Land of Oz (theme park)
|Location||Beech Mountain, North Carolina, U.S.|
|Owner||Emerald Mountain Properties|
|Operating season||first weekend of October annually|
|Area||16 acres (65,000 m2)|
The Land of Oz is a now-defunct amusement park located in the resort town of Beech Mountain, North Carolina, USA. It was opened in 1970 by Grover Robbins, who had been successful with Tweetsie Railroad, and was fully operational until 1980. The costumes of the actors were based more on the book descriptions until later on in the park's history when they were changed to look more like the film (one obvious exception was that the shoes worn by "Dorothy" around the park were red, representing the ruby slippers from the movie, instead of silver as in the book). Visitors could take a walk down the Yellow Brick Road, "experience" the tornado which struck Dorothy's house, and visit with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the West. The Yellow Brick Road led to a show at the Emerald City where the characters met with the Wizard. An artificial balloon ride, a specially modified ski lift installed by Goforth Brothers, allowed visitors to get a bird's-eye view of the park and mountain scenery before leaving Oz. A small museum showcased props and costumes from the film. These were jointly bought by the park and Debbie Reynolds from MGM.
The musical score sung by the characters on the Yellow Brick Road and at Emerald City was composed by notables Alec Wilder and North Carolina native Loonis McGlohon (with the exception of E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" for which rights were obtained to integrate into the Emerald City show).
A video and display of The Land of Oz were on exhibit at the Appalachian Cultural Museum, part of Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina but the museum closed and the artifacts are in storage at Appalachian State.
Land of Oz opened in 1970 with the intention of extending the ski resort to be a 'year-round' attraction by offering an attraction at the pinnacle of Beech Mountain. A ski lift was specially designed to become the hot air balloon ride which has since been redeployed to be a ski lift on the back bowl, now Oz run, of Ski Beech. In later years, characters from the story conducted tours, but the original design was for the visitor to assume the role of Dorothy - experiencing everything from Kansas to tornado to the meeting the characters on the yellow brick road to Oz. The visit culminated in Emerald City, where Dorothy appeared with her friends to meet the Wizard.
The park was the top attraction in the southeast the first year. Its opening day in 1970 attracted 20,000 visitors. Dampened by the death of owner Grover Robbins a few months before the park opened, the driving force to keep the park as a special experience gave way to commercial necessities foisted on Carolina Caribbean Corp by the downturn in real estate sales. Emerald City burned on Sunday, December 28, 1975, destroying some artifacts, including the dress worn by Dorothy in the movie. There is some speculation that the fires were set by disgruntled employees who were angered at having been dismissed for legitimate reasons. Land of Oz finally closed in 1980.
After the park was closed much of it fell into disrepair. Props were vandalized, stolen, or left exposed to the elements. Some of the park was saved, including parts of the yellow brick road, a few munchkin houses, some of the later costumes, and sections of the witch's castle were preserved. On July 4, 1991, the park was re-opened for the day as part of the town of Beech Mountain's Independence Day celebration and as a kickoff to the redevelopment of the property into a condo complex. Visitors rode the ski lift up from the base of the adjacent Ski Beech. Watauga High School in nearby Boone, N.C. had staged a production of The Wizard of Oz as its spring musical a few months earlier and the student actors appeared in character and in costume to greet visitors as they came off the ski lift. Visitors then made their way to Dorothy's house, which was then the home of the property's owner, Alex Hufty Hays, and viewed a collection of original and replica costumes and props from the 1939 movie. A year or so prior to this event, Appalachian State University in Boone opened its Appalachian Cultural Museum, which featured props and costumes from the theme park. The floor in this portion of the museum was paved with surplus yellow bricks that had been donated by their manufacturer, Sanford Brick, which had been made for the park but never used.
The owner of the land restored the park about ten years later. In the late nineties, former employees started the Autumn at Oz event as a reunion. Later this became an annual event, and in 2009 the festival had 8,500 people attending. In 2010 more of the park's original characters returned, the Fountain of Youth had green water, and vendors and face painters added to the event. Photographer Gregory Hugh Leng, author of a book about the park, was guest of honor. A museum now shows costumes from the movie and other memorabilia. The Yellow Brick Road has a few of its 44,000 bricks missing but again takes visitors through the Enchanted Forest and Poppy Field. Dorothy's house, which can be rented for events, includes a basement intended to make visitors feel the experience of a tornado; the Wicked Witch's legs stick out from under the house. In 2011, the park hosted the International Wizard of Oz Club and some of the original 1970 cast returned to share photos and tales from the original inspiration of Jack Pentes.
- "Land of Oz fire". The Times-News, Hendersonville, NC. Dec 29, 1975. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- </>Chic, Messy (2013-05-31). "Abandoned Land of Oz". Land of Oz. Retrieved 2013-05-31.
- Martin, Ray (2010-09-07). "Dilapidated Land of Oz theme park glows with life for annual festival". News & Observer. Retrieved 2010-09-07.
- Bengal, Rebecca. "In Search of Emerald City". Eye. Posted at AlterNet on 1 April 2000. Accessed 11 December 2006.
- Wuckovich, Tom. "Here & There". AAA Going Places Magazine, September/October 2006. Accessed 11 December 2006.
- Land of Oz Theme Park, Appalachian Cultural Museum exhibit, Appalachian State University.