Home on the Strange
For over a century, Indians, cowboys and tourists have all stopped here for a drink.
Story by JENNIFER RAYMOND
Deep in the heart of Osceola County lies a two-story green and white building that houses an inn and restaurant. From the entranceway, the smell of deep-fried food – the kind that retains the grease and soaks up the flavor of good old Florida cooking – fills the air. Sunlight shines through lace curtains. Johnny Cash plays on the jukebox. A clock hangs above the bar, rotating counterclockwise.
This is the Desert Inn and Restaurant at Yeehaw Junction.
For more than a century, the Desert Inn has been a place where travelers can eat, drink and dance. Up until 10 years ago, visitors could even buy a donkey, but the donkey business has since lost its appeal.
One long-time staple that does remain is George, a male mannequin who makes his home in a stall of the women’s restroom. Wearing jeans and a teal shirt covered with scribbled names of women, he has been surprising and shocking visitors for more than 20 years.
“This one girl got so freaked out when she saw him that she fell out of the bathroom, all the way onto the lap of a trucker who was sitting at the table closest to the bathroom,” says Beverly Zicheck, who took ownership of the Inn from her parents in 1986.
The Inn, which dates back to the 1880s, was founded as a trading post.
“The Desert Inn patrons at this time included Indians, as well as cowboys, business people, moon shiners, traders and lumbermen,” Beverly says.
In the 1930s, “Dad” Wilson bought the property and fixed it up, transforming it into a gas station, restaurant, dance hall, bar and brothel. Wilson was also the man behind the idea of raising and selling donkeys on the property.
By the 1950s, construction had begun on Florida’s Turnpike, and the place originally known as Jackass Crossing received its current name, Yeehaw Junction.
The property today operates as a bar, package store, and motel, as well as a restaurant with a menu featuring turtle burgers, gator burgers, frog legs and alligator tail. It’s even been given a place on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historical Places.
Beverly encourages patrons to continuing fostering the Desert Inn’s legacy by leaving a small piece of themselves behind when they leave. Underneath the glass tables that fill the restaurant lie hundreds, if not thousands, of business cards and photographs – a guest book of sorts that continues to document the rich and growing history of this unforgettable tourist spot.