May 31st, 1892, err… 2023
Happy Founder’s Day!
Since 2016, Knott’s has celebrated the summer season with Ghost Town Alive in the parks, an award-winning live-action role-playing event for all ages taking place entirely in the semi-fictional town of Calico. Each year the story progresses, giving the incentive to visit regularly and interact with the fantastic citizens in the town. Progressing in semi-realtime, the year is 1892. And no matter what day you visit, it always happens to be “Founder’s Day”, a celebration of the day the town was founded. You never know what is going to happen or who you will see. By my count, this year we have 45 citizens to meet and greet and then bamboozle, swindle, buddy-up and aide, for whatever reasons that you want.
While there were obvious reasons the event took a hiatus for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, the return in 2022 was welcomed with open arms. While faces come and go, what’s new this year is a number of returning faces from years past. Suffice to say, this year is looking to be a great one and in this article, I’ll be covering who’s around and what’s going on. If you want to avoid story spoilers, which I heavily recommend, please skip the next four paragraphs. This year is a banger of a story and just skip down to the bottom to go to the important bits.
The main story this year focuses on the unexpected passing of Tate Fortune. The ex-husband of Ms. Cookie Lemon, has passed, and in his will has deeded the town’s only bank to the biggest criminal, determined by who seizes his favorite possessions by the end of Founder’s Day. In no time at all, factions are formed, each determining what they believe is an item so vaguely described. These happen to be the diamond-encrusted diamond, the Maltese Falcon, a painting of the Mona Lisa being painted, the spare crown of England, and finally the world’s largest gold and silver nugget in the shape of the Calico Express.
The factions all take turns trying to seize the items from each other, hoping to be in possession of them by the hoedown, which now comes an hour earlier at 4:30PM. While on its face, it seems to be done for budgetary reason, it also gives more time for the turnaround for Summer Nights on that same stage, and hopefully will be less blisteringly hot during the dog days of summer. The hottest of the hot days can be brutal, especially for the citizens in their multi-layered outfits. We hope this pans out for those reasons. That heat is no joke.
Additionally, there’s a circus for kids each day at 3PM which they can participate in to show off their talents. And they can also be mayor of the town for an hour provided they earn enough stamps on a form for doing good deeds. Inside Town Hall, you can even help design a new town layout and make new structures all by yourself to help construct a more-perfect Calico.
A lot of faces have moved on this year, whether they’re ostensibly pursuing Ma Mayfield in Oregon, or just retired. This includes the former sheriff, the self-appointed mayor, and others. That has left many vacancies around to fill leading to some power struggles, and of course an election for sheriff. The bandits sure do love to take advantage of that power vacuum. But let’s get on with who’s around this year.
The assay office, the first stop for most folks, will have a familiar face, Flint Stahlak, along with Zeke’s nephew, Zack Connolly, and semi-new face, Cody Sullivan – formerly of the Mad Bucks, who has been reformed and is now helping out!The bank this year has Wisconsin Wes and Ms. Cookie Lemon around. But this year they have a new guard. One-shot Mayfield, the ex-wife of Tiny Mayfield, has returned to keep an eye on things. Just don’t mention it to Tiny. While the barbershop is kept running by the usual crew of Looking Glass Thurmond and Doctor Linville Carter, Fluke Mayfield is formally working there this summer, too. You can still get all your mustaches and pony rentals right here in this prime spot. But don’t pin your hopes on the mayorship at this spot. The doc operates in a strictly non-partisan environment. Helping out those on both sides of the law. But if you do see anything spooky, be sure to let him, and the rest of the Paranormal Investigation Society, know, ASAP. Even if Doc is no longer the president of the society doesn’t mean he’s still not a member. Another new face this year is Gilbert Weiztel. He’s around town to promote Ms. Cameo Kate’s saloon show. But also he really wants to bring the circus to town. There’s a lot of blustering in his promotions, but what circus doesn’t have that? Abigail Dynamite is also around to help put the circus together, because this town needs all the help it can get. That other familiar face, Mr. John Potts, has returned after four years in the wilderness chasing Bigfoot. He’s a bit worse for the wear. A little bonkers. Well, give him a hello if you see him, but don’t be surprised if he’s acting loopy.The dress shop sees the return of that power team of Ms. Barbara Gaines and Ms. Theodora “Teddy” S. Delmundo. Curiously, they’re holding onto the spare crown of England in their shop. It would be such a shame if they got distracted and someone swiped