A Story Book Forest Memory

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Throwback Thursday! I remember being a child in the 1980s and standing at the entrance to this gigantic story book in a forest in Pennsylvania. Two children were welcoming me to enter and the pages read:

“Here is the Land of Once upon a Time …Step through the pages of this big Story Book…and visit the people and places every child knows…and Loves. Here Dreams are real And so are your Story Book Friends.”

My family didn’t go on many trips, and my excitement was tangible. I loved to read, and I knew that once I walked through this door, wonderful things awaited me. Story Book Forest was my first Fairytale Park, and this trip is the very reason Enchanted Kiddieland exists!

I visited the park again in 2009 and stepped through the book as an adult. (it is still a massive sight to behold!) I felt the same excitement I had felt 30 years prior. I’ve been back one time since and each time that childlike wonder returns to me. I am so grateful that its still around today and remains, for the most part, unchanged!

What memories do you have from these parks? Did you walk through the pages of the big book?  Tell us here or on our Facebook page!

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A real life Jurassic Park…sort of

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Are you eagerly awaiting next week’s theatrical release of Jurassic World? In Kiddieland, we love larger than life dinosaurs too, and we’ve been visiting dinosaur parks long before it was the focus of this summer’s big blockbuster! The Jurassic Park films imagine an attraction with life sized living, breathing dinosaurs, but did you know you can visit such a place today!…except for well-OK so they don’t move or breath-But trust us, it is still a pretty incredible sight to behold!

You won’t believe your eyes when you step back 200 million years into Dinosaur Kingdom! Opened in 2003 in Cave City Kentucky off Route 65, this park harkens back to earlier roadside attractions like Dinosaur Land in VA. Classically designed billboards and giant highway adjacent dinosaurs call out to drivers encouraging them to stop. The park takes the best of the old roadside and updates it as a fun self-paced walk-through under lush and shady trees. (A welcome refuge in the KY summer heat!)

Although this attraction is less than 15 years old, The entrance feels like a movie set attempting to recreate the look and feel of a 1960s attraction and reminded me of something out of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure! Something is so perfect and clean about it, yet it is reminiscent of ballyhoo entertainment from a bygone era.  It looks like a place you might see in an old postcard at a vintage shop, but you can actually step inside.

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Once you enter, you’ll see dinosaurs doing all sorts of odd jobs. Some point visitors to the gift shop is, some double as playground equipment, and others take on the very dirty job of cleaning up the smoking section.
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Don’t be fooled by these silly characters though, once inside you will see breathtaking views of life-sized, realistically portrayed prehistoric creatures; many of them taller than the large trees that cover the property.

The concrete walkways on the self-guided “Dinosaur Walk” include benches, so I recommend taking it slow on your visit to this 20 acre park. There are over 150 dinosaurs, so take breaks and enjoy it, and be sure to take plenty of photos! Aside from other passing families, my time spent here was very serene and peaceful. I almost wish I’d brought a book or a picnic lunch (encouraged by the park since there are no food stands). Small children can take time to learn about each dinosaur on educational plaques near the display, while mom and dad can take pictures of these giant creatures along the way.

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Take a little time extra time to appreciate the exceptional attention to detail and lifelike features of some of these charismatic characters. Look at their faces long enough, and you could almost swear that they’re alive!

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Aside from the main walk, The park also features a Boneyard where visitors can uncover a 27 foot dinosaur under the sand. There’s a Skeleton Garden, and a Fossil Dig too. There is also a dedicated picnic area and of course, a Gift shop! We found all sorts of vintage trinkets hiding in corners of the shop.

There are plenty of other nearby attractions to make the trip worthwhile, but we’re sad to report that the longstanding Guntown Mountain and its famous “Haunted Hotel” which was once across thguntowncovere street has recently closed. The silver lining is that it looks like some folks are working on preserving and revitalizing the old park and it is soon to be re-opened as “Funtown Mountain” later this month. We’ll be watching this, as Guntown Mountain was closed for the day by the time we left Dinosaur World and I never got to go inside…roadside regrets.

The park is open daily (Except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM and is absolutely worth the stop! Check it out the next time you’re travelling down Route 65, or visiting Mammoth Cave. You can’t miss it, just look for the giant Dinosaurs beckoning you from the side of the road.

Storybook Land – A Retro Childhood Delight!

