The Tragic Story Of This Abandoned Wizard of Oz Theme Park Will Give You The Creeps
Released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz is one of the most iconic movies of all time. Whether it’s the glorious Technicolor of Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers, or Judy Garland’s wide-eyed performance as a farmhand transported to a fantasy realm, images from the movie are seared into our memories.
The movie has become so famous that it even spawned an amusement park known as The Land of Oz. But it would soon be beset by tragedy, and it’s been abandoned for decades.
This is the story of how one man’s vision for a magical land took a dark turn. And, unlike the movie, there’s no happy ending.
Be warned: these images of the abandoned theme park will seriously give you the creeps. Just follow the yellow brick road and you might be okay…
It was opened by Hollywood royalty
The park’s owners had big plans for The Land of Oz. In fact, they were so confident that they arranged an opening ceremony where none other than Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher would cut the ribbon.
Debbie Reynolds born ten years after Judy Garland, and she’d long idolised Dorothy Gale. Fisher, Reynolds’ daughter, would later become an icon for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Little did they know, however, that the park was doomed before it even opened…
There’s no place like Oz
The park was conceived by brothers Harry and Grover Robbins in 1970, who were interested in developing their ski resort at Beech Mountain, North Carolina, into a year-round attraction.
The brothers wanted the park to be a truly immersive experience, in which attendees would experience the land of Oz in Dorothy’s ruby-red shoes, interacting with the characters and iconic landmarks. Ultimately, however, the Robbins brothers would never get to see the park in all its glory together…
It lay abandoned for 30 years
After the park closed in 1980, the once-gleaming Land of Oz rapidly deteriorated. It’s only recently that people have been allowed back on to the property. Nowadays, it’s a seriously eerie and creepy place to be.
Photographer Johnny Joo was one of those people, and he recorded the deeply unsettling atmosphere at this remote, mountainous husk of a theme park…
The yellow brick road doesn’t shine like it used to
It wouldn’t be an Oz-themed theme park if it didn’t have a yellow brick road, and Land of Oz doesn’t disappoint. Or, at least, it didn’t used to.
More than 44,000 bricks were glazed a brilliant yellow for the park’s iconic path, but now huge chunks are missing. Some say they’ve been looted over the years for creepy memorabilia. However, it’s the statues in the park that are even creepier…
The statues are truly haunting
Since Land of Oz is located on a mountainside, it’s fair to say that it’s been heavily exposed to the elements over the years, and not everything was built to last.
This includes figures of characters from the film, which have been eroded over the course of many years. Now, they’re truly horrifying. The larger structures in the park haven’t fared much better…
Emerald City is a shadow of its former self
In the 1939 movie, Emerald City is the glorious residence of the titular wizard and gleams in green. However, after decades in the icy cold and coarse wind, this Emerald City has been reduced to little more than a brooding echo.
The glorious palace was meant to be the crowning achievement of the park, and now it lies in ruins. Photographer Jonny Joo, who previously photographed eerie places like Mike Tyson’s abandoned mansion, was clearly affected by what he saw on the day he visited…
It’s now covered in creepy fog
Said photographer Johnny Joo, “the mountain was blanketed in fog that morning … it was an enchanting feeling.”
“It was amazing seeing scenery practically straight out of a fairy tale being covered by layer upon layer of fog.” The weather never used to be such a problem at the Land of Oz, but there’s an uncomfortable theory as to why it’s often covered in a thin mist today…
Grover Robbins never saw the park
Land of Oz was the passion project of brothers Grover and Harry Robbins, who were keen to add a brighter side to their existing resorts in the region.
Their first twist was the ‘Tweetsie Railroad’ in Western Carolina, a railway that tourists were all abuzz about. Land of Oz was set to be his biggest project yet, but he never got to see the park…
Does Grover Robbins haunt the park?
In July 1969, man landed on the Moon, a symbol of endless possibility. However, only a few months later, Grover Robbins received a terminal cancer diagnosis. For him, the vision of a retirement filled with fun and laughter was suddenly curtailed.
In March of 1970, Grover Robbins passed away from his illness aged only 59, and only a month or two before the Land of Oz was set to open. Unfortunately for him, the park was about to encounter even worse troubles…
The park opens
Despite the shocking death of one of the park’s founders, those directly in charge of proceedings were keen to not let the macabre news dampen the opening of the park.
Surprisingly, the opening of the park went off without a hitch. Actors lip-synced to original songs composed specifically for the park, and Over the Rainbow – the iconic song from the movie – was even licensed for use on the premises. It’s thought that the park attracted more than 400,000 visitors in its first year. But it wasn’t to last…
The Land of Oz gets corporate
After the death of Grover Robbins, the company running the Land of Oz began to suffer. Without his leadership, Carolina Caribbean Corporation (CCC) began to report heavy losses. As a result, the new management attempted to squeeze as much money out of Oz as possible.
