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Attraction of the week: Knott's Berry Farm's Mystery Lodge

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Published: September 24, 2012 at 11:40 AM

Let's head back to the United States for this week's Attraction of the Week: Mystery Lodge at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.

Exterior of Mystery Lodge

Knott's has been pursuing thrill seekers in recent years, with its chain-wide "Ride Warriors" ad campaign. But Mystery Lodge calls back to the park Knott's once was, before the Cedar Fair buyout, when the park offered rich themes - and a dash of education - along with its thrills.

Mystery Lodge opened in 1994, one of the last attractions added to Knott's Berry Farm before its sale to Cedar Fair. Created by Bob Rogers' BRC Imagination Arts, Mystery Lodge shares both a setting and a visual effects trick that Rogers had used in a similar show for the General Motors pavilion at Vancouver's Expo 86 world's fair.

So what's the trick? We'll get to that in a minute. But let's set the scene first, shall we? Mystery Lodge offers what might be Knott's best themed and decorated queue, a walk past rockwork and water features inspired by the Pacific Northwest, where the story you'll soon experience is set. Once inside the show building, you enter an "outdoor" scene, designed to look like the entrance to a Native America longhouse, at the magic hour of twilight.

After a short introduction by your host, you'll enter a plain theater, facing a glass wall. Behind it, you see into the longhouse, where an elderly Native America storyteller greets you. A fire burns in the middle of the room. As smoke from the fire twists into shapes, the storyteller believes he sees an owl in the smoke, which he tells us is a symbol of death. That prompts the man to share stories and reflect upon his past, which collectively help illustrate the Pacific Northwest Native American experience.

Inside the Mystery Lodge
Photo courtesy BRC Imagination Arts

And then, the end of the show happens. I won't spoil it here, but even after watching Mystery Lodge countless times, I still consider its ending one of the neatest effects in the theme park business. Friends with stagecraft experience say it's a Pepper's Ghost trick, from the same family of visual effects that enabled the Tupac "hologram" that went viral after this year's Coachella festival. (Take a look back at the Mystery Lodge building from the outside sometime. Doesn't it look a lot bigger than the size of the interior theater would suggest? Is that a clue that something tricky's happening?)

But you don't need to be a theme park design geek and know how Rogers and his team made the effect to appreciate it, because the effect only adds to the warm and wonderful script that truly animates this show.

Under new Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet, the former president of Disneyland, Knott's seems to be taking steps to change its recent course toward becoming an iron park aimed solely at thrill seekers. Knott's is revamping its food selections and bringing back theme-appropriate background music to Ghost Town. If Ouimet really wants to make a play for the theme park fans who are pushing the Disneyland Resort to record attendance (even after its recent price increases), I hope he finds some inspiration in Mystery Lodge. While I think this show alone merits a visit to Knott's by dedicated theme park fans, adding an attraction or two with the same level of theming and storytelling would help elevate Knott's back to elite theme park status.

Readers' Opinions

From Steve Alcorn on September 24, 2012 at 1:03 PM
Best theme park show ever. Note that at Expo 86 the ending effect was similar, but less elaborate and much easier to pull off.
From Anon Mouse on September 24, 2012 at 1:22 PM
I seen it a few times many years ago. The Native American story bores me. I prefer they change it to something more in line with Halloween Haunt to make up for the lost Haunted Shack attraction.

Despite them wanting to make it a Theme Park, the future plans to replace the Plunge ride is more of the same, spinners and coasters. They need to add more dark rides.

From Tim Chatlos on September 24, 2012 at 3:55 PM
The park has been making strides to return some of its lost spirit. They still seem hesitant to fully embrace the older ways though, it took quite a bit of prompting from fans to get the Ghost Town music to something some theme-appropriate. Also, as good of a ride Silver Bullet might be as a coaster, its placement in the park was one of the more significant hits to the character and theme of Knott's during the Cedar Fair years.
From 72.197.30.46 on September 24, 2012 at 11:01 PM
This is an excellent show, and as the author says merits a visit to the park just to see it. I think it's great when the parks actually infuse a little history and culture into the parks, especially for children(and uneducated adults) they can have fun learning important things and they don't even know it! That's one of the things I admire so much about disneyland, and it's what Walt wanted. It's really tragic that Disney's America was never built, but hey there's still land in orlando for that and maybe even Anaheim. Now if only they'd revamp the wild west stunt show into something not so silly, that'd be great too. I miss universal's wild west show too, they actually had real horses in the show it was great. But ya this show is a must see if you haven't already and the visual effects are impressive!
From Rob P on September 25, 2012 at 5:56 AM
Anyone suggesting a change of theme for the Mystery Lodge is missing the point by a country mile.
This has to be one of the best Theme Park shows and has a fine message and excellent theme into the bargain.
It bothers me when some of today's , possibly younger, audience fail to appreciate attractions like this one and would readily introduce themes of no real substance or history in it's place.
It demonstrates a disturbing trend toward having only contemporary themes regardless of whether they are any good or not.
From AJ Hummel on September 25, 2012 at 10:31 AM
Mystery Lodge is a show most people I know either really like or really don't care for. I consider it one of those things that you need to do once, but once you've seen it you don't need to see it again. Although it's a good show, it's not the greatest fit for Knott's anymore as the park has shifted toward attracting thrillseekers who don't care for that sort of thing. I hope it stays, but I'd understand if Knott's decided to close it for something else.

Also, I don't agree with Mystery Lodge having the best queue at the park. The entrance is nice, but then you're led into a relatively plain cattle pen. Calico Mine Ride, Timber Mountain Log Ride, and Jaguar all have queues that are themed throughout, and I'd say all three of them are better than Mystery Lodge's.

From M. Ryan Traylor on September 25, 2012 at 10:46 AM
I first Mystery Lodge in 2011. Being a hobbyist magician I knew the main effect of the show to be Pepper's Ghost.

Pepper's Ghost was originally discovered by science before being applied to the theater. Jim Steinmeyer has a great lecture on the subject. It's an effect that is still used widely today throughout stage and themepark attractions (Haunted Mansion, Blue Fairy in Pinocchio dark ride).

And as Robert mentioned there is another astonishing effect in the show. I won't talk about it here so as not to spoil the show and effect, but it's something to see. It's classic and well done and yet a powerful effect.

From Ted Heumann on September 25, 2012 at 11:31 AM
I agree 110%, this is a GREAT attraction and one I wish Knott's had more of. This is an example of an attraction that fits well into Knott's theme and budget.
Knott's has the opportunity to be the middle ground between the highly themed Disneyland and the iron park Six Flags Magic Mountain. They also have a GREAT opportunity to appeal more to families, now that DL is priced too high for most families. Knott's price is right, but they still have too little for families (and NO Camp Snoopy is NOT for families, it is for VERY small children).
I WANT to love Knott's again (and to buy an annual pass), but I'm waiting for Knott's to give me a reason. They have made great strides in that direction, but I'm still on the fence.

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