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Just popping in with a very quick update to let you know about the first ever Enchanted Kiddieland guest post over at Retro Roadmap! Check it out but be sure to also pay a visit to the rest of Mod Betty’s site! If you like the kinds of things we post on this site, odds are pretty good you’ll find yourself loving hers too!

Happy exploring everyone!

KONG Returns to Wildwood for the 2015 Season!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I’m going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive – a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World. -King Kong 1933

1970s Hunt's Pier postcard showing the original Kong ride

1970s Hunt’s Pier postcard showing the original Kong ride

If you grew up going to the Jersey Shore between 1972 and 1980, chances are good that one thing stuck in your memory. Even if you were very young, there’s an unforgettable sight you saw on that summer vacation-The Eighth Wonder of the World. KING KONG. For eight years, a 25 foot hulking ape stood watch over Hunt’s Pier, but in the summer of 1981, he did not return to the shore.

Kong started his life in New York, where he was assembled over nine months by a team of artists lead by Fred Mahana.  Mahana’s legacy is not only this giant ape, but also other custom-built beloved Jersey Shore attractions like Castle Dracula, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and Brigantine Castle. Fred Mahana also made memories outside of NJ as the artist behind the Hollywood Wax museum in Ocean City, MD.

Many of his amusements can be seen in this wonderful 8mm film:

Despite being disassembled into his nine pieces for winter storage, years in the salty air and the blazing sun were unkind to King Kong and his 7 foot captive bride Fay Wray. In 1980, he attempted to make the trip back to his homeland in New York for refurbishment. Unfortunately, it was discovered that the wire armature inside was too deteriorated to make the return trip to Hunt’s Pier. Kong would never be assembled again, he had mesmerized his last season of tourists on the Wildwood Boardwalk. Read more about Kong’s fate on Fun Chase

Kong’s memory never truly went away for the generation that grew up with him and he continued to appear on retro t-shirts and mugs. He even graced the cover of the Morey’s Fab-O-Rama: A Wild Ride book. So when a cryptic email came in to me in the fall of 2014 from Morey’s Piers with the subject line: “New Ride Survey” you can imagine my delight as I saw an ape in body of the message. The Morey Brothers, who are working tirelessly to restore Wildwood to its 1970s glory days were bringing Kong home again for the 2015 season!

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Original Mockup from Survey

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Mockup after survey feedback (with Tram car, fangs, and a fancy new shirt!)

In the original concept art I saw, Kong was holding a Statue of Liberty and wearing a T-shirt reading “I ❤ NJ”. He had a silly “cute” face and looked a bit too friendly. I felt strongly that Kong should be a bit scary-looking, and also shared some feedback on the items he was holding and wearing. NJ seemed a bit too generic, and the Statue of Liberty (although a nod to the original film) just felt out of place. The entire thing seemed to be lacking a sense of cohesiveness, as if too many good ideas got put into one design.

I was thrilled to see in the final artwork that they update Kong’s face to add fangs, and a bit of a meaner scowl to his facial sculpt overall. He is now wearing a Wildwood tank top (Now reading “I ❤ WW”). His feet and hands were also slightly modified, but the biggest change (and the one I am happiest about) was the decision to put one of Wildwood’s famous Tram Cars in his terrifying grip. NOW Kong has truly come home to Wildwood!

According to the Morey’s Piers Facebook page, The planes showed up this week, and Kong is currently making his cross-country trip to the shore and is due to arrive any day now! (All Photos courtesy of Morey’s Piers)

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Kong preparing for his cross-country trip to the Wildwood boardwalk! (April 2015)

I am ecstatic to see Morey’s giving a nod to the bygone days of Wildwood, while keeping the boardwalk a little bit scary for kids. We cannot wait to see the beast in all his glory! Are you excited to see King Kong make his return? What do you think of his new look? Have a memory of Kong to share with us? Add it to the comments!

Mold-A-Rama Memories

Souvenirs are wonderful little reminders of all those trips we made across the country. Along with photos, they remain when the memories begin to fade, and they can be passed on to future generations to teach kids about the way things used to be.MoldARama1

One such souvenir comes in the form of an inexpensive waxy toy that pops right out of a machine in front of your very eyes. Behold-The Mold-A-Rama!

Mold-A-Rama is the brand name for a type of injection mold vending machine, invented in 1962. The machines gained momentum as an attraction at the 1964 World’s Fair where the Sinclair corporation promoted their Dinoland exhibit with 7 different Dinosaur figurines made right on site.

