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The thing is the thing. Welcome
back cactus flats. Oh it's a ghost town now all right but once it was a rip roarin slice of the Wild Wild West. Why right over here you could catch the stagecoach as it pulled into town to drop off the customers and pick up the freight. Or you could what your whistle over here at the Golden Nugget saloon. Get your horse shot around the corner here of the village blacksmith. Or if you wanted to you could even take a peek at the bad guys down here at the county jail. And if I look larger than life in this picture. I assure you there's nothing wrong with your television set. You see everything here at Cactus flats was built a one quarter scale. Now obviously this wasn't built for adults. Rather it was built for children and this is just one corner of a very special
place entirely for children. It was a place where kids could come and be whatever they wanted to be. All they had to do was make believe. The land of make believe in Upper Jay New York captured the imaginations of thousands of children for almost 25 summers especially for kids and built to their scale the land of make believe was chock full of things which every young visitor was encouraged to get his hands on. Here fertile imaginations could soar and many did.
It was all the brainstorm of one man with the heart of a child a creative mind and the daring to build his dreams. Mickey stop that. No I don't here we go once more. Make you stop that. I mean it. You want me to spank you. Have to feed these boys. You can see I'll show you some pictures later of the way it used to look. I mean look at it now you're pressing for this fence is gone so I just so used to be about 40 buildings here
about 40 and courses at many left but they're all in this. There was a time here when you couldn't see a match stick or a cigarette butt on the floor. And I probably owe restore some of these buildings. I really thought of them. I don't know about far but it's too bad to let them just fall down. Now it's sort of just a ghost town. I mean you see a lot of activity here. For Arto Monaco his land of make believe is a vastly different place in the summer of 1993 than it was 40 years earlier in 1953 as it rose from the soggy spring soil of the Adirondacks land of make believe was the third theme park to be built close to Lake Placid
Santo's workshop on Whiteface Mountain was the first and still draws festive crowds of young and old alike to this day Old MacDonald's farm in Lake Placid was next. And although this park was popular it was short lived. Arto Monaco had designed both these places so when the idea struck him to create his own park the land of Make-Believe and longtime friend Donald Cameron put up the money with his daughter Catherine signing on as a business manager. The mountains around upper Jay began resound ing with the sounds of a dream come true. I said if I had the money I build a park and it would be strictly for kids. Kids up to 12 years old and if their father and mother want to come they can come with them but it's a kids park. The kids take the parents to the park not the parents take the kids.
And they said everything would be down to half scale. All the buildings and Little Ponies little stage coaches everything down to scale with art all knows all about building scale models. A talent which was not lost on the United States Army during World War Two when Sergeant Monaco built larger than life models of everything from the headlight switch for a jeep to a telescope. He even designed and supervised the construction of an a door for a top secret full scale replica of a German village which was built near big pines California. Here American G.I. ski get the feel of what was waiting for them overseas. Are those unique contributions to the war effort were credited with cutting training time by as much as 30 percent and garnered him the Legion of Merit from the president of the United States. Arda was
even in demand in Hollywood. He designed sets at MGM do the storyboards for such film classics as Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and dabbled in animation with Walt Disney. But after the war Arto and his wife glad came to realize that for them the magic was not in the hub of Hollywood but back home in the Adirondacks on a few acres of land near a quiet mountain stream. Well the day we open the park we were pretty excited and we didn't have too much we had that day we open we had to stagecoach and the train that was on it saying we had to ride out. I was trying to drown her in a big cowboy and care for her because she thought I was something. The first day we opened I think we had oh I dunno 500 people and we thought while we were sailing from the very beginning the land of make believe was a big hit and word of this magical place
