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.”)

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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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