Day 3: Disturbing Fairy Tales and Haunted Houses
Trip Start Jun 13, 2004
7Trip End Jun 19, 2004
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We spurn the weatherman and head out in search of breakfast. Driving up and down the main drag, we decide to stop at The Pancake House. I'm not a pancake fan, but any place that touts itself as a pancake house certainly must have eggs and home fries.
The Pancake House turns out to be a good stop, although not necessarily because of the food. Compared to the food at Betty Beavers, my eggs and home fries cost more, are a smaller serving, and aren't as tasty. However, Tristan gets a plate of massive pancakes which he enjoys, and Michelle gets a large serving of French toast that she lets me sample and it is very good.
But the real treat at the Pancake House is its strange décor. There are odd toys, and I mean odd, all over the restaurant. The sign for the men's room specifically mentions robots as well as men. It's this kitschy family environment, which is a real difficulty to pull off - not bizarre enough to scare grandma, but odd enough to entertain those with pop culture sensibilities...that makes this the perfect place to eat before going to the Magic Forest.
There are school buses parked at the edge of the Magic Forest parking lot and a sign that says they are only open until 2pm that day. In the center of the lot is a 30-40 foot Uncle Sam. Michelle and I snap pictures of the massive Uncle Sam, while Tristan comments on his doubts that the cables being used to hold it in place would stand up to a strong wind storm. But our car is parked far enough away so that if Uncle Sam wreaks carnage, we don't need to worry.
We head towards the ticket area. As we approach the counter, the young man looks at us like we're lost and asks "Can I help you?" He appears confused as to why three adults with no children are at his ticket window. We tell him we want tickets. I expect to either see him reach under the desk to press the "potential kidnappers" alarm, or to receive some sort of flyer about limiting the number of children we abduct from the park. But we get our tickets and walk in without being harmed.
The rides are going full tilt and kids are running all over the place. We decide to start at the right side of the park and systematically work our way through the entire attraction. We head into the squirrel house (I'm not sure what it was actually called), where numerous squirrels cavort in dioramas. They're whirling, spinning, and doing countless other disturbing actions.
Within the first five minutes, Michelle new digital camera stops working. She says she dumped all the photos to Tristan's laptop last night, but the camera says it is full. After fiddling with it for a few minutes, Michelle starts flipping out. She's so angry she starts punching the squirrels in the diorama. Heads and tails are flying everywhere!
Umm, okay I'm lying. She didn't do anything violent to the faux squirrels. But she did get really upset and start ranting. I was worried that she wouldn't be able to have any fun in the most colorful fiberglass pop culture overload in this city. Tristan and I just stood there, every once in awhile suggesting that she go back to the car to get her film and manual camera.
After my experience with the battery for my camera dying the first day, I thought she was lucky - at least she brought an extra camera so she could still take pictures. I had to stand there at the fabulous cement lawn statuary and think about all the photos I could have taken if my battery hadn't conked out. Michelle finally stomped off to the car and got her camera.
When she returned, she still mourned the lack of the instant gratification of digital. But soon enough she settled down and we all started having a good time. There were lots of reindeer in pens, and I think there were other animals around, like goats, but I'm a little fuzzy on that. I hope they were happy and well cared for, but I really wanted to see the fiberglass finery of the colorful nursery rhyme characters.
All too soon my wish came true as we happened upon the first life-size fiberglass people standing near a pumpkin so big we could stand inside it. My joyous approach toward the frozen figures came to an abrupt halt as I noticed the face of the one closest to me. The mouth hung open in an odd soundless scream and the round glass eyes were set in sunken black circles. What the....??!?!? Whose idea was it to make this woman look so spooky? She looked like one of the living dead.
It was one of the creepiest things I'd ever seen at a children's attraction. I say one of the creepiest as we hadn't seen the rest of the park yet. Little did I know that these odd haunted faces were littered throughout the Magic Forest. These were figures that belonged in a funhouse, not in a child's nursery rhyme park. We stared at them and tried to figure out why anyone would make such scary faces on theoretically harmless figures. Children ran right by them without so much as a shudder. Perhaps kids are enamored by the nursery rhyme experience rather than traumatized by the creepiness and potential lethality of the fiberglass goons.
Michelle said we should come back at night, climb the fence and take photos of the spooky plaster people in the dark. Oh yeah, right. I really want to be next to the life-sized, creepy, sunken eyed woman in a pitch black forest in the middle of night. If there's any time that thing is going to come to life and kill whoever it can get its hands on, it's by moonlight.
For all the confusion their scary faces and poses caused us, the figures look like they were made in the 1960s, which was one of their main appeals. Not only is there a kitsch factor, but things produced nowadays seem so sterile, lacking in personality, and overly protective. In the 60s and 70s, we rode bikes without helmets, played with Jarts (the weighted metal lawn darts that got banned when some idiot kid caught one with the top of his head), and played tag football games called Kill the Carrier. So I find today's "better put warning labels on everything" to be ridiculous. Heck if these figures were made today, they'd probably be identically made from one mold and look like giant smiling elves.
