‘AMERICA’S FIRST THEME PARK’ CELEBRATES GHOST TOWN ANNIVERSARY BY OPENING ITS ARCHIVES TO FANS
Ninety years ago this year, Walter and Cordelia Knott purchased 10 acres they had been leasing to grow berries and established Knott’s Berry Place.
Twenty years later, the family’s Buena Park, Calif., business officially became Knott’s Berry Farm, and an American institution was born. Today, it’s among the most-visited theme parks in the world.
“Before Disneyland, there was Knott’s Berry Farm,” says Jim Lentz, Heritage Auctions’ director of animation art. “What started as a roadside berry stand and fried chicken restaurant has grown into one of the most popular amusement parks in the world. It’s home to precious memories for so many people, and well deserves the title of America’s first theme park.” Nearby Disneyland opened in 1955.
Walter Knott’s Southern California landmark took shape in 1940 when he began constructing Ghost Town, using buildings relocated from Old West towns. “Today, 75 years later,” Lentz says, “it’s considered his ultimate achievement, inspiring scores of other amusement parks and making the park a ‘must-stop’ destination.”
Over the years, the park has amassed a wide variety of props, paintings, automobiles, vintage signs and instruments to entertain guests and decorate the park. Roughly 200 lots from the park’s archives are featured in Heritage’s “Knott’s Berry Farm Auction – America’s First Theme Park.”
Among the items are more than 40 rare coin-operated pianos, games, slot machines and scales from the 1920s and 1930s.
Also offered are paintings by Paul Von Klieben (1895-1953), who designed architectural elements and graphic materials for Knott’s Berry Farm until his death in 1953. “Von Klieben was the park’s resident artist,” Lentz says, “working with Walter Knott to create many of the features of Ghost Town.”
A large painting by Henry H. Cross (1837-1918) is among the lots. “Buffalo Bill Cody once called him greatest painter of Indian portraiture of all times,” Lentz says. “He worked as an artist for P.T. Barnum’s circus, making trips into Indian country on his own to sketch and paint Indian and animal life as well as cavalrymen and scouts. He was known for his portraits of Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok, Sitting Bull and Sioux Chief Red Cloud.
“To celebrate the 75th anniversary of Ghost Town, the park wants to give something back to the fans who have supported Knott’s Berry Farm all these years,” Lentz says. “It’s the first time they have opened their archives to the public.
“Knott’s Berry Farm is responsible for so many wonderful memories,” Lentz says, “and it’s a great American success story to boot.”