Lu Smith. Photography by Carly May.

Lu Smith’s yard is eye-catching, but if you’re picturing a well-manicured, precisely landscaped English garden, think again. Instead of tulips and topiary, Smith favors quirky, as in a State Fair of Texas Swiss Skyride gondola, among other pieces dotting her neighborhood property.

Smith is an independent, funny, kind, straight-shooting Texas gal who appreciates the unusual, particularly items with a Dallas or Lone Star State connection.

Her most unique yard art is the gondola. Are you old enough to remember the incident at the State Fair of Texas in 1979? If not, here’s a recap. 

The Swiss Skyride was a popular attraction, propelling riders in gondolas across the fairgrounds high above the crowds. But high winds caused several gondolas to collide, sending two cars filled with riders plummeting 85 feet to the crowded Midway below. One person died, and 17 were injured.   

The ride was closed, and the parts were sold. It was in the early 1980s that Smith acquired one of those gondolas, No. 11 to be exact. So why did she want this piece of history?

“Because I’m a native Dallasite. It’s a Dallas thing,” Smith says.

The gondola was in perfect condition when she purchased it, so it obviously wasn’t one of the cars that crashed. Nestled in a shady area of her yard, it retains the shiny, deep green and light blue paint job. Unfortunately, the same tree that offered shade dropped a large branch several years ago, leaving a big dent in the gondola’s top.

Still, it’s a precious and fascinating piece of state fair history, and curious passersby can’t resist. Over the years, quite a few have stopped with one of two comments: “What is that?” or “That’s from the state fair!”

Several visitors have offered to take the gondola off her hands, but Smith says that’s not going to happen.

One interesting sidenote: There are at least two other original state fair gondolas sitting in yards not far from Smith’s home. Must be something in the neighborhood water, this quirkiness.

Early on, the gondola served as a fabulous plaything for Smith’s grandchildren, but it has now retired to a quiet life of housing a few garden tools.

Smith has been an oddities and memorabilia collector for almost 50 years. Her first antiques purchase was a pair of blue stained-glass panels, a choice she made over the “fussy” look of curtains.    

She caught the collecting bug and innately had the eye, eventually opening small booths at antique malls, such as Lula B’s and Dolly Python. You can find her current booth at Curiosities.   

Smith has always favored items offering a glimpse of Dallas’ past. Next to the gondola sits an old Cabell’s ice chest. Nearby stands a tall blue flame, immediately recognizable to those of a certain age as the Lone Star Gas emblem. It likely sat atop a building and rotated.

While poking around at Canton Trade Days a few years ago, she came across a wide metal sign reading “Lakewood Memorial Assembly of God.” Turns out the old turquoise and white sign, with its neon embellishments, had been at the building now housing The Father’s Church on Abrams Road.

Odds and ends, including more than a few giant letters, dot her yard and porch. Large red letters spelling “SMITH” line her fence. An enormous red S — from an old Sears perhaps — leans near her front door.

Perhaps the most intriguing item in the garden is the tombstone fragment Smith found at the corner of her property when she moved in. Most of the name chiseled on the stone is long gone, with only “J.D. McK” remaining.

Smith showed her respect for that stone, and the remainder of her historic collection, by locating it in her garden.

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