“A Magical Place, Part of Another World”

This past weekend, a weird and wonderful event took place at the top of Beech Mountain, NC: the 15th annual “Autumn at Oz,” a pilgrimage and tribute to the bygone Land of Oz theme park that existed there from 1970 to 1980. (Photos from the weekend, and previous Land of Oz parties, can be viewed here).

I don’t recall visiting Oz myself (I would’ve been pretty young when it closed in 1980), but I do remember seeing leftover artifacts at the now-closed Appalachian Cultural Museum in Boone, and thinking to myself, “what an odd idea for a tourist attraction!” (Along those lines, I recommend the article “In Search of Emerald City,” a fascinating history of the “strange urge to create a life-sized Land of Oz.”)

Hugh Morton took many a photo at Oz during the decade of its existence, most (or all?) of which were for promotional purposes. Here are a few, along with the Museum’s nice, brief summary of the park’s history.

Aerial view of the "Land of Oz" theme park, Beech Mt., NC, circa early 1970s

“The Land of Oz was a theme park based on the characters of L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Built atop Beech Mountain in Watauga County, North Carolina, the park was designed to capitalize on the rugged beauty of the Blue Ridge while providing the activities popular with modern tourists. The Land of Oz was called “exquisite” and an “adventure, imaginative and unspoiled” by the Washington, DC Daily News, which gave the park its annual award in 1970 as the best new tourist attraction in America.

Theater at the "Land of Oz" theme park, Beech Mt., NC, circa early 1970s

The park’s developers, Grover and Harry Robbins of Boone, NC, and Jack Pentes, the designer of Oz, were determined to preserve the natural environment of the sixteen-acre park. The Land of Oz attracted over 400,000 people in its first year and became the leading tourist attraction in North Carolina almost overnight.

Not only was the Land of Oz owned locally, its construction relied on local carpenters, stonemasons, and renowned craftsmen like Daniel Boone V, who created the wrought iron work for the park. Oz also provided summer employment for some 150 young people who worked as characters, guides, and in the concessions.

Dorothy's House, at the "Land of Oz" theme park, Beech Mt., NC, circa early 1970s

The Land of Oz closed in 1980, the victim of the changed resort economy. But for a decade it was what designer Pentes had hoped for — a magical place, part of another world.”

Scene at the "Land of Oz" theme park, Beech Mt., NC, circa early 1970s

13 thoughts on ““A Magical Place, Part of Another World”

  1. This post brings back some memories from the 1970’s when I was directing a kids TV show at WFMY-TV in Greensboro. The show, “The Old Rebel Show,” featured the late George Perry as the Old Rebel. During that time, cast members from the “Land of Oz” appeared on the show. One of the public relations staff at “Oz” has related one of those visits on the “Old Rebel” web site (2nd letter):

    http://www.tvparty.com/oldrebel/after.html

    As the title of your post says: “A Magical Place, Part of Another World,” not only applies to the “Land of Oz,” but it could also apply to local TV kids programs.

  2. My family and I visited the Land of Oz attraction when I was 4 or 5. I have vivid, wonderful memories of my visit, from hugging Dorothy to hiding behind my Dad’s legs to get away from the Cowardly Lion (who scared me). Thanks for posting this, Elizabeth. I must try and get to next year’s event.

  3. I got ridiculously excited when I stumbled upon this post for the Land of Oz Theme Park. I play one of three Scarecrows for the park’s annual Autumn at Oz Party, and have researched and gathered materials for years from park’s hey-day. When something like this post is found, it’s hard for me to contain my excitement!

    From what I’ve told Elizabeth, I believe she is correct in saying these negatives were for promotional purposes… for a postcard series from about 1973 to 1975. They look to be in sequence for the set that was produced (although I don’t think were ever sold until the current re-openings) and can be seen at http://www.theimaginaryworld.com. The costumes shown in these photographs were destroyed in a fire at the Emerald City in Decemeber of 1975.

    Although Oz won’t ever have its balloon ride or Emerald City again, what remains of it still excites and touches everyone who attends the Autumn At Oz Party – whether they are visiting for the first time or returning from the 1970s. Amazing material like this that keeps popping up just adds to its incredibly interesting history and helps those of us who never got to attend it while it was originally open piece together what once was there.

    Thanks so much for posting!

  4. Man this bring back memories. I remember going here in the mid 70’s when I 6 or 7. We did a circut that summer that covered here, Tweetsie Ghost Town and Santaland. Was a magical summer and I still remember it as one of my first really ‘big” vacations.

  5. Before I was married, a friend and I went to the OZ. Oh, it was great. I believe it was in 1972. Then when I had my children, I took them there. It was right before they closed. I hope to go this year when they open the 1st week in Oct. to relive old memories.

  6. We loved this attraction. We have 3 children and in the 70’s, we visited his magical kingdom of Oz. Our children will forever remember this. It was as if we were really in the Land of Oz. So sorry this is no more. I would certainly visit it many, many times if it ever returned. We even met the Tin Man along the yellow brick road. Also all the others. We stopped occasionally and was in awe of the beautiful views.

  7. I have always been a huge Oz fan since I was 4 yrs old. I now work with special needs adults and would love to see the place I have always heard of in Beech Mt. I remember hearing my grandmother saying what a shame it was when a fire ruined the original dress Dorthy wore in the movie. I wonder if that really was the original dress. I should be kicked for now seeing the park yet being that I live in western North Carolina. I am looking this up right now at a public library with a special young man who would also love to visit the newly opened park. Maybe next October!

  8. I came to this beautiful park with my parents in January 1973. It was such a fun place. We did have a very frightening experience. We were stuck on the balloon ride for five hours!! There was a terrible thunderstorm during this ordeal. I was 5, my mom was 6 months pregnant with my little brother. They had no backup system to get us down, so the fire department was called and they hoisted up a rope and a small piece of wood. My dad made a “makeshift” swing and we were brought down, one-by-one on the swing, I went first. At the bottom, Dorothy (and TOTO!!) came to greet me and they took my parents and I to eat dinner at a private place in the park. I believe meeting Dorothy and the characters privately made up for the frightening experience, but I think twice now before I ever get on another gondola ride!! Everyone at the park felt so bad about what happened to the families who were stranded on this ride, we just happened to be the highest up and had to wait the longest to be rescued!!

  9. i realy want too go to the land of oz me ma mum ma dad ma grandad ma 2 sisters and my brother thankssyouu. make sure u reply back too me iver on this.. or facebook and am called jess leigh okaay thankss youu byee xx

  10. I visited the Oz theme park twice when I was young, I was about 7 years old and then again when I was about 10 years old. It was a magical place, I still remember it and wished it was still there so my children could enjoy it also. I bought a black felt hat with the words Land of Oz on it. I still have that hat, it is now at least 35 years old. I hope I can go back and enjoy the Festival.

  11. I went here when I was like 6. I loved it and never, ever forgot it. I have a memory of sitting on a rock wall and the witch grabbing my feet.. and of the witch sisters red/white socks poking out from under the house. Scarred the mess outta me then.. great place. wish it was still there.

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