Amusement Parks, animals, Pop Culture

Kings Island: Trespassers will be eaten.

Kings Island Trespassers will be eaten photoOriginal publish date: February 6, 2017

It should come as no surprise to you that I have an affinity for Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I’ve been fortunate enough to have ridden the popular theme park ride at Disneyland in California as a little kid with my mom and again as an adult with my family. Likewise, I rode the Haunted Mansion ride at Florida’s Disney World shortly after it opened with my mom and have ridden it dozens of times since with my wife and kids. It never gets old.
Over the years I have been reeled in by the master marketing of Disney imagineers and their many forms of merchandise based upon the popular ride. Somehow or other I have amassed a small collection of items ranging from art posters and statues to toys and tchotchkes of every variety. I have been gifted with relics actually used in the ride over the years ranging from doorknobs to wallpaper that once adorned the walls of this popular haunted mecca.
This past Christmas my family gave me the last in a series of art statues modeled after the characters depicted in the famous stretching portraits that greet visitors in the anteroom. Here Master Gracey invites all “foolish mortals” who dare enter his home by requesting that all visitors step into the “dead center” of the room. As the Ghost Host delivers his spiel, the room (which is actually a slow creeping elevator) begins to “stretch” vertically. The portraits on the wall elongate, revealing the grim fates of the previous residents depicted in the bucolic paintings seen only moments before. The paintings stretch into humorously macabre situations: a middle-aged bearded man holding a document is shown to be standing atop a barrel of dynamite in his boxer shorts with a candle lighting the fuse; a smiling elderly woman holding a rose is shown to be sitting on the tombstone of her late husband George, who is depicted as a stone bust with an ax in his head; and a confident-looking middle-aged man in a bowler hat is shown to be sitting on the shoulders of a frightened-looking man, while sitting upon the shoulders of a third man who is waist-deep in quicksand, an expression of terror on his face; and finally, a beautiful young girl holding a pink parasol is shown to be balancing on a fraying tightrope above the gaping jaws of a ferocious alligator.
She is one of the 999 ghosts that inhabit the Haunted Mansion and, like everything at Disney World, she has her own backstory. WDW cast members call her “Lillian Gracey” and say she was a tightrope walker who strung her rope across to Tom Sawyer’s Island from the Mansion grounds where she met her grizzly fate. She looks like she is completely oblivious to anything that is going on around her. She has no clue at all what is awaiting her below should she fall. Proud as I was, and still am, to add alligator girl to my modest collection, my daughter Jasmine shared some info with me that put a new spin on the statue.
Fresh from a New Year’s Eve trip to Disney World with her friends (they opened the park at 10:00 and stayed well after Midnight…you can only do that when you’re young) she informed me that the statue had been pulled from all sales outlets in the park. She explained how, time and time again, she and her friends listened while Disney sales staffers informed angry customers the statue was no longer being offered for sale. Jasmine asked one of the sales staff, known as “Cast Members”, why the statues had been pulled. The cast member explained it was a result of the August 2016 alligator attack on park property that had tragically killed a 2-year-old Nebraska boy. The cast member explained that people were getting angry because alligator girl was the last one they needed to complete their set.
Although the revelation was interesting , I didn’t think much more about it until I ran across an evocative amusement park relic a couple weeks later. It was a pair of souvenir salt & pepper shakers from the Kings Island amusement park near Cincinnati, Ohio. Although dating from the earliest years of the park (which opened in the Spring of 1972) the set had a distinctive Mid-Century Modern look to it that attracted me. On the front of each shaker was the image of a thick-maned lion resting in front of a wooden sign reading: “Trespassers will be eaten.” The set was a souvenir from the short lived Lion Country Safari attraction inside the park.
z lionsDon’t remember THAT part of Kings Island? Well, that may due to the fact that this “ride” came with an up charge. It required an extra 50 cent ticket to enter. Most kids didn’t go because they didn’t have the extra money or because their parents were unwilling to spring for the extra expense.
The Lion Country Safari opened on April 27, 1974, almost two years to the day from the opening of the park itself. The animal themed area featured various attractions, including multiple small animal exhibits, a restaurant (today known as the Stunt Crew Grill), a gift shop and a large monorail. In 1974, over 300 animals were housed inside the safari included 12 elephants, 25 rhinoceros, 5 giraffes, 4 hippopotamus, 20 ostriches, 20 zebras, 150 antelope, 1 cape buffalo, 75 “critters” (monkeys, swans, exotic birds, etc.) and 70 lions and assorted other big cats.
Mostly, the ride consisted of a two-mile monorail (known as Kenya Safari) that was part of the new trend of “drive-in zoos” popping up in amusement parks all over the country. The trains were fully enclosed and powered by electricity. They ran on rubber wheels and were designed to travel around six miles per hour. This allowed for a 20-25 minute ride. The park estimated the six train monorail could accommodate up to 2,000 guests per hour.

