Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Return to Oz
In 1979, my father took our family to a theme park called Land of Oz. I was only five at the time, but I remember how much I enjoyed it. I remember the costumed characters, Dorothy's house, and the witch's castle. What I remember the most was the yellow brick road, made of yellow glazed bricks. Located on top of Beech Mountain, North Carolina, a ski resort town, the theme park eventually closed in 1980. It is now owned by a real estate company that turned it into a summer home, gated community.
A couple of weekends ago my wife found out that, for one weekend a year in October, Emerald Properties and the town of Beech Mountain host Autumn at Oz, in which they open what is left of the theme park and invite food vendors and merchants who sell Wizard of Oz memorabilia.
My wife and I took our daughter, but thankfully left our 8-month-old son at home (it was chilly and wasn't stroller accessible). The leaves had just begun to change color, so it was beautiful. The chairlift for the theme park had long been dismantled, so we took a hayride to the top (they also had a bus). The first thing I noticed when we got to Dorothy's house and the farm was how smaller everything looked now. Of course, I didn't expect it to be just like it was when it was open 27 years ago, and some people might have found it a disappointment if they were expecting that, but we had a blast. I loved it because I was reliving a fond childhood memory. My daughter loved it because of all the people, actors and visitors, that dressed up as characters from the movie. Some of the original attractions of the park are all but abandoned, like the cowardly lion's den or the hot air balloon (seen here). The yellow brick road, made of bricks that had been pottery-glazed yellow, had been patched over the years with yellow spray-painted bricks, but the magic was still there.
There was a time or two that we had to wait in line, as the crowds backed up, but the scenery was beautiful enough that I didn't care. I picked Beech nuts for my daughter and I to nibble on while we waited. Afterwards, we drove to Valle Crucis to get a snack at the original Mast General Store, and do some shopping.
For those interested in the former theme park, the Appalachian Cultural Museum in Boone, North Carolina, part of Appalachian State University, has an exhibit and information on how Land of Oz and Tweetsie Railroad (still in operation) brought commerce to the mountains in the 1970s.