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John Val Jean Mahalchik, Fabulous Fifty Acres

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About the Artist/Site

Mahalchik was born in Spangler, Pennsylvania, in 1918, the eldest of seven children of Russian émigrés. When the family moved to New York City, John worked with his father as a window washer, specializing in skyscrapers. He later served as a pilot in the United States Air Force during World War II.

After the war, Mahalchik moved with his wife and family to The Fabulous Fifty Acres in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. He ran a crop-dusting business until a freak hurricane destroyed his planes. He then turned to selling military surplus. According to one account, state plans to annex some of Mahalchik’s land for the neighboring highway prompted his first protest sign in 1959. A few years later, when the township demanded he purchase a license to operate his business, he refused, and began installing signs that depicted local politicians with snake bodies. During the 1960s and 1970s, he lined the frontage of his property with hand-painted protest signs, and soon his signs spanned 1,000 feet. Supporters donated poles, metal billboards, and paint.

Billboard-size images of President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with red rat bodies announced “The Year of the Rat.” Route 206 motorists slowed to a crawl when they approached The Fabulous Fifty Acres, trying to read Mahalchik’s carefully lettered denunciations of the national anthem, communism, millionaire politicians, and lawyers.

The rest of his acreage was filled with old cars, launching rockets, dirigibles, and other military surplus that had been offered for sale to dealers—until battles over zoning ordinances and politics crowded out his business. A controversial figure in his community, Mahalchik attracted staunch supporters and fervent detractors with his messages and numerous campaigns for national office.

But by the 1980s, he had stopped running for office and no longer painted billboards.  His old signs fell from their roadside supports and most were obscured by rust, joining the unsold military surplus and corroded vehicles. In October 1987, six months after his death, the surplus was auctioned off and the land cleared.

~Holly Metz

SPACES Archive Holdings

1 folder: images

Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Mount Holly, New Jersey, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 39.995 / -74.7866

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