As I step off of Dorothy’s back porch, I see the withered twitching legs of the Wicked Witch of the East under the house. The yellow brick road is before me and brighter and more magical than I ever imagined.
Hidden among the twisty roads of Beech Mountain, NC, the highest town east of the Rocky Mountains, the Land of Oz awaits. The defunct theme park was the passion project of Grover Robbins, the man behind the successful and still operational Tweetsie Railroad. The park was plagued with problems from the onset with Grover’s death shortly before the park opened in 1970. Problems continued throughout the park’s ten year run, including a devastating fire in 1975.
Grover Robbins knew that the L. Frank Baum books and Wizard of Oz film from 1939 would endure. Cynthia Keller, caretaker to the park, sees it every year for the popular Autumn at Oz event (usually the first weekend in October). People of all ages, take the slow drive up the twisty mountain to travel to Oz.
For the two day event, there are hordes of Dorothys with ruby red slippers and prides of cowardly lions enjoying the park. Costumed volunteers line the walk: one of the scarecrows is a master of somersaults and one of the tin men says “oil me” through clenched teeth.
There is an intriguing mix of psychedelic elements (the middle of Dorothy’s house is dark and seen in black light with a projected twister), homemade and Hollywood (they have some props and costumes from the film), as well as melancholy and whimsy.
Parts of the walk are truly terrifying: green faced guards block the entrance to the witch’s lair and those horrible flying monkeys pop out from seemingly nowhere to give chase for a few steps. I don’t know if it is the lack of oxygen or my great affection for these characters (growing up the film was an annual event and I was Dorothy from age 8-10 in a small 4th of July parade in Iowa), but I love this place.
The 2013 Autumn at Oz took place October 5th & 6th. During the rest of the year, Dorothy’s home is rentable as a hotel room. If you ask nicely, Cynthia Keller can usually leave the gate open so you can take a look as long as she knows and you won’t steal the bricks.
Originally published in The American Guide. 2013.