Our park for Thursday was Story Land, in Glen, New Hampshire. The park was opened in the 1950s as one of the fairy-tale forest kiddielands that were trendy back then. Nearly all of them have shriveled and died in the decades since. Story Land was almost among them. Eight years ago it was bought by Kennywood Entertainment Company, owners of, well, it's right up front there. They also owned Idlewild, about an hour east of Kennywood, and one of the other surviving fairy-tale forest kiddielands. We'd heard dire things about the state of Story Land in previous years, but rumors that things had been getting better. If nothing else they had a new wooden roller coaster that fans were wild about.
We got there just in time. I think this was the only park we were able to be there at the actual opening hour for, even though many of them were fifteen minutes or so from our hotel. Stuff kept happening. Even that early, though, it was looking busy; the parking lot seemed nearly full. It turned out there was another parking lot across the highway, accessible by an underpass, increasing our count of parks an underpass away from the main parking lot. (See also Parc Festyland, Holiday World, and Kennywood.) The entrance gates are behind a series of crooked houses, fairly nicely painted and looking really quite good. The early evidence was of maintenance no longer being deferred, and that's what we'd see throughout the day.
Right by the entrance is a book prop, not so large as the book-gateway into Idlewild's Story Book Land, that warns ``You are now entering a storybook world. Follow this path and it will lead you well''. There's an Old Lady Who Lived In The Shoe house, with Old Lady and sometimes another guy watching. And there's an animatronic tree, with a name badge (``TIM --- CAST MEMBER'') who gives a welcoming spiel to kids and tells them how to get help if they get lost or separated from their group, that sort of thing. And the tree reaches to a set of hooks. You're invited to write your name on leaves and hang them on, to fill up the tree. Of course we hung them. I put my name by the painting of a raccoon; bunny_hugger, by a squirrel holding a chained pen. And that's what the park is like the first four minutes you spend in it. We had all day.
Much of the park, I believe the oldest sections, is displays of fairy tales. Most of them are buildings, and many have animatronics or maybe music to suggest the tale. Some have animals, too. The first we saw were chickens, although not tied to the baffling ``Hickety Pickety, My Fat Hen'' who lays eggs for gentlemen. There's pigs, in front of the houses of straw, sticks, and bricks. They were lying together. They had a Peter Rabbit, although he was tucked inside his house-hutch every time we went past the spot. This is all grand stuff.
The gift store had Images of America books, of course, and some old photographs of the fairy-tale area. The crooked-house entrance dates back decades, and some of the individual displays we could find dated back to the early 60s at least. There used to be a Little Sambo display and I was curious how long that lasted. It turned out there is a Little Sambo sign, although it doesn't depict any human characters, and I'm not sure about its legend. I took a photograph so I know I'm quoting it right:
Sambo wore his fine new clothes and went for a walk in the jungle. He met a big tiger who said, ``You have beautiful shoes and I have none.'' Sambo replied, ``I will give you my fine new shoes.'' The Tiger said, ``Very well, now I'm the grandest Tiger in the Jungle!'' The End.
(Actually, Sambo's reply doesn't have close quotes. Amusement park signage is surprisingly poorly copy-edited when you look at it.)
I'm not calling for more racially charged fairy tales, obviously. I just feel like ... well, why have this at all when you could just leave the Sambo stuff in the Hall of Embarrassing Stuff From Before White Guys Discovered Non-Whites Had Feelings, In 1978. It's a curious decision, almost like they tried to step back from ``things we're stunned white folks thought were fine in 1956'' without hitting the many, many tripwires of ``white folks whining about political correctness''.
I'm making more of this this than the park does. What I take to be the older, fairy-tale-themed areas are lovely, nestled in woods, and split well between static displays, animal displays, and animatronic displays. I'd be glad to see just this again, as well as more parks along these lines.
Trivia: According to legend, on his death in 804 AD Lu Yü --- a Taoist poet hired to extol the virtues of tea --- was transfigured into Chazu, the genie of tea. His effigy is still honored by tea dealers in the Orient. Source: The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug, Bennett Alan Weinberg, Bonnie K Bealer. (I'm not certain I believe this, but I love the idea of a genie of tea. And now that you've heard it, don't you too?)
Currently Reading: Moscow, 1937, Karl Schlögel, Translated by Rodney Livingstone.
PS: One Way We Write Functions, in case you needed any more.