Ozymandias Legs On The Texas Plains

Standing out in the vast, flat plains of west Texas, most of the towns are small and the highest point is the Dairy Queen sign. Eleven miles outside of Amarillo though stands something totally incongruent with that flatness - a giant pair of disembodied legs, all that is left of an ancient statue. A few feet away from the barbed-wire enclosed legs is a Texas State Historical Marker. The inscription on the marker states in part: In 1819, while on a horseback trek over the great plains of New Spain, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary came across these ruins. Here Shelley penned 'the poem Ozymandias.' The visage (or face) of the statue was damaged by students from Lubbock after losing to Amarillo in a competition. A stone cast of it will be replaced when it is ready. The original is now on display in the Amarillo Museum of Natural History. Souvenir hunters have scraped off the bottom of the pedestal. Archaeologists have determined it was as Shelley described it.

You are standing looking at a genuine relic of an historical time! At least, that's what you are supposed to think.

In 1996, Stanley Marsh 3 (he uses the number "3" as he feels the Roman numeral "III" is pretentious), the creator of the infamous Cadillac Ranch and other local oddities he referred to as "a legalized form of insanity" commissioned local artist Lightnin' McDuff to create a replica of the ruins in Percy's poem. Only working part-time (Lightnin' had a tendency to fall off his scaffold in the wind so he only worked on calm days), the legs were completed 2 years later.

Standing on a base which is 4 feet tall, 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, the left leg rises 24 feet in the air and the right leg stands 34 feet high. The whole thing is made of concrete, but the legs were made to look like they were carved from sandstone and very old. Lightnin' said, "Stanley wanted them to look like they were weathered and old and had been through prairie fires and storms and one thing or another."

To complete the illusion, prankster Marsh also commissioned a fake Texas Historical marker to mislead the curious. The marker states 3 erroneous claims - the first is that these legs were the inspiration for Shelly's poem, but they were obviously built many years later. It also states the "shattered visage" was damaged as a casualty between the Amarillo and Lubbock schools. In fact, Lightnin' never made a face to accompany the legs. And last, the nonexistent visage does not reside in the Amarillo Museum of Natural History because, just like the face, the museum does not exist. Amarillo has never had a Museum of Natural History. The historical marker is a close enough replica of the real thing though that the Texas Historical Commission reports they often get inquiries from the unsuspecting as to why the marker is not listed on their official web site.

Much like the Cadillac Ranch, the statue and fake marker are frequent targets of graffiti artist. Several times a year the unsightly paint is sandblasted away, but it doesn't take long for the vandal artists to return. Stopping by on a recent road trip, we were totally alone the 30 minutes we were there. The only sound was the cold wind steadily blowing from the north and a disinterested cow standing in the field chewing its cud. We found the marker to be so covered in paint that it was almost impossible to read. There is an abundance of litter around. The statue is rather remote and isolated and is evidently enjoyed as a place of romantic encounters. Among the empty liquor bottles, beer cans and fast food wrappers, we saw 2 bra's (both white), a pair of red thongs and a pair of pink bikini panties, one blouse, a pair of girl's shorts, a pair of jeans and an unopened condom. Interestingly, we saw no men's clothing items. 

Lightnin' McDuff
Not unlike the Egyptian King Ramesses II (Ozymandias is Ramesses in Greek) who filled the Valley of the Kings with monuments to himself, Stanley Marsh 3 filled Amarillo with monuments to his humor. When asked why he had the legs built and placed in a large open field, he said Shelley's poem is about the futility of monuments so he built a monument to it.

Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.