What famous thing surprised you when you saw it in person?

Name a famous person, place, or thing that wasn’t quite as you believed before you saw it. Tell us what was surprising about it. Here are mine:

  1. Dealy Plaza - This is the area in Dallas where Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK from the Texas School Book Depository Building. I had always imagined that it was some large area with big buidlings all around. Not so. When I visited there, I was struck by how tiny the whole area was. I could easily see how one gunman could hit JFK multiple times. A good slingshotsman could probably pull it off.

  2. Eiffel Tower - It looked like I expected from a distance. When I got close to it however, I was shocked to find out that the whole thing is painted tan/brown. I was sure that it was a dark gray.

  3. Bill Clinton - I was shocked at how large that man is. Some men are tall, some are stocky but these descriptions don’t really apply to BC. He is like a man that is scaled up in every way. His hands were HUGE. I am 6’1" 200 pounds and he dwarfed me.

  4. The Mona Lisa - It looks exactly like the millions of prints out there but it too is tinnie, at least compared to what I expected.

How about yours?

NASA Mission Control. I had always assumed it was huge from the TV shots, but it is really quite small.

When I was fourteen years old, I got to climb up the flights of stairs inside the Statue of Liberty. Neat stuff. Somehow I’d never realized that the old gal was hollow, and being inside that famous statue was an awe-inspiring experience. She was a lot bigger than I’d thought, too.

Scotland’s Stone of Destiny. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t something that appeared to be a big piece of cement with handles stuck in it.

The Empire State Building - I had no idea that it was right beside all these normal looking buildings. And there was this awning-like thing right above the entrance door, so I couldn’t even look up to see the entire thing from the outside. And then, I foolishly thought that we could stop on different floors, but I found that there’s only the bottom and the top. Or at least, those are the only two floors that I stopped on.

Ayer’s Rock. We saw it first from the plane and thought, wow that’s big. Get a bit closer and it’s overwhelming. We walked around the rock (about 10 km base diameter, IIRC) instead of climbing it, and it was a very moving experience.

The Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro. Unbelievable view of the area from up there.

Bryce Canyon. I just had no idea what to expect. It’s very very cool.

Mt Rushmore. What a joke. They always make sure that the photos either don’t have anything in the foreground for scale, or are taken from super close-up, so you can’t see anything but the guy trimming Abe’s nose-roots. The thing is dinky! You come around the bend and…blah. What a let-down.

Crazy Horse, on the other hand… :smiley:

When I first moved to San Antonio, I was shocked to see that the Alamo isn’t standing majestically out on a hill somewhere. It is literally across the street from Walgreen’s in the middle of downtown.

I distinctly remember finding Boston Common to be much smaller and…dingier than I expected. The Public Garden across the street looks nice but the Common itself is a big nothing.

Actually most of Boston was smaller and dingier than I expected.

Easter Island - The moai (giant heads) are huge. Bigger than you think. And the island, despite having few trees and being in Polynesia, resembles Scotland in a way with lots of lupine growing on it. And the kids on the island play marbles for fun.

The Colosseum. I never imagined that I’d walk out of the Metro, and there it is, right there across the street from a bunch of shops. And I didn’t really imagine a built-in gift shop and some planks of wood across the bottom to walk on. And cats. Lots of cats.

I expected an impressive boulder . . . not a smallish rock in a weird enclosure.

Harvard U: expected a much larger campus more defined from the surrounding neighborhood.

I concur with previous poster on The Alamo – you go around the corner and there it is! (The only time I’ve been in San Antonio was the night of the premiere of the eponymous movie. It was a full-scale opening night party with giant six-shooters as part of the decor.)

The Sears Tower is astonishingly ugly and ungainly. Folks in Chicago say the best place to work in downtown Chicago is the Sears Tower, because it’s the only place where you don’t look out the window and see the Sears Tower.

It does have an amazing elevator system, though. And a surprisingly good cafeteria. Or at least it did in the '70s when I was there.

The Constitution and Declaration of Independence are both really, really old. You can’t just read them; the ink is faded pretty badly in places. But the first time I saw them (they’re kept at the National Archives in DC), it was an oddly powerful experience: There’s your government, written out right there on paper in front of you. Two of the most important historical documents in the world, both of which completely revolutionized methods of governance, and…they mostly look like really old, faded parchment.

Also, the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center is really, really big. (I got to walk right up to it; most people don’t get to). KSC itself, actually is on a huge amount of land, and doubles as a wildlife preserve. There are sometimes crocodiles in the drainage ditches by the side of the roads, apparently. It’s an all-around cool place.

Venus de Milo - It’s a tiny statue. I’ve seen the photo’s so many times, that when I saw it in person it was a wtf moment.

Potala Palace - This is freaking amazing. It’s huge, completely dominates the city of Lhasa. Inside is gigantic. The view from the top is great. [it was better when there was still a tibetan village at the base instead of a parking lot]

Great Wall of China - finally saw it for the first time a couple years ago. To follow it as far as the eye can see, wow. It was pretty amazing and definately worth checking out.

Graceland—In the photos, it appears as quite the edifice, and even so from a distance (on Elvis Presley Blvd.). When you’re at the steps, you realize that the height isn’t terrific (you feel like you could reach the second-story window), and that the general size and shape of the residence is nearly identical to those in the upscale section of town. Inside, the celings are quite low in parts, the rooms normal-sized. Nice-sized piece of land, though.

Gateway Arch—It’s just huge, and it’s eerie seeing the top of it from fifteen miles down the highway. It sits on a seemingly endless pasture.

The Saturn V rocket took the Apollo astronauts to the moon. They have/had one laying down outside Mission Control in Houston. I figured that it would be pretty big before I saw it but it was way bigger than I ever imagined. It is longer than a football field and you can just walk along it staring up along the diameter for what seems like forever.

I grew up in Dallas, so Dealy Plaza didn’t surprise me when I saw it as an adult, but everyone I know who’s seen it in person can’t believe it’s that small.

The first time I saw the Statue of Liberty I didn’t think it was particularly big.

On the other hand, the first time I ever stepped on the field in a major league baseball stadium, I couldn’t believe how huge the space is.

Posted too soon…

The Capitol Building, Washington—There’s a really pretty eggshell finish to the cupola that doesn’t seem to translate to media; you have to see it yourself, especially on a partly-sunny day. It’s about the size I expected.

Van Gogh’s paintings in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The paint is thick, really, really thick brushdtrokes, they’re practically 3D. Prints didn’t prepare me at all for the encrusted swirliness of the real thing.