Two weeks ago I wrote an article on Dirty Dancing — a movie that was set in the Catskills but actually filmed in Virginia and North Carolina. After reading the comments section of the article, I decided two things: 1) I should immediately install bulletproof glass in my car, and 2) I should probably go back to writing about hyper-local history. So this week we’re going back to the basics and exploring a Lake George cornerstone: The Great Escape.
In 1954, Charles R. Wood, opened Storytown USA in Queensbury, NY- this was one of the first theme parks based off of a set of characters. Purportedly, Storytown USA was only preceded by Holiday World in Indiana and North Pole Village in New York.
The answer lies in the mastermind of Storytown himself, Charles R. Wood : The Godfather of Theme Parks. The following is the true* story of how The Great Escape came to be, and how Charles Wood became a legend in the Lake George area.
Charles Wood was born in New York in 1914 and always had the hustle in him. Before he was even a teenager he was buying houses as an investment; at 13 he bought 2 houses, one for himself and one for his parents. Okay, Charley, props.
He then moved on to study at the University of Michigan for a year, drop out, and then work for General Motors. He was also deployed and serviced airplanes during World War II.
After returning home from the war, he first attempted to buy a skating rink in Albany. When this fell through, he bought a mansion in Schroon Lake that he converted into a hotel. In 1954 invested a reported $75,000 into his dream of building a Mother Goose themed amusement park. He worked tirelessly to build the park on his own at first, but would eventually receive some help.
One day while building the park, it is reported that the legendary theme park designer and cartoonist, Arto Monaco, came to visit. He allegedly told Charles he planned to open a theme park named Storytown as well, to which Charles replied “You son of a bitch. I hate you.”
It turned out Arto just wanted to help Charles, and would go on to design and build many of the original attractions and act as a business partner for years to come. This would be one of the earliest of Charles’ many valuable connections.
In 1954, Storytown opened to eager customers and quickly became a successful attraction. But Charles wasn’t content with just maintaining the status quo and reinvested his earnings back into the park. He built classic additions to the park, such as Ghost Town, as well as opened an entirely new park, Gaslight Village.
Image via http://theimaginaryworld.com/st.html
In 1982 Charles renamed the park The Great Escape, and would continue to make improvements to the park– adding a waterpark, the Steamin’ Demon, buying the classic-wooden Comet rollercoaster, and more. He sold the park once, only to buy it back, and then sell it once and for all to Premier Parks (now Six Flags) in 1996.
Wood would also go on to do some amazing things for the community using his influence. For example he teamed up with Paul Newman and got Double H Ranch going, and largely funded the construction of the Charles R. Wood Theater.
Wood died in 2004 at the age of 90, but his legacy within the community still lives on. Wood was more than the owner of The Great Escape; he was the man who propelled Lake George to national attention, and for that we must be grateful.
*Many of the facts used in this article article are based off blog sources and may not be 100% historically accurate.
But I have a little bit of a problem with The Great Escape since Charley Wood left.
Mother Goose is out of date and many of the other parts of the park are dated as well. Then top this off with the price for admission… I live with my parents, I can’t afford that! I’m living off of pennies, so unless Splashwater Kingdom has some hidden Fountain of Youth powers that I am unaware of the park is a “no go.”
So why do we continue to pay to go there? The answer, quite simply, is that there are no other alternatives. Until now. I have taken matters into my own hands; I am building my own theme park that will be both fun and frugal for your family.
The age we live in is exponentially changing, and my park is going to reflect just that. My theme park keeps in mind the dawning “Cold War II” as well as those super-genius child mathematicians over in China. We don’t want our kids to become illustrators or worse, poets, anymore! We want number-crunching, statistical genius, Wall Street investment bankers! So my park is aimed to get them interested in just that! An Office-themed park for the future of America.
Rides include the following:
Pretty enticing right?! BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!!
Six Flags sells fried Twinkies? Fried chicken? Fried Oreos?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? What is this America circa 1990? C’mon, GMOs are so out and eating healthy is so in.
Here at Terrible Six Flags (this is my working title, based off an interesting business concept), we serve as a marketing agency during the day and as a result have to abide by the Affordable Care Act. You think we’re gonna deal with offering our employees fried anything with Obamacare? Thanks, but no thanks bro-chacho.
Here, patrons have a delightful choice between fruits, vegetables, peoples’ forgotten leftovers that have been sitting in our company fridge for a few weeks, and the ever-so-fun Keurig, which sounds like an old man farting when it starts brewing: drinks and fun all-in-one!
If you’re still not sold, check out our video that shows how Terrible Six Flags can be your cost-conscious option!
The park will be open from 5:00 pm – 5:30pm on Mondays-Thursdays. We are located on the Third Floor of 11 Broad Street in Glens Falls, NY.
Our admission price is 5 dollars, but if you don’t have the money it’s not a big deal because money is just a figment of social hierarchies, and we’re not about that life. Hope to see you all soon!
***Note: This is not a real theme park. Please do not actually come. It is a joke.