by Tim O'Brien
Nashville (Nov. 1, 2015) - I’m finally getting back to my blog, which I started, with great intentions, several years ago. However, along the way, I became absorbed in my passion for writing biographies.
First, it was Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow. He is now 85 years old and a true legend, having run away and joined the circus when he was a mere 14 years old. That book came out in May, 2014 and Ward and I enjoyed several book signing ventures along the way. No sooner had I finished Ward’s book, I came up with the idea to create a series of biographies about the living legends, those whose timeless wisdom energizes the world’s greatest entertainment venues – theme parks, amusement parks, fairs, carnivals, circuses, sideshows, museums and unique one-of-a-kind attractions.
I call the new biographical series, Legends & Legacies. These books are quick and easy reads about the innovators and their insights and secrets who created these irresistible pleasure palaces. The books reveal the best of those who spent a lifetime delivering smiles and creating value. Unlike many biographies, I only write about living legends because I don’t like to rely totally on secondary research, which one has to do when you cannot personally interview the subject. I’m lucky on that account, because during my 40-plus years chronicling this industry, I have had the privilege to not only know, but to have interviewed the biggest names in our industry!
Each person chronicled in this series has been personally interviewed extensively by me and each biography is based on that primary research. All secondary research has been vetted for accuracy by not only myself, but by the subject of each of my books. My first two are of the legendary and celebrity Imagineer, Tony Baxter. The other is Dick Kinzel, the roller coaster king of Cedar Point. I have spent the last two years on these two biographies and they both are now available. Please check them out.
STRATFORD, Ct. (Dec. 17, 2013) - It was a snowy day when I visited my friend Lane Talburt in Stratford. I left NYC in the morning and it was hardly snowing, but by the time the Metro North New Haven Line train got me there, it was getting heavier. By the time I left, it had grown into a nice white downfall. As I waited for my return train, this mysterious looking man with a wide brimmed hat came onto the platform and appeared to be quite anxious for the train to arrive. His black coat and hat and the white snow created a nice contrast, so I pulled out the camera. Too bad the photos don’t show his black eye patch as well. I wish I would have talked to him. Put on your mittens and take a look how cool this scene looked through my lens.
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Sept. 25, 2013) – It’s hard to miss the Blue Mosque if you approach the city, as we did, by water. It looms over the city from its highest hill. You can tell this Mosque from the bevy of others as it has six tall, magnificent minarets, rivaling the Mosque in Mecca. Named for its beautiful blue Iznik tiles used to decorate the interior with intricate floral design, it was built in the 17th century by Sultan Ahmet I, as his answer to the Hagia Sophia, located within view across the park. It is open to the public except for specific prayer times and is an amazing place to sit on the carpeted floor, lean against a large pillar, and relax and contemplate! Enjoy the photo tour.
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Sept. 23, 2013) – My wife Kathleen had planned our two day stop-over in Istanbul and I had no idea what she had planned. My biggest surprise were the two magnificent structures, The Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, separated by a series of fountains and a large green space on what the city calls its First Hill. I’ll post photos of the Blue Mosque next, but for now, let’s take a look at the Hagia Sophia, now the city’s most interesting and probably the most visited museum. Built in A.D. 537 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian as a Christian cathedral, it was converted into a mosque by the conquering Ottomans, and then into a museum in 1934. The building has a soaring dome, large columns, and massive open space. The Christian-centered mosaics were plastered over when the building became a mosque, and partially uncovered when it became a museum! Enjoy a photo tour of this magnificent building, its mosaics and its massiveness!
BEACH CAMP, BELGRADE, Maine (Aug. 17, 2013) – A long, long time ago during a cool spring morning, a shed was built out behind a summer camp (what they call cottages in Maine). The years and the weather have not been too kind to that little ole shed, but it still stands and defies the elements on a day to day defensive stance. This summer, I spent a couple days in that camp and was totally awed by the designs that the weather created around each of the nails and each of the knots on that noble wooden shed. Take a look. Believe it or Knot!
METROPOLIS, Ill. (Aug. 10.2013) – The man in the Superman Museum, here in Metropolis, told me this is the only city in the US named Metropolis, so the annual Superman Celebration during the second weekend in June makes a lot of sense. Few towns have such a celebrity of which to theme its town square and annual celebration. They tell me that the town preceded the super hero by several decades and that the creators and owners of Superman now embrace the connection. The featured attraction is the 15-foot tall statue of Superman in front of the courthouse, located on the aptly named Superman Square. The Super Museum is a retail store where just about anything connected to the man of steel can be found for sale. A couple blocks down the street is a nice bronze statue of Noel Neil, known as the First Lady of Metropolis, who starred as Lois Lane in the TV Superman series and starred in more than 100 movies. You’ll also find a big hunk of bright green kryptonite in front of the Americana Hollywood museum and gift store, just outside the front entrance to the huge Harrah’s Metropolis Casino & Hotel complex. Fun place. I was a great tourist the day I visited, snapping photos of everything in sight. Check out my SUPER gallery.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (July 22, 2013) - We ended our short, fun trip on the Mother Road last week at the symbolic terminus of Route 66, on the Santa Monica Pier. I can’t imagine a more scenic spot for a historic road to end! It had been more than a decade since I visited Pacific Park, a nice little family amusement park on the pier and it was good to see that it was still looking good and by the look of the crowds, still very popular. By the way, the Ferris Wheel here is the world’s only solar-powered wheel. And it was nice to see that some extensive work was being done on the infrastructure of the pier, hopefully guaranteeing that the park, the historic carousel building and the nostalgia will be around for many years to come. Check out the photo gallery.
