Ghost Town Alive! Gets a Whole Lee Surprise

Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA

Happy Tuesday, folks! Today, we are venturing over to our favorite Berry Farm. No, we’re not hitting up Halloween Haunt coverage quite yet. Knott’s Scary Farm starts next Thursday night, September 20. Instead, we’re taking a look at the conclusion of this past season’s overlay event, Ghost Town Alive!

This past Labor Day, as it has the past two years, Ghost Town Alive! wrapped up its third season run with a cliffhanger/surprise revelation tying into a mystery that had been running all summer long: just who really was the owner of the original deed to the town of Calico? Throughout the summer, in daily displays of immersive theater, Phyllis “Ma” Mayfield, Ox Mayfield, Clay Mayfield, and “Peg Leg” Cinch had campaigned their own claims to ownership of the town. And through the dynamic and unique aspect of Ghost Town Alive!, the deed had gone to different citizens on different days depending on the popular vote.

But on this day, the real owner was promised to be revealed. And it would prove to be a shocker.

The Players

Before we get into the story, lets stroll through the little town of Calico (i.e. Knott’s Ghost Town) and meet some of the characters, or “Citizens.” The season finale day provided a practically full showing of the cast to celebrate the special event, which yielded the opportunity to capture more portraits throughout town!

The Story

Just as it has gone all summer long, the big news of the day concerned the early morning theft of the giant gold nugget that Peg Leg found last year. However, that was surplanted when Phyllis “Ma” Mayfield turned up in Calico very much alive, unlike what everyone in town had believed for years. This stirred a fourway battle to claim the deed to the town of Calico, contested by Phyllis, Ox Mayfield, Clay Mayfield, and Peg Leg—each with his or her own motivations to own the town.

In the meantime, during a noontime stop, the Calico railroad had delivered a special package to the Mayor’s office containing a “time capsule” of artifacts, but the contents themselves seemed mis-arranged and difficult to decipher. Deputy Mayor Howell and a band of supportive [honorary] citizens took it upon themselves to unravel the mystery, since it promised to showcase a great revelation about the town’s history itself!

Meanwhile, mysterious packages had appeared throughout the day, bearing puzzles which, when unlocked, revealed a series of strategies that appeared to give away secrets to how to rob the Calico Bank! All of this came to a head at the Founder’s Day Hoedown, when all would be revealed…

The True Owner of Calico

At last, it was time to announce the results of the afternoon’s election to determine the rightful owner of Calico. With record high turnout, Judge Bean read the surprise winner: Ox Mayfield! What an upset! Even Ox himself seemed flabberghasted he had won, but not so overtaken that he refused the deed. But at that moment that he accepted ownership of Calico and promised the next day would be “Ox Mayfield Day,” Deputy Mayor Howell rushed to the stage to unveil what he had discovered: the identities of the seven original founders of the town of Calico!

They were, as he read them:

  1. Walter Knott

  2. Hattie Hooper

  3. Ellis Lloyd

  4. Benjamin John Roger Edmund

  5. Edith Webster

  6. Theodore “Doc” Booth

The seventh? Pop Wing Lee! Sound familiar? Well, his descendent, Hop Wing Lee, had long been the town launderer. But he had been out of town all summer and had not been seen. At that moment, however, the long delayed stagecoach finally arrived!

First out was Goldie West, owner of the local hotel and currently out touring with a traveling version of the Saloon show. Next came Zeke’s wife, back from her trip out of town. And last but not least… none other than the true and rightful owner of Calico and only remaining living descendant of the town’s original town founders, Hop Wing Lee!

The townsfolk could hardly wait to line up and greet the new celebrity (and new Ghost Town Alive! character), who, having just returned to town, was rather confused at all the hoopla. But he seemed to take things in stride, accepting the deed and shaking hands with his new fans. Who would have thought that Hop Wing Lee—owner of the only Ghost Town peek-in that was off limits, character who had remained uncast through the entire first three seasons of Ghost Town Alive!—would turn out to be the most powerful person in Calico?

And in this summer of Crazy Rich Asians fanfare, perhaps it was also fitting that an Asian received top billing at the end of GTA! Season 3. It was definitely a surprise few seemed to see coming. How will this play out into next year? We’ll have to find out next May…

The Interactions

I’ll be remiss to once again mention the strong connections that Ghost Town Alive! has built up all season with season passholders who visit again and again to interact with the cast and ingratiate themselves into the story, as well as one-time guest who are pulled into the production. But on this last day, it was the season-long bonds that were most evidently on display. After the final Hoedown dance played, Calico Park became an emotional scene of goodbyes, as both guests and cast members bid each other farewell until the next season.

Even though it is “just a theme park,” Ghost Town Alive! has provided a wonderful escapist fantasy for many guests. For children, it’s been an adventure story come true—one that many younger guests have come back to multiple times throughout the summer. And even for the adults who participate, it has been a way to enjoy the fun of make-believe within the context of an encouraging and positive environment. That’s the greatest value of this production—the very tangible and uplifting effects it has provided for the guests. And it’s why I hope this continues to be a seasonal promotion every year, for as long as possible.

That does it from the Farm today! If there’s one thing that I will continue to repeat, it’s to go to Knott’s Berry Farm and check out Ghost Town Alive! Of course, it’s too late this year to do so, but mark your calendars for Memorial Day weekend next year when it presumably returns, and/or for next summer. It’s a truly amazing event put on by a talented and passionate cast of dozens who utilize impressive improvisational techniques within the construct of an overall storyline to produce a truly enveloping story, day after day. Once again, kudos to the entire Knott’s team—creative, costuming, tech, and of course the cast itself—for creating such a fantastic and award-winning production!

We’ll be back at the Disneyland Resort the rest of this week for Halloween Time. From one emotionally resonant thematic environment to another. It’s why people love going to and falling into the stories of theme parks.

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