z 1974-Kings-Island-Map
Kings Island’s Lion Country Safari was completely surrounded by nine-foot high chain-link fences. The fences were hidden from view by hills, strategically planted trees and thick shrubbery designed to create the illusion that visitors were actually in Africa rather than the Miami Valley. The lion section featured additional security measures by means of a separate six-foot high fence within the larger boundary fence. In addition, the electrical current running through the monorail track itself acted as a security measure by discouraging animals from using it as an escape route.
But, without a doubt, it was the animals that were the safari’s main attraction. In particular, as the name denotes, the lions. Originally, the animals were brought in by an outside third party vendor. As the animal population began to push 300, it became very clear, very soon that changes were needed. Although the safari was secure and there is no record of a guest ever having been harmed by an animal at the park, one incident in particular brought change and infamy to Kings Island’s Lion Country Safari. On July 24, 1976, a lion mauled a 20-year-old Lion Country Safari ranger to death. Officially, he had left his protected vehicle for “unknown reasons”. However, park legend insists that he was killed when he left the safety of his jeep to relieve himself.
Which brings me back to that classy looking set of Mid-century modern salt & pepper shakers and their depiction of a lion resting under the “Trespassers will be eaten” sign. I would imagine that the reason we don’t often see this Kings Island souvenir set is that it was surely pulled from the shelves after the Bicentennial year tragedy. If not directly pulled, they were certainly never reordered. Incidentally, this unnamed Safari Ranger is rumored to haunt the area where the attraction was once located. Today, that space is used for roller coasters Flight of Fear, Firehawk and the new Banshee (where the Son of Beast once stood).
However, although sales of those sardonically unfortunate salt & pepper shakers most certainly stopped, the encounters between employee and beast continued. On May 26, 1982, a park employee was attacked by a lion while cleaning the lion’s compound. 34-year-old Terry Raitt suffered a punctured trachea and several bite wounds to the head, chest and upper torso. He managed to climb onto the roof of a building to escape the attack. There paramedics reached him and he was rushed to Bethesda North Hospital in critical condition.Thankfully, he survived. In August, the OSHA ruled that the mauling was due to human error and found no safety violations. Raitt later admitted that he had accidentally left the gate open, allowing the lion to enter the area. Because of this attack, OSHA recommended that rangers be armed with handguns, alongside the shotguns that they already carried in their jeeps.
In the 20 years it was open, more than 15 million people visited the animal preserve before it closed in 1993. The air conditioned monorail was especially popular on blazing hot summer days in the years before the Splash park opened in 1989. Ultimately, the cost of the animal upkeep, low monorail ridership, use of the land, and lack of interest spelled doom for Lion Country Safari. Roller Coasters, which unlike animals, don’t ever die, became a much more attractive option.

z LCS-Entrance-1974
The entrance to the Monorail at Kings Island’s Lion Country Safari.

There are a precious few safari traces available for urban explorers to discover. For perspective, the monorail entrance was located to the right of the current Drop Tower. The overpass that exists at the entrance to The Bat and The Banshee (now used as a park access road) was an original section of monorail track, as well as the access road rangers used to get to the animals. The monorail station was located where the Xtreme Skyflyer tow poles are now and near where the Son of Beast midway was once located.
However, should you still pine for the old Kings Island’s Lion Country Safari, you can catch a glimpse of it if you wish. The old monorail marks the entrances to Jungle Jim’s International Markets in Fairfield and near Eastgate Mall near Cincinnati. Ask anyone living east of Greenfield and they’ll tell you that you haven’t lived until you’ve been to Jungle Jim’s. Imagine a supermarket with an amusement park inside and you’ll get the idea. I suppose in today’s hyper-sensitive overly politically correct world, we can look back on things once considered innocent, humorous and inoffensive and wonder how we ever survived.

