Ghost Town Alive! Rolls into the Sunset

Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA

On a sunny and pleasant Labor Day, thousands of guests strolled through Knott's Berry Farm to experience the final day of its smash hit Ghost Town Alive! interactive event.  A combination of live theater, improv, and role playing, Ghost Town Alive! captivated audiences with its Old West cowboys and bandits adventure storyline.  And after a summer thrilling and entertaining guests of all ages, this special feature for the 75th Anniversary of Ghost Town packed its bags and headed off into the horizon--but not before a surprising and action-packed finale set the stage for a potential return next year! 

Around Ghost Town

The day began with the usual proceedings.  Late in the morning, Clay Mayfield and his gang of unscrupulous rascals sauntered into Calico with a deed that proclaimed him the owner of the town.  Upon inspection, however, Judge Roy Bean, the resident decider of all affairs legal and official, declared the deed to be a forgery.  Indignant at this supposed conspiracy against him, an enraged Mayfield proclaimed that he would claim what was rightfully his.  He and his family--Ike, Mudd, Pitt, and Tiny--promptly went on a robbery spree, targeting the Assayer's Office and the Gold Bank.  The latter proved unsuccessful in procuring money but found success in drawing the attention of Calico Sheriff Bryce Wheeler, who, along with his trusted compatriots, Kid Friday and One Shot Wilder, rounded up a posse of honorary deputies to hunt down the Mayfield Gang. 

On this day, the posse was as large as Calico had ever seen it, with dozens of guests marching and comically shouting "we're a mob!" in loud gusto but surprisingly orderly fashion.  A shootout commenced near the Calico Saloon, and Tiny Mayfield was captured.  He promptly confessed to committing the robberies by himself, and with lack of evidence highlighting the rest of the Mayfields, the Sheriff could only take Tiny to the Calico Jail.

Clay Mayfield proved to be a wily and resourceful gentleman, though, for in the afternoon, he rallied a group of supporters and returned to Sheriff Wheeler's office, proclaiming that he was running for mayor of Calico against the incumbent Mayor Horton Parnell, who had previously earned three terms running unopposed.  "Mayor Parnell says 'more of the same,'" exclaimed a spirited Mayfield, "Well I say, 'no sir!'" sparking a campaign catch phrase that was quickly recorded by the extraordinarily speedy Izzy Malloy, reporter for the Calico Gazette.

The 4:00 election brought the largest turnout in Calico history, with more than 300 persons turning to cast their vote for Mayor Parnell or rapscallion Clay Mayfield.  When the tallies were finalized a little over half an hour later, Parnell emerged the winner yet again and was begrudgingly congratulated by a quietly enraged Mayfield, his scheme thwarted yet again.  Wiliness being unsuccessful, the Mayfields turned to outright force, descending upon the Sheriff's Office once again to demand that Tiny be released.  When Sheriff Wheeler failed to acquiesce, Clay and his cohorts resorted to arms but were quickly chased off by Wheeler and his deputies.  All of this brought an exciting series of events right before the town's Founder's Day Hoedown, set to take place at 5:30pm.

The Hoedown

Although the Mayfields remained at large at the commencement of the Founder's Day Hoedown, the party commenced with great fanfare and festivities.  Mayor Parnell presided over the activities and introduced the Calico Saloon performers to lead the citizens in several line dances, backed by the "Ghost Town Miners" band. 

The celebratory mood improved even more when Sheriff Wheeler strolled onto the stage with the Mayfield gang in tow to announce that the gang had been captured for their crime of attempting to break Tiny Mayfield out of jail.  The Sheriff gave a warm-hearted speech expressing his appreciation for his deputies, Kid Friday and One-Shot Wilder. 

