4 things to know about this NC theme park where ‘The Wiz­ard of Oz’ spirit is alive

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY DAVID MENCONI dmen­[email protected]­sob­server.com David Menconi: @NCDavidMen­coni

Land of Oz is one of the more pe­cu­liar land­marks in North Carolina, or the world.

Modeled on the iconic 1939 movie star­ring Judy Gar­land, it orig­i­nally opened as a theme park in 1970 on Beech Moun­tain, a ski re­sort about four hours west of Raleigh. The orig­i­nal mo­ti­va­tion was to ex­tend the re­sort’s busi­ness year be­yond ski sea­son.

Land of Oz was a hit right out of the gate, draw­ing 400,000 vis­i­tors its first year and fast be­com- ing one of the most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions on the East Coast.

But that was Land of Oz’s best year, and the park was soon strug­gling to stay afloat. It never fully re­cov­ered from a 1975 fire and fi­nally closed in 1980, its at­trac­tions fall­ing into dis­re­pair at the hands of thieves and van­dals.

Just as in­ter­est has never waned in the movie, how­ever, Land of Oz has never been for­got­ten, even though its time was brief. Since the early 1990s, it has opened for a few week­ends a year, draw­ing sell­out crowds.

That was the case for the re­cently con­cluded sum­mer sea­son, which drew the max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of 7,500 dur­ing week­ends in June. With tick­ets on sale now for the Sept. 7-9 fall sea­son, here are four take­aways.

For tick­ets and de­tails, call 800-514-3849 or visit LandOfOzNC.com.

1. IT’S A DIF­FER­ENT EX­PE­RI­ENCE DE­PEND­ING ON WHEN YOU VISIT.

The sum­mer sea­son is “Jour­ney With Dorothy,” which is es­sen­tially a guided tour through the movie’s sights and scenes with a singing ac­tress play­ing Dorothy as your tour guide down the Yel­low Brick Road.

Septem­ber, mean­while, is “Au­tumn at Oz.” There are still tours one can take, but vis­i­tors have more the run of the grounds.

“The June tours are more of a ho­mage to the tours that hap­pened from 1976 to 1980,” said Sean Bar­rett, the New York­based artis­tic di­rec­tor who has been in­volved with Land of Oz since 2001. “Last year, we went in and gut­ted it a lit­tle bit, re­did some things. When you’re in ‘Kansas’ now, there are three vi­gnette shows hap­pen­ing in ro­ta­tion. So you’re in the mid­dle of a scene while wait­ing to go through the tor­nado.”

Also of note, tick­ets for “Au­tumn at Oz” are more ex­pen­sive at $40, ver­sus $25 for “Jour­ney With Dorothy.”

2. YOU MIGHT FIND YOUR­SELF DRAFTED INTO THE CAST.

And yes, they have out­fits. Dur­ing this past month’s “Jour­ney With Dorothy,” I wound up wear­ing a wig that smelled like an an­tique store, play­ing the Cowardly Lion as I led the au­di­ence in a sin­ga­long.

“Yes it’s sad, be­lieve me, Missy

When you’re born to be a sissy

With­out the vim and verve

But I could show all my prow­ess

Be a lion, not a mou-ess If I only had the nerve...” Everybody in our group seemed to know ev­ery word, of the songs as well as key lines of di­a­logue. It was not un­like be­ing at a mid­night screen­ing of “The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show” with an au­di­ence well-versed in all the movie’s de­tails.

3. AS LAND OF OZ DEMON­STRATES, ‘THE WIZ­ARD OF OZ’ HAS RE­MAINED REL­E­VANT IN THE AGE OF PIXAR.

Young chil­dren were just as en­chanted by “Jour­ney With Dorothy” as their par­ents, even though “The Wiz­ard of Oz” first hit movie screens al­most 80 years ago. Kids barely old enough to walk were lin­ing up to hug Dorothy.

“Yeah, lit­tle girls all run up and talk to Dorothy,” said Bar­rett. “They all know ex­actly who she is. To me, a lot of the ap­peal of ‘The Wiz­ard of Oz’ is that Dorothy is not a princess look­ing for her prince. She’s this ev­ery­day girl who hap­pens to go on this crazy ad­ven­ture, meets awe­some friends. And all she wants to do is go home.

“Plus she has a dog, and everybody likes dogs.”

4. BUT UL­TI­MATELY, NEI­THER LAND OF OZ NOR THE MOVIE ARE ABOUT PROPS.

As with most such ar­ti­facts, the point is less the des­ti­na­tion than the jour­ney.

“The moral of the story is that ev­ery­thing you’re look­ing for is al­ready in­side of you, and you reach your fullest po­ten­tial while help­ing oth­ers,” said Bar­rett. “We’ve all felt like we’re not loved or smart or brave enough, and the movie touches on that, too. It all com­bines to make it an on­go­ing, lon­glast­ing clas­sic.”

ROBERT WIL­LETT rwil­[email protected]­sob­server.com

Dorothy takes vis­i­tors to the Land of Oz atop Beech Moun­tain for a tour of the yel­low brick road dur­ing the “Jour­ney with Dorothy” event on June 8. Tick­ets are now on sale for the Sept. 7-9 event, “Au­tumn at Oz.”

ROBERT WIL­LETT rwil­[email protected]­sob­server.com

Dorothy walks down the yel­low brick road June 8. Al­most 80 years af­ter the fa­mous movie, the “Oz” story is still pop­u­lar: Lit­tle kids line up for a chance to hug Dorothy.

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