We had been on the road for hours heading north bound from Savannah, Georgia, and night had already fallen as we entered the quiet town of Boone, North Carolina. Not quite ready to settle down yet, we continued to travel along the dark and winding road. At this point, the area was so dark that we were unable to see any of the mountainous terrain surrounding us as we wound up and down through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Blue Ridge Mountains are a smaller province within the larger Appalachian Mountains range. As luck would have it, rain then began to fall – and not just a small drizzle; it’s never just a small drizzle when you have absolutely no clue where you’re going. Of course, the adventure would not have been complete without the trouble of not being able to see nearly 2 feet in front of me through the downpour. Thankfully, we eventually made it to a proper resting place in town, and would soon be headed towards our next destination – The Land of Oz.
We both awoke, rather sluggishly, to a chilled morning air – though, when you’re elevated at over 5,000 feet I suppose that’s a rather common early morning weather pattern. The cold morning brought with it not just a blanket, but what seemed to be an entire sea full of thick fog. A once active ski lift formerly operated as an artificial hot air balloon ride for park-goers, allowing them a birds-eye overview of the beautiful mountainous terrain and quiet mountain towns below – something to look forward to after having ventured the Land of Oz. Looking down through the morning fog, over rows of chairs swaying slowly, still attached to the defunct ski lift, it was nearly impossible to even see the where the ground went. It was like standing on the edge of the Earth – feeling as if you could fall, and the universe would come crashing into you; you would be crushed by the pressure.
Now, I’ve been to Kansas – and I can tell you one thing for sure – I’m not going to make a ridiculous joke about no longer being there – we were somewhere a great deal stranger tucked away in these North Carolina mountains. Thousands of yellow bricks make up this now abandoned yellow brick road, whipping and winding through the mountain forest. It’s quite an odd place to bring such a land to life – I mean, here we are 5,000 feet up in the mountains and someone had the idea to place over 44,000 bricks throughout the forest. This may have something to do with musical numbers from the film actually being tied to a writer in North Carolina. Fog filled the morning, climbing in and out through branches and bends of the road. The paths resembled tree tunnels, like something from an eerie film. The morning was calm as the majority of civilization sat quiet, yet to greet the day.
Originally offering the experience of everything from Kansas to tornado, meeting the characters on the yellow brick road to Oz and more, the park quickly grew to be nothing more than a tired amusement soon to be tossed aside and practically forgotten. Though much of the world has fallen to waste as we become more and more akin to a prodigal society, I believe that we can still find a kind of unique and surreal beauty in these parts of our world. What does it take? Does it take the eyes of an artist? A curious mind? I mean, when you get right down to it, it’s almost like some sort of dark dream world brought to life – though only some minds can be mindful of this surreal dream world, while others continue to trash and discard the history. Being wasteful as a society will only continue to make society itself waste away and we will one day be left with nothing.
Grover Robbins had opened the park in 1970, and attracting over 20,000 visitors on opening day, the Land of Oz quickly became a number 1 stop for southeast tourist attractions during the course of its first year. The actual costumes, bought directly from MGM, used in the filming of the movie were put on display within a small museum/shop on the property, and much interest was brought to the famed artifacts throughout. Sadly, Grover Robbins had passed away only 3 months before the park’s opening date, so sadly was never able to see the joy this park brought to so many. I suppose he was not missing out on too much, as it would not be long before this would change greatly.
Sunday, December 28, 1975 Emerald City went ablaze, destroying the original dress worn by Dorothy in the film. Some believe this was the doing of angered park employees in an act of arson, due to the fact that they had been dismissed from their employment. The park remained fully operational, until only 5 years later, in 1980, when the park was officially closed to the public, only to remain a quiet and empty place for years to come. On July 4, 1991, the park was re-opened for the day as part of Beech Mountain’s Independence Day celebration, but it was not until later years that more life would be slowly eased back into the park. Originally planned to be a year-round attraction, the park now lacks many at all, including the original characters, like it had welcomed in its previous lively years. We did, however end up meeting a couple very unique characters, who joined us on our morning ventures.
In the late 1990s, former employees began to host the “Autumn at Oz” event as a sort of reunion to its glory days – those days when life was lush and the air was fresh. The road was rich with a yellow glow, welcoming visitors to step deep into the enchanted forest. Later, this would become an annual event, and in 2009 the festival had over 8,500 people attending. Though the park still sits mostly quiet and abandoned other than this annual event, the event has surely grown in popularity. The park is set to open this weekend, and has been completely sold out since earlier this year. It’s great to see this history staying alive in at least one way.