Eye on GSO
Once in a Lullaby
Tales from the real Land of Oz
By Billy Eye
Last month, when Wicked blew through town, I was reminded of my own trip over the rainbow to the actual Land of Oz.
Perhaps you recall that fabled but star-crossed 1970s amusement park nestled atop Beech Mountain? You entered the attraction through Dorothy’s Kansas farmhouse, where you would “experience” the tornado and then, once the dust settled, exit the home to find two legs in striped stockings sticking out from under the frame.
Joining Dorothy’s journey down the Yellow Brick Road, park guests encountered the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the West. The adventure culminated with a big stage extravaganza at the Wizard’s Emerald City castle, then visitors were whisked back to the parking lot in a gondola lift retrofitted to look like a hot-air balloon.
Land of Oz opened in 1970 as a sister attraction to Tweetsie Railroad. After a successful first year, attendance grew spotty even before a fire badly damaged the premises in 1975. New owners pumped major money into the venture in 1977. That summer I was hired to play the Scarecrow for a promotional shopping mall tour across a three-state region.
At the Carolina Circle in Greensboro, Dorothy and I entertained children with a musical puppet show created by Jerry Halliday (a Vegas mainstay with a risqué show you wouldn’t dream of taking your kids to, although his Oz puppets were adorable). I only visited the Land of Oz theme park once on a VIP tour meant to give us a sense of what the attraction was all about.
Neglected for decades but mostly intact (except for the Emerald City, which was raised for a housing development), Oz has been open to the public summer weekends since 2019 as more of a theatrical experience. In fact, their Autumn at Oz event is the largest Wizard of Oz-themed festival in the world. (Eye attempted to get tickets in 2016 when they were booking limited monthly tours, but the demand was so high that it crashed their computer system.)
After 30 years of slow but ongoing restorations, the Yellow Brick Road is once again the pathway to a magical place from a long ago past, one you may have heard of once in a lullaby.
Next summer, a somewhat truncated but magnificently restored Land of Oz will once again open their gates for visitors and private parties. Visit landofoznc.com for more details.