Saturday, September 7, 2019

Spending a day in Oz

Here's a bit of history about the Land of Oz Theme Park (from )

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. 

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 Eastern United States the first year. Its opening day in 1970 attracted 4,000 visitors.[3] 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 (CCC) by the downturn in real estate sales. A failed investment in St. Croix left CCC bankrupt the later part of 1975. 

On Sunday, December 28, 1975, a fire was set to the Emerald City Amphitheater, and surrounding gifts shops. Two buildings were destroyed, along with the park's offices, costumes, sound equipment, and props. At the same time, many items were stolen from the park's museum, including Judy Garland's Dorothy dress. 

There is some speculation that the fires were set by disgruntled employees.[citation needed] Land of Oz would be rebuilt and managed by a new company, but it never recouped. It would finally close in 1980.[4]

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 most of the yellow brick road, a few munchkin houses, some of the later costumes, and sections of the witch's castle were preserved.[2] 

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 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. (Note:  Sadly, Appalachian State University decided it and the community no longer needed the Appalachian Cultural Museum and closed it up - 

The owners of the land began restoring portions of the park over the upcoming years. In the mid-nineties, the Autumn at Oz event began as a reunion for original park employees. This quickly grew in popularity as an annual public event, and by 2009 the festival had over 8,500 people attending. 

The event has expanded to include all of the characters from The Wizard of Oz, shows, Museum, Emerald City set up, Omaha Vendor Fair, Petting Zoo, Pony Rides, and other activities within the Oz Theme. Money raised during this event go back into renovations and upkeep of the park, as well as adding new attractions each year.

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.[4] By 2013, the Land of Oz expanded openings to include "Journey with Dorothy," a guided tour through Oz every Friday in June during Beech Mountain's Family Fun Month. In 2018, it was announced a new yearly event is to be introduced.

Urban explorers often visit the park, shooting photos near or stealing relics from the site, including pieces of the yellow brick road.[5]

The park has an annual Autumn of Oz event. Also, in June 2018, the park was scheduled to open for tours led by Dorothy, with some guests playing other characters, on Fridays and on June 30.[6]

For the 80th anniversary of the 1939 movie, the park will open Thursdays and Fridays in June 2019, plus the last Wednesday in June and the first Friday in July.[7]

Autumn at Oz is a consecutive two-weekend event in September that will have performers as every character along the Yellow Brick Road. During this event, Oz will be fully decorated as you travel down the yellow brick road. You will meet and have photo-ops with everyone from Dorothy and Miss Gulch in Kansas to the Lion in his forest, the Munchkins, Flying Monkeys at the Witch’s Castle, and Toto, too! Shows are ongoing throughout the event in Kansas, and more is being added every year. Food and Souvenir vendors are present as well as other surprises along the way! During this event, you can travel the yellow brick road at your own leisure.

I have heard about the Land of Oz for as long as I've lived in Boone (since 1993).  Donald remembers visiting when he was a kid growing up in Charlotte.

It was one of those things I didn't think would happen because - first, it was no longer open.  Just a source of fun stories from those who were lucky enough to have visited in the past.

Then, it was open only once a year as a reunion for park employees, but that then grew to annual event.  But was popular enough that tickets sold out as soon as they were announced as available for sale.

But now, it has expanded into a Fall event and we were lucky enough to score some tickets.

Yesterday was our day and it could not have been a more perfect day for a visit to Oz.  


Up the road to Beech Mountain, and through the little town of Banner Elk

We parked, had a sandwich at the Famous Brick Oven Pizza 

wandered around the few vendor tents, 

Admired the kids (big and little) who came dressed as characters from Oz.

then hopped the shuttle to continue the ride up the mountain to The Land of Oz. 

But first we had to enjoy the view from the ski slopes

And say a reverent hello to our dear Grandfather Mountain

After this little show, we went in to see the house.

And we bumped into Auntie Em, who was wondering where Dorothy might have run off to when all of a sudden, there was a storm warning and she hustled us quickly into the storm cellar.


And, oh my, what a mess!


And look!  Here's Dorothy!  AND Toto!

Bet you know what she's singing here, huh?

And here you see my unsuccessful attempt at stealing Toto

And now we're off down the yellow brick road

And it was worth every step!


Lesa said...

Kaye! I'm so happy you got to spend a day in Oz. I loved your pictures. And, I like that one of Donald walking down the Yellow Brick Road. But, maybe the best is you trying to steal Toto.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Oh, Lesa, that little Toto was SO sweet. Annabelle would love having her here.

Gram said...

Great pix...I feel as if I had taken a tour. As for Grandfather Mountain..that's the best way to see it...scary ride up and down...