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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ghost Town in the Sky: The Cursed Amusement Park

Opening up in 1960s the Ghost Town in the Sky Amusement Park in Maggie Valley, NC was one of the most popular attractions in the Smokey Mountains.  It was made in a time when kids loved nothing more then pretending to be cowboys and hoping that one day they would get to shoot Indians.  The Amusement Park was built on the top of a Mountain, which greatly added to the charm.  The only ways to reach it was an incline train or a chair lift.  In the last decade it has been haunted by non-stop trouble.



My introduction to Ghost Town was a bit horrifying.  Me and my family are a bit afraid of heights.  We all decided that we would made an attempt to go up the chair lift, despite being pretty nervous.  None of us had ever ridden a chair lift before and weren't exactly clear on how it worked.  We got in position to get on and as the chair neared we set our three year old daughter inside.  The chair promptly began whisking her up the Mountain by her lonesome, with the safety bar not secured.  The chair lift operator panicked and tried to grab the bottom of the chair, nearly dumping my daughter out.  Meanwhile, my wife miraculously scurried up a rock wall and jumped backwards into the chair.  Me and my son road the chair behind them. My hands were shaking the whole time.  Partly because riding the chairlift was terrifying and partly because I almost watched my 3 year old daughter carried up a mountain unsecured.



The chair lift would actually mark the beginning of Ghost Town's problems.


In 2002 the chair lift would malfunction and leave guests hanging in the air for 2 hours in the rain.  Days after the incident the park would be shut down and be closed for the next 5 years.  Ghost Town would reopen in 2007 to much fanfare.  This is when my family visited.

The park wasn't fully operational by any means.  The train up the mountain, nor the train around the attraction were not working.  Many rides, including the "Cliffhanger" roller coaster (their #1 attraction) were not operational.


Fortunately, the main draw of Ghost Town has always been their Wild West Town. We started out by watching a charming little Can Can show in their Saloon.


After the show we walked out into the street for the main event:  The Gun Fight.


The mood is set with a little Clint Eastwood-esque music and a gravel voiced narrator stepping into the street.  I have witnessed 3 gunfights at Ghost Town over the years and they all had different stories, so they must rotate them.

Of course the basic framework is the same........The bad guys roll into Town.....



They are up to no good.......


Then the Sheriff and his men come in and start blowing them away.....


Bullets fly and cowboys die.....


Some guy gets his belt shot off and runs around with his pants around his ankles......


Little kids cry because they think they just watched people get murdered...........



The the comic relief begins when Ghost Town's signature character, Digger the Undertaker, begins his act.



This act includes checking to make sure the cowboys are dead, and shooting them if they are not......


Then he folds up their bodies and robs them of their cash....



My daughter was a touch traumatized by the whole ordeal and ran over and gave the cowboy a hug when she realized that he was still alive.  Man, this day makes me sound like a horrible father.....


Oddly enough, this photo would appear in "Idaho Magazine", despite me never having been to Idaho.


The Cowboys then posed with cheerful tourists for photos.


Check out this full gunfight....



After the gunfight we took a stroll around the wild west town and checked out the various wild-west scenes that had been set up with Mannequins.






Most of Ghost Town is dedicated to Cowboys, but the Indians do get a small table to give blow dart demonstrations and do face painting.


You can also buy Native American crafts made by a real pro-wrestler....


Here is Ric Youngblood in action.....


Ghost Town's Renaissance would not last long.  Despite them promising that their Roller Coaster would be operational "soon", it would not open that year.  The following year the Roller Coaster would be open for a total of one day, when state inspectors promptly shut it down.  My son's friend road it and said that they put cinder blocks in the cars to balance them out.  Keep in mind this is a Roller Coaster with at 360 loop.   Ghost Town would get more and more bad press as it turned out that they were way in debt and were not paying their employees, who continued working there out of loyalty.  Ghost Town begged the local government for money, which was met with local anger.

After crawling through a 2009 season another devastating blow occurred when a retaining wall blew out causing a serious mudslide causing 40 homes being evacuated.

Recently, Ghost Town was purchased for a bargain price by a local woman with the impressive name "Alaska Presley".   Ghost town was supposed to open again for 2013, but things are already looking grim as the opening has been pushed back several times and is now indefinite.

Alaska has posted her plan on Ghost Town's website.  The most fascinating is that she plans on recreating a replica of Jerusalem on top of the Mountain.  Not sure what this has to do with Wild West, but its intriguing.  There has even been talk of Alaska building a giant Rio-esque Jesus to top off the Mountain.  Now that is something I desperately want to see!

It is really sad to see a classic roadside attraction struggling to stay alive and I do wish them the absolute best at maintaining part of the old Roadside.  Sadly, I can't help but feel that the final closure is inevitable.  A little Wild West Amusement park may just not fit into the modern tourist's itinerary.

Over in Cave City, KY is Ghost Town's karmic cousin:  Guntown Mountain.


Now, I don't like to hate on Cave City, but if Ghost Town is anything, it is far superior to Guntown.

Much like Ghost Town, you must reach the town through Chairlift, which is slightly less terrifying, as the Mountain isn't nearly as high.


The town itself is similar to Ghost Town and they have their own gunfights.....


But sadly, instead of a gravel-voiced narrator, we are relegated to a pre-recorded narration and a gun fight lasting about 30 seconds.  It pretty much involved the cowboys all walking out into the street and immediately shooting each other dead.







All in all, these places are a call back to a simpler time, and may just not have a place in our modern world.  However, its still fun to watch people pretend to shoot each other.

UPDATE: More bad news from Ghost Town in the Sky


The Carpetbagger

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