MARSH, STANLEY III [3]

Randolph B. Campbell
Stanley Marsh III [3] (1938–2014).
Amarillo businessman Stanley Marsh III [3] leans against his quirky creation known as Cadillac Ranch, which became a popular roadside attraction outside of Amarillo. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

MARSH, STANLEY III [3] (1938–2014). Stanley Marsh III, businessman, prankster, and public artist, was born in Amarillo, Texas, on January 31, 1938. He was the son of Stanley and Estelle Elizabeth (Fariss) Marsh. Heir to a fortune made by his grandfather and father in the oil and gas industry, Marsh eventually changed the “III” in his given name to “3” because he thought that the original seemed pretentious. Apparently he showed an aptitude for art during his childhood and did watercolor painting and wood carving. He graduated from Amarillo High School, and he attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in American civilization before returning to Amarillo and beginning a business career, first as a banker and then as the owner of television station KVII, which he purchased in 1967 and sold in 2002. Marsh married Gwendolyn Bush O’Brien on April 22, 1967.  The couple eventually adopted five children and lived in a home called “Toad Hall” on a large estate near Amarillo. The estate was known for its unusual livestock, such as a yak and camel, and other exotic animals.

Marsh quickly gained the reputation of a quirky prankster and eccentric businessman. To perpetuate the myth of all Texans being tall, he invited all citizens of Amarillo taller than six feet, four inches to a reception for a delegation of Japanese businessmen. In 1975 when Texan and U. S. Treasury Secretary John Connally faced a trial in Washington, D.C., for his supposed role in a milk-price scandal, Marsh showed up wearing a fringed western jacket and carrying a bucket of cow manure.

All the while he engaged in such antics, Marsh insisted that he was in reality an artist and set out to prove it most famously with the 1974 creation, “Cadillac Ranch,” a row of ten such luxury cars partially buried at an angle, nose-down along Interstate 40 west of Amarillo. Marsh called the Ranch “a monument to the American dream” to a boy coming of age in the 1950s. According to Marsh, a car “represented money; it was the first valuable thing we ever had. It represented sex; it was where you had dates,” he added. “And it represented getting away from home. And I assure you those were the three things that were on our minds when we were 16.”  In 1997 he had the cars, which had become a roadside attraction covered with graffiti, moved a mile west of their original site. Another of his notable works of “public art” was designing a football-field-sized piece of land to represent a billiard table that could only be viewed from the air. Painted green, the “table” was replete with giant billiard balls and a 100-foot-long cue stick. He was also known for the various mock road signs that he had posted around Amarillo.

Marsh’s eccentricities brought notoriety that local citizens generally found amusing or acceptable for years, but serious problems arose for him in 2012 when a series of lawsuits were brought on behalf of local teenaged boys who accused him of having used money, gifts, alcohol, and drugs to pay them for sex. Those cases were settled by Marsh, but similar lawsuits, all of which were unresolved, plagued him for the last two years of his life. He was under indictment for a number of felony counts at the time of his death. He suffered several strokes and died of pneumonia in Amarillo on June 17, 2014. He was buried at the Llano Cemetery in Amarillo. His tombstone included the epitaph that he had written decades earlier: “Thanks, everybody. I had a good time.”  Lawsuits alleging sexual abuse and child sex trafficking continued to be filed after his death. Some area residents called for the dismantling of Cadillac Ranch, but as of 2019 the popular roadside attraction still stood.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Amarillo Globe-News, June 17, 2014. Dallas Morning News, June 18, 2014. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, October 8, 2015. New York Times, June 23, 2014. 

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Handbook of Texas Online, Randolph B. Campbell, "MARSH, STANLEY III [3] ," accessed May 27, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmast.

Uploaded on May 7, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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