Later, bank owner Tate Bonetfortune took to the stage and proposed to his assistant, Cookie Lemon, much to her shock and joy.  After recovering, she earnestly said yes to the proposal, which prompted more fanfare and celebration.  As the happy couple rushed away to the Calico Stagecoach to leave on their honeymoon, more dancing ensued, with even the Mayfields joining the rollicking fun--though Sheriff Wheeler kept a stern eye on them.  It all shaped up toward a great ending to an exciting day, until a steam engine rolled into the Calico railroad station some fifteen minutes early...

The Return of Ox Mayfield

Over the past several weeks, there had been mysterious signs cropping up all around Calico.  Odd markings bearing the word "Ox," the ace of spades (an old calling card) left in various locations, telegrams purported to have come from "Ox"... these all pointed to an infamous name both feared and detested by many in Calico.  Ox Mayfield had been a scourge over Calico a decade before, but he had been banished, or he disappeared, depending on who was asked.  Most citizens believed him to be dead, so when this evidence of his potential return started circulating through town, many refused to believe it.

And yet, as the Founder's Day Hoedown came to a close, a steam engine from a neighboring town rolled into Calico, puzzling both Mayor Parnell and Sheriff Wheeler.  They called out to the mysterious arrivals, and they were greeted by none of than the legendary outlaw himself, Ox Mayfield.  Demanding the release of his family, because he "had the town surrounded" with his gang, Ox vociferously expressed his distaste for Sheriff Wheeler and the powers that be of Calico.  But when the demand was refused, a chaotic gunfight quickly ensued, sparking panic and confusion throughout the square. 

The commotion allowed Clay, Ike, Mudd, Pitt, and Tiny to escape the fray and leap into the commandeered train, and the steam engine rolled away out of town.  "I will be back to destroy Calico!!" Ox thundered as the train steamed away, while the rest of the Mayfields shook their fists in both defiance and glee at their escape.  The stunned citizens of Calico could only look on, as the Sheriff took his deputies in hot pursuit, and the Judge, the Mayor, and his family quickly hustled away to recoup from the brazen turn of events.

That thrilling conclusion to Ghost Town Alive! seemingly set the tables for a return and continuation of the story next year.  Though Knott's officials had no official comment on whether this event would return, it seems likely that it will, considering the climactic appearance of Ox Mayfield and this unique ending different from any other all summer. 

Ghost Town Alive! has been a fantastic hit, and just observing the eagerness and enthusiasm that guests have shown has validated Knott's investment in the show and experience.  Guests return regularly to take part in the activities, even if they engage in the same roles or loyalties.  Some have made their own pins and souvenirs supporting their favored party in the election.  Others have come dressed in their own authentic Western garb, playing their own self-created characters and blending into the environment more seamlessly (caveat: this may cause confusion from more casual guests questioning whether a player is a guest or an actor--an issue Knott's will likely need to address for any return event--but in my observation, this zealousness didn't actually seem to interfere with the story or with any events, so it isn't a problem as long as no one abuses the privilege, even if it may seem a little odd to see adults engage in such committed play rather than only children).  And there certainly seem to be guests who return because they are fans of certain characters.

Whether they be children or adults, the attachment has been recurring--guests have been able to escape into an authentic Wild West world and live out a fun, entertaining, thoroughly fulfilling fantasy.  Does that sound an awful lot like Disney?  Well, the creative mind behind Ghost Town Alive!, Ken Parks, was also responsible for Legends of Frontierland and Adventureland Trading Company at the Happiest Place on Earth, and that same sense of theatrical magic is what makes Ghost Town Alive! so successful. 

Theme parks are meant to be refuge from the real world, established through a play of make-believe that brings out the inner child in all of us and transforms that imagination into joyful, meaningful experiences.  From the level that I've seen many guests embrace this concept, I would say that Knott's has succeeded fantastically here.  This offering, combined with Ghost Town's refurbishment and revival, is one of the biggest triumphs I've seen from the park in quite some time.  So a major kudos goes to the leadership, designers, creative writers, and actors at Knott's Berry Farm for bringing a truly brilliant experience.  I'll expect to see more next year (fingers crossed).

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.