Northbound on Interstate 35 just south of Lakeville, you’ll see this roadside art marking the location of Hot Sam’s Antiques.
YOU’VE SEEN THE ECLECTIC COLLECTION, I’m sure, if you’ve ever traveled Interstate 35 northbound near Lakeville.
Just another view of the eclectic art collection, shot while traveling the interstate. No stopping for this photo.
You’ll see the fearsome shark first as you’re driving north on I35.
Just south of exit 81 atop a hill on the east side of the interstate, a red ANTIQUE sign draws your eye to a mish-mash of stuff. Several rusting cars. A rather vicious looking blue shark (although I’m sure you don’t notice the detailed sharp teeth while racing along the interstate at 70 mph). A lady bug. A rocket and a submarine. And, heck, there’s an oversized guitar, too.
At the north end of the line, the ginormous guitar.
A view from atop the hill, in the middle of the eclectic collection.
For 30 years I’ve seen the changing collection and always wondered about Hot Sam’s Antiques. Now, after a recent Saturday afternoon visit, I need wonder no more.
Kathy Sakry, left, and Aina Puritis on the front porch of the log cabin.
Honestly, how to begin to describe this place seems an impossibility, until I meet Aina Puritis—pronounce that Latvian first name with a silent “A” and a long “i”—a part-time employee of three months. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” I tell Aina.
“You got that right, honey,” she agrees, then offers her definition. “It’s an antique theme park, a mix of this and that.”
The log cabin, back and to the right, is packed with antiques and collectibles. I spotted the charming, cottage style treehouse, left, but didn’t even check to see if I could explore inside. I was running short on time.
Aina nails Hot Sam’s with that description because, in addition to thousands of antiques and collectibles crammed inside and outside a log house, outbuildings and train cars and scattered upon the grass and through the woods and along the sides of the narrow gravel drive, you’ll discover a wonderment of creations fitting a theme park.
Barry was painting a giant sunflower when I came upon him among the junk in the woods.
You might find Barry (no last name offered), a retired laser cutter turned artist, back in the woods among all the junk working on his latest sculptures—painting a giant sunflower or building an oversized motorcycle roped and suspended from a tree limb.
Nemo from the back, looking toward the log cabin on the hill, center, a boat on the left and train cars in the distance to the right.
He takes credit for transforming a vintage car into the Disney cartoon fish Nemo via orange paint, the addition of fins and eyes and some major interior redecorating. Nemo’s beached in sugar fine sand along a ribbon of water which meanders into the 10-acre property.
Inside Nemo, my absolute favorite part of the entire antique theme park. Who would ever think you could turn an old car into something so incredibly magical?
The tropical beach scene seems oddly out of place given the native swampland grass and surrounding woods and the autumn leaves littering the sand. But no one claims anything’s exactly as it should be at Hot Sam’s.
A close-up of the hippie van parked in a beach setting with fine white sand and even a hammock.
That’s part of the appeal, to see a peace-out hippie van parked on the beach; the wreck of the S.S. Minnow from the 1960s T.V. sitcom, Gilligan’s Island, hugging the shore; the canary yellow tail of a crashed airplane poking through the swampland grass across the water.
“It became a labor of love,” Kathy Sakry says of this whole intriguing place. She’s the significant other of Jake Hood, who, along with his mother, Gladys Hood, 26 years ago transformed a field with a two-car path into Hot Sam’s Antiques. Nine years prior to that, the business was located in Burnsville. Gladys died in December 2010.
Kathy prefers not to explain the story and inspiration behind the antique theme park, choosing instead to hand over a reprint of an article written by Gladys and published in Reader’s Digest. To summarize, Gladys’ father, Hyreeg, an Armenian immigrant living in Detroit, collected scrap metal to raise money for a flagpole upon which he flew a U.S. flag symbolizing his pride in becoming an American.
Inside the log cabin, I found this collectible glassware and this welcoming sign, which seems to exemplify the welcoming spirit of Hot Sam’s Antiques.
Gladys wrote in 2002 that she acquired her father’s love for hard work and collecting (she would go “picking” with him as a child) and continued his legacy via her business. She collected for practical and recycling reasons and for the joy of sharing in the memories of those who visit Hot Sam’s.
I saw at least three Statues of Liberty on the property.
Whether a tribute to her father’s patriotism or not, numerous replicas of the Statue of Liberty are planted on Gladys’ tangible slice of the American dream.
About that business name… Kathy says Hot Sam was Gladys’ nickname, a name she preferred to her given Gladys, which taunting youngsters reinvented into, well, you can figure that out, during her childhood.
Then Kathy shares more about Gladys and a clearer picture emerges of this strong woman. She once raced cars, breaking the land speed record on Daytona Beach in 1956.
This mock, crashed airplane is positioned across swamp grass on the property.
Despite her prior days of daring, competitive racing in a man’s world and of traveling, Gladys seldom left Hot Sam’s once established, Kathy relates. And when she did, it was to attend air shows with her adopted daughter, airline and aerobatic pilot Julie Clark. The bi-plane and staged, mock plane crash at Hot Sam’s are perhaps visual connections to Julie, whose birth father was murdered in 1964 while piloting a plane which subsequently crashed, killing all 44 aboard. Or perhaps the planes reflect Gladys’ general affection for air shows.
While wandering the grounds of Hot Sam’s, you have to wonder where Jake and Gladys acquired all this stuff and Kathy says only that they are buyers and sellers. She wants me to talk to Jake and sets off to find him. But I am anxious to photograph this magical antique theme park in the perfect, golden hour around sunset. I never do connect with Jake.
I am not the only photographer here on this late Saturday afternoon. I meet a young couple and their two children primping for a family photo shoot with St. Louis Park-based portrait photographer Jess Sandager of Olive Avenue Photography. Later I meet up with the family and photographer near the beach. Jess tells me Hot Sam’s is well-known in the photo industry.
Although I’d like more details, I won’t keep Jess from the waning, perfect light.
I watch for a minute as Jess works her camera, photographing the little boy on a tractor and then mom and baby.
The beached Nemo.
Father and son, in the meantime, are now heading toward the orange fish on the beach, toward Nemo—dad walking, son running…
Watch for this sign at 22820 Pillsbury Avenue South directing you onto the narrow gravel road into Hot Sam’s Antiques.
FYI: To get to Hot Sam’s Antiques from Interstate 35, take exit 81 near Lakeville and go east on Dakota County Road 70 about half a mile to the stoplight. Then turn south onto Kenrick Avenue/County Road 46. Continue approximately 1 1/2 miles on Kenrick, which turns into Pillsbury Avenue. Hot Sam’s is located on the west side of the road at 22820 Pillsbury Avenue South, Lakeville. You’ll see a sign.
Hours are from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. weekdays (except closed on Thursday) and Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Check back for more photos from Hot Sam’s because there’s so much more I need to share with you.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling