Friday, June 28, 2024

Visiting Big Rusty in South Jersey

I had first seen the gentle giant on a recent cover of Weird NJ. Their cover art always features unique scenes from across our great state. Of course, I get new copies as soon as possible, but most of the time they are always first added to my continuously growing to-be-read pile instead of being immediately devoured. In this case, I did not have the chance to learn about the creature until I had already met them. That might be a Weird NJ first for this traveler. 

Nonetheless, the story is quite straightforward: in Hainesport, New Jersey, there is a giant troll made of scrap metal who lives in the woods, just off of a highway and guarding an abandoned pottery shop. 
An artist from Denmark named Thomas Dambo and his team have an ambitious goal, a project dubbed "Way of the Bird King." Big Rusty, the name of the giant troll in South Jersey, is one of ten fixtures that are planned or are already built across the country. At the time of this writing, I've heard rumors that Big Rusty may eventually be joined by other trolls on the same property, but I'm not sure how that fits into the current project or if that's a separate endeavor. I've also heard that Hainesport plans on making the property into a public park. Perhaps they were inspired by the attention and love that the installation has created. 

About the project, the artist has said:
All the trolls have their own individual stories that connect to a bigger message rooted in fostering a greater sense of environmental responsibility within people. . . a main character troll travels through different islands, or towns around the country, setting out to figure out why the waterways have been murky, per 
The troll first lands in Hainesport where it encounters a big monster troll named Big Rusty, who grows larger with the more trash it eats. 
The main character then asks, "how large will Big Rusty grow?"
"It’ll continue growing forever because there’s so much trash."

It is a whimsical and simple tale but paints such a succinct and effective picture. We're messy creatures. A lot of us are careful and environmentally conscientious, but the powers that be, extravagantly traveling celebrities, and large corporations seem to have no regard for our great blue world. 

Accessing the property to visit Big Rusty is quite simple. So simple, in fact, that it's become a popular location for children and families, graffiti artists, urban explorers, and dog walkers alike. Of course that comes with its own issues. The township had to install security cameras to weed out "artists" who decide to vandalize Big Rusty itself or that do more to the surrounding property than just leaving some color. But as for actual artists tagging the pottery factory, I'm not sure that they care. It seems like the original artist hoped that people would continue the tradition.

“There’s a river behind the factory and some nice graffiti and stuff on the factory and I think it’s a good little, Sunday afternoon adventure for people,” Dambo said.

I hope the township shares his whimsy, because seeing the abandoned property behind the giant troll is almost as exciting as the piece itself. Though that is likely just the urban explorer in me talking.

As mentioned, I saw the giant on the cover of my favorite magazine before visiting, but how I finally got the push to visit is an endearing story. This spring, I officiated my aunt's wedding (remember, I'm a minister. Bizarre, right?) and got to catch up with my little cousin at lunch after. I say "little," but she freaking drives already. That's bizarre. She's also quite the artist and apparently has picked up graffiti. 

At some point, my girlfriend and I asked her where she paints and she mentioned a handful of places, and then name-dropped Big Rusty. I recognized the name from somewhere... perhaps the South Jersey community Facebook pages I follow. The gears started turning in my head and I made the connection. 

"The giant troll...?"

She lit up and nodded yes.

So the plans were essentially set in stone at that point. Or rather, set in recycled scrap metal and plywood. 

We managed to find my cousin's painted name a few times when creeping through the crumbling structure, but I won't share those pictures here as I'm still not really sure on how... you know, legal, and all... that is. Hashtag yay for legal gray areas, hashtag better call Saul.

If you're ever in the Philly metro area or journeying through South Jersey (which are two things that I am constantly doing), go and give "Big Rusty" a quick search on Google Maps and stop by. Just make sure you're recycling and doing your part, before, during, and after. We don't want some rogue, angry golem situation here. 

Also, don't be a dick and tag or break the gentle giant when you're there. There's plenty of concrete beyond. 

Further reading:

Big Rusty – South Jersey’s Giant Troll (

A giant troll made of recycled trash from abandoned building now lives in South Jersey (