spread quickly. Soon all over the country kids started insisting that the next family vacation include as much time as possible at the park built just for them. Rand McNally began marking the location of the park on their maps and local motels campsites and restaurants were kept busy from NE until September. Adirondack winters and his associates worked on him and awaited the first signs of spring but incredibly It would be the winters that would ultimately come very quickly. And when they do like this one this is the East branch of the
other way way down the mountain. That's what happened here. Fifty five tons of the road through the land of make believe making the place look more like a child's worst nightmare. Much sums
it up and you know what I've seen about done I was startled what I just reeling. It was the worst ever. I got the guy over there who were trapped over there. Yeah I've had enough. In
a land of make believe is kept right up to the finish. And so when it went out it went out when it was the top of you know it was really on the pinnacle. So people can say wow they went out because they were bad business people or they went out because they didn't care anymore. They went out because they made a lot of money and decided to cause it. We went out because Mother Nature just said that. But it was everything was top shape. In 1979 after being
flooded out 11 times since 1954 even Arto knew it was time to call it quits. So the land is Make-Believe closed its doors for ever. I salvaged what we could. You see that going down there lay down there. That is what used to be the secretaries and then the bookkeepers office. You mean the destroyed collapsing building yeah. And that was what was in all the equipment records and everything else went with it. Well thats. That's what nerds from where it started yes
yes. This is a little golden nugget now. This is no way is set up on its operation. Because right now we're drawing these harnesses and things. And see all the little gambling tables. Yeah we're copies of gaming tables that I saw in the goods out there go to. And then and you have a balcony I rattled off the room and everything in here is authentic except this down the scale. It's a room in that you can see what the flood is done. I have to replace a lot of stuff but the flood just how high was the water in here at one point the water right here you can see the water level see it. I've had this place cleaned up but there's a water level right above any Oakley's picture. So everything up to that height than here was here was and under water and ice and
you know we had the P.A. and they could really play a piano place or two and they'd sit there and play tunes and just pretend they were biking you away. Well I know of course the easy things aren't to scale or things like that clock those antique cars. Those aren't to scale but they fit in very well here and. There was a lot of you built the back bar here or I was walking down the denial rate and here's a front by Sirius got all the oh yeah it's all covered already talking in front of all the carman usernames around your site saying oh you're going to do this although I can see this is the front of the bar and you have to tell me how to still be here. Yeah yeah little foot to bring it about and then we had to put through is there someplace I can always hear the brass for the who's the biggest trouble voice.
They're getting things to the scale. Yeah and what we couldn't get we really big don't run on Cheney and Cheney. I ought to cut this way so at least you can get up to see the see the Golan Lions they're here you know if you see him say they've been sitting here for 34 years and we're standing on a little drawbridge Oh yeah they're drawbridges used to be a water underneath here. You want to try to get in there. Well I want to not be canceled and you know you know you want not just that that's it just take that away we can fix it but this right here probably here you want to get it to me. Yeah it was great. It's wedging got very good actually. Just see if we just push it aside and move back. You know the second I think I can do
it. What's the penalty for breaking and entering a castle. You will find out soon I think I'll come here again. That's a scary thought. Now there used to have night 9 we're sitting here and these walls were covered with all these these nice old shields and things and I want to take this over by the thousands and thousands of kids has sat on this sort of thing here. CEOs all cover developing gold leaf it was a quite an expensive place to build make it details and he used to sit there and little girls would sit there and make believe their princes you sidle crowns. You could put on now. I think the stairs are safer. Oh yeah there are four you know they're safe.
