cameron Park and got lost. Variations of this story also include those of which the woman is innocent and framed for the murders of a young boy, or that she was the vengeful mother of a World War I soldier.
Here’s the crazy part: no one really knows if it exists, or ever existed. There is a ruined framework of a house, which burned down in 1961, found near Cameron Park. Most residents accept that as the true location, but it’s pretty minimal and doesn’t look much like a castle. Still, some swear they’ve found the elusive castle and witnessed shadowy figures and hear bone-chilling screams. Maybe it is out there, waiting to be found. If nothing else, you might at least stumble on a nice picnic spot in Cameron Park during your hunt.
The Legend of Lovers’ Leap
Perhaps it’s more romantic than weird, but when talking about Waco charm, it would be a disservice not to include the legend of Lovers’ Leap in Cameron Park. Though the tale has many variations, it typically tells that a Native American princess fell in love with an Apache man, but their respective tribes did not approve of the relationship and forbid it. They decided to be together in death rather than life, and thus held each other in an embrace as they flung themselves off a steep cliff above the Bosque and into the river below, where they found their eternal resting place. According to legend, this is how Lover’s Leap earned its name.
Legend has it that if one visits Lovers’ Leap during a full moon when the river is full, the ghostly figures of the two lovers can be seen. Though the historical basis of the tale is often called into question, the view from Lovers’ Leap is truly a remarkable sight. And Waco isn’t the only place with such a legend. The Lovers’ Leap tale is found all over the country at different sites and beyond, one even appearing in Sri Lanka!
SpaceX Rocket Development Facility
Moving on from ghost stories to the realm of (seemingly) science fiction, a SpaceX facility that builds rockets can be found in the area. While technically not in Waco and instead residing in the neighboring town of McGregor, it’s still amazing to know scientific endeavors towards mankind’s future are happening right in Waco’s backyard. Last year, the facility announced it would be expanding the facility into an even bigger site.
Not everyone is thrilled about it, though. Many residents of McGregor have complained in the past about loud noises and rumblings, so much so that the facility has spent millions of dollars on noise suppressors. But with all the scientific advancements, one could imagine a facility that can build rockets to Mars could also invent a way to make them a little quieter. Maybe someday.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
Waco is home to all sorts of critters and wildlife, but not everyone knows it’s also home to giant mammoths as well. Of course, they are all fossilized, but visitors to the Waco Mammoth National Monument can still go and see the area the Colombian mammoths once roamed. Today, it’s considered one of the most important paleontological sites in the world.
In 1978, two men were searching for arrowheads and other cool things along the banks of the Bosque River, when they came across large bones sticking out of the ground. A team from Baylor University’s Strecker Museum analyzed the bones, then collected a team of excavators to uncover the rest of the body. In the end, they came across not just one, but sixteen mammoths in the area, dated to having lived between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago. Maybe if they were still alive today, they’d appreciate the icy winters we’ve had recently more than we do.
Darwin the Gorilla
On the corner of 35th and Austin Avenue sits Darwin, the happy Gorilla statue which gets dressed up seasonally. At least, Darwin is typically happy, save for the time tears were painted on its cheeks.
Darwin sits outside the home of an avid art collector, and his original creator often updates the statue to reflect the seasons, current events and more. Around Christmas time, Darwin might be seen wearing a big red Santa coat and hat to keep himself warm in the chilly weather. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Darwin passed up wearing his usual Easter Bunny costume in favor of a doctor’s outfit. No matter what the occasion, his artist makes sure he is ready for it.
Suit of Armor
No, Waco is not preparing to join the next crusade. However, someone might get that impression when driving down Waco Drive and seeing a massive, armored knight standing outside an office center. The knight’s size reaches all the way to the second story of the building, making it a behemoth even Sir Arthur and his knights would struggle to take down!
Of course, it’s only a statue, so there’s no need to worry about it stomping around Waco. Why it’s there is a mystery, but my best guess is that it’s like a scarecrow. Put a big knight in front of your business, and it should scare any ruffians away.
Do you know of any other things that are weirdly Waco? Feel free to send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.