Of Whirligigs and Whimsey
I love things that are both whimsical and enlightening in unexpected ways, and today I found myself thinking about a place I have been to known as Acid Park.
Acid Park park as it was, no longer exists, but in its hey day it was located, where Willing Worker Road meets Wiggins Mill Road in Wilson County, North Carolina. It was the creation of Vollis Simpson, a longtime resident of Lucama, North Carolina, where, after returning from serving in the Pacific in World War II, he set up shop, farming and repairing tractors, until — over time — his work shifted to full-time whirligig and windmill creation.
Composed of equal parts whirligigs, windmills, and myth, the Legend of Acid Park first came to my attention in 1994 when I lived in Greenville, North Carolina for a year. I worked part-time teaching writing and during my time there, I heard about the place from more than one of my students, but my family and I moved back to California before I had chance to see it.
When I left North Carolina, I had no reason to think that I would ever have a reason to return. I had no family or real estate there, but in August of 1999, life threw me what ended up being a lucky curve ball, and with just three weeks to move, we did.
My family and I returned to the coastal plain of North Carolina after a four year absence, but this time instead of living in the Greenville, we lived thirty-five miles further to the west in Wilson County. I was still teaching part-time, but now I heard about Acid Park not only from my students, but from my two older children as well.
I finally see Acid Park
By the time the sun set, I was often working on something that positively had to be done tomorrow, so I seldom went out after dark. On the occasions that I did, it was usually to do something mundane, like grocery shopping , but at some point, I finally made my way on the back roads of Wilson County and saw Acid Park for myself.
It’s hard to describe the way it felt to see Acid Park for the first time.
As my headlights hit the surface of the reflectors that were attached to many of the whirligigs, it truly felt as if I had arrived in some other worldly place, and I suppose it felt that way did, because that is exactly what had happened. Going to Acid Park at night was like arriving in a corner of Vollis Simpson’s very active imagination, and you truly felt that you were both part of something larger as well as being an infinitesimal, possibly unimportant, speck in a much larger universe.
Acid Park at night was a spectacle. I learned to approach it by heading south on Willing Worker Road so that the light from the headlamps of my car would hit the myriad reflectors, and I would be greeted by the odd bits of light as they were reflected back, and the whirligigs and windmills moved, or not, depending on the wind.
On the occasions I went to see Acid Park by day, it was a different kind of transformative experience. The exposure to the elements had faded most of the original colors painted on the whirligigs, and on a sunny day the colors that remained would wash out, and on a cloudy day they would assume the mantel of gray from the clouds.
Time goes on
Nothing, it seems, lasts forever, and the same was true of Acid Park.
I suppose it would have been nice if it could have been maintained where and as it was, but instead, the nearby City of Wilson, created park to house the many sculptures that had populated Mr. Simpson’s property, and under the artist’s direction, the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park was born.The many pieces he had created over the years were disassembled and restored to their original glory:
What I learned
One: you can’t always wait to do something until tomorrow. Sometimes you need to do it today, or you won’t get the chance at all. Also, you don’t know definitely which things can wait and which things need to be done now.
I lucked out, and I got to see Acid Park before it had to be dismantled, and I have the joy of knowing what it was and appreciating what it is.
Two: Judging has an element of the arbitrary to it. Vollis Simpson had some of his life’s greatest impact as an “outsider” folk artist. If he had let himself think he wasn’t good enough, he might not have made the many delightful sculptures that he did. Then there would not have been an Acid Park or the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, and the world would be poorer for it.