The Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina was meant to be a magical place somewhere over the rainbow, but after a shaky start, break-ins, fires, and poor management, its doors were quickly shuttered. Sitting abandoned for 35 years, the park has recently been undergoing restoration in an attempt to bring the magic of Oz back to the public.
‘Land of Oz’ opens for business
In the late 1960s, entrepreneurs Grover Robbins and his brothers Spencer and Harry were looking for a way to increase tourism to Beech Mountain in North Carolina, which was primarily a ski resort, during the off-season. They consulted with designer Jack Pentes, and the “Land of Oz” theme park was born.
Grover had already worked in the business of theme parks, having created the Tweetsie Railroad, a Wild West theme park in North Carolina that is still in operation today. Unfortunately, Land of Oz never saw that same success.
Some of the main attractions of the park included the yellow brick road, Emerald city, a ski lift “hot air balloon” ride that gave an aerial view of the park, and the Witch’s castle.
Before the park even opened, Robbins died of cancer. Some say that this was a bad omen that started the decline of the park before it was even in operation. However, in 1970, the park opened its doors, with Debbie Reynolds, accompanied by her daughter, Carrie Fisher, cutting the ribbon.
Reynolds was a partner in the business and had amassed a vibrant collection of Hollywood memorabilia over the years that included Dorothy’s ruby slippers. As a result, Reynolds helped the park gather its collection of original and similar props and costumes.
The theme park suffered some serious damage in the 1970s
In 1975, the Emerald City area was destroyed in a mysterious fire that is still unexplained. The fire grew to be very large and caused significant destruction. Emerald City, the amphitheater, some shops, and a restaurant were all damaged.
Additionally, during this time, thieves and vandals broke into the park’s museum and stole many of the props and costumes from the original 1939 film that were procured with the help of Reynolds. This included the iconic gingham dress worn by Judy Garland.
The doors to the Emerald City closed for good
After the fire and robberies, the theme park changed ownership and changes were made that caused attendance to dwindle. The real animals that once roamed Dorothy’s Kansas barn were replaced with animatronic ones, the yellow brick road was no longer being maintained and was deteriorating, and the sound system that played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was warped and constantly cut out.
The new owners let the theme park fall into disrepair and after only 10 years of operation, Land of Oz closed its doors to the public in 1980. While abandoned, the park became a big yellow target for thieves and vandals, and it seemed as though the whimsy of Land of Oz was lost forever.
Once abandoned, Land of Oz reopens occasionally
During the 1990s, Emerald Mountain Realty took on the property and began to slowly restore Land of Oz to its former glory. Opening only a few times a year, the park has been offering tours to provide an income that helps to continue the restoration process.
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Demand to see the old Land of Oz soared, and today the tours sell out fast. Available in early summer for the “Journey with Dorothy” tour and again in September for the “Autumn at Oz” tour, visitors can see the park in a hybrid state of restoration and decay that is sure to make anyone say “there’s no place like home!”