Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?

 

Although I grew up in Pennsylvania, the now legendary Fairyland of Gettysburg eludedFantasyland Brochure me.  The park opened in 1959 and operated through its closure in 1980. Being born in 1978 a 4 hour’s drive away, it just slipped right through my little toddler fingers. I only learned of its existence years later online. In all the pictures and promotional materials, I continued to see a towering figure; 23 feet tall and somewhat sinister. Mother Goose welcomed all guests with a big bowl of salad and a pained expression of discomfort. Her face looked more like a real mother’s than it did a fairy tale. She appears tired, irritated, and has somewhat masculine features. Her knobby cane emphasizes her agony further. Next to her, a curious goose, looking up at her (maybe interested in what is in the bowl) The more I dug, the more she started showing up. I found her scowl on brochures, souvenirs, and postcards.
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The statue’s face is strange and memorable. I recognized it immediately.

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I had seen this face before at Storybook Land in Egg Harbor.  I thought to myself “Huh-They actually made two of those!-Wonder what happened to the one that was in Gettysburg.”

The deeper I dug the more I found; and my initial assumption was wrong.

There were not two of these figures manufactured, there was just one, and she was made to be the focal point at the entrance of Fantasyland for Ken and Thelma Dick, who opened the park in 1959.

When it closed, most of the statues and figures were sold to other park owners. Many of them went to Indiana, but surely the largest, Mother Goose, presented a unique set of challenges. As it turns out, she made the  nearly 200 mile trip east from Gettysburg to the Jersey Shore, where she has continued to greet visitors at the entrance of a new park.

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Gettysburg lost a piece of its collective childhood when Fantasyland closed its castle doors, but thankfully, Mother Goose was not left to the bulldozers or the elements. She still greets the young visitors (and the young at heart). She is the first thing guests see when they walk through the gates of Story Book Land. She’s even got a spot for excited kids (like me) to pose with her…and her mysterious bowl of salad. The park has repainted her beautifully, even softening her face into a near Mona-Lisa smile. She’s blushing and has gotten her nails done. Her witchy-pointed hat has been shortened and flowers have been added. She seems happy to spend her old age here near the Atlantic Ocean.  Her goose friend is here too, still trying desperately to get her attention.

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Next time you are visiting Story Book Land take a  look at a piece of history from a park that didn’t make it. Fantasyland was less fortunate than Story Book Land which still operates today, but even through uncertain times, mothers always seem to find their way back to their children.

Wilkum Kinder, to Dutch Wonderland, A Kingdom for Kids!

I grew up German in Pennsylvania, a state where the Department of Transportation still issues licenses to horse & buggy drivers, and it is not uncommon to see street signs like this on the side of the road:

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In high school, I was taught polkas in my gym class, and well into the 1990s, PA Dutch was spoken in my home, especially by my older relatives. My grandmother would instruct us to “redd up the room” when company was coming. My family still practices some of the old German traditions today. Every December 6th Belsnickle put candy in my shoes, and he continues to visit my nephews.  Everyone I knew made sure to eat at least a small spoonful of sauerkraut on New Year’s Day even if they hated the taste (for it will bring wealth and good luck for the rest of the year!)

Due to the large number of German settlers in the state, many people living in the northwestern part of Central and Northern PA would identify as “PA Dutch.”  Contrary to popular belief, in this case “Dutch” does not refer to Dutch people (from the Netherlands), but from the German word”Deutch.” Coming from a deeply Christian culture; many of the farmers were practicing Amish and Mennonites. Though both traditionalist Christian religions rooted in Anabaptism; they hold distinctly different sets of beliefs with the Amish being the more strict of the two sects.

Pennsylvania, with its mountainous rolling pastures, is also home to a countless number of dairy farms. (I didn’t realize ice cream-and I mean REAL ICE CREAM was regional until I moved to New Jersey years later!) As we’ve already seen, Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of land, and other than farms, it is also home to dozens of amusement parks. With the collision of the PA Dutch farming culture and the growing amusement industry in the state something truly unique magical took place 53 years ago. In 1963, Dutch Wonderland was erected outside of Lancaster, PA, and although it features many typical attractions for kids including a train, roller coasters, princesses, dragons, and a massive castle (Surrounded by a monorail!); we’re going to take a look at the very distinct PA Dutch touches that make it a one of a kind family attraction.

Upon entering the park you’ll immediately begin noticing their solemn hard working faces. A lifesize Amish couple sits on a bench on the porch of their home. Inside the windows the children are working on chores. Their faces are somber and appear tired from a long day of hard work.

Nearby, a giant pretzel greets visitors entering the park. To the uninitiated, this may look like a simple oversized snack food, but pretzels are an apropos representation of the hard working Christian people of PA, with their roots in both Bavarian culinary history and their ties to the church. It is said that the twist of the pretzel is a reminder to children to say their prayers, and was once considered a small reward or “pretiola” for those who do! Whatever you do, just remember…Please Do NOT Crawl on the Pretzel.

