Land of Oz was a Wizard of Oz-inspired theme park in Beech Mountain, NC, opened in the 1970s by imaginative entrepreneur Grover Robbins. Unfortunately, Robbins's death from cancer just weeks before the park's opening was, in a way, a dismal sign of things to come. While Robbins had been previously successful with Tweetsie Railroad — a Wild West theme park that is still fully operational today — Land of Oz seemed fated to fail. The park was simply too expansive to maintain, both physically and financially. A mysterious fire destroyed much of Emerald City, including an archival museum that housed many of the dresses Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in the film. After just a decade of tumultuous existence, Land of Oz closed.
When I read that people can now tour Land of Oz or rent it out for private parties, I immediately laughed, because not only have I visited Land of Oz — I've stayed there.
In the early '90s, Land of Oz was partially reopened, this time not as a theme park but as a development complex with various cabins that could be rented out. As a Miami native, I had very rarely experienced the type of wintry vacation that is oftentimes synonymous with the holidays. True to the Wizard of Oz narrative, my family of six tornadoed out of Miami and toward the promise of a quaint skiing vacation; we had rented a picturesque cabin at the abandoned Land of Oz. What could go wrong?
When we got to the cabin, there was a deer just frolicking in the front yard, and I remember being so amazed and excited about seeing an animal that wasn't one of the parrot variety or some tropical inhabitant. But once we walked through the front door, I guess you could say I had my reservations. It was old and creaky in a way that was almost comically creepy. The furniture definitely had that antique thing going for it, and there was a painting of a stoic, haunting woman on the wall. We inexplicably named her Rebecca, I guess to just make light of it all.
My older sisters elected to sleep together in the least scary room, while my parents stayed in the master bedroom upstairs that had the most beautiful skylight. Meanwhile, I got to stay in "Dorothy's room," complete with a pair of ruby slippers. I slept on the bottom level of a bunk bed, which just altogether made me feel uneasy about who might be sleeping on the top bunk. Dorothy, is that you? At least the room had all these old-timey dolls to keep me company.
Then things got weird. We all started noticing these quirks that we, well, didn't appreciate. At midnight every night, a little tune — "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" — would float down the hallway from an old cuckoo clock. Except it was so old that the song sounded distorted and unbelievably eerie; it was like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on Xanax. One evening, a surly, inebriated older man appeared at our door. His drunken and incessant knocking on the front door woke up my dad, who then just casually waited for him to leave.
At one point, one of my sisters and I decided to take a stroll down the park's old yellow brick road. We thought to ourselves, "Wow, how cute is this?" We were, simply put, lying to ourselves. A few minutes into it, we both realized how incredibly unsettling it was to be walking down this path lined with charred trees and deteriorating giant lollipops and colorful mushrooms — remnants of what was once, I'm sure, a very vibrant re-creation of the film's "Munchkin Land."
Toward the close of our trip, my sisters decided to take a look at what was in the basement, the uncharted territory of the cabin that still gives me the creeps over a decade later. The owners of the old park had long ago decided to mysteriously store many of the park's old rides and decorations in the basement of the very cabin that was being rented out to my unassuming family. There it all was: an animatronic Wicked Witch of the West, carts belonging to amusement rides, a winding yellow ramp that led somewhere else underground. And no, we did not care to find out where that might have been. Needless to say, I was clicking my heels together and muttering, "There's no place like home" more convincingly than ol' Judy Garland herself. Our return to Miami couldn't have come any sooner — although we left with quite the tale.
When I texted my sisters for this piece to ask them about our time there, one simply replied, "That place was terrifying."