When Dinosaurs Fought In The Civil War

Between 1861 and 1865 the bloodiest battles in US history were fought on American soil during the American Civil War. For more than four violent years, armies fought and died after 11 Southern Confederate states seceded from the United States of America over the right to own slaves. After 750,000 American citizens died, combat finally ended with the abolition of slavery and surrender by the Confederate army. But what if something else had happened?

Try then, to imagine that 200 million years earlier (on land that would come to be known by us as a historic Civil War battlefield) massive dinosaurs walked on the same ground fighting their own bloody battles for survival.

Leave it to the imagination of Mark Cline to show us what things might look like had these two events taken place concurrently.  In his now defunct attraction Escape from Dinosaur Kingdom (2005-2012), visitors could see what might have transpired had the Union army captured and used carnivorous dinosaurs as weapons against the Confederate troops!

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Located in Natural Bridge, VA’s tourist complex, Cline had created four unique and separate attractions. Visitors could stop to his free sculptural attraction “Foamhenge” (a true to scale Styrofoam replica of Stonehenge), the could “Hunt Bigfoot with a Redneck” (I’ll give you one guess who the Redneck was!) and they could walk through his beloved Haunted Monster Museum (which turned out to be one of our most popular Enchanted Kiddieland posts!). Included with your value price 2 for 1 admission to the Monster Museum, you also got to travel back to 1863 and visit his imaginative”Dinosaur Kingdom.”

Already an expert after building more than 400 dinosaurs for roadside attractions and theme parks, Cline knew that his Dino park would need to be different if it was going to stand out. valley-of-gwangi-pic-3Lucky for us, he possesses an incredible imagination and an even more powerful sense of humor! The park’s concept is loosely based on the 1969 Ray Harryhausen film, Valley of the Gwangi, (Which pits cowboys against dinosaurs in a special effects Dynamation spectacular!)

Cline imagined a similar scene substituting cowboys with Union Soldiers as villains who use the Dinosaurs as weapons against the South (after all, this attraction is in the former Confederate state of Virginia!) Before you get too upset about the political ramifications of the south winning the Civil War, Cline has stated that he had hoped to build a second Civil War dinosaur park in Gettysburg wherein the Confederate soldiers are the bad guys. Regrettably, that dream never came to fruition.

Dinosaur Kingdom begins its storytelling through journals violently strewn about a campsite with pots and pans, and overturned wagons. By reading the notebooks, visitors can surmise that a family of paleontologists entered a cave in search of fossils only to find living dinosaurs that had escaped (and were now being used by the North to win the war!)! You can see the civilian mother and father Garrison danging precariously in the trees above the sharp teeth of a hungry carnivore.  Dinosaur Kingdom

As guests entered the self guided wooded park, they’d hear the sounds of nature; sticks cracking under shoes and birds- but beyond this, was the omnipresent laughter of children (and adults!) as they were welcomed into wacky the mind of Mark Cline for a short while. A button with a hand painted sign reading “Feeding Time” begs to be pushed, only to discover that you are standing directly beneath the motorized jaws of a hungry T Rex and a dangling deer carcass! A sign tacked to a tree warned “Don’t Look Up!”, but of course you did, only to see an angry reptile climbing straight toward you. In one scene, a herd of curious raptors surrounds farm animals who had all stacked themselves on top of one another until there was a trembling rabbit sitting on the back of a deer who was sitting on the back of a cow resulting in classic cartoon imagery. One of my favorite gags was a full sized port-a-potty that looked no different from any other, but if you were brave enough to open the door you were met with a shocked looking Yankee soldier being attacked by dinosaurs that had busted through the back walls while he was taking care of business.

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Part Wild West park, part Dinosaur Park, part Roadside tourist trap, this place was a dream come true for some road weary travelers who didn’t even know it was here. The park opened in 2005, and our visit was in 2008, meaning it was in a mostly complete state. However, as an ongoing project, Mark Cline continued to add characters and beasts as the years went on. I’m told that later iterations included Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address, and even a gorilla wearing a cowboy hat. (Hey, don’t tell me you’re getting upset about historical accuracy now!)

Unfortunately, along with the heartbreaking loss of the Monster Museum, much of the attraction was destroyed in a devastating fire in 2012. The park sat vacant for years with an online notice to “check back in 2013.” Folks like me started to lose hope, checking back not only in 2013, but in 2014, and 2015  as well finding no status change.

However, you can’t keep a good dinosaur park down, and like a Phoenix  no, like a Pterodactyl rising from the ashes, the park has some exciting news on the horizon. Last fall, the dinosaurs made a limited engagement appearance at Clark’s Eliok Farm  to terrorize some fairy tale characters (YES, PLEASE!) in the temporary “Enchanted Dinosaur Forest“.  Clark’s Farm, which regular Kiddieland readers will recognize as a sanctuary for rescued Enchanted Forest, MD figures housed the salvaged dinosaurs from September to November 2015 in a hysterical mash up of Dinosaurs and storybook characters that could only come from the off-kilter mind of Professor Cline!