animals, Disney, Pop Culture

The Feral Cats of Disneyland.

disney cats       Original publish date:  December 7, 2013

At last count, there were 35 official Walt Disney cats. Figaro, Lucifer, Cheshire, Bagheera, Shere Khan, Thomas O’Malley, Duchess, Tigger, Rufus, Oliver, Dinah, Mufasa, Simba, Nala, Scar, all of those Aristocats and who can forget Si and Am from Lady and the Tramp? “We are Siamese if you please.” There’s an ear-worm for the rest of your day. No doubt, some of those cat names sound familiar while others ring silent in your mind. But do you know about the feral cats of Disneyland?
Every night at the California Disneyland theme park, after the bedraggled parents head for the exits with their sunburned children in tow, after the exhausted employees (Disneyland calls them “cast members”) have headed for home, the park fills up again, this time, with some 200 hundred feral cats. Never heard of a feral cat? A feral cat is a domestic cat that has returned to the wild. A feral cat is different from a stray cat, which is defined as a cat that has been lost or abandoned, while feral cats are born in the wild. Although the offspring of a stray cat can be considered feral if born in the wild.
When Disneyland opened over a half century ago in 1955, the location was then a rural suburb of Los Angeles called Anaheim. An area best known for producing oranges for juice and grapes for wine with a population under 15,000 people. It quickly grew to over 100,000 by 1960 and today it’s population numbers over 350,000. As the town quickly became a city the pet population grew accordingly. Almost from the start, feral cats began to gather behind the gates of the Magic Kingdom. Many factors contributed to this frenzied feline phenomenon; safety, shelter, community, but mostly food.
In the earliest days of the park, things were quite different than they are today. True, the park employed dozens of “cast members” to pick up trash back in the day, but the emphasis was on ride cleanliness back then rather than the meticulous state of grounds keeping we can see today. During renovation of the Sleeping Beauty castle two years after Disneyland opened, more than 100 cats were found living in the unused portion. Worse yet, a colony of fleas permeated the area as well.
No doubt, these feral cats were first drawn to Disneyland by the discarded scraps of food left behind on park grounds by guests, but the cat population stayed for another reason: Mice. Ironic when you consider the entire Walt Disney juggernaut was built around a mouse. While Mickey Mouse may have put Disneyland on the map, a colony of feral cats helps keep the famous theme park rodent-free. The cats were first drawn to a long forgotten “lost” land of Disneyland known as “Holidayland.” Operating from 1957 to 1961, Holidayland was a 9-acre grassy picnic area located along the western edge of Disneyland, near the area that is now New Orleans Square.
SteveC_LgT_Holiday1Holidayland had its own admission gate into Disneyland and could hold up to 7,000 guests for large events. It featured playgrounds, horseshoes, a baseball diamond, volleyball courts and other activities. The centerpiece was billed as “the world’s largest candy-striped circus tent” which had previously been used by the short-lived.Mickey Mouse Club Circus and Keller’s Jungle Killers attractions inside the original Disneyland theme park. Food and concessions were available for purchase in Holidayland including beer, which was not available inside the gates of Disneyland.
Despite providing alcohol for the relief of sun-scorched adults, Holidayland floundered, and eventually failed, after only 4 years due to its lack of shade, absence of nighttime lighting and the unsettling thought that it had no restrooms. Did I mention they sold beer? Today, the former location of Holidayland houses part of the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean rides. But back then, when the picnickers left, the feral cats were now left to meander new regions of the Magic Kingdom.
Holidayland1  At first, the cats were considered to be a bit of a nuisance and a possible threat to the guests. Attempts to control, cajole or coax the cats proved futile. After all, these were non-paying guests and Uncle Walt was simply not going to stand for that. So, rather than try to evict them, Disneyland decided to employ them. Soon, the cats became an integral part of the park’s everyday operations.
But don’t expect to spot one on your next visit as they hide during the daytime. The cats are free to come and go as they please, but only at night. The cats join the 600 custodians, painters, gardeners and decorators who work through the night to ensure that the world’s best known theme park meets the squeaky-clean ideals that Walt Disney himself extolled so many years ago. The cats work alongside a human crew that works 365 nights a year, toiling under portable floodlights sprucing, fixing and adjusting this city that never sleeps.
