Monday, October 5, 2009

The Object of My Desire: Worlds Away

I always tell people the best job I ever had during high school and college was as an old-time photographer at Worlds of Fun, an amusement park in Kansas City. It was this teenager's dream to dress people up in
vintage-looking costumes, snap their picture and transport
them back hundreds of years as a saloon girl or Southern Belle or even a Civil War general or a cowboy.Park guests would line the deck of the Cotton Blossom (yes, the one that appeared in the film, Show Boat!), or wait for hours in the hot sun in the Americana section waiting to have their vintage photo made.

Each "Spittin' Image" location had appealing qualities.
On a boiling day, the studio atop the boat was air conditioned and isolated from the park managers who roamed around looking for "Ambassadors" not wearing white enough sneakers or who had shaggy hair creeping over their collars. Tattoos and piercings? Why, that would have shot you out the back gate faster than The Orient Express, the four-looped roller coaster that once ruled the Orient section of the park.

The "Spittin' Image" saloon front in the Americana area was right across from the Country Junction variety show where every two hours or so a live cast performed medleys of country tunes. We heard that jamboree so many times a day that we memorized the show, and on slow days would dress up in the costumes themselves and put on a show of our own!

I was reminded of those summer days a few weeks ago while making my way through the Los Angeles County Fair with my pal Ruth Handel when much to our delight, we visited a shop that makes old-timey photos much like the ones I made more than 20 years ago. The technology has changed quite a bit from the days we took Polaroid images, sprayed them with chemicals and dried them with a crusty hair dryer.

Now these tintypes are made digitally, but to this day, my thumbnails are damaged from holding the corners of these photos while spraying them with a rapid selenium toner to achieve a sepia effect. (We were provided with gloves, but nobody used them. You know how kids are!) Ruth snapped my photo in front of the photo booth. Note my gigantic lemonade and one of my favorite Dolly Parton T-shirts.

I'm also sharing with you the cover of the 1981 Worlds of Fun Ambassador yearbook. There I am on a slow day in the top photo from that yearbook, dressed as a cowboy with a couple of my co-workers. I think I'm 16 in this picture packing heat, holding a noose and hiding my mass of hair under a crumpled cowboy hat. I have kept this yearbook all these year and dig it out on occasion to see how the park has changed. Gone is "Spittin' Image," The Cotton Blossom and The Orient Express, but all the fun I had at Worlds of Fun is still vibrant within its pages.

The chill in the air this time of year always reminds me of the final days of the Worlds of Fun season, only to be repeated just a few short months later come Spring.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter


  1. So jealous! I was dying to go to the LA Fair this year but time just got the best of me. Sounds like you had a grand time however, glad to hear.

  2. I love Worlds of Fun... I grew up in Northwest Arkansas and in jr high took a choir trip up to the amusement park (had my first roller coaster ride on a wooden coaster at the park!).

  3. Wow, Hey Stan! It has been such a long time! I was just doing some searching of the old "Spittin' Image" days and came across your blog. This is a great tribute! I hope you are well and happy!

    ~Shannon Gordon

    1. Isn't that something else? Seriously, the best job I ever had!



Blog Widget by LinkWithin