Christmas in July! Santa’s Workshop-North Pole, NY

When times were simpler, and kids still believed in Santa Claus, a magical new type of theme park began to pop up around the United States. In the 1950s and 1960s, Santa set up little sub-stations all over America. Once inside, kids could see Santa’s Reindeer, meet his elves, and touch a real “north pole” (or for unimaginative grown ups-a pipe covered in frozen water). The real treat usually came in a visit to see the man himself, Santa Claus! Little parks everywhere popped up to honor the Jolly Old Elf, and celebrate the non-secular Christmas traditions  that most American families were beginning to partake in after WWII. Santa'sWorkshop

Today we’re paying tribute to one of the many wonderful Santa Claus parks that still dot the American landscape. This one is in…well, North Pole, NY! Santa’s Workshop is one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the United States, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. This well maintained treasure looks like it could have been built within the last 10 years, but it actually opened in 1949. The park was designed by Arto Monaco between 1947 and 1949, and if you are paying attention out there in Kiddieland, Monaco’s is a name to know-He worked on over a dozen parks primarily in and around the Adirondack Mountains, including the Enchanted Forest in Old Forge, Storyland in NH, and his own Land of Make Believe which eventually closed in 1979 after repeated flooding.

 

Santa's WorkshopSanta’s Workshop’s primary draw is its shows, featuring familiar characters like Little Bo Peep, Alice in Wonderland and two red-haired rag dolls named Sam & Sandy (Not to be confused with Raggedy Ann & Andy©®); as well as homegrown Characters like “Rowdy The Rascal  Reindeer”, “Miranda Mouse” and  “Chris Moose”!  The high point of my day was seeing Miranda Mouse perform over a 1971 track of Lynn Anderson’s Ding A Ling the Christmas Bell. (with Rowdy’s rendition of  the 1968 Buck Owens’ hit “Christmas Shopping”  a close second!) The park currently features 8 different shows daily.

Check out this 1988 commercial featuring some earlier incarnations  of these characters.

In addition to the shows, the park has a reindeer barn where you can feed Santa’s real reindeer; along with a variety of appropriately themed rides, like the Candy Cane Express, The Peppermint Swing, and the Christmas Tree Ride (where you get to sit inside a giant Christmas ornament and spin around a huge tree!) The most breathtaking is the Christmas Carousel, with gorgeous original 1940s deer that have flirty eyelashes and jingle bell saddles place of the usual boring horses.  Naturally the carousel plays Calliope Christmas tunes in place of the usual carousel music.  We’ve seen a few other Reindeer carousels in our travel, but non as sweet as this one.

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You can see the Christmas Carousel running around the 3:00 mark in this 1970 8mm family film:

One of our favorite things is that this park doesn’t hide its history. Although everything is modern and clean enough for even the most germ-phobic modern parents, the park houses a small history museum called “Santa Claus Memory Lane”. Inside you will find 65 years worth of vintage park merchandise, signage, and costumes. I could have spent hours in here looking around the cases! I’m lucky it was not a gift shop or I’d have come home broke and needing a second room!

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Regardless of your religious affiliations, or feelings on the Holiday season, there is no denying that these parks are just good old fashioned fun. They’re a part of our cultural history and we’re thrilled that a few of them still exist in the modern world. Have you ever visited Santa’s Workshop? If not, we highly recommend that you get yourself to the North Pole (New York, that is!) and take in this treasure!

 

Hump-Day Dumpty #13

Unlucky Number 13-It figures that this Humpty comes with a tale of misfortune.

Over the 4th of July weekend word reached Kiddieland that Humpty Dumpty at the Enchanted Forest in Turner, OR actually did have a great fall!  Heartbreaking photos were posted on the park’s facebook page of a shattered Humpty, and the only people that seemed happy about this were smug reporters who got to make jokes on the 6’oclock news about how Humpty “literally” had a great fall! Ok, I realize that I did it here too, but Har Har. Save your puns-There’s more to this tale.

Humpty was created by park founder Roger Tofte in 1968 and was added to the park in when it opened in 1970. Here’s Humpty looking cheerful atop his multicolored brick wall earlier this year.

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(Original photo courtesy of Patrick North)

And here’s Humpty after “the incident”
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(Origial photo courtesy of Enchanted Forest)

Turns out two adult men attempted to climb up on the wall to take photos with the statue. (Stay on the path, kids!) They brought the wall tumbling down along with them and Humpty fell to his death. Before you want to send these 2 to the castle dungeon, please be aware that they did offer to pay for the repairs. In a classy move, however, the park declined payment and stated on their facebook page:

“We were able to speak with the people involved with the incident a little on the day it happened, and they called back as well the next day offering to pay. There’s no monetary value for the sentimental value to our family or for Roger’s time, so we are not looking for that or anything else but rather to move on from this. Great thanks to everyone for the messages and offers to help, we appreciate it!”

All the King’s Men may not be able to help, but lucky for us, Humpty’s creator Roger can!  Two days after Humpty fell, the park announced that he was making plans to rebuild him. The 84 year old artist quickly went to work building the new Humpty. Roger can still be found around around the park on the land he purchased over 50 years ago, or selling his paintings in town at a local gallery. He admitted that it would take quite a few hours to start from scratch and duplicate what he had buit in the late 60s, and joked that he hoped he still had “some creative juices left”. Based on what we’ve seen, we’re not worried about that!RogerTofterepairs

Roger is seen left taking photos of the area on July 6th after the damaged statue had been removed, and by July 11th (just under a week from his fall) Humpty already  has a brand new wall! (Photos courtesy of Enchanted Forest)

We’ll continue to follow the progress online at the Enchanted Forest’s Facebook page. In the meantime, from all of us in kiddieland, thank goodness for you, and your creative juices, Roger! We wish you all the luck in the world, and can’t wait to see Humpty come back home!ThanksRoger

Hump-Day Dumpty Week 12

This week’s Humpty is a throwback to one of the Kiddie Parks of my youth. I grew up going to Conneaut Lake Park , but my memories of it are spotty at best.  I visited again in 2009 and the park was looking dilapidated and desperate. Most of the paint on the midway was chipping, there was trash scattered around, and we had an overwhelming “Scooby Doo” vibe the entire time we were there, as if some ghoul could whisk us behind a trick panel in a building at any point and we’d never be heard from again!

Last night the park was featured on “Mission Amusement” on the Travel Channel as it has been teetering on the brink of closure. Since the team of volunteers helped with refurb, the park seems to be on a bit of an upswing, and we hope they can keep this momentum, since it has been standing on the lake since 1892. It would devastating to see condos go up in its place!

Obviously, the park has seen a a lot of changes over the years, among them, it briefly featured a mini kiddie park across the street known as “Fairyland Forest”.  The walk through attraction was open for roughly 20 years between the 1960s and its closure in 1985 to make way for “Camperland” (ugh, I know!) It featured the usual suspects, including this Humpty Dumpty figure sitting above “All the Kings horses” and “All the King’s Men”. You don’t see that every day! Don’t you just love the kids in their little Peter Pan hats? I want that purple one more than you know!

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Those interested in helping to bring this great park back to life can visit the Save Conneaut Lake facebook page. Maybe we can even convince them to bring these figures out of retirement for their Kiddieland section of the park! Best of luck to Lenny & The Conneaut Lake Family. Those of us who went to the park as kids are rooting for you!