Marsh Road Sign Collection Shrinks

Since the early 1990s, motorists in Amarillo, Texas have encountered a strange variety of road signs that contain more than the typical cautions to yield or stop. “Dynamite Museum” was once a collection of nearly 3,000 diamond-shaped road signs featuring poems, entertaining musings or artistic imagery. Financed by the late businessman and local prankster Stanley Marsh 3 (he preferred “three” because he thought Roman numerals were pretentious), the collection has faced a number of forces that threatened its numbers over the years.

Photo via Flickr/Ben Carpenter

Famous for the installation of Cadillac Ranch on the edge of Amarillo, Marsh employed local artists and teenage boys to help create and install the signs for eight years until ending the program in 2000. Marsh’s team went door-to-door with photos of new signs and asked residents if they would like one installed in their yards. No payments were made or contracts inked regarding the signs. Once installed, they became the private property of the homeowner. At the height of their popularity, you couldn’t turn a street corner in Amarillo without spotting a new sign. It became a literal scavenger hunt to locate them all. It’s estimated that Marsh spent as much as $3.6 million of his own wealth to erect the signs. Some believe it’s the largest public art project ever attempted in the United States.

Despite the prolific spread of his own sign collection, Marsh didn’t like signs in general. “Every sign you see is bossy,” Marsh said in a 2010 interview with the Amarillo Globe-News. “We would be better off without them. But since people look at them anyway, starting putting our own in.”

Marsh himself can be polarizing among Amarilloans. Multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with the young men who work for him leave the public wondering whether they consider his signs art, or want their hometown associated with him. One of several claims, Marsh was accused of sexual misconduct in 2012 when 11 male teenagers who worked for him claimed that as minors they were offered cash, cars and drugs in exchange for sexual favors. The parties settled out of court. Marsh, Dynamite Museum and Cadillac Ranch all remain hotly debated topics even since his passing in June 2014.

Local artist Jacob Morin pursued a personal mission to cover Dynamite Museum signs in 2013. He told NewsChannel10 that he would approach homeowners with Marsh’s signs in their yards and ask to paint over the messages with his own artwork. Some were happy to have Marsh’s designs covered; others felt they were too closely tied to Amarillo’s history to be destroyed. Morin repainted nearly a dozen signs before Marsh’s people offered to remove and retrieve any signs no longer wanted by homeowners.

And in 2015, Houston-based investigator Wayne Dolcefino launched the “Erase the Marsh Madness” social media campaign encouraging the removal of the mock traffic signs. He claimed they could remind sexual assault victims of their assailant, and pushed for the signs to be destroyed or moved behind closed doors.

Whether it’s distaste for Marsh or lack of maintenance, the number of signs in Amarillo has noticeably decreased. Signs that were once landmarks for those who grew up with them are disappearing. The vinyl lettering on many have begun to peel beyond readability, and others are overcome with rust. No longer bright, the signs read less as actual traffic directors, and come across as antique artifacts.

Since the signs are all on private property, the city bears no responsibility in their upkeep or removal. Maintenance falls solely on property owners whether they originally agreed to have the sign installed or purchased a home with a pre-existing sign.

There’s not an official catalog of all the Dynamite Museum signs, but a respectable sampling of some the most memorable signs can be viewed at the links below:

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