BY: JESSICA BEUKER
*All photo © Seph Lawless
The Land of Oz theme park opened in 1970 and stayed open for a decade before closing the doors to the Emerald City. It’s opening saw over 20,000 visitors and guests “experiencing” the tornado that struck the Gale house, skipping arm-in-arm down the yellow brick road and hanging out with the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Wicked Witch of the West.
At the end of the day, there was a show at Emerald City, complete with a balloon ride (which was really just a modified ski lift). Visitors could also take in an incredible view of the entire park while standing at the top of North Carolina’s Beech Mountain.
Unfortunately, the imaginative force behind the park, Grover Robbins, died just weeks before the park’s opening, putting a damper on the entire event. The park however was still successful, becoming the top attraction in the southeast its first year. From then on, everything went downhill.
In 1975 a mysterious fire destroyed much of Emerald City, including the museum that housed the dress that Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in the film. Five years later, in 1980, the park closed for good. Kind of.
The once abandoned park is now open once a year for “Autumn at Oz,” a reunion of former employees and old and new guests. In 2009, 8,000 people attended, and each year since then, more and more characters and vendors have shown up.
What’s more is that visitors can actually rent Dorothy’s house for a private getaway to Oz. The house is available to rent during the spring, summer and fall months. According to the website: “This perfect, private farm tucked away atop Beech Mountain has an antique kitchen and parlor, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, down comforters, every appliance, great views, lots of adventure.” The rates are as follows: $555 for three weeknights, $185 for additional weeknights, $610 for a three-night weekend, and $950 for a week.
Photographer Seph Lawless had the opportunity to explore the dilapidated park and capture what remains of the whimsical land. Speaking about his project, Lawless said:
“My work is part of a much larger themed project called Autopsy of America which documents America’s most abandoned and dead parts of the country in hopes to finding a cause of death. Most of my projects focus on a particular abandoned theme. Usually a theme that is very relatable and nostalgic for the viewer,” writes Roadtrippers. “I set out to photograph the 10 most hauntingly beautiful abandoned amusement parks for my book Bizarro and had to include the Land of Oz because it’s a really unique place. It sits hidden on top of a Mountain, one of the highest mountain peaks in the eastern U.S., so being there was almost like entering another planet. It was surreal and completely beautiful.”
Despite being completely run-down and hanging together by its last few threads, the Land of Oz is still regarded as a must-see tourist attraction for fans. But if you decide to go, be prepared for a slightly creepy, although unique, experience.
In an article for Popsugar, Kelsey Garcia wrote about her stay in Dorothy’s house. “At midnight every night, a little tune — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — would float down the hallway from an old cuckoo clock. Except it was so old that the song sounded distorted and unbelievably eerie; it was like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on Xanax. One evening, a surly, inebriated older man appeared at our door. His drunken and incessant knocking on the front door woke up my dad, who then just casually waited for him to leave.” And in the basement of the house, she continues, “There it all was: an animatronic Wicked Witch of the West, carts belonging to amusement rides, a winding yellow ramp that led somewhere else underground. And no, we did not care to find out where that might have been.”
Bizarro -The World’s Most Hauntingly Beautiful Abandoned Amusement Parks
Image sources: roadtrippers.com