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We have already told you about the strange phenomenon of kiddie park chapels, so its no surprise that a park so closely tied to Christianity houses a simple un-ornamental chapel on its land. Visitors are reminded to treat it respectfully, as it is a house of the Lord.

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One of the most interesting exhibits I encountered are these two dioramas of animated miniatures. In the elaborate animatronic displays, groups of women and men toil over the daily chores while discussing their daily activities. At the push of a button, the women work on a quilt and gossip with one another.

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The men work on crafting furniture, sanding  a bench and planing a table. They discuss their work. If you stay long enough to listen, you will hear PA Dutch dialect and language spoken by both the women and men. They are a true slice of life, and are often overlooked  by the park’s visitors (who are predominantly small children.)
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In keeping with the PA Dutch theme, you can climb aboard a horse and buggy for a family photo op. It’s no surprise that farming made its way into the park’s attractions, but I have to say that this is probably the one and only time that I’ve seen a fiberglass cow with SIMULATED RUBBER UDDER for guests to milk! Next to a tin pail, a small sign reminds children to be gentle: “Bossie says Please Squeeze Do Not Pull”

True to its roots as a Dairy farming state, this attraction is absolutely a Pennsylvania one-of-a-kind! If you’ve seen another one, we’d love to hear about it!

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We hope you enjoyed this look at the PA Dutch touches of the Dutch Wonderland. If you visit, there’s plenty more to see including the Kingdom Coaster, some great shows, and the newly opened Dinosaurs Alive area with moving, roaring  dinosaurs that will surely amaze younger kids and parents alike!

Dutch Wonderland is open seasonally and has some dates in the fall and winter months for Halloween and Christmas celebrations. Check schedules online at their website.

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!

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.

 

What Big Eyes you Have!

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A barefood Red Riding Hood & Overall clad Wolf  from  the now defunct Never-Never Land in Hill Island, Ontario. (1967-1980)

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? You might be when you see some of these photos!

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In Ellicott City, MD a vintage postcard shows a living breathing Red Riding Hood on her walk near Grandma’s House at the now defunct Enchanted Forest.

Little Red Riding Hood is a classic European fairy tale that has been frightening children since the 10th century. In it, Red takes a walk through the woods to visit her sick grandmother, and take her some food. The simplicity of the story means that despite its age, it rarely deviates much in theme and language. There is always a little girl in a red hooded cape, a basket of food, and a big bad wolf disguised as grandmother in her bed. (The implication being that the wolf has already consumed dear old grandma as an appetizer and has stolen her nightgown.)

Red enters the house and launches into the memorable exchange with her grandmother:

What big eyes you have!
The Better to see you with, my dear

What big hands you have!
The Better to hold you with, my dear

What big teeth you have!
THE BETTER TO EAT YOU WITH MY DEAR!

Most parks wisely focus on the climax of this conversation and the best ones feature a terrified red riding hood and a scowling wolf.

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In What was formerly Storytown USA (now the Great Escape) Red Riding Hood and the Wolf  are found in Grandma’s filthy concrete bedroom. This 2007 photograph of the scene found on The Tourist Trap almost makes it appear as though Red won the battle! A victorious Red Riding hood stares at guests as a dead looking wolf lies nearby in bed like a hunting trophy. I don’t believe this display still existed when I visited a few years later.

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Over in New Hampshire at Story Land, We are warned by signs notifying us both of the path to Grandma’s house, as well as the wolf spotted in the bed. Red doesnt’ seem to frightened in this one, as Grandma Wolf pants happily. Their eye contact and expression sort of makes it seem like they are catching up after a few weeks away from one another! Maybe we have caught her in her last moments of innocence and she hasn’t yet realized that this is the wolf in disguise.

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Storybook Forest in Pennsylvania has signs that also warn of a wolf in the woods,. Another (bearing a wolf illustration) recommends that we take the high road. This sign reminded me of a cartoon, as I imagine that the wolf put it there himself in order to lead Red right to his big teeth! This scene is very effective, despite featuring no Red Riding Hood figure. I believe that the viewer is meant to play the role of Red here, which thrusts you right into the story. As you approach the door of the house, the wolf inside can be seen in bed with one eye open awaiting a delicious morsel!

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Holiday World’s (in Santa Claus, IL) is now known as a coaster destination, but it had its start as both a Santa park and a Kiddie park! Most of their vintage fairytale figures can be seen from the train ride, so of course this is where we found Red and the wolf hiding! This simple scene is also quite effective and features an innocent looking child who appears to be unaware of the sinister wolf lurking a few steps behind her. Though they abandoned the Grandmother disguise motif, I believe that the thoughtful positioning of these two figures convey the mean-spirited nature of this story more than some of the displays with stronger attention to detail.

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At the Enchanted Forest in Old Forge, NY, a brightly colored house from 1956 contains this familiar scene with a smiling mannequin standing in for Red Riding Hood, while a scraggly wolf sits upright in Grandma’s nightgown and cap. The wolf’s neck is so thin, I sort of want him to get something to eat!