And for just 25 cents, what parent could resist?Thanks to the internet, you can watch this bizarre virtual rendering of the Sinclair machine that exists for some reason I am unable to comprehend.

Your quarter didn’t just buy you a toy, it bought you an experience! Sure you got to take home a dinosaur from the exhibit, but more importantly, you took home a memory. The moment you put the money in the space-age machine it kicks on like a loud washing machine. Shaking and rattling, the tubes inside the glass bubble begin jerk and wiggle, mysteriously injecting the melted plastic into the mold. When the mold halves separate a mechanical spatula arm pushes your toy toward the dispensary, and into your eager hands. In about a minute, you have a freshly made, warm plastic toy of your very own. The first thing you do is smell it. The second thing you do is juggle it between your hands until it cools down! As souvenirs go, it really doesn’t get much cooler than that.

The machines have a history of operating in zoos, science museums, and parks, including a rich history with Disney Parks as part of the Disneyland Toy Factory in the mid 1960s. The funny thing is, the appeal of these machines is still the same today. Mold-A-Rama and Mold-A-Matic machines exists in pockets of America (primarily in Florida and Chicago).  Most figures now will run you around $2.00. (Still the best souvenir value for your money if you ask me!) Something about putting your money in the cash slot, hoping the machine actually works, and waiting patiently for your toy to drop from the chute still generates a thrill!

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Mold-A-Rama machines even have some admirers in the music and art world. Jack White is a fan and owns his own machine which operates at the Third Man Records Novelty Lounge in Nashville alongside his other vintage coin-op machines including Scopitone machine, photo booth, and a Voice-O-Graph record booth. The bright yellow machine dispenses a custom 1964 Montgomery Ward guitar shaped figure, identical to the one Jack plays in the White Stripes. In 2012, Tim Biskup collaborated with boutique toy retailer Rotofugi on their “Roto-A-Matic” machine in Chicago releasing limited run colors of his Helper Dragon character. If you happen to have a spare $15,000 you can also buy your own setup!

For the rest of us, we’ll have to travel to make our molds. The heaviest concentrations of machines can be found operating under the Mold-A-Matic name in Florida, while some zoos in the Midwest still boast about their machines and regularly change their molds. Here are some of the machine’s we’ve found in our travels:

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You can find a full list of operational machines online at Mold-A-Mania. Check it out and support your local vending machine! We want to make sure these are around for years to come. Do you collect Mold-A-Rama? Here at Kiddieland, we are always looking to trade figures, and have many doubles. Show us your collections, in the comments!

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How The Miniature West Was Won

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If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that many kiddie parks focus on the sweeter parts of childhood. In fact, most of the places that I post about are decidedly “girly” in theme: Princess castles, Mother Goose, Alice in Wonderland. There is no debating who the intended audiences for these attractions were.  However, there is another type of kiddie park that was geared at the rough and tumble boys of the 1950s; boys who grew up on Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. They were dirty, old fashioned, and gritty. Let me introduce you to the Wild West Park. Now nearly extinct, these parks usually featured skits and shows filled with shoot-outs, bank robberies, and undertakers. Often they included inappropriate themes like drinking, can-can girls, and train robberies. One such park still exists in Netcong, NJ. Opened in 1956, it continues to operate today as Wild West City.  Incredibly, the park has been under the ownership of the same family since 1966. The shows are a joy, and the actors that work to recreate Dodge City in 1880 clearly love their jobs. Many that I spoke to explained that they felt like it was their second home. They worked there, their children worked there, and they hoped the park would be around long enough for their grandchildren to work there. Young men skillfully rode horses and were clearly proud of their role in this historic place.

It is here, among the daily stunt shows, the gunfights, and the saloons that you will also find a miniature treasure that is easy to walk by. A long trailer fitted with a glass front is home to Pixieland, which took 15 years to build. The attraction isn’t mentioned on the park’s website, but it literally captivated me as I stared and laughed at its scenes until I was pulled away before I missed the next scheduled show!

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A  printed description next to the diorama proudly describes the work:

PIXIELAND was made in Australia by Mr. A. Langham, a mechanical engineer. It took 15 years to build with the help of his wife and son. All the tiny figures and animals are hand carved out of wood and hollowed out to take the mechanical movements.

They are all dressed an finished to look lifelike, although only five inches high. All the scenery and effects are handmade also. Every animation tells a humorous story; keep this in mind as you watch. For instance, observe the cross-eyed cowboy on the cross-eyed horse and the horse’s eyes roll. See the prisoner sawing his way out of jail. The old man is shooting rabbits as they pop out of their holes. He is swearing as he misses them. Watch his mouth. See the bears tongue move as he eats the honey.