Don't think for a second that my ramblings on the creepiness of the figures is a complaint. At least these creatures have some sort of character and personality. It was surprising, but made us ponder what possible reason they would look this way. Yes, kids things were different in the 60s. It was okay to put 30 foot tall figures of an ax wielding, Amish Alfred E. Neuman in your fun park!
We wandered around the park for around three hours, taking photos of ourselves interacting with the figures and imitating the expressions on their strange looking faces. We also took pictures with those things where you stick your head through the hole so that your face appears to be on a cartoon body. Do those things have a name?
There was a little snack stand that sold mostly meat products, fries, drinks, and vanilla ice cream. So we passed on that, and went into the gift shop. They had some typical souvenirs, plus some odd ones like a little Peter Pan type hat with Magic Forest embroidered on the front, or the toy Nazi German Officers pistol. Huh? How'd that get here? I almost bought it, but decided against spending money on another useless object to clutter my house.
We decided we would take the train ride through the forest as there appeared to be lots of fiberglass objects sitting by the tracks. The cars filled with parents and children. The teenaged boy who was the conductor stared at us as we wandered into the train area without kids.
Let me tell you, this was one odd train ride. It started with the conductor welcoming us, advising us to remain seated and keep our hands within the cars. He does so in a completely lifeless monotone. I find myself wondering how many times an hour he has to make this same announcement.
While the train moves slowly down the track, we see the first of the figures in the woods. It's a Chinese coolie drawing a rickshaw behind him. You couldn't put that in a park nowadays. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Up ahead there is a fiberglass bear head with its mouth open. In fact, as we go along we see more and more animal heads. Oh my god! They're decapitating the animals?! At the sight of the first one, I thought "well that's certainly odd." But as head after head appeared by the tracks, I began to wonder just what the designer of this ride was thinking.
Eventually we burned out and could no longer take posing with the odd figures or wondering what was going on when someone decided that it was a good idea to have a squirrel repeatedly sliding up and down a banister. So we vacated the colorful zombie figure overload that is the Magic Forest.
We were really hungry by this time and stopped at the A&W on the main drag. They still have carhop service, which was a thrill for us. Actually, it is odd to think that eating in the car is a thrill since we could eat in the car any old day. I think it's the novelty of having someone walk up to your window to take your order. I don't know, it was just really cool and the waitress was very nice.
Tristan and Michelle got the famous A&W Root beer Floats, while I got fries and a mocha shake. When the waitress brought the floats, she wished them good luck. The ice cream was hanging half over the outside edge of the glass, and it was an extremely hot day. So the meltage was a serious concern. Tristan and Michelle thought it was pretty annoying that the ice cream wasn't all inside the mug.
This brought forth my Root beer Displacement Theory in which I said it must be because forcing the ice cream into the mug would displace too much Root beer making customers feel think they were shorted on Root beer. Unlike most of my theories, this one seems based in reality rather than absurdity.
As they pondered how to eat the floats without spilling them all over the car and themselves, I got my camera out to catch any disasters and proceeded to eat my well contained food. I guess I should applaud them both as neither spilled anything.
After eating this non-nutritional lunch, we went back to the motel to relax. We watched random TV shows and sat around our cabin until our brains stopped spinning. Then we drove down the road to Lumberjacks Pass Mini Golf! This was my least favorite mini golf because there were no odd storybook characters or fiberglass figures. Rather than being a novelty course, it was like a regular golf course. It was challenging but there was no shade, which was not good as the sun was beating down.
So once again we returned to the sanctuary of our cabin and cooled off by lying around doing nothing. Well, perhaps Michelle went down to the water as she was always bouncing around wanting to do something. But Tristan and I were content to lie pathetically on the couch or chairs.
As the sun started going down, we set off on foot toward the spooky attractions to be found on the main drag in town. We planned to hit the Alien Research Lab, House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, and Dr. Morbid's Haunted House. Oooo pretty spooky, right boys and girls?
First we went to the Alien Research Lab. We weren't sure what to expect and wondered if it would be as good as the wax museum and haunted house. As far as the scare factor, this was much scarier than the other two. First you enter a room which is filled with life-sized models of aliens. Photocopied newspaper articles detailing alien encounters and cover-ups hang on the walls. Inside glass cases are more photos and stories about aliens. There are also televisions playing amateur footage of UFOs.
We wandered around until a door opened at the far side of the room and a young man in a lab coat stepped out. He informed us that we should step this way to enter the research lab. When we stepped into the little vestibule/airlock, he shut the door behind us and explained that some of their specimens have escaped and they haven't been able to capture them all.
We hadn't realized that there was a "haunted house" attraction here. A door opened and a dark hallway was ahead of us. I was closest to the door, but didn't want to go first. In fact no one wanted to be first. Michelle ended up leading the way with Tristan and I following her. The hallway was a maze. It was dark and hard to see as we carefully picked our way down the hallway. A horrible banging started on our right and the walls shuddered making us all jump. An alien even snuck up behind me and touched my shoulder - eek!!