The establishment of new, pricey gift shops – and cutbacks in the upkeep of the park – meant attendance at the Land of Oz soon dwindled. But what truly sealed the park’s fate was just around the corner…
The park’s prized possession… but for how long?
Grover Robbins didn’t want to create a knock-off Oz for money’s sake. After a long and successful career in real estate, he wanted to create something faithful to Frank L Baum’s novels and the world of the film. Key to this was genuine Oz memorabilia.
Together with an investment from Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland’s original Dorothy dress was acquired for the park’s museum. It was certainly the park’s most prized possession, until it mysteriously disappeared…
In December 1975, a fire tore through the Emerald City Amphitheatre and its surrounding gift shops. Much of what made the park special was utterly destroyed by the flames, including two buildings and the vast majority of the park’s costumes and props.
However, the Dorothy dress and several other items were missing from the charred remains of the complex. But who could have stolen them? And who could have set the fire?
Could the fire have been an inside job?
Given the tensions at the park that had existed for years, it’s unsurprising that the finger of blame for the fire was being pointed in all directions. Some suspect that disgruntled employees, unhappy with low pay and working conditions that only seemed to be getting worse, might have lit the match.
This theory would also explain why the most valuable items were stolen. This was a get-rich-quick job. However, the evidence points in a very different direction…
Grover Robbins’ company goes bankrupt
The Land of Oz was unpopular, and the Carolina Caribbean Corporation turned its attention elsewhere. In particular, it invested heavily in property in St Croix, but ultimately failed to turn a profit.
This meant the CCC went bankrupt in the latter months of 1975. Is it such a coincidence that a devastating fire occurred at the Land of Oz only a few weeks later? Now, employees had to see if the park could be rebuilt…
The park closes
While the Land of Oz had long since lost its ability to draw huge crowds, it was nonetheless a beloved destination for Oz fans, and the park would ultimately be rebuilt after the devastating fire.
However, it’s said that the rebuilt attractions weren’t given the same love and care as the originals, perhaps unsurprising given the financial issues that had beset the park, and the Land of Oz closed in 1980. But the greatest slight against Grover Robbins’ dream was yet to come…
We’re off to see the condos, the wonderful condos of Oz
Between the closure of the Land of Oz and 1991, the condition of the park rapidly deteriorated. Without maintenance in the harsh Carolinian mountains, wood rotted and paint was stripped by the elements. Worse still, looters ran rampant, stealing much of what had made the park a unique and wonderful place.
What remained was a shell of the park’s former self – the creepiness captured in these photographs. It was decided that much of the land would be renovated into a condo complex called Emerald Mountain – little more than a brief nod to Grover Robbins’ dream. Thankfully, a ray of hope was just around the corner…
Return to Oz
While the park’s new owners were more invested in the lucrative condo business, the appeal of the park wasn’t entirely lost on them. Throughout the 90s, they began to restore elements of the park in order to preserve the local history.
They even launched an Autumn at Oz event, hosting former employees (mostly actors who had portrayed Dorothy and her companions) who would reminisce about their time at the park. It was this small reunion that would ultimately become a national sensation…
Autumn at Oz: The Festival
By 2009, Autumn at Oz had significantly expanded from the core group of employees. In fact, nearly 8,500 people attended and enjoyed attractions such as pony rides and an Omaha Vendor Fair. All of the money raised at the annual event contributes to the upkeep of the park.
The Land of Oz is finally on a path not to be the creepy abandoned park in these photographs – great for Oz fans, but perhaps disappointing news if you like to be spooked! That is, unless some miscreants get their way…
Urban explorers might ruin the park permanently
In recent years, the park has launched Journeys with Dorothy, guided tours in the month of June. The tours are hosted by Dorothy Gale herself, and frequently feature appearances from other characters. However, this unprecedented access still isn’t enough for some thrillseekers.
The Land of Oz is a favourite spot for so-called ‘urban explorers,’ who trespass on private property to gain access to heretofore undiscovered secrets. In actuality, they’ve been known to steal parts of the yellow brick road and other props, possibly damaging other aspects of the park…
Would you visit the Land of Oz?
Are you a Wizard of Oz fan? Then maybe a trip to Beech Mountain, North Carolina is for you. Or maybe you just love spooky places.
As the theme park fad seems to be waning from its 90s peak, it’s likely that we’ll see many more such abandoned places become creepy destinations – and we can’t wait to see them.