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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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  1. I hadn't kept up with Ghost Town's recent problems, and the incident with your 3 year old is truly scary. In the 1960's my family stopped by Ghost Town on our way to the Smoky Mountains. My mother liked neither the chair lift nor the inclined railroad. I think, however, the deal breaker was the cost - $48 for our family of 6, a princely sum back then.

    Jerusalem in the Sky sounds even more terrifying. Speaking of Cave City, I wonder if it will be anything like the old Golgotha Fun Park. :-)

  2. The price has gone way up....Its over 30 bucks a person to get in at this point. Personally, I think this is one of the reason they have had such trouble, especially charging the whole price when the park was not fully operational

    Love the Golgotha Fun Park! I will have to dig up my old pictures!

  3. I haven't been here in years. But I always loved it and miss it. I wish I could come there again some day!

    1. As of right now, it is open, so better move fast

    2. well I just have one thing to say me and my family has been to ghost town in the sky 22:30 time each summer for the past 10 15 20 years or until they close and then when they reopen we were back again each year so and we've never had no experience is like that and you could take what I say to heart or you can leave what I say don't worry about it

    3. well I just have one thing to say me and my family has been to ghost town in the sky 22:30 time each summer for the past 10 15 20 years or until they close and then when they reopen we were back again each year so and we've never had no experience is like that and you could take what I say to heart or you can leave what I say don't worry about it

  4. Hi! I just moved to the Asheville NC area from North TX. I've started exploring but was wondering if you could recommend places/sites to visit locally. I found your blog by Googling Ghost Town in Maggie Valley and after reading your post, I don't think I'll waste my time. Thanks so much! Tammy

    1. Apparently Ghost Town isn't going to open this year. Tons of pretty cool stuff in the area, if you are into kitschy stuff I would definitly start out by checking out Cherokee, NC as well as Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN

    2. Hey, thanks so much Jacob!! I checked out the towns you suggested. Sounds like loads of fun and will be on the top of my "kitschy" list of places to explore. btw... what a fun blog! Thanks again!

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  7. I wish it didn't have so many problems and could reopen. I visited as a kid and would love my children to be able to visit it one day...its sad it closed down! By the way my favorite part was panning for fools gold (I still have my gold I found) and the cowboy fight in the street I think I was 8 or 9 when I went and I can still remember like it was yesterday. I think not fitting in to tourism today is an understatement I still love cowboys and Indians lol to me they are tradition in the smokies I hope they are brought back its kinda dull without them :( don't get me wrong the smokies is fun to visit I have been lots sense I was a child but I miss that vacation I took as a child and its culture it stood for. I'm not sure where we were when we visited an outdoor areana and watched the Indians shoot each other if anyone knows please inform me if they still do this and where? It was set up like their village with tee pees and all and they were on horses and foot and shot each other with bows and arrows it was awesome watching this reenactment. E mail me if you know what I'm talking about we may have been in Cherokee but I'm not sure????

  8. I didn't know how lucky I was I went when the rollercoaster was called red devil everything was operational awesome memories

  9. I remember going to ghost town and santas land in cherokee. Now the only thing cherokee has going for it is the casino.

  10. I remember well my parents taking me and my brother and sister there in 79. I had a great time. My childhood heros were cowboys so this was exciting for me. I can remember all of us being to scared to ride the chairs so we rode the cable car up the mountain. After being up there for a few hours a storm came up. There was a person doing high dives into a small pool below. Lightening struck the board jsut as he was about to jump. He landed in the water and was ok. It was then that the officials told everyone to get off the mountain. EVERYBODY rode those chairs back down with lightening striking all around us.