Chief Sitting Bull’s eyes move as he oversee s the war dance. The hair of the man tied to the totem pole raises in fright. The horse at the wagon, his ears are moving. As the baby pulls the mother’s pigtail, watch her mouth move as she cries! The cowboy holding a lighted lantern in his toes is breathing in and out. The cowboy playing the harmonica in the Hillbilly band puffs out his cheeks. The man next to him opens an closes his eyes.

Underneath Pixieland is a maze of shafts, pulleys, bolts, gears, cams and levers. All these too are handmade. The main shafts are powered by 1 H.P. electric motor using 110 volts.

Originally the entire unit was designed to be portable and came apart into five-foot base sections. The entire display was enclosed as you now see it and trailer mounted in 1972.

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I’ve visited a lot of parks and seen a lot of dioramas and animatronics, but I have never seen anything like this one! First, it is enormous, stretching the length of a trailer. You can’t possibly take it all in at once. The costuming details along with the characters’ strange pointed ears and the cartoonish features ensure that viewers can’t help but smile at them. The scenes are sometimes funny, sometimes gruesome, and sometimes politically incorrect. One vignette shows a tribe of native Americans dancing around a white cowboy tied to a pole with a sign reading “Injun Country. Paleface Keep Out By Order Sittin Bull”. Another scene shows a man with an arrow through his face (!) kicking his feet helplessly as he takes his final breath, and in another, a cowboy with a bloody mouth sits on the chest of an Indian while pistol whipping him in the face…Yes...pistol whipping him in the face.

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Still photos do not do it justice, as it is so amazing to see every minute detail of this artwork moving simultaneously. I strongly encourage you to stop by this park to see it for yourself.  There’s plenty more to see as well, so hop on your saddle and get there when they open up this May, cowpoke.

What In God’s Name? The Chapels of Kiddieland

One of the most unusual things you’ll begin to notice when you visit a lot of kiddie parks is the amount of churches you’ll find. When you think about an amusement park today, it is hard to imagine that something so blatantly religious could be an important part of a family’s vacation. Don’t forget, most of these parks were built in the 1950s at a time when the majority of Americans were practicing Christians that attended church every Sunday. In post-war America, the nation was prosperous, and the culture shifted to a more conservative set of values. Families moved out of small city homes and into large suburban ranches. Boomers saw the church as an important pillar of these newly developed suburban communities. It was a place for families to pray, but also to socialize with their neighbors. For parks, building a church was not just culturally appropriate, but it also made good business sense. At a time when families would spend weekend getaways visiting these new amusements, many still wanted a place to worship. This unique intersection between family fun and faith resulted in many kiddie parks having small chapels on their property.

It is in these small churches that families could gather to quietly pay respect to God and step away from the commotion and excitement outside. It is no surprise that many of these small structures are nestled away in quiet forests away from the park’s sensationalism. As parks grew, many are now surrounded by noisy rides and video games. You might walk right by them today without even realizing that they are churches. In fact, most people seem to do just that! Today we’re going to take a moment to peek inside the pews of these small houses of worship.

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At Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, NY, you’ll need to cross a foot bridge in the rolling hills to find this serene chapel with a bright red roof hiding between the trees. This is Saint Nicholas Chapel, and once inside you’ll find a simple rustic church with German influenced design.
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With a mood that differs from most of the whimsical music shows, a group of actors presents a live Nativity Pageant nearby daily.

 

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Story Book Land in NJ welcomes visitors to the “Chapel Of Peace”. This tiny church, The Chapel was built by 18-year-old Andrew Cresci as a gift to his parents Celestine and Augustus Cresci in 1885, and stood at their home in Vineland, NJ. Benediction was held in the chapel on the feast days of each saint until the family property was sold, and the chapel was moved to a cemetery in Union NJ where it fell into disrepair. It was later rescued by Story Book Land, who kept the interior and exterior intact, including the intricate stained glass windows made of sand.

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Nearby a ramshackle nativity is set up using mannequins with wigs, false beards and fabric clothing.

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At Santa’s Village in New Hampshire, an awe-inspiring church sits between the Sugar and Spice Bake shop and the  SS Peppermint Twist ride. A fantastically ornate interior surprises guests entering the rustic log structure. Contained within is an altar built in 1864 for the Cathedral of Manchester. Seven Bishops were consecrated in front of this impressive structure which was graciously given to Santa’s Village by All Saints’ Parish in Lancaster NH when the church was renovated.