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Photo Courtesy of Enchanted Castle Studios

We were so thrilled to see that many of the dinosaurs had survived, but this story has an even happier ending. According to his Facebook page, Mark Cline is planning to bring Dinosaurs back to Natural Bridge, Virginia with the opening of Dinosaur Kingdom II in June 2016! Based on this concept art, my guess is that guests may be riding through this one on by train? Oh, I am so there!

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Photo Courtesy of Enchanted Castle Studios

So don’t fret, though you may have never gotten to experience the weirdness of the original Dinosaur Kingdom and Haunted Monster Museum, it looks like this summer you may be able to marvel at these Jurrassic giants once again in Natural Bridge!

Thanks for all the memories, Mark!

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Professor Cline’s Haunted Monster Museum

Today’s feature is bittersweet, because this attraction is actually completely gone now, and although it falls a little outside of our usual kiddie attractions, I can’t resist telling you my story of visiting the Haunted Monster Museum.

Driving south to the tourist mecca of Pigeon Forge Tennessee, (en route to visit totally different tourist traps) we found ourselves in need of gas. When we pulled off at the exit, we were greeted with this sign:

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Holeeee-y crap! Look at it again and imagine yourself on a boring road trip making a necessary stop.

Imagine our amazement-What was this place?  How have we never heard of it? Does that sign have feet?!Here we are on a 10 hour drive looking for amazing tourist attractions, and we accidentally stumble upon the mother-lode. What was this homegrown “Monster Museum” we were somehow completely unaware of? We felt like giddy children in the car. Unable to stop for the day,  as we arrived after after closing,  we eagerly vowed to stop on our return trip. What we found haunting the woods of Natural Bridge, VA amazed us and continues to be the stuff of roadside legend.IMG_8864

Inside a mostly respectable red brick natural park building, with creepy historic wax museums, a silly “toy museum” (that was one part toy store and one part thrift store) stood several attractions created by sculptor, Mark Cline. This was the first time I had ever heard of Mark Cline, and if you told me that I’d be lucky enough to get a tour of his most ambitious attraction given the man himself, I’d have called you a liar. Yet, here were were…in a colonial building reminiscent of so many field trips. This time it was different. This time we were buying tickets to a “Haunted Monster Museum”. We were told by a brown-haired woman that could have been anyone’s mom that we’d have to drive across the street and look for the “big monster gate”. The ticket seller assured us “You can’t miss it”. Nope, she was right. We didn’t miss it.

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Once we passed through the gate and followed a short and creepy path through the woods, we found that a few other nervous travelers were already waiting outside the disheveled house. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  There was a giant one-eyed skull on the front balcony, with skeleton shutters, a snake weaving in and out of upstairs bedroom windows, and gargoyles and bats on the roof. It was quiet, except for the sounds of cracking branches and the whispering of a small group of tourists brave enough to pay the inexpensive admission price to enter this bizarre “museum”. This wasn’t like any school trip I had ever been on!

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We sat on picnic benches waiting anxiously waiting for something to happen.  I started to get a little jumpy, unsure of what we had just gotten ourselves into, so when a smiling, wild-haired man came out in a neon green tee shirt and a fedora offering a “lights on” tour, I took him up on the offer; along with the family of a 6 year old girl.  This man was the amazing artist, Professor Mark Cline.

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Once inside, I felt very silly for being so nervous. Like all great ballyhoo men before him, Mark proved himself a great showman. The home-made gags were not very scary, and at best were reminiscent of boardwalk dark rides and included things like neon aliens behind chicken wire. Still-something about the ominous surroundings and homegrown nature made this place feel sinister. Once I’d gone through, Professor Cline let me out through the “Chicken Door” where I found a 10 foot tall fiberglass chicken on the back porch to mock me. That Professor, ever an entertainer.

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Along with the admission to this attraction, you could visit the Dinosaur Kingdom in the surrounding forests, where this wonderful weirdo (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) made an entire dinosaur park based around civil war soldiers fighting dinosaurs. (I’ll be sure to feature that at a later date!)

As a triple whammy, just down the road, Mark Cline has built FoamHenge, a Stonehenge replica made entirely of Styrofoam as an April Fool’s Joke in 2004. Good jokes don’t grow old though. Ten years later it is still there, although a little worse for wear!

Sadly,  as quickly as it appeared to us on our travels, it was gone-I was heartbroken to learn that the Monster museum was destroyed in a major fire and closed indefinitely in April 2012 along with Dinosaur Kingdom. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit it and see it as it stood in 2008. Next time you see a weird sign on the road and think about passing it. Do yourself a favor- Don’t. I’m so glad we stopped here, and didn’t try to “see it next time we pass through.” There was no “next time”.  If you are a fan of Mark and his work, he offers sculpting classes in Virginia specifically focused on fiberglass attractions. I would encourage anyone with a love of kiddie park repair and restoration to consider attending!

Mark Cline is a special kind of person, and we’re all lucky he’s around and scaring little kids, making giant dinosaurs, and fixing broken whales! In a world where everyone is putting in 4D interactive theaters and  virtual reality simulators, Mark is keeping it simple and keeping it real. He’s a hero to kiddie parks and boardwalks alike, and we can all be thankful for that!

If you never got to visit, Here is a video with some footage of this amazing attraction.