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'Story Land,' by Jim Miller, the book where fantasy lives


A look back at Bob and Ruth Morrell's enchanting gift to kids



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Opening any page of Jim Miller’s ‘Story Land’ is a trip down fantasy memory lane. The photos on these pages show Cinderella’s Pumpkin Coach, which was drawn by live horses through the 1979 season. Above the book are more current photos, one a personal photo from the 1980s, the other, right, from 2006 of Liz Labonte of Berlin as Cinderella. Miller’s book is a great reference to use in order to put a year on all those personal Story Land photos you’ve taken — or were taken of you — over the years. (Sara Young-Knox/Mountain Ear Photo). (click for larger version)
July 29, 2010
She wasn't the last. Young women from three generations, from Mount Washington and Androscoggin Valleys and beyond, have filled the role. During one summer season in the 1960s I knew one of those young women, Susan May of Jackson, which thrilled me to no end, making me feel especially privileged to sit on that red-cushioned, gold-gilted throne inside the palace.

Twenty years later I sat on that throne again, my two-year-old son, Nathaniel, on my lap, while my mother snapped a picture of us. A decade later still my son Josh, then a teenager, would delight in talking to Cinderella, quizzing his role-playing Kennett High classmate, Sue Fabrizio of Bartlett, on all aspects of her realm.  

Much has been written about the genius of Bob Morrell and his wife, Ruth, who started Story Land in 1954, and how they took a small idea of creating a children's theme park based on the handmade dolls of storybook characters they'd brought back from Germany, and grew it into the much-beloved land where fantasy lives.

Popular with children, Story Land is popular with journalists and reporters, too, who every summer find a new reason to write a feature on the park, thus necessitating another visit to the Glen attraction.

Alas, those struggling writers might have to hang up their media passes and pay to get in, as Miller's book, part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, is so comprehensive, combining vintage photographs with a detailed chronology of the park's birth and growth, that those writers will find their facts and words lacking in comparison.

Readers will appreciate the many hours Miller put into writing the book. Miller, who lives in Bartlett with his wife and two children, worked at Story Land from 2001 to 2009, serving in marketing and management capacities. He has culled over 200 photographs from the park's archives. Each photograph is accompanied by text detailing the history of the amusement pictured.

Just a bit of the information on the antique Heyn German carousel, installed in 1967 reads: "It was originally steam powered and toured the Bavarian countryside in carnivals during the later 1800s and early 1900s. A Canadian carousel collector purchased it, and it appeared at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition grounds in the early 1960s."  

For readers in any generation, the book provides a visual history that augments childhood memories. I have a distant memory of climbing up into an old fire truck and getting a ride on the gravel path through the mostly-wooded park.

"By 1956," Miller writes under a photo on page 25, "Freddy the Fire Truck was the first amusement ride at Story Land. Housed in a new garage near the gift shop, it was driven at the north end of the park, approximately where the Antique Cars ride now operates. Guests paid a fee to ride with a trained driver and could wear real fire helmets and hand crank the siren."

Readers don't have to be as old as I am to refresh their memories. The Morrells continually reinvested in the park, with new attractions and play spaces springing up on a nearly annual basis. Some older attractions were relocated, others upgraded, still others renovated completely. Readers in their 30s will remember the log fort near Heidi's Grandfather's House and the outdoor maze with the funhouse mirrors, and will find out what replaced both.

What has not been replaced is the original idea behind Story Land. Children can still see the living incarnations of The Three Little Pigs, meet Mother Goose, and test the beds in The Three Bear's House. They can sit in the wooden seats at the School House, pretend to teach a lesson and then ring the rooftop bell, just as their parents and grandparents did before them.

The Morrell Family sold the park in 2007 to Kennywood Entertainment Company of West Mifflin, Pa. The company Parques Reunidos of Madrid, Spain, made the family-owned Kennywood an offer they couldn't refuse, and in 2008 Story Land became a part of Festival Fun Parks and Entertainment, the U.S. arm of the Spanish company.

Miller captures the creativity of Bob and Ruth Morrell, their son, R. Stoning "Stoney" Morrell, and the Story Land staff. Bob, Ruth, and Stoney are gone now — Stoney Morrell too young and too soon — but the park, their legacy, survives.

Miller signed books on Wednesday night at White Birch Books in North Conway Village, and will be signing books Saturday, July 31, at Borders and Friday, Aug. 6, at the Book Warehouse, both in North Conway.

For more information on the book, go to www.arcadiapublishing.com. Better yet, head to your local bookstore and pick up a copy.

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