Carhenge, a Whimsical Replica of Stonehenge in Nebraska

Carhenge art installation near the town of Alliance in Nebraska

photography by: Jacob Kamholz/ Wikimedia Commons

Reading time: minutes

Immortalised in numerous documentaries and a source of endless fascination for archaeologists across the globe, Stonehenge is one of the world’s most famous megalithic structures. The magnetism of this historic site has led numerous people to try to recreate it in various forms, including a bizarre version near Alliance in Nebraska. The aptly-titled “Carhenge” mirrors the ancient ruins using a collection of vintage American automobiles liberally coated in grey spray paint to resemble the antediluvian rocks. Initially intended as a memorial to its creator’s father, the site has expanded since its inception in 1987 to become something of a car art museum, paying homage to global prehistoric heritage while embracing the significance of the American automobile industry.

Inspired by his life in England between 1975 and 1981, and wishing to continue his journey as an experimental artist, Nebraska native Jim Reinders created Carhenge as a tribute to one of the planet’s most recognized monuments – Stonehenge.

 

It was the terrain around this megalithic landmark that reminded Reinders of the farm where he grew up, and so, when his father died in 1982, he raised the idea with his family of replicating the ancient structure on their land. It took him five years to bring the plan to fruition but with the help of relatives and friends, the artistic endeavour was completed in time for the 1987 summer solstice.

 

Constructed with 39 automobiles, it mirrors the circular shape and alignment of Stonehenge’s 38 stones and the additional heelstone, a pivotal element in the original structure because it marked the summer solstice sunrise when viewed from the centre of the enclosure. In Reinders’ replica, the heelstone is represented by a 1962 Cadillac, a symbol of success and prosperity in America at the time.

 

The dedication to accurately replicating the megalithic site is impressive, with cars meticulously placed trunk-end down in pits up to 5 feet deep and additional cars welded on top to form the famous Stonehenge lintels.

 

In contrary to Reinders’ expectations, the site grew in popularity and evolved into a broader canvas, now known as the Car Art Reserve. While the original installation remains popular, many visitors come to see the array of automobile sculptures that add layers of meaning and artistic expression to the site, exploring a deeper narrative about American culture and the automotive industry.

 

One example of this is a sculpture accompanied by a sign reading: “Here lie three bones of foreign cars. They served our purpose while Detroit slept. Now Detroit is awake and America’s great!”. This pays tribute to the resilience and revival of the American auto industry during a time when it faced significant challenges.

 

Its cultural impact is palpable, having been featured in various media outlets including documentaries like “Carhenge: Genius or Junk?” and travel books that highlight its status as a must-visit American landmark. Its inclusion in the path of the 2017 solar eclipse attracted an estimated 4,000 spectators, including Nebraska’s governor, underscoring its connection to its original muse as a gathering place for monumental celestial events.

 

Visitors to the site can even contribute to this unconventional museum by signing one of the cars that sits on top of a hill, adding their own personal note to this unexpected work of art.

 

Donated to the city of Alliance and now operated by its Parks and Recreation Department, Carhenge is open daily from dawn to dusk and entrance is free, though donations are accepted. By car, it is three miles north of Alliance, off Highway 87.