by Charly Shelton
Eighty-two years ago, Cordelia Knott had a restaurant. It started as a roadside stop for tea and biscuits, and maybe a slice of boysenberry pie. Ever the courteous hostess, Mrs. Knott whipped up some fried chicken for guests when biscuits and pie weren’t enough. The restaurant evolved, soon drawing massive crowds from all over Southern California with wait times of nearly four hours to get a table on the weekend. Her husband, Walter Knott, worked their berry farm on which the restaurant was situated. Walter was the co-inventor of the boysenberry, having crossbred the European Raspberry, the European blackberry, the American Dewberry and the Loganberry. The Knotts sold their boysenberries from a now iconic berry stand next to the restaurant.
Walter and Cordelia wanted to make their guests’ trip to “Knott’s Berry Place” as much fun as it could be, so Walter built little amusements around the restaurant to keep people entertained while they waited for their table. From the “Only Active Volcano in Southern California” to the replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon fireplace to the ever elusive catawampus, Walter knew how to have fun with his amusements and, over time, they grew and became more elaborate. Then in 1941, Walter kicked it into high gear. He built a Ghost Town out behind the restaurant with citizens to interact with guests and perform shows, photo spots, exhibits of interest and more. This was the first step toward becoming a theme park, even though they didn’t know it yet. Between Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant and the Knott’s Berry Place amusements, this quiet little produce stand had exploded into one of Southern California’s premier attractions for locals and tourists alike.
This year, Knott’s Berry Farm celebrates the 75th anniversary of Ghost Town opening, to begin the journey toward what the theme park is today.
All summer long, Knott’s Berry Farm will be celebrating by bringing Ghost Town to life, no pun intended. Ghost Town Alive! will invite guests to not only interact with the citizens of Ghost Town as they play out their stories throughout the day, but will bring guests into the buildings for the first time ever, many of which are the original buildings built by Walter Knott 75 years ago.
In addition, GhostRider has just reopened from an extensive refurbishment and it is amazing. The classic wooden coaster which for some, myself included, is the epitome of what a wooden coaster can or should be, has never felt this smooth.
Despite how much fun it is, you usually end up limping off of the ride because it’s so shaky and bumpy, and the roller coaster train vehicle was so rough that it could prohibit a second ride. But all that is in the past. This is the tallest, fastest and longest wooden coaster on the West Coast and after a nine-month refurbishment, all 4,533 feet of track have been replaced.Some of the kinks previously in the curves and dips have been re-profiled to give the rider the same amount of thrill without the punch in the kidneys.
GhostRider has all new “ore car” coaster trains too, and the padding in the seats as well as the re-situation of the foot space make this an entirely more enjoyable experience, which allows the guest to focus on the action of the coaster rather than protecting themselves from sloshing around.
The Calico Mine Train and the Timber Mountain Log Ride have also recently gotten a touchup, bringing them back to their original glory when they were installed in 1960 and 1969, respectively. The Calico Mine Train takes guests through a gold mine to see animatronic miners working the way they did back in the 1800s. The Timber Mountain Log Ride, formerly the Calico Logging Company, takes guests on one of the first ever log flume rides in America to see the operations of a logging company in the mountains and celebrate a hootenanny with them. Who can say no to a hootenanny?
But the best part of this whole experience, the part that will bring you back time and again, is Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant.
To celebrate the anniversary, it has just undergone a complete overhaul and expansion of the dining area, adding outdoor seating at picnic-style benches and a bar indoors next to a completely redesigned dining room. The bar menu is new, featuring boysenberry infused cocktails like the boysenberry martini, boysenberry margarita and the ever-popular boysenberry beer. But the restaurant menu has stayed largely the same since 1934, with recipes Cordelia Knott created herself. For anyone who grew up in Southern California, Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken and biscuits are probably among your favorite meals, as it harks back to the days of youth and going to Knott’s Berry Farm with your family.
Now in its 75th year, Knott’s Berry Farm is going strong and has planned expansion for its waterpark across the street, Knott’s Soak City, later this year. It will be celebrating Ghost Town’s anniversary all summer long through Sept. 5.