It was Manchester native Bob Morrell. According to this “Images of America” series book, Morrell and his wife met a famous toymaker in Germany, where Morrell was stationed during the Korean War, and they heeded her advice to start a storybook village back home.
Back in the White Mountains, two years before Disneyland existed, they began to build a theme park based on well-known storybook characters. It opened in 1954, “little more than a gravel footpath on hilly terrain with a handful of colorful small buildings” — a description borne out by the photos. An actress in costume played Mother Goose; real pigs played the three pigs. The park grew and it stayed in the family until 2007, when it was purchased by a Pennsylvania company that was later bought by a Spanish conglomerate.
If you ask me, the place is kind of creepy, but they say the best way to get over your fears is to face them, in which case this book could serve as a self-help guide.
Consider the photo on page 11 captioned, “The Story Town entrance gate featured large wooden cutouts of a storyteller and child.” See, I would not have known it was supposed to be a storyteller and child. I would have thought it was… well, to be honest, it sort of looks like two people of very different heights having some kind of gas-passing competition. They have long strange noses and no apparent eyes and I would be afraid to go home with either one of them. I don’t think anyone has ever told a story while squatting in that position, or is she hovering over the child, readying to pounce?
But now that I’ve read the caption, I feel better. At least I know the intention was good.
Then there’s the park’s first version of Humpty Dumpty (there’s a newer one now), who sits on a wall at the entrance. He has arms and legs and a huge head but no torso. His legs grow out of his chin. He also, unlike any other egg I’ve ever encountered, has hair. But what troubles me most is his perky smile. You kind of want to warn him. And this is the first character who welcomes you to the park.
But the ultimate is the fiberglass clown. “A cornerstone of the park’s business philosophy,” writes Miller, “was to frequently add simple props that appealed to children and helped create a lasting memory, even if it did not generate a measurable return on investment by itself.” Lasting memory, indeed. The picture shows a boy climbing up to the lap of the completely unresponsive, never-blinks fiberglass clown.
The park has also, over the years, come to include many exhibits that aren’t strictly fairytale-related: the South of the Border area with a Silver Mine, several “roaming characters” like Ollie the green elephant and a Mr. and Mrs. Seal. It also acquired roller coasters.
Anyway, being able to view these things with some distance is, I think, helpful.
Of course the book is interesting as a historical record, complete with fun facts like that Cinderella’s Castle is furnished with castoffs bought cheaply from fancy estates, including mirrors from a Baltimore mansion.
The prose can be kind of a stretch. “Young children found the new architecture visually stunning and the horse-drawn coach ride and audience with a princess awe-inspiring” — did they really? Because stunning and awe-inspiring did not leap to my mind when I saw the picture.
But whatever your reaction to the park, a tour through this paperback photo album could be enlightening. The author notes that almost all of what’s on the 1960 Story Land map (see pages 36-37) is still there today. Now you can see how it got there, and find out what they were thinking.