For those of us Rhode Islanders with children, a parental rite of passage is/was/will be a trip to Storyland in Glen, New Hampshire. My wife and I made the passage with our son in 1988. But when I was growing up in the 1960s, my parents had a shorter journey – to Storyland in Hyannis in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The small park, on Rt. 132, debuted in the 1950s and operated through 1968 when it was replaced by the Cape Cod Mall.
The nine-acre Storyland was filled with flashy colored miniature buildings and other whimsical exhibits. It was the brainchild of George Spalt who built several of these small amusement parks in Massachusetts in the 1950’s including ones in Plainville (Cowboy Town) and Newbury (Adventure Land). I hope to present these two other Spalt parks in future blog posts.
I was taken to Storyland several times from 1960 to 1965. I can tell you that it was a much smaller and much less elaborate rendition of New Hampshire’s Storyland, but still lots of fun for we youngsters.
Some things I remember from my first Storyland visit with the help of b&w photos my grandparents shot: there were several static figures that conversed with me, assisted by a hidden employee with a small PA system. One of them was this frog.
I don’t recall what Storybook character he was supposed to be, but he sure was an inquisitive little fellow. There were similar “voice over” displays of Red Riding Hood’s wolf and Jack, inside the House That Jack Built. None of these situations really phased me, however this “three- piece band” really creeped me out, as evident by my expression.
It was Old King Cole with his fiddlers three! Their music was provided by a scratchy record playing in the background. By age six, I’d seen much more scarier scenes in amusement park dark rides. But I wasn’t very comfortable turning my back on this cast of characters!
Moving on, there were photo ops available in the Old Woman’s Shoe and a Native American Teepee.
If I looked intense it was probably because I was probably still thinking about the King and his creepy court. But clearly the youngster below enjoyed her time in the very same Shoe.
Another thing I recall from my first visit was climbing all over the concrete fallen giant from Jack & The Beanstalk. While my grandparents took no photos of that outdoor display, here are some images I found on the Net.
Here’s the before mentioned House That Jack Built.
And here’s a display of another Jack’s ill-fated trip up the hill with Jill!
My last visit to Storyland in 1965 was more for the benefit of my younger brothers…and my parents, who tasked me with being my brothers’ tour guide while they perused the park’s shops; the number of which had expanded over the years.
Perhaps because I was age 11, I became aware of some sketchy additions to the park. For instance, what was a Mickey Mouse wagon doing in Storyland? Should it not be in Disneyland?
And what was a portable carousel (Allan Herschell model) doing in the parking lot as a separate admission ride?
But the most unique and perhaps dangerous experience was my ride on this Miniature Train with my three younger brothers.
As you can see, it was very low to the ground, with an “over-sized” ride op as an engineer. See how the train is emerging from the woods? Well, when me and my brothers rode it, our careless ride op took a corner too fast and tipped over the entire train, spilling out its passengers! It happened under the cloak of the trees and out of sight from the rest of the park. We all landed on soft turf, and there were no apparent injuries. No little ones were crying. My first thought was, “Hey, this isn’t supposed to happen when an adult is in charge!”
If anybody was upset, it was the train’s gangly ride op who pleaded with we older kids to help him push the passenger cars back on the track, and begged us all to please not tell our parents what happened because he’d be in “big trouble” if we did. As it turned out, the train was so flimsy, it was an easy fix getting it back on the rails. We all re-boarded and returned on the train to Storyland’s Main Street; parents apparently not suspecting a thing. My brothers and I were greeted by my dad, who, for the first time on this day trip, was smiling! He had been somewhat grumpy prior to this moment, but, as it turned out, while we were on our train adventure, he attended a magic act on Main Street. He liked the show so much, he bought a kit from the magician. After leaving Storyland, we went to a Hyannis beach, and my dad was in all his glory, performing tricks for us as we sat on our beach blankets.
So what caused the demise of Cape Cod’s Storyland? According to capecod.com in its December 4, 2018 feature story, “The History of the Cape Cod Mall”:
“By the late 1960’s Hyannis was growing in population and as a business district. The time had come for a large shopping center in town. Rumblings began around 1965 with firm plans being concocted in 1968. First there was a battle on exactly where the shopping center would be built with the final three coming down to the future Airport Plaza where K-Mart sits today, an undeveloped site on Buck Island Road in West Yarmouth, and a forty-six acre tract of land including Storyland and an Abercrombie & Fitch store. In July 1968 the winner was announced and Storyland would be torn down with Abercrombie’s store being hoisted up and moved across the street. The winning bid was announced by Davenport Realty Trust along with Equity Management Inc. of Boston representing David Mugar, the cost, $6 million ($43.6 million in 2018). It would be the largest private construction project in Cape Cod history at the time.”
Here’s one of the few known images of the ruins of Storyland.
So for all its quirkiness, and sometimes creepiness, Cape Cod’s Storyland will always have a special place in my heart!