Southern California has long been known for its amusement parks, but this year they're really stepping up their game.
Disneyland broke ground on its new Star Wars Land, Universal Studios debuted The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Knott's Berry Farm transformed its original Ghost Town attraction into Ghost Town Alive in celebration of its 75th anniversary.
It's the latest craze in theme park design-- creating an immersive, interactive experience for park-goers.
At Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Ghost Town was created in 1941 by the park's original owner, and Wild West enthusiast, Walter Knott. That's back when Knott's was an actual berry farm, and the main attraction there was his wife Cordelia Knott's fried chicken restaurant.
There was always the occasional cowboy or gold prospector roaming the streets of Ghost Town, but this year, the town of Calico has been populated with a cast of character actors who interact with guests in a sort of daylong improv show.
We recently got immersed in Ghost Town Alive with a tour from Julie Owens, the park's director of live entertainment.
What's your job here at Knott's?
I'm the director of live entertainment at Knott's Berry Farm. I actually started as a cancan dancer in 1974 and since then I just kind of worked my way up and here I am today. So we're talking over 40 years ago, and if I can do it anyone can!
What are you memories of the original Ghost Town?
When I first started working here in '74, the cowboys actually rolled their own cigarettes. Now no one smokes on the streets of Ghost Town, but I thought it was so cool, they were just sitting up against the corral fences, rolling their own cigarettes and as a cancan dancer in between our shows we were outside hanging out with the cowboys. And as a young girl I thought 'Oh my gosh this is the best job ever.' And not only that I was getting paid to dance. It was incredible.
How has Ghost Town changed this summer?
Until this summer, Ghost Town had what we call "peek-ins." So if you wanted to look at the sheriff's office we had mannequins in there pretending like they were playing cards, if you went to Goldie's there were mannequins in there dressed up in their finest clothing. If you went to the assayer's office, you would hear kind of like prerecorded voices of people, talking about the gold that was coming in being claimed. What we've done differently this year is we've actually put people into those buildings. So if you go into the sheriff's office you can play poker with the sheriff in his office. You can actually talk to Goldie in her tea house. You can have your gold weighed at the assayer office. You can go to Hop Wing Lee's and wash your clothes, you can go into barbershop and interact with the barber. So everything that was just something to look at, kind of a museum quality, has actually come alive.
What should people expect from Ghost Town Alive?
So the experience that a guest is going to have when they come is they're going to be connected and develop a relationship with all of these citizens of Calico. So of course the mayor and the sheriff and the judge, they all want to keep peace in the town. But of course every town also has their scoundrels and their vermin and ours are the Mayfield Gang. And they're coming in to just cause some trouble and just kind of stir things up. They're the kind of gang that you love to hate and hate to love. But they just come in and claim they have the deed to Ghost Town and of course it's up to Judge Roy Bean and the Mayor to disprove that. And really what the guests are doing when they come to Ghost Town is they are a part of that and they're helping solve the crime of the day. It really isn't about the characters and the actors that are in Ghost Town, the story is driven by the guests who interact with our characters.
What sets Ghost Town Alive apart from something like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Star Wars Land at Disneyland?
If anybody is interested in the Wild West, they are going to want to be a part of this. And here's the thing-- the difference between say, the other parks, the Star Wars and the Harry Potter, is that what we are recreating here actually happened. So it's a history lesson in and of itself. It's educational as well as fun.