HELENDALE, Calif. (July 21, 2013) – In my quest to finally get around to traveling the Mother Road, we experienced the first leg of Route 66, of what will be a several year project. We started in Kingman, Ariz. and ended up at the historic Santa Monica Pier. I’ve never seen that part of the world, so this was a fun trip. One of the highlights of the weird side of Route 66 was the discovery of Elmer Long’s Forest of Bottle Trees, just outside Helendale. We stopped, walked in and were soon greeted by the bearded man himself. The funky man Elmer told us all about his passion and some great stories about the creation, which started in 2000. Here’s Elmer and me. Many more photos in the gallery.
WISCONSIN DELLS, (July 10, 2013) – The wonderfully tacky and fantastically beautiful areas around the Wisconsin Dells offers photographers a diverse canvas of photo opportunities. From magnificent rock formations and waterways to oversize gorillas on front of family attractions, this place has it all. There’s even a plane coming out of the front of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! The proliferation of waterparks and advanced and world-class rides in its amusement parks along with the natural surroundings, makes this a great vacation mecca. Be careful, the police are very vigilant of non-residents going as little as five miles over the speed limit. Just Saying. Check out my photo gallery.
NORTH FREEDOM, Wisc. (Feb. 22, 2013) – My friends insisted I didn’t want to trek out to Tom Every’s amazing futuristic garden of welded wonders. It was snowing, it was cold and it was getting near dark, but I said I couldn’t come this far into the northern hinterland without seeing what very well may be the most amazing display of folk art in the state. The centerpiece, pictured here, is called the Forevertron, a 40-foot tall, 320-ton compilation of scrap, built single handedly by Every. Steampunk fans will love this place. It’s a science fiction masterpiece, some of it from up-cycled NASA Apollo decontamination units. All the large pieces have names and a back story, and I was told Every used to show up a lot more than he does now. It’s still a work in progress and it’s truly an alien carnival of outsider art. See more of Every’s creations in my photo gallery.
IGUAZU FALLS, Brazil and Argentina (Jan. 15. 2013) – On her first view of Iguazu Falls, Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have whispered, “Poor Niagara,” a reference to how powerful these magnificent falls in front of her compared to what Niagara Falls has to offer.
Just for fun, I murmured the same thing when I first spotted the area known as the Devil’s Throat from the Argentinian side early on this January morning. Kathleen and I were halfway through what I am calling the “Great South American Birthday Tour of 2013,” and this was our first stop on our day-long exploration of the falls from both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides. Our personal guide, Mercio Fontes, specializes in the falls area and led us to amazing vistas AND introduced us to some new food during lunch!
Framed by lush subtropical rainforests, Iguazu Falls is the largest series of waterfalls on Planet Earth. A series of 275 different waterfalls, ranging from 197 to 300 feet tall, dump an average of 61,660 cubic feet of water over the cliffs every SECOND!
In fairness, I do need to point out that Iguazu has the second-greatest annual flow of any waterfalls in the world, second only to Niagara Falls, which has an annual average flow of 85,000 cubic feet per second. The vastness of Iguazu, its pristine location (read no tourist shops surrounding it), the number of falls (you see and hear one in every location), makes this area much more spectacular to my eyes and senses.
Iguazu was named a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 and is protected by National Parks that surround it. Even though I’ve spent a great deal of face time with Niagara, I was totally impressed by the fall’s size, volume of water, strong currents and the awesome, deafening sound.
RUMFORD, Maine (Sept. 14, 2012) - I have always loved the tale of Paul Bunyan and how he found Babe the Blue Ox. On our Oct. 8 episode of Ripley Radio (Ripleyoddcast.com), our contributor Chad Lewis talks about Paul’s ties to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maine. I guess all three states are proud to claim him. Here is how the Maine legend goes.
One cold winter’s night near Bangor, Maine, it was SO cold, the snow turned blue. While Paul Bunyan was in the woods he found a baby ox that was so cold that it had turned blue. Paul saved him, took him back to the camp and warmed him up. But he never lost the blue color, so Paul decided to name him Babe the Blue Ox and they became friends forever.
As I was driving through Rumford, Maine on vacation, I first spied this great statue of Paul, then as we drove up to Rite Aid, who should we see? I think the drug store sign in the background adds a great deal of flavor to the photo. Now we know.