Go ahead, make my day: Ghost Town in the Sky is coming back.
After 42 years as the anchor of Maggie Valley's tourism economy, Ghost Town shut down in 2003. Its last season was plagued by chair lift failures that left passengers stranded for hours, and owner R.B. Coburn, now 87, was ready to sell and retire to Florida.
It took a few years to work out the details, but it seems the sale of Ghost Town has gone exactly the way Maggie Valley folks would have scripted it. Allen and Carol Harper, owners of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City and Dillsboro, bought the park with other partners. Last week they announced plans to reopen it with many of the same Wild West attractions as the original. (A new chair lift and incline railway to the 4,000 ft. mountaintop theme park are also in the works.)
This is good news for Maggie Valley residents, over 200 of whom relied on the park for seasonal employment. At one time, Ghost Town brought something on the order of 400,000 visitors through its turnstiles in a season.
"I think it's a perfect marriage. These are the people we wanted to see get Ghost Town," said Brenda O'Keefe, owner of Joey's Pancake House (ed. note: home of the best pancakes in North Carolina.)
Ghost Town is magical nostalgia from summer vacations in the Smokies. It's a cultural-historical treasure trove, as well. Peggy Manning, who worked as a can-can dancer at Ghost Town from 1963 until 1968, recently recalled some of this history for The Waynesville Mountaineer:
In the early years, Coburn paid popular actors to make appearances at Ghost Town and Six Gun Territory and sign autographs. Child actors, like Jon Provost, "Timmy" on the "Lassie" television show, were usually paid $500 a week plus living expenses for them and their families. Adult actors, like Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on "Bonanza," were paid about $5,000 for two days' work.
Among the actors and actresses who appeared at Ghost Town during the 1960s were Tony Dow, who played Wally on "Leave it to Beaver;" Darby Hinton, who played Israel Boone on "Daniel Boone;" Angela Cartwright, who played Penny on "Lost in Space" and later had lead roles in several movies; Patty Petersen of the "Donna Reed Show;" Richie Petrie of the "Dick Van Dyke Show;" Paul O'Keefe of the "Patty Duke Show;" and Ken Weatherwax, who played Pugsly on "The Adams Family."
Coburn's children, David, Jeannie and Kathy, became big buddies with the young actors, who stayed in A-frame chalets built atop Ghost Mountain. Overnight camping trips to Cataloochee were common, with some of the cowboys and can-can dancers joining them. Horses that offered rides around the park could be rented overnight for the camping trips.
In addition to Dan Blocker, other adult actors who made appearances at Ghost Town were Burt Reynolds, Clint Walker of "Daniel Boone" fame; Charlie Wooster of "Wagon Train;" Irene Ryan, who played Granny on "The Beverly Hillbillies;" Peter Brown from "Laramie;" Will Stockdale of "No Time for Sergeants" and Randy Boone from "The Virginian."
Manning also said that a movie called "Ghost Town" is slated to start filming on the property in October.
Somewhere in a box I still have the faux newspaper my Dad bought for me at Ghost Town, proclaiming that I had won a gunfight there. In the simple economy of kid-dom, it was one of my most prized possessions for years.
I think I'll have it framed.