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Finally, my favorite Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf are busy  terrifying children in Egg Harbor, NJ at Story Book Land. The display is newer, but I think that works to its advantage. First, take a moment to appreciate the location of Grandma’s house. Once you walk through the woods, down a winding brick path to a somewhat remote cottage (by tiny kiddie park standards, anyway!) you could be lucky enough to be the only person at the window when these two figures begin to move…that’s right. They move! Audio-animatronic figures retell the story in frightening detail. The wolf blinks, opens his mouth, and grabs at Red Riding Hood with a growl before resetting to scare the next group of kids. This display either mesmerized or horrified children and parents were seen either dragging them toward it or away from it. That alone puts it high on our list!

So, what do you think? Are you afraid of the Big Bad Wolf now?

Pinocchio: The Wooden Puppet who Dreamt of Becoming a Real Boy

You know the story, The old woodcarver  named Gepetto makes a puppet, and the mischievous marionette wants nothing more than to become a real boy. He gets in a lot of trouble, tells a lot of lies, and learns some valuable life lessons . He gets a little help from a blue fairy and a talking cricket…who may or may not be killed by Pinocchio with a mallet (depending on the adaptation you’re most familiar with)  and eventually the boy becomes an upstanding citizen, and is allowed to fulfill his desire to be a real boy…or does he? In the original serialized version of text, Pinocchio is gruesomely hanged for his sins and lies and he dies at the end of the story.  Later when published as a children’s book, and at the request of the editors, a happier ending was substituted whereby Pinocchio gets his wish granted by the blue fairy and becomes a real boy. Really- I wouldn’t lie to you about this, my nose might grow!

Naturally a tale like this is perfect fodder for any story book park, and the Walt Disney 1940 film adaptation of this already canonized tale cemented the characters in American Children’s subconscious for all time. We’re going to take a look at  a few images of Pinocchio at parks from his Florentine roots to his familiar Disney appearance, and beyond, including those that are unofficially “inspired” by the look of the Disney version of this famous character.

Anyone that has traveled to Walt Disney World in Orlando with kids has probably felt that moment of panic at the Magic Kingdom when the kid’s pizza alarm goes off. There’s only one place in the park to get pizza, and if you use your Disney logic you’ll realize that since pizza is Italian, and Pinocchio is from Italy…OF COURSE-pizza can be found at Pinocchio’s Village Haus! The decor inside is themed like a small Italian cottage and is so charming featuring frescoes inspired by the film, and intricate wood cuts of the characters. (Bonus-if you sit near the windows you can see Small World boats pass by beneath you as you enjoy your meal!) I love the costumes worn by cast members and especially the little Pinocchio puppets held outdoors conveniently located at kid-height to lure you inside.

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Further North, Pinocchio can be found at Storybook Land in Egg Harbor, NJ-But you have to know where to look. Although impressive, this giant Pinocchio statue is only visible from the train, so all aboard for a sight at this giant puppet!

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Also in the Northeast, our friend Pinocchio can be found at the Enchanted Forest in Old Forge, but I want to you prepare you for the nightmare fuel that follows. This one is special as he takes his look from the literary world rather than the films. He is quite disturbing, not unlike some of the illustrations from the text. It doesn’t help that it was a gloomy rainy day when I visited him. Oh man, is he coming toward us? Don’t make eye contact.

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Ok, let’s try to get that image out of our heads for a moment, and go back to something a bit less unsettling. At Storybook Forest (Ligionier, PA) tucked in the forest of Pennsylvania, you may come upon a small house in the trees. If you’re lucky a peek inside the windows will show Gepetto’s workspace, along with his beloved Pinocchio, and a blue fairy doll hanging from the rafters with fishing line. Hey-I think its pretty awesome! The details inside are classic PA with real antique sewing machines and furniture, and a large bound copy of Pinocchio sitting on the desk.

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While we’re on the subject of wood carving, we can’t forget about the larger than life wooden Pinocchio at Storyland in NH that we covered in a past post about bootlegging Disney.

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Or the one we SHOULD have covered when talking about Whales, because-Pinocchio Sitting on Monstro in New Orleans-Duh.

Seems like everywhere we look, we see the little puppet boy. Here is is in a dark arcade in the middle of the day-probably skipping school, we also found him hocking his  70th Anniversary Blu Ray release, and climbing on top of a bakery roof in NJ (WE TOLD HIM NOT TO DO THAT!)

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One thing is for sure, we don’t expect to see him fading into the background any time soon. At Disney parks, you can still meet up with Pinocchio, Gepetto, or Jiminy Cricket for photos. They appear in giant shows like Fantasmic, and Jiminy even narrates the popular “Wishes” fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom. I caught up with the crew earlier in the summer at the brand new Festival of Fantasy parade which premiered at Walt Disney World in March 2014. Despite the parade spotlighting mostly new Disney princesses like the wildly popular Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Merida from Brave, and Repunzel from Tangled, our boy Pinocchio is holding his own. Here is is sitting proudly atop a Monstro float in this brand new parade, which leads us to believe he’s not going anywhere anytime soon!

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Pinocchio, seriously stop that. Stop kicking your feet like that. Do you even know how high that is? We told you not to do that! You’ll fall…man, this kid really never listens!

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!