Drive though Lakeville on I-35W and you’ll see a great yellow billboard: “Hot Sam’s 10-Acres Antweaks & Photo Park.” It is a singular place: an antique shop surrounded by sculptures welded from scrap and other curiosities, presided over by Alley-Oop. Whether you would go to take photos with the myriad props or just drink in its uncanny energy, Hot Sam’s is well worth the trip.
The entrance to Hot Sam’s is watched over by “Click the Shutterbug” — an enormous beetle holding a camera. A sign by it entreats you to check in with the owners at the central antique shop before continuing your visit. On the way there you will see a statue of a Berkshire pig, several dozen dolls’ heads affixed to a wooden fence, Tweety Bird imprisoned in a grain drying cage, an Army Jeep outfitted with two fake .50 caliber machine guns, and the Beverly Hillbillies’ jalopy. The Statue of Liberty, that great shining light of the free world, stands at the center of the parking lot.
Visitors to Hot Sam’s are first met by Alley-Oop, who carries himself with the diminutive imperiousness that only dachshunds and Napoleon have ever managed to attain. Once Alley-Oop has approved of your arrival, you may meet the owners Jake Hood and Kathy Sakry. Delightful people. I spoke with the couple in their shop, an ancient log cabin nearly collapsing under the weight of its LP records, sombreros, postcards, duck decoys, pig statues, saddles, spurs, jewelry, cribs, ash trays, cigarette lighters, military memorabilia, fishing lures, eyeglasses, salt and pepper shakers, campaign buttons, glassware, model ships, and single mastodon tusk. “Credit makes enemies, let’s be friends” says the sign by the cash register.
“Hot Sam was my mother Gladys’ nickname,” said Jake. “Her father, my grandfather, who we called Hyreeg, came from Armenia in 1920. He worked for Henry Ford for one dollar a day, and in his spare time he liked to drive around collecting oddities. When the Depression came, he became the go-to guy to trade with for furniture and salvage. My mom helped him make his rounds, and over time they became very comfortable.”
Jake showed me two trophies that his mother had won for car racing. “Nascar – 1955 – Powder Puff Champion G. Hood” read one’s inscription. “She loved to fix up old cars, but she was also a daredevil,” said Jake. “She broke the land speed record for the NASCAR Powder Puff division in 1956.”
“I’m a sucker for junk, just like my mom and her father,” said Jake. “I love taking home craziness and making something of it. Everything is right there for you — you just have to put it together.”
Kathy led me to two train cars, one that she set up for models and brides to prepare for their photo shoots in, the other for painting and photography classes that are held regularly at Hot Sam’s. She showed me the Statue of Liberty, Gladys’ memorial to her father, and pointed to the pond that her ashes were scattered to in 2010. “She’s still here,” said Kathy.
Kathy motioned to a gasoline powered golf cart, and welcomed me to drive it around to take a better look at the grounds’ eclectic props. From it I surveyed Hot Sam’s space ship, 27-foot-long shark, woodie surfer wagon, hippie bus, UFO, circus train car, tiki hut, and water buffalo statue partially submerged in the pond. I drove past the SS Olive, a small paddle boat moored by the shore, an antique paddy wagon, a giant motorcycle welded together from scrap, a real flying saucer, a Star Wars landspeeder, a car done up to resemble Marlin from Finding Nemo, a Wrangler from Jurassic Park, and one surly looking great white shark. Heaven.
There are few more enchanting walks in the state than what you could enjoy at Hot Sam’s, and whether you’re an amateur still toying with shutter speeds and f-stops or a seasoned professional in need of charming backdrops, there is no better place to take photos. If you would pull out a camera at Hot Sam’s, you are asked to pay a small fee that goes toward operating expenses including treats for Alley-Oop.
Hot Sam’s Antiques & Foto Park is located at 22820 Pillsbury Avenue in Lakeville. You can find out more about it at hotsamsantiques.com.
By David Scheller