it from the shop. This is a prime place to hide from the heat, and unleash your creative spark. We miss the seamstress in the back. It means the shop has to close when both of the ladies are out in Sweetwater (Read: “on lunch”), something it didn’t need to do in years past.Thelma Kinkade is back at the hotel, in charge this year, no less! And she’s acquired help from a new face, Wilhelmina ‘Mina’ Watson. She’s a bit of a card shark and is more than happy to play some games out on the porch. But be careful, it’s gotten her into trouble; as if that’s any surprise around here. The schoolhouse, a popular spot for the kids, ironically, has new help this year. Noble K. Johnson, Victoria Noelle, and Nell Elliot are now given a bit of an extra hand from Malcolm Barrymore. They have classes throughout the day to make crafts, learn math and even celebrate your graduation!As mentioned earlier, Sheriff Bryce Wheeler has retired, leaving it in the capable hands of three deputies, Chester Davenport, Skyler Haney, and a new face, Clancy Cunningham! Be sure to keep them abreast of the movement of the stolen goods. These criminals need to face justice.The Cavalry has slimmed somewhat this year. Private Barrett Hanson is going solo this season. Still at the rank of private, he’s more than happy to do what he can to protect Calico from the bandits. That means recruiting the youngins to help out with his tasks.Those explorers, so famous that they got their names put up on the river expedition attraction, can’t keep themselves out of town. Somehow Potts has wandered back, after being missing for years, but he honestly can’t remember a thing! But with John Coulter and Alfred ‘Al’ Ladeen, the trio can surely handle themselves. Even if it means lugging around heavy canvas bags labeled “camping supplies” that look suspiciously like missing paintings.The Mad Bucks, despite being a splintered faction of the Mayfields, are still around. Archie Schafer is nowhere to be seen, but in his stead is a new face, Dirk Scoggins, who goes by the nickname “Itchy” for various reasons. Whether it’s for his trigger finger, or the fleas, who knows? While Lane ‘The Conman’ Winters and Jasper Whitley are still up to no good, Cody Sullivan has actually reformed upon his return and is dedicated to the Assay Office. It wouldn’t be Founder’s Day without the Mayfields. This time around, Fluke has left his post at the schoolhouse and is back to wandering into trouble. He’s joined by Tiny, Ox, Scruff, ‘Dead Eye’ Jackson, and Ike. And Clay, despite being in hiding for most of 1891 is back in town, as dusty as ever. The rumor mill wouldn’t be anything without the gazette and post office. This time around, Audrey Morgan, Levin Newman, and Shelley Melson are joined by a new reporter, Ryder ‘Ry’ Dinkle, and a new postmaster, Brett Eastly. Ryder is as eager as ever to make a name for himself. Brett just wants to live that dangerous life. He may not be a Mayfield or a Mad Buck, but it doesn’t mean he won’t give them a helping hand.And finally, Town Hall is chugging along. Kid Friday, Luke Stillwater, and Judge Roy Bean are joined this season by Henry Wexler, the town planner, and Miss Marybelle Starling has returned, after many years, to be the town clerk. Even if there’s no official mayor, these folks are doing what they can to swear in citizens, officiate weddings, and all that nonsense.
Whew, that’s nearly four dozen citizens this year! Crazy, right? You don’t count the folks, you count the memories and there’s going to be a lot this year. The story is far more involved and dynamic this year. Everyone gets to pitch in and be a part of it. Last year we had some issues with elements of the story beats, pacing, and dependency on guests, but brushed off most issues as being on hiatus for an unnaturally long time. It’s good to see virtually all of that has been addressed. Like pizza, it’s always pretty good. And, of course, this event evolves every day. What’s described now could easily change in the weeks ahead. There’s a mystery involving One-Eyed Ike I haven’t fully cracked yet. New faces, or old, might still make an appearance. And don’t forget the finale on Labor Day which will be chock full of new twists and revelations. I have a few hunches I expect to play out, but I won’t reveal them here. I also will likely go back in this article and fix any names I forgot. It’s still frightening to me that I typed up all this mostly from memory. This town occupies a good portion of my brain and I can’t think of a better endorsement than that. Normally I would just simply write up a review with some silly photos but this year I decided to go all out because one of the other major resources is taking a well-earned break over at Westcoaster. This event is so important and needs to be chronicled through the years. Ghost Town Alive is simply the best way possible to spend your summer. And that’s totally due to all the fantastic folks working in front of and behind the scenes.
Ghost Town Alive runs daily through mid-August, and then weekends only through Labor Day. The event is included with admission to the park and tickets and season passes (a great bargain) are available at Knotts.com.