Siamese Cats             Just as the feral cats of Disneyland have their own specific job, every nighttime worker has his own specific task. Three workers are responsible solely for repairing and replacing the 800 umbrellas, 25,000 chairs and about 7,000 tables in the restaurants and snack bars in Disneyland and neighboring California Adventure Park. Four certified divers collect submerged trash and make repairs on water attractions like Finding Nemo and the Jungle Cruise. The work can often be tedious and occasionally bizarre.
All of the recorded music and sounds heard in the rides and throughout the park runs continuously on a loop. Seems that it is more costly for Disneyland to shut the sound off then to restart the system every day. The only time the sound is shut off is when there is an Emergency such as a massive power loss or emergency shut downs. For example, in “It’s a small world” the dolls stop moving, but the music plays on. Inside the Haunted Mansion, the doom buggies stop but the animatronics still move and the voice-over continues. Luckily the cleaning and maintenance crews can turn it down so they won’t go mad, but the feral cats don’t seem to mind.
Seven years ago, reportedly at the urging of former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker, animal care staff at the park took it upon themselves to do right by their feline employees by instituting a preventative health program of Trap-Neuter-Return”. Aided by local organizations including FixNation, Disneyland developed a lasting protocol for the humane care of the resort’s cats. Although Disneyland doesn’t monitor the total number of cats, the program has been quite successful at adopting out kittens and maintaining a balance between cat population and their Disneyland environment.
After the cats are neutered and returned to the park grounds, they receive continuing managed care. Its a pretty good gig to be a Disney-employed mouser. During the day, the feral cats of Disneyland lounge around and dine at five discreet feeding stations hidden throughout the resort strategically situated to minimize interaction with resort guests. During orientation Disney cast members are instructed to never pet the cats.
It’s nice to see such a high-profile park treating all its visitors and employees humanely-not just the human ones. California Disneyland’s “TNR” program proves that organizations and feral cat colonies can not only peacefully share the same property, but also work together in a mutually beneficial relationship to improve conditions for both parties. You may wonder, does Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida have the same problem? Well, although there have been occasional cat sightings at the Sunshine State’s Magic Kingdom, Disney Orlando has one thing Disney California doesn’t: alligators.
A story circulates that Disneyland changed its stance on the interloping cats based on an incident from those first couple years of operation. Those first original Disneyland feral cats supposedly migrated from an adjacent trailer park. During this time there was a sweet cat that hung out at the ranch in Frontierland. Employees nicknamed the female cat “Roofie” as she often hung out on the roof and surrounding landscape of the “Crockett and Russel Hat Co.” storefront. Employees would routinely bring canned cat food for her and she would come out of the tall grass, sometimes even dropping a mouse she had caught since she liked the canned food more. One day employees noticed that roofie was very ill. After work, they placed her in a box and rushed her to a nearby vet’s office. She died on the way. The vet examined her and said she died from eating poisoned mice. Word got back to Uncle Walt and the policy was changed.
Finally, proof that feral cats can be useful and worthy of life; not simply un-tamable animals for our overtaxed shelters to destroy. Many shelters in the Western US give them to ranchers and farmers for use as barn cats and back in the day police stations and college campuses kept a few around to keep their rodent population down without resorting to the use of chemicals and rodent traps everywhere. Maybe in 2014, the world will take the lead of Walt Disney and his feral cats of Disneyland.
If you would like more information on the feral cats of Indianapolis, please contact the good folks at Indy Feral. Give them a call at (317) 638-3223 or check out their website at http://www.indyferal.org/. Their Mission is to reduce the stray and feral cat overpopulation of our fair city through the non-lethal Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method. They could use your help and support, or they would just love to hear from you.DisneyCats

animals, Dogs, Pop Culture

Bobbie the wonder dog.

