Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Fairyland Time Capsule

The other day we discovered a Fairyland employee manual dated March 1, 1956. The introduction to the 34-page document was written by William Penn Mott, Jr., who was Oakland’s superintendent of parks and Fairyland’s creator.

The manual is a time-capsule view of the park as it was exactly 60 years ago. Certain animals and sets, and the organizations that made them possible through their donations, no longer exist, and some sections of the manual would not be considered politically correct by today’s standards. But I was pleased to find that the message to employees was the same one we deliver today: to preserve and enhance the place that was designed to be “the dream of every child come true.”

“You must at all times remember that people visiting Children’s Fairyland are coming to this unique feature because it is a pleasant, clean, beautiful, uncommercialized place where the entire family can enjoy a happy experience,” Mott wrote. He provided detailed information on the park to new employees because he strongly believed that “more friends can be won for Children’s Fairyland by a courteous and pleasant answer followed by a friendly smile than any other way.”

Men were required to be clean shaven, and women to be “well groomed and conservatively made up.” There is no mention of tattoos.

Smoking was endemic in the U.S. back then – even in doctors’ offices, airplanes, and elevators. But not at Fairyland, where it was strictly forbidden on park grounds. “If you wish to smoke,” the manual advised, “do so either in the office or in the service area.”

The manual was stern about personal probity. Each employee was expected to “be loyal and faithful to the government of the United States” and “pay his [sic!] just debts and obligations promptly.”

The manual went on to stipulate that “if, at any time during a period of sick leave, the employee concerned shall find himself unable to answer the door, he shall notify the Park Department central office, the reason therefor, and the probable duration of this situation.”

We loved reading about how events were celebrated during a time when Fairyland – the nation’s first storybook theme park – had little competition from any other family-centered attractions. On Easter Sunday in 1955, the recorded attendance was a boggling 3,453. (Sixty years later, a big day for us means about 2,000 guests.) For the 1956 Halloween celebration, the manual recommended distributing a total of 60 pounds of candy to child visitors. I’m pretty sure we exceeded that amount last year during our two-day Jack O’Lantern Jamboree; although we offer many healthy treats, too.

A paragraph on each of the park’s animals, including their origins and characteristics, was included in the manual. You may think we have quite a menagerie today, but back then we hosted alligators, two types of monkeys, peacocks, parrots, pigs, llamas and sea lions. Of the latter, it was noted that “the Alaska seals are the species from which we acquire our beautiful furs.” Regarding the spider monkey: “The Indians shoot them with small arrows containing a mild poison which renders them unconscious. They are then revived with a pinch of salt, an antidote for the poison, and kept alive for use as pets.”

Descriptions of Fairyland’s piglets, alligators, peacocks—and more—were featured 
in a recently discovered 1956 park employee manual.

Seven pages describe some of the many plants of Fairyland; the descriptions include their Latin names, places of origin and where and how they were first introduced.

The Robinson Crusoe’s set contributor (underwriter) was the legendary restaurateur “Trader Vic” Bergeron, whose namesake restaurants still thrive in Emeryville and worldwide. But many of the other donors are long gone: the Gyro Club of Oakland, Oakland Women of the Moose, the West of Market Girls, and the Pilots Club of Oakland.

A number of the sets themselves are gone as well: Ten Little Indians, Giant Joe Bean, Mousetown, Three Blind Mice, A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go.

Although the park has evolved over the years, some things remain unchanged. From the manual: “You will find working at Children’s Fairyland an exciting and rewarding experience. At times the pressure of the job may try your patience, but remember: Children’s Fairyland is internationally known and you have been selected to work here because you have the right disposition and personality to recognize and cope with the many problems.”

 Mr. Mott, we thank you for setting a high standard that we try every day to meet.

-C.J. Hirschfield

C.J. Hirschfield has served for 13 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry.  C.J. is former president and current board member of the California Attractions and Parks Association, and also serves on the boards of Visit Oakland and the Lake Merritt/Uptown Business Improvement District. C.J. writes a weekly column for the Piedmont Post and OaklandLocal, where she loves to showcase the beauty of her city and its people. She holds a degree in film and broadcasting from Stanford University.

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