Well, with the summer solstice now in our rearview mirror, we’re officially into the summer season at theme parks, and for Knott’s Berry Farm, that means Ghost Town Alive is back for its 7th full year. That leaves us in the year 1893. If you followed the events of last year, you would remember it ended with Ms. Cookie Lemon ending up in jail, and the discovery of one mighty large catfish that was nicknamed ‘The Admiral.’

If that last bit confused you, let me introduce you to Ghost Town Alive, Knott’s Berry Farm’s very own award-winning live-action role-playing event, where every visiting guest has a chance to participate in the celebration of Founder’s Day in Calico! And since it is set in the Old West, you can expect to encounter bandits, bank robberies, prospectors, and all kinds of shenanigans.

There are literally dozens of folks portraying the amazing citizens of Calico, and most of these folks have been playing these characters for the better part of a decade now. Little kids have grown up getting their gold weighed at the assay office, delivering packages to help out the post office, and learning the secret handshakes to join the Mayfield gang to help rob the bank.

It’s an event where words can’t do it justice and it’s best to experience it for yourself. But for those that are familiar with the event, and are curious about what to expect, we’ll be providing a rundown of this year’s story. But, the obvious caveat, is that things change quite often, so don’t hold it against us if things don’t go as planned. Founder’s Day isn’t known for being predictable.

But before that, let’s introduce the folks you’ll see around town in 1893.

The Assay Office is right at the front of Main Street, and the first place almost all guests will see. Inside, Cody and Flint are back again this year, and Ophelia returns from spending quite a few years away. You’ll come around here to get your gold weighed and appraised.
On the complete opposite end, Wes and Cookie Lemon are back at the bank, joined by Cookie’s cousin, a newcomer to town, Miss Honey Lemon.The barbershop is where all your medical needs are sorted, mustaches painted on, and where you’d go to borrow a horse (on a stick). This time around Aloysius is helping out, and Doctor Dillard Marsh returns, after spending quite a few years away. The dress shop may have been completely redone to make room for a path to the lounge, but Teddy is still around helping you with all your dress-making needs. And maybe you’ll end up helping her with some aspirational goals later in the afternoon. Gilbert is still wandering around this year, helpful as always, but a pair of new folks are in town. Professor Watts and his associate, Phoebe Figglesworth are making a name for themselves with discoveries they previously displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair. You’ll see Gilbert (wisely?) is skeptical of their claims and motivations. But maybe they’re not all bad. Thelma is still running Goldie’s hotel, but this time around, Goldie has shipped off her progeny, Ricky Jr. to help out at the hotel this summer. He’s eager to help out, but you have to wonder after running the hotel for so long, and then having a relative of the owner come out to take a position under you, what’s going to happen with the balance of power? The Mad Bucks are as conniving as ever. The same crew is sticking around this year. But they are itching for more and the four of them just aren’t enough to pull it off, so they’re acquiring help from some unlikely places. Pay attention to the groups they’re spending time around. And likewise goes for the Mayfields. While Tiny is still running his “legitimit” business, and Fluke is helpful as always, the rest should be trusted as far as you could throw ’em. So take any announcements they make with a big helping of salt.Levi is nowhere to be found this year at the Gazette, but the adorable “Lil Buttons” is happy to help fill those shoes. As for the rest of the crew, they’re about as straight and honest as you’ll get around Calico. They’d probably be out of business if any shenanigans were linked back to them. Kinda hard to sell papers and handle packages without trust. The schoolhouse is holding steady in 1893, with Nell, Noble, Malcom, and Victoria all returning, help keep the kids “a learnin” and also just to help occupy their time with some playground games. If there’s any art you’re proud of, they might hang it up between the branches outside for all to see. Thanks to some overdue promotions, Barret Hansen is no longer a Private, but it may take a while to shake that old nickname. Meanwhile, Skyler has finally completed her correspondence course and is now the official sheriff of Calico. The two deputies are happy to help out, of course, but Skyler always gets the final say – and you don’t want to cross them; they’ll be all too happy to make sure that jail cell keeps the occupants coming. Town Hall is the busiest place, where all the wedding officiating, citizen swearing-ins, and mayoral proclamations are made. If something needs an official touch, these are the folks that’ll get it done for you. On the flip side, Bixby and Emery are back. From where, they won’t say. They hint at something but are quick to change the topic. But regardless, wherever they’ve been, they’ve brought back a moving picture recording contraption. And if you’re lucky, you might end up in their films. Usually around 3:45 in the saloon, they’ll put on their clip show. And finally, Miss Cameo Kate is back in town with her show in the Birdcage Theater. It’s a wonderful 25-minute show full of amazing dancing and singing with a live band. It’s only performed on weekends and holidays, so make sure to see it when you have a chance. It’s air-conditioned inside!

So that covers all the folks you’ll find around town, but let’s get into the actual flow of the day! (This is where major spoilers will happen)

Bixby and Emery start off the day proudly showing off and using their newfound moving picture contraption. They’re eager to cart it around, despite how bulky it is. The key to the city also gets awarded, but since it’s more ceremonial than anything else, you have to be creative with how to use it. Bixby and Emery will be on the move all during the day, so while they used to be firmly stationed around the Post Office, they are on the prowl this time. Professor Watts and Phoebe enter town fairly early in the day to explain the concept of electricity. They seem to focus a lot of time on converting non-believers, from a very defensive point of view. Almost as if they know something strange is afoot.  Meanwhile, at noon, when there is supposed to be a dedication ceremony to mounting The Admiral up at Town Hall, the professor, and Phoebe find a way to crash the party to announce their arrival and plans for using the fish in their experiments. They receive pushback but are undaunted by their goals. After a failed bank robbery and shoot-out using exploding potatoes, the Mayfields and Mad Bucks are all arrested. The potatoes were provided by the professor, who was nowhere to be found. It turns out that he used the chaos as a distraction to steal The Admiral for his experiments. Realizing they’ve all been hoodwinked, the bandits make a plea for new leadership, and a few citizens, including Teddy, express their interest in taking charge.
Each one of the three candidates makes their case, and the vote for the new leader is held at the cemetery at 3:15 PM, with the winner to be announced at the hoedown.You vote with colored chips, after being told which color corresponds to which candidate.

While you wait for the results, you can go into the saloon to see the show that Emery and Bixby have put together. It’s on a 5-minute loop, so there’s no need to worry if you miss the opening. And finally, the hoedown arrives, and the story wraps up nicely, with the missing fish returