Inside the Creepy, “Abandoned” Wizard of Oz Theme Park: Scenes of Beautiful Decay

The roman­tic allure of the ghost­ly, aban­doned theme park is dif­fi­cult to resist. Case in point: The Land of Oz, above, a not-entire­ly-defunct attrac­tion nes­tled atop North Carolina’s Beech Moun­tain.

Deb­bie Reynolds, accom­pa­nied by her 13-year-old daugh­ter, Car­rie Fish­er, cut the rib­bon on the park’s open­ing day in 1970.

Its road was far from smooth, even before urban explor­ers began filch­ing its 44,000 cus­tom-glazed yel­low bricks, even­tu­al­ly forc­ing man­age­ment to repave with paint­ed stand issue mod­els.

One of its two founders died of can­cer six months before open­ing, and lat­er a fire destroyed the Emer­ald City and a col­lec­tion of mem­o­ra­bil­ia from the 1939 MGM film.

Crip­pled by the gas cri­sis and insur­mount­able com­pe­ti­tion from Dis­ney World and its ilk, the Land of Oz closed in 1980, thus spar­ing it the indig­ni­ties of Yelp reviews and dis­cern­ing child vis­i­tors whose expec­ta­tions have been formed by CGI.

Its shut­ter­ing attract­ed anoth­er kind of tourist: the cam­era-tot­ing, fence hop­ping con­nois­seurs of what is now known as “ruin porn.”

An iso­lat­ed, aban­doned theme park based on the Wiz­ard of Oz? Could there be a holi­er grail?

Only trou­ble is…the Land of Oz didn’t stay shut­tered. Local real estate devel­op­ers cleaned it up a bit, lur­ing overnight vis­i­tors with rentals of Dorothy’s house. They start­ed a tra­di­tion of reopen­ing the whole park for one week­end every Octo­ber, and demand was such that June is now Land of Oz Fam­i­ly Fun Month. The Inter­na­tion­al Wiz­ard of Oz Club held its annu­al con­ven­tion there in 2011. How aban­doned can it be?

And yet, unof­fi­cial vis­i­tors, sneak­ing onto the grounds off-sea­son, insist that it is. I get it. The quest of adven­ture, the desire for beau­ti­ful decay, the brag­ging rights… After pho­tograph­ing the invari­ably leaf strewn Yel­low Brick Road, they turn their lens­es to the lumpy-faced trees of the Enchant­ed For­est.

Yes, they’re creepy, but it’s less from “aban­don­ment” than a low-bud­get approx­i­ma­tion by the hands of artists less expert than those of the orig­i­nal.

It’s safe to pre­sume that any leaves and weeds lit­ter­ing the premis­es are mere­ly evi­dence of chang­ing sea­sons, rather than total neglect.

What I want to know is, where’s the sex, drugs & rock’n’roll evi­dence of local teens’ off-sea­son blowouts—no spray paint­ed f‑bombs? No dead sol­diers? Secu­ri­ty must be pret­ty tight.

If creepy’s what the per­pet­u­a­tors of the aban­don­ment myth crave, they could con­tent them­selves with the ama­teur footage above, shot by a vis­it­ing dad in 1970.

Those cos­tumes! The scare­crow and the tin man in par­tic­u­lar… Buz­zfeed would love ’em, but it’s hard to imag­ine a mil­len­ni­al tot going for that mess. Their Hal­loween cos­tumes were 1000 times more accu­rate.

(In inter­views, the one gen­er­a­tion who can remem­ber the Land of Oz in its prime is a loy­al bunch, recall­ing only their long ago sense of won­der and excite­ment. Ah, life before Beta­max…)

The doc­u­men­tary video below should set­tle the aban­don­ment myth once and for all. It opens not in Kansas, but New York City, as a car­load of young per­form­ers heads off for their annu­al gig at the Land of Oz. They’re con­ver­sant in jazz hands and cer­tain Friends of Dorothy tropes, sure­ly more so than the local play­ers who orig­i­nal­ly staffed the park. Clear­ly, these ringers were hired to turn in cred­i­ble imper­son­ations of the char­ac­ters immor­tal­ized by Ray Bol­ger, Burt Lahr, and Judy Gar­land. Pre­sum­ably, their updat­ed cos­tumes also passed muster with Autumn at Oz’s savvy child atten­dees.

Still crav­ing that ruin porn? Busi­ness Insid­er pub­lished Seph Law­less’ pho­tos of “the crum­bling park” here.

If you’d pre­fer to rub­ber­neck at a tru­ly aban­doned theme park, check out the Carpetbagger’s video tour of Cave City, Kentucky’s Fun­town Moun­tain. (Though be fore­warned. It was sold at auc­tion in April 2016 and plans are afoot to reengi­neer it as as “an epic play­ground of won­der, imag­i­na­tion, and dreams.”)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Dis­ma­land — The Offi­cial Unof­fi­cial Film, A Cin­e­mat­ic Jour­ney Through Banksy’s Apoc­a­lyp­tic Theme Park

Dis­ney­land 1957: A Lit­tle Stroll Down Mem­o­ry Lane

Juras­sic Park Tells You Every­thing You Need to Know About the Dan­gers of Glob­al Cap­i­tal­ism

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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