Bobbie_Wonder_Dog_3Original publish date:  December 24, 2017

I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2018 than with a good old fashioned dog story. The story of Bobbie the wonder dog. Bobbie’s “tail” begins during a family visit to Wolcott, Indiana. This tiny town of 1,000 owes its genesis to being the last stop of the Pan Handle Route railroad back in 1861. Wolcott is located halfway between Indianapolis and Chicago on I-65, not far from Indiana Beach. Bobbie the wonder dog is by far the most famous subject to ever come out of Wolcott; literally.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Brazier, along with their daughters Nova and Leona, were on a 2,500 mile family car trip from their Silverton, Oregon home to Wolcott in the summer of 1923. Joining the family was their 3-year-old bobtailed Scotch Collie / English Shepherd mix dog, whom the girls had named Bobbie. The dog made the cross country journey riding on the running board or atop the luggage of the family touring car.
The family had left Indiana and moved West to Oregon to work outdoors in the hop fields of the Beaver State. At the time, Oregon led the world in hops with more than 34,000 acres in production. Hops are responsible for the pleasing flavors in beer produced by the plant’s flower known as the hop cone. It looks like a pinecone, but is smaller with soft overlaying petals. Hops provide beer with it’s bitter flavor and distinctive aroma. The hop plants rise in mid-March, harvest begins in August and ends in October. The family planned to wrap up their trip and return home in time for harvest. Bobbie had other plans.
On August 15, 1923, Mr. Brazier headed down to the filling station to get the car “tanked up” with gas. As usual, Bobbie rode shotgun on the trip. As Frank went inside to pay, he heard the dog yelp. He rushed out just in time to see Bobbie, in Frank’s words, “run around the corner of the building with three or four snarling curs at his heels.” (Cur being an ancient term used to describe the lowest class of mixed-breed dog) Bobbie had a history of chasing after rabbits and squirrels but always found his way back home.
Thinking Bobbie would take care of himself as usual, Frank left for home expecting to find the dog there upon return. After a couple hours with no Bobbie, the Brazier’s began to get anxious. Bobbie always responded to the sound of the car horn so Frank drove slowly all around town, honking at frequent intervals. Bobbie never appeared. It was midnight before Frank gave up. The next morning, Frank got busy on the phone calling everyone in and around Wolcott, but no one had seen their beloved family pet. The weekly paper even ran an ad asking for information on the lost dog.
The Brazier family remained in Indiana for an additional three weeks looking for any sign of Bobbie, with no luck. Heartsick at their loss, the family gave up the search and headed toward home, leaving word that if the dog turned up the family would have him shipped back to Oregon. Fall turned to winter, the holidays came and went without beloved Bobbie to share the season. The family adjusted to life without the family dog, resigning themselves to the fact that they would never see Bobbie again.
Exactly six months passed. On February 15, 1924, little Nova and a friend were walking down a street in Silverton when she stopped dead in her tracks, gasped and seized her friend by the arm. She suddenly exclaimed, “Oh! look! Isn’t that Bobbie?” Nova was pointing at a shaggy, ragged looking dog as it walked out of a nearby woods in her direction. Nova screamed out “Bobbie” and in moments the dog began leaping up again and again to cover her face with kisses. Bobbie was making half-strangled, sobbing sounds of relief peppered with soft whimpers of joy. He was skinny, footsore, and wearing an unfamiliar collar, but it was Bobbie, sure enough, and his actions proved that he was happy to be home again.
The pads on Bobbie’s feet were worn to the bone causing the Brazier family to wonder, did he walk the entire 2,551 mile distance back to Silverton on his own? Yes indeed, Bobbie had traveled an average of 14 miles per day over plains, desert and mountain terrain to make it back home.
How did the family know that this mutt was truly their Bobbie? When only two months old, Bobbie was kicked in the head by a horse. This left a scar over the dog’s eye. On another occasion, the dog was asleep in the hops field when a passing tractor ran over his leg. The ground was soft and deeply cultivated, which fortunately kept him from serious injury, but the accident left another scar. His third identifiable scar came from an encounter with an angry gopher. While digging furiously in a hillside trying to get at the varmint, he broke off parts of two teeth. All of which helped the family identify the pooch as their beloved Bobbie.