Further down the road is House of Frankenstein Wax Museum. Michelle and I were disappointed to see that photos were not allowed inside the wax museum. We wander down the winding hallway to see the wax horror that awaits us. After our experience in the Alien Research Lab, I keep expecting someone to jump out of the displays, but it never happened.
This attraction is literally what it claims to be - a museum of wax figures. In fact, many displays appear to be right out of the 1960s. It's really cool and reminds us of 1960s horror films. I wonder what kids of today think about the relatively tame scenes of horror though. There are the standard Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Salem Witch Trials, hanging, guillotine, and other death scenes from history or literature. There are even one or two scenes which feature wax figures of Vincent Price.
One scene really made me laugh. A man is standing on the trap door of the hangman's platform with a noose around his neck. Next to the platform the hangman stands ready to pull the lever to drop the trap door under the man's feet. As we watch, the hangman slowly pulls the lever and the trap door creeps downward. But instead of sliding down the tilting trap door or falling into the hole, the figure simply stays where it is suspended in midair, defying the laws of gravity. Then it slowly descends about six inches and stops. We stare incredulously and break into gales of laughter as the figure slowly ascends six inches to its original position and the trap door creeks shuts. Way to go, hangman!!
Upon leaving, we traveled a block to Dr. Morbid's Haunted House. I hate to admit it, but I was scared to go inside. The experience at the Alien Research Lab was fun, but had me thinking that Dr. Morbid's must be much scarier. The website and brochure feature a scary looking guy. I envisioned people jumping out screaming like banshees and sneaking up behind me. I told Tristan and Michelle I couldn't go inside.
They finally convinced me to go saying they would protect me from whatever lurked within. I was concerned that some screaming demon would cause me to smash my camera in a fit of terror, so I stowed it in Michelle's bag and made her latch the top - which she was loathe to do - so it wouldn't fall out. So a tip of the hat (a crazy felt leprechaun hat I guess) to Michelle for doing it even though she thought I was crazy, and for protecting both me and my camera!
The front desk of Dr. Morbid's was manned by a teenage girl wearing a cape. Her whole attitude reeked of "quit bothering me." She seemed under whelmed at the prospect of selling us tickets. We ended up in a group consisting of us and a father with his two sons who were under the age of ten. The kids were scoffing at the potential horror. Thankfully their father tried to shush them, telling them to pay attention to the person leading us through the house. We hoped they'd shut the kids up by scaring them.
They did seem to be a little scared, but overall they had the same reaction as me, which was "huh." There were times were I was nervous, but overall it was disappointing. I'm not sure if it was the atmosphere with the kids, but the whole experience was very short and not all that frightening - making me why I'd been scared to go in.
At one point the tour guide told us we needed to escape as the mad doctor was coming, pointed us towards a door and was then dragged off. We followed the father and his kids toward the door marked exit. They stopped at the door and the father said, "Ooo, what do we do now, kids? We can't get out this way. Where do we go?"
Tristan, Michelle, and I were behind them and nowhere near the door. I figured it was a fake door since he said we couldn't get out that way. The tour guide wandered back, saw us, and stopped short. The father asked, "Where do we go now?" The tour guide looked at us like we were morons, sarcastically saying, "Out the door in front of you... marked Exit." "That's it? It's over?" the father asks. Yup, that's it. As we wandered out, the lethargic ticket seller glanced over at us and then ignored us.
What I can't believe is that House of Frankenstein and Dr. Morbid's have absolutely no souvenirs!? It just doesn't make sense. I would definitely have bought a wax museum t-shirt. But neither had anything, (and the Universal Pictures monster postcards at the wax museum don't count). It makes no sense at all. I suppose it keeps their overhead low, but they're missing out on some prime marketing. It's free advertising.
When we left the haunted house, it was 8pm and we'd only had a lunch of floats/shakes at A&W. We walked along the main street looking at restaurants and decided to try S. J. Garcia's which stated it was a Mexican and American eatery. That should have been our clue that the Mexican food wouldn't be all that great. Everything was covered with enchilada sauce and fairly bland. It was disappointing as I'd been hoping for a good burrito.
When I looked at the menu, I didn't see anything that said all meals come with refried beans and rice. Perhaps it is a natural assumption that if you're eating Mexican food you want these staple foods. However, I don't want them anywhere near my plate. I'm not interested in them, and I'm disappointed to see them touching my burrito. If I need to order ala carte, okay. Perhaps I missed that on the menu, but maybe it is not an option because the meal would be cheaper without them.
As we were eating, the family from the haunted house tour wandered by the window where we were seated. On our way to find a restaurant, Michelle told the kids and their parents that they should go to the Alien Research Lab. As they passed by us the kids started jumping up and down, waving at Michelle and giving her the thumbs up. They had gone through the Alien attraction and loved it.
After dinner, we walked back to our cabin. Tristan went inside and became a lump in the chair. I turned on the TV and tried to be a lump on the couch, but Michelle made me go outside and take pictures of her jumping around under a street light in the parking lot. I wasn't sure what she was going for, so I just randomly shot picture after picture until her picture lust was satiated.