December 31, 2017

Photo Essay: The Faces of Knott's Berry Farm

When people think of Knott's Berry Farm today, maybe they still can smell the chicken dinners or the boysenberry pie.

Maybe they feel the jolt of the roller coasters or the racket of an Old West gunfight reenactment.

As for me, I think of the faces.

Its ghost town wouldn't seem nearly as ghostly without those haunting, creepy figures.

It started with the "Calico Belles," Marilyn (inspired by the real Marilyn Hargrove Schuler) and Cecelia (inspired by the real Cecilia Peterson)—concrete figures sculpted and painted in 1954 by Claude Bell, Knott's resident sculptor.

They were modeled after two "Calico Saloon" dancing girls named Marilyn Schuler and Cecelia Peterson and sat on a bench at Calico Square.

Back then, getting your photos taken with their facsimiles was nearly as popular as seeing the real live girls doing the can-can in a show.

Since then, they've been replaced by Ruby and Flo, and more figural sculptures "of the period" have popped up around the park—even outside of the ghost town, as far over as Camp Snoopy.

Those saloon girls were just the beginning of Claude Bell's notoriety—having created Dinny the Dinosaur (a Brontosaurus) in 1975 and Mr. Rex (a tyrannosaurus) in 1986 out of steel and concrete (well, shotcrete) to help advertise his restaurant, the Wheel Inn (now demolished), in the town of Cabazon.

Moreover, credit can't be given entirely to Claude Bell for creating some of the most memorable faces at Knott's Berry Farm, as the animals in the menagerie merry-go-round were carved by craftsmen at the Dentzel Carousel Company nearly decades before Walter Knott opened his berry farm.

In fact, this antique Dentzel—one of only three found in Southern California (the others at Disneyland and Castle Park)—is among the oldest operating ones you can find anywhere.

Built in 1902, it resided at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania until 1936, when it moved to Brady Park in Canton, Ohio. It arrived in Buena Park in 1955.

In addition to its horses, it's got a giraffe, a deer...

...two pigs...

...a goat...

...and four ostriches.

Of the three rows on two separate platforms—for a total of 48 animals—only six of them have had to be replaced with fiberglass replicas.

This 1902 model is not to be confused with the carousel that was part of the Knott's Lagoon attraction, which had its own Dentzel carousel. The Lagoon was bulldozed and paved over for parking, and that carousel was auctioned off as part of Bud Hurlbut's collection in 1990.

Now, I go to a lot of amusement parks and county fairs and such. I'm up on all the latest trends and thrills. But no matter how much G-force the modern-day roller coasters can make me experience, and no matter how "real" virtual reality becomes, nothing will ever compare to the artistry and craftsmanship of these old, antiquated, mechanical machines with their galloping horses and snickering faces.

And nothing can haunt me quite like creations of Claude Bell and the other faces of Knott's Berry Farm.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Upon the 75th Anniversary of the Ghost Town at Knott's Berry Farm
Photo Essay: Old Trapper's Lodge Statues
Photo Essay: The Faces of Bonnie Springs Ranch, Old Nevada
Photo Essay: Castle Park and The King of Theme Park Train Rides
Photo Essay: The Faces of The Santa Monica Pier Carousel

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