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A young elf can be seen worshiping on this late 60s or early 70s postcard of the church.

 

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In what appears to a running theme, A fiberglass nativity is spread out in a wide area of the park, including the Three Wise Men traveling to the manger on camel back.

 

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Down an unassuming path, a short little building with a Queen Anne dome turret stands amongst the landscaping. In Storyland of Glenn, NH, a simple miniaturized church houses two small rows of single seat pews that lead up to fabric draped altar holding just an acrylic encased bible and a vase of fresh flowers. A token sign outside reminds visitors to finish their food and drink before entering the chapel. This is, after all, a house of the lord.

 

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Santa’s Land  inVT features one of the only open air areas of worship I’ve seen, and it happens to be hog sty adjacent. I suppose no other scene more accurately captures the feeling of the nativity stable than one with live pigs running around. A crazy-eyed goat seems tacked on and out-of-place amongst the more detailed figures. There are also pipe organs mounted above the entrance, which seemingly attach to nothing. They do give the whole area a “churchy” vibe though, so its nice to see that they are still being displayed!

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At Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA a simple Amish church is on the park property. Traditionally, the Amish do not include ornate or decorative elements in their building techniques, and this church is no exception. It resembles many of the larger churches found in the area, but this miniaturized one seats just 8 people!

 

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We have talked a lot about the Magic Forest on this site, and we often chuckle at some of the creepy statues that inhabit their grounds. I have to tell you that when I stepped inside this log building, I was genuinely shocked at what I found inside! Despite the run down exterior typical of this overgrown park, the inside of this rustic log church blew my mind. Log elements intersect with roman catholic elements like stained glass and a stone holy water font. From the woodsy carved altar and colored lightbulb chandeliers the design elements of this Catholic church come together to create an altogether surreal house of worship.

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You might think that park chapels are only for the wholesome family focused Santa parks and Fairy Tale Lands that popped up in the middle of the twentieth century, but there’s another kind of park that we’ve yet to scratch the surface on here at Kiddieland, Giddy up- it’s the Wild West Park! Once plentiful, there are only a few of these parks remaining. At Wild West City in Netcong, NJ actors recreate a day in the life of Dodge City, KS in the 1880s and while gunslinging cowboys fall off real horses and stage coaches drive by, there is a quiet escape from the shootouts on main street. Near the back of the park next to Boot Hill, a nondenominational chapel welcomes all. You can take a moment to quietly reflect while you mourn your fallen bandits at this historic house of the lord. Uncle Floyd is purportedly a fan of the chapel, as it features one modern convenience that was not available in the old west-air conditioning!

Although I’m not religious, I grew up in a town that boasted the claim of “America’s smallest chapel” which, as a fan of tourism, always attracted me, and I know this is where my fascination with tiny churches originated. As a small town teen (with no church affiliations), I remember going into the chapel with my brother and just taking in the strangeness of the place. Having grown up in a primarily Catholic area, we were accostomed to seeing ornate churches with giant steeples, and rituals we didn’t understand. This simple little place made no sense. We took rosary beads and signed the registry book even though we weren’t Catholic. My brother used to say that when he got married, he wanted to have his tiny wedding there, and coming from a very large family, we thought that was hilarious. I guess we pictured our 15 aunts and uncles and 50+ cousins crammed in the small pews. Now that I’ve been to some of these small churches, I’m not sure Decker’s Chapel can continue with their draw of “smallest church in America” (though they still claim to be!)Whether you are looking for a quiet escape from a noisy day at the park, or want a unique place to hold an intimate wedding, these small park chapels are another way that vintage attractions are keeping things weird.

Parks like Holiday World have even continued the tradition and recently transported a historic 1880s church to the park in 2012. At Knott’s Berry Farm, you can get married at the Chapel of Reflection and Snoopy can even attend your wedding, and late to the game Walt Disney World built their 300 seat nondenominational Wedding Pavillion  on the Seven Seas Lagoon in 1995 so that guests could have a fairy tale wedding with a “picturesque backdrop of Cinderella Castle”.

There’s something special about these small spaces. Whether they are built by families out of love for each other and their god, or because  that was all that was affordable for a tiny community, these humble churches are a unique testament to a time lost. Regardless of your religious affiliation, there’s something special about that.

Peace be with you.