In a state full of quirky people, quirky festivals, even quirky turn of phrase, one place stands out. Bishopville, SC might just be the quirkiest place per square mile in all of South Carolina.
Now, you wouldn’t necessarily suspect it upon first glance. Bishopville looks like a quiet, small, rural town like so many others in this largely agrarian state. But there might be something in the air, or maybe the water, to have fostered such bold and unexpected creativity in one small place.
Turn off Highway 15 onto a quiet road that leads to the driveway of an unassuming house and into a fantastical world that rivals Doctor Suess’ wildest illustrations. Thirty foot trees twirl like ice cream cones into the sky. Long banks of greenery undulate and pulse across the expanse of grass as if they were ocean waves. You’ve set foot into Pearl Fryar’s famous topiary gardens.
An entirely self-taught artist, Fryar began creating his spectacular living sculptures in the early 1980s. His work now stretches across his property. This is not just a pretty garden. This is an entire whimsical and breathtaking world created by one man purely out of his own imagination. And it is all open for you to visit, for free. (Though donations are appreciated.)
You can learn more about this topiary wonderland at Pearl Fryar's website.
Just down the road, less than 7 miles away, another self-taught artist was at work. Dalton Stevens—"The Button King"—did not set out to create charming, unexpected, whimsical outsider art. He just wanted to lull himself back to sleep while dealing with terrible insomnia. But after that first night that he began sewing buttons to an old jumpsuit, he never stopped. Once he shifted from sewing to gluing buttons, an infinite number of new canvases appeared. He glued buttons onto musical instruments, cars, and a bathtub, among other things.
The Button King passed away in 2016, but his art lives on. You can visit his colorful collection of button art at the Button King Museum, now maintained by his children.
It might be enough to declare Bishopville quirkiness because two of the most unexpected, unusual artists in South Carolina were working at the same time in the same small town, and their work is now on display there. But these artists and their collections are not the only unusual things going on in Bishopville.
The story is about to take an unexpected turn, so hold on.
Bishopville is also home to South Carolina’s very own monster.
Yes, monster. A Lizard Man, to be exact.
The Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp emerged from the black water swamps surrounding Bishopville in the summer of 1998 with blazing red eyes and a hatred (or perhaps it’s a love?) of automobiles.
After multiple encounters that summer, the Lizard Man receded back into his watery home, with just a smattering of sightings since then. The only evidence he left in his path were gouged and chewed upon cars, and the plaster casts made of some strange three-toed footprints found at the scene of an automobile attack that first summer.
But in the summer of 2015, thanks to the ubiquity of cellphones and their always-available cameras, it’s possible that we finally have the proof that has so long eluded us—a photo of the Lizard Man himself, taken by a woman as she left church.
You can learn more about the Lizard Man and even see the plaster casts of his feet, donated by the police department, at Bishopville’s Cotton Museum. A museum that just happens to be home to what might the largest boll weevil model in the world.
It's a quirky and fun place to explore, Bishopville.