This used to be a throne room in there and I had lots of jewels and diamonds and coins. And he's careful because it's wrong. It can be a way of dealing with it now. We used to be able to go up here and say this is you get to this is even a disease gas you know you can't you can't go up and on the other side anyway. And Dollywood has to admit he can't go because you never hear he is used to get a view of the whole park. So down through there it's this create you know you could. Kids would look out here I put the bar so they can fall out. How long did it take you to build this. Well the first part of the castle was built probably about three months
and then the second part was done by my brother in law Leonard and Shirley Wallace built this in about a half in about three months. Just the two of them and how long it's been mostly in the winter time you said it was still in the bottom here and they say so who keep working all day. Because so we have a dump and spring came and this is been standing here since 1954 53 really started in 53. I'm surprised this is remember we've built an awful lot of other buildings. Yes. This is the Secretary Security Watch for the nails here this is the secretary's office and the ice brought this down. Oh yes yes right all of the nice new building too. It just picked it up and moved it how far is it working around the foundation. That's a thousand fifteen hundred yard off the main building. So the water
was up where you see a little well there it was up over the top as well. Water was over the top of that over the top there wishing well why aren't you are you mad as hell at this river. Well I'm not as mad at the river is I'm mad at the town county department of public works when you're on concrete you've got the whole alphabet you know. Because right now if you grow up you can see that river is filling in. All it needs is to be dragged down a bit once in summer once in a while rash and the water would go exacts the town is maybe 15 years ago in fairyland we didn't have any problems. Then all of a sudden it kept filling and then we notified everybody but they just you know turn deaf ears. So it feels until it happens it fills in the sand and silt. You know the water has no place to go so overflows all the banks backs up the ice holds the water
right. And when it backs up it can't come down the river and go under the bridge over the road in a matter of fact comes right through the land in a matter of fact it was hitting a bridge many times. Now I don't know if it's a department of public or show one of those. They said that they didn't want to dig out this channel last spring because it might disturb the spawning of the fish. You know maybe the spawning how many fish would they lose. Ten thousand. I had 10000 fish right here in this bike a lot. We had to pick up a thousand thousand of dead fish here. I didn't want the animals again because they were frozen in the ice and they came down and we know it's deposited left all the dead fish. Your conservation department or whoever is in charge you never should come down and reimburse me for all the work I've done for them. Only fragments of our Joe's dream remain today looking at all this it might be easy to buy into the notion that the end of the land of make believe was
also the end of art of Monaco. This minute 54 1954 almost 40 years ago I was nine for this little house over the river and through the wings down here in the mist. You're not going to believe much of what was not destroyed in the floods at the land of make believe has been sold to The Great Escape amusement park in Glens Falls New York and our Joe works here keeping his fantasy alive. He also gets involved with the designing of other attractions for the park like the recently completed no was Ark swimming and wading pools just about everywhere in the park can be seen the
creative imagination of Arto Monaco as it once flourished in his land of make believe. The land of make believe is gone for ever but there is still a magic here far below the mossy blueberry carpets of the Adirondacks. It's the magic of a man in his 80s who has always kept his spirit for ever young. A fellow to whom it no longer matters where the children find their
adventures as long as they are allowed to look. And in looking find a place built especially for them. That was the notion behind the land of make believe. And for the thousands of children who used to flock to this place summer after summer it is something they will never forget what a little bit. I
People Near Here
Episode Number
Arto Monaco: The Land of Makebelieve
Producing Organization
Mountain Lake PBS
Contributing Organization
Mountain Lake PBS (Plattsburgh, New York)
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Episode Description
Come and meet Arto Monaco, the quiet unassuming Adirondacker who designed and built one of America's very first theme parks right in his own backyard --Note*(episode number on tape label and/or slate may be incorrect)
Series Description
People Near Here is a documentary series that explores Adirondack history and culture.
Local Communities
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Moving Image
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Camera Operator: Muirden, Derek
Editor: Frederick, Paul
Producer: Muirden, Derek
Producing Organization: Mountain Lake PBS
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Mountain Lake PBS (WCFE)
Identifier: 0066A (MLPBS)
Format: Betacam: SP
Generation: Master
Duration: 30:00:00
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Chicago: “People Near Here; 101; Arto Monaco: The Land of Makebelieve,” 1994-00-00, Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 24, 2024,
MLA: “People Near Here; 101; Arto Monaco: The Land of Makebelieve.” 1994-00-00. Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 24, 2024. <>.
APA: People Near Here; 101; Arto Monaco: The Land of Makebelieve. Boston, MA: Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from