- Cape student sues, accuses school officials of slamming her to ground multiple times (04/28/16)42
- Bob Evans restaurant in Cape Girardeau among chain's 21 closings (04/26/16)9
- Missouri House votes to allow concealed weapons without permits (04/28/16)6
- Two hurt in motorcycle wreck on Interstate 55 (04/25/16)1
- Law firm requests information about Cape's traffic cameras (04/25/16)2
- Local lawmakers split over failed medical marijuana bill; voters may have a say (04/26/16)19
- Police report filed, but no charges in incident at Cape Central (04/29/16)26
- Tanker truck catches fire near Oak Ridge (04/24/16)7
- Local company makes eco-friendly kitty litter that cuts cat-box smell (04/25/16)
- Senator introduces bill for I-57 that would connect Sikeston with Little Rock (04/28/16)4
American flags, cozy homes and freshly blooming flowers dot the rural landscape along County Road 86. But it's the crosses -- hundreds of them -- that draw a steady stream of the curious and Christians to this otherwise tranquil neighborhood.
William Carlton Rice has spent 26 years turning his dusty yard and modest ranch house into a unique religious shrine of discarded appliances, cars and crosses, all bearing messages such as "Hell is hot hot hot." Many are splattered with red paint symbolizing the blood of Christ.
"There ain't another place like this in the world," says Rice, a plainspoken 72-year-old unbowed by diabetes and back problems.
"I ain't a well-educated person, but what I know I got from God. That's the best teaching you can get."
Ancient, gutted appliances scrawled with religious messages are interspersed among the crosses that adorn Rice's property on both sides of the road. Likewise, message-bearing rusty cars are parked along the property, including an aging van with four flat tires outside his front door.
Both sides of the van feature paintings of Jesus bearing his cross. Mostly deadly serious -- "You will die" -- his messages aren't entirely without a sense of humor.
The rear corner of the van includes the message "Jesus is coming. Are you ready?" Boxes marked "yes" and "no" show visitors their options.
Rice's cross garden has attracted plenty of attention, landing him in several folk art books and drawing him visitors from across the South -- and even overseas.
A thick spiral notebook serves as his guest book, where recent visitors hailed from Kentucky and Florida.
"A lot of people call this art, but I'm not in the art business. I'm in the Jesus business," Rice says. "I pray for people. If they want to be saved, I can tell them how and who can do it. Then, it's up to them and Jesus."
In a neighborhood with pricey housing developments sprouting up just down the road, some of the neighbors consider Rice's icons an eyesore, especially with the frequent sightseers.
Leland and Wacile Jones moved in across the street from Rice as he was building his home some 30 years ago.
"It's sort of a nuisance," says Wacile Jones, surveying her own immaculate lawn and flower bushes. "Ever since it's been put up, it's like that's a tourist attraction and people don't know what it is. And teen-agers act up and carry on, though that's quieted down a lot."
She didn't think much of it when Rice put up a manger scene around Easter a few years after they moved in. Then, he kept adding to it, later buying the property next door to her and decorating it similarly.
"When he started out, I think he wanted to minister to people," Jones says. "To me, I don't think God's that disorderly."
Rice, a retired construction worker, maintains he's only following orders from above.
"I didn't decide to do it," he says, a huge cross dangling from his neck and others decorating both sleeves. "The Lord gave it to me, like he told Noah to build the ark."
As for his neighbors: "I don't have an enemy in the world."
Rice says he put up his first religious sign -- a card with John 3:16 printed on it -- on April 27, 1976, after his mother died.
"I thought that one card was the end of it," he says.
A year later, his father died and he put up another tribute.
He won't speculate on how many crosses he's put up since then. "Asking how many crosses are out there is like counting how many words there are in the Bible," Rice says.
With his health failing, he relies on son-in-law Donald Edwards and other family members to help erect signs whenever he feels the urge.
"We all help. We love it," Edwards says. "He doesn't push that stuff off on us."
Fortunately for the cross garden, much of the Rice family is clustered in this town 10 miles northwest of Montgomery. Rice and his wife of 51 years, Marzell, are down the street from two of his four children and their families. Edwards' son lives in a trailer across the street.
"Everyone had a hand on those crosses," daughter-in-law Susan Rice says after checking Rice's blood sugar. "It's a family affair."
Rice has already issued an edict to his family. When he dies, the crosses and refrigerator boxes stay.
"Those boxes will be there when I'm dead and gone," he says. "When I die, I told them don't move a piece of it. Let it rot down. Don't clean up."
Rice doesn't attend church, but uses a well-worn recliner in the kitchen as his own pulpit.
"I get my word from up yonder," he says, pointing skyward. "This is my church on this Earth."