According to Frank Brazier, “Poor Bob was almost all in. For three days he did little but eat and sleep. He would roll over on his back and hold up his pads, fixing us with his eyes to tell us how sore his feet were. His toe-nails were down to the quick, his eyes inflamed, his coat uneven and matted, and his whole bearing that of an animal which has been through a grilling experience. When he first came back he would eat little hut raw meat, showing that he had depended for sustenance chiefly on his own catches of rabbits or prairie fowl.”
After his return to Silverton, Bobbie experienced a meteoric rise to fame. The local paper, the Silverton Appeal, published the story of Bobbie’s cross-country trek, and it quickly spread to newspapers across the country. Soon Silverton was flooded with hundreds of letters from people simply addressed to “Bobbie, the Wonder Dog” or “Silverton’s Bobbie.”
He was the subject of newspaper articles including Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, books and a movie. Bobbie played himself in the 1924 silent film “The Call of the West”. He received more fan mail than President Calvin Coolidge and Harry Houdini combined. He was honored with a jewel-studded harness and collar, medals, ribbons and keys to cities. Frank said, “His dog sense and his love for us led him over three thousand miles, across river and prairie, through towns and wilderness, straight to his own folks…we have had many letters from persons who saw him at different stages of his journey. He would turn up at some house where we had stopped or some town we had passed through, his eyes half closed and red with strain, his feet bleeding, ravenously hungry, so tired he was ready to drop. Some friend of dogs would feed and doctor him and he would rest for a while, but just as soon as he could, he would be up and away again. We are told he was always looking for someone and always in a hurry.”
Mr. Brazier said, “He received presents almost daily, with requests for his picture; has had columns and columns of newspaper stories printed about him, and his photograph has appeared so many times that we have had to get a special scrapbook for all the articles and pictures.” The Oregon Humane Society, at first skeptical of the story, interviewed enough people along Bobbie’s route to confirm that the determined dog had indeed traveled a circuitous 2,800 mile route in the dead of winter to return home. He was the guest of honor at the Portland Realty Board’s Home Show where over 40,000 people stood in line to pet him, and where he received a deluxe dog house a special gift.
Bobbie’s miniature bungalow weighed 900 pounds, had eight glass windows shaded by silk curtains and featured every convenience a well-traveled dog could wish for. The house was on exhibition all week and the show concluded with a formal ceremony where Bobbie was presented with the deed to his domicile. Probably the best gift of all, from Bobbie’s perspective, was a local leash-law exemption that allowed him to roam Silverton freely for the rest of his days.
Upon his death in 1927, Bobbie was buried with honors at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland some 50 miles away from his hometown. Portland Mayor George Baker gave the eulogy. Rin Tin Tin, a German shepherd who was a Hollywood film star, laid a wreath at his grave. Bobbie’s grave is sheltered by the ornate red and white dog house he received at the Portland Home Show. Later, so many people visited the gravesite that the gravestone had to be moved outside of the house for better viewing. Officials feared that the prized doghouse would be destroyed by curious, well-meaning visitors.
Unlike other famous animals of that era, Bobbie was not stuffed after death. This initially limited his potential as a tourist attraction but is seen as a blessing by animal activists today. Later, the Humane Society Headquarters expanded and closed off the cemetery behind a fence, which meant that Bobbie’s grave could only be reached by walking through the building during regular business hours. It just didn’t seem right for the wayfaring dog turned populist hero to be fenced in forever.
In 2012, a grassroots movement was started by Silvertonian’s to remove Bobbie’s remains from Portland for reburial in Silverton. The movement failed and Bobbie’s bones remain nestled securely in the state’s largest city. Nevertheless, Silverton keeps Bobbie’s memory alive by hosting an annual Pet Parade. The first ever was led by his son, and current ones are led by winners of an annual Bobbie the wonder dog Lookalike contest.
Bobbie the wonder dog’s legend was seen as a perfect reason to visit Silverton and failure to move the loyal pup’s bones did not deter the grassroots effort to honor him. In Silverton, a 70-foot-long mural of his life was painted on a wall facing the busiest street in town. At one end, a life-size statue of Bobbie sits on a square of astroturf. Today, the spot has become THE picture spot for selfie lovers in Silverton. Next to the statue is a replica of Bobbie’s fancy dog house.
Bobbie the wonder dog’s story is a reminder of the special place animals and pets have in people’s lives. After all, where would we be without our pet’s?