Known as the “P.T. Barnum of the Blue Ridge,” Mark Cline is keeping alive the vanishing tradition of the roadside attraction—those haunted houses, singing caverns, historical parks, and outsized food that have long enticed bored travelers with promises of rest stop thrills. Working largely in molded fiberglass and foam, Cline has put his own unique spin on the kind of regional road-trip novelties like the John Brown Wax Museum in Harpers Ferry, Dinosaur Land in White Post, Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach, and the World’s Oldest Edible Cured Ham in Smithfield. His Haunted Monster Museum, which burned down in 2012, even managed to combine two roadside Virginia traditions—historical attractions and dinosaurs—in a grisly battle reenactment that imagines Tyrannosaurus Rex chose a side in the Civil War. In addition to his Enchanted Castle studio in Natural Bridge, you can also find his work in putt-putt golf courses, Six Flags theme parks, and the Pavilion in Myrtle Beach. Regionally, he’s crafted a huge dinosaur head for the Luray Reptile Center, sculpted large characters for Jellystone Park at Natural Bridge, and mounted a gigantic King Kong climbing a truck stop in Fairfield. His full-scale replica of Stonehenge—titled Foamhenge—effectively situated slabs of Styrofoam to simulate the world’s most mysterious ruins.
Born in 1961 in Waynesboro, Mark loved to draw from the time he could hold a pencil and always looked at things a little differently: “When I was 7 years old, I entered a snowman contest and, instead of a snowman, I built the Statue of Liberty.” Later he described his inspiration: “My father and I were traveling and Dinosaur Land was closed, but I asked my dad to stop there—I’d been there before—and he said, ‘OK.’ I was probably about 12 years old. We stood there together looking through the fence at these huge dinosaur figures, and I said, ‘I’m going to make these when I grow up, Dad.’ ”
After high school and traveling around the country, Mark got a job at Red Mill Manufacturing in Lyndhurst just outside Waynesboro where they made little resin figures. One day, the owner of the place, John Sewell, showed Cline how to make a mold of his hand. “That’s what really got me going,” Cline says, excited, relishing the memory. Though Mark’s spectacular and provocative sculptures have now become an indelible part of the Natural Bridge landscape, he has long been concerned that his unique craft would one day die out. Now, he has found renewed hope in kindred spirit and apprentice Brently Hilliard, a Harrisonburg-based artist who specializes in small-run, hand-casted action figures.