Land of Oz Sign

Hidden away in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains rests the Land of Oz, a Wizard of Oz theme park with a rocky history. The Wizard of Oz has been an icon of film history since its debut in 1939 with its cast of colorful characters and unique, immersive world. Based on the original book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900 by author L. Frank Baum as part of a fourteen-book series of journeys through Oz. Although the original book was planned as a one-shot, but after being flooded with messages from children requesting more stories from Oz, a sequel was created four years later—making the world of the wizard a beloved creation for generations to come.

Although the Wizard of Oz had a niche audience following the publishing of the book, it did not solidify itself as a cultural icon until ten years later following a re-release and a debut on television in 1956. Despite rave reviews from critics at the time of the movie’s release, the production’s hefty budget ($2.7 million, which would be around $50 million today) prevented the film from seeing any financial success until years later.

Land of Oz Yellow Brick Road

After the death of Judy Garland in 1969, public interest in the Wizard of Oz was reinvigorated, and a massive auction was held the following year by MGM Studios. Among the items up for sale were props, costumes, and set pieces from film history. Many of these items were props used for the Wizard of Oz including Dorothy’s blue gingham dress. The owner of the soon-to-be theme park, Spencer, Robbins, acquired a number of these Hollywood props through negotiations with actress Debbie Reynolds who willingly opted out of bidding in exchange for Robbins lending the items to Reynolds’s museum of film memorabilia during the park’s off season.

Reynolds was also personally invited to the opening of the Land of Oz theme park where she and her daughter Carrie Fisher cut the ribbon on opening day. This would be seven years before Carrie Fisher performed her iconic role of Princess Leia in the Star Wars.

Inspired by the film’s lasting legacy, the Land of Oz was opened to the public in 1970, welcoming guests to Oz and guiding them down a real yellow brick road. Located in Beech Mountain, North Carolina, this park featured walkaround characters of Dorothy and the rest of the cast, recreations of locations such as the Emerald City and the witch’s castle, and a collection of screen-used props and costumes. 

Land of Oz Horse of a Different Color
Kinseikun, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although the offerings were popular from the start, the park itself had no shortage of issues. In fact, only five years after the park opened, a devastating fire destroyed many of the sets and props, including portions of the Emerald City and some smaller shops. Additionally, the iconic blue gingham dress went missing, leading locals to suspect the fire may have been set intentionally. The park rebuilt the destroyed sets, but no trace of the dress was ever found.

After the fire, park attendance and upkeep began to dwindle. Around this time, the park’s ownership changed hands and the new owners allowed the quality of the park to decline. The costumes worn by the actors around the park looked cheaper than before and the live animals used around the Gale farm were eventually replaced with animatronics.

The park was gradually falling into a state of disrepair, with even the yellow brick road beginning to lose its color and become overgrown with weeds. Every night at midnight, the clocks of Oz played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to welcome in a new day. Although the song is sweet and nostalgic for many, the clocks were old and sometimes warped or cut the song, making it oddly creepy to listen to in the middle of the night.

Land of Oz Witch;s Castle

In 1980, only ten years after the park’s grand opening, Land of Oz was closed to the public and left behind to slowly deteriorate. The whimsical but unsettling atmosphere left behind from this once-vibrant park made for an exciting adventure for many urban explorers. Many of them would take a piece of the yellow brick road home with them. The park remained abandoned for fourteen years, left behind to rot and be reclaimed by nature.

It wasn’t until the early 90s that the park would slowly be reworked and restored for seasonal events. The property’s new owner began the Autumn at Oz event as a sort of reunion for the original park employees, but it was not long before Autumn at Oz became a public, annual event. By 2009, the event recorded over 8,500 people in attendance. The funds raised throughout the event are put back into the park’s fund for restorations and upgrades.

Land of Oz Sign

In 2013, the park began a second event called Journey with Dorothy held on Fridays in June, and along with some other annual events the park has reclaimed quite a bit of its lost magic. Today, Autumn at Oz holds the record for the largest Wizard of Oz festival in the country. 

This little park was given a second chance to thrive and become beloved by fans of the Wizard of Oz for generations. Land of Oz now operates seasonally and continues to maintain its popularity with longtime fans. Do you have fond memories of this once-abandoned theme park? Let us know by leaving us a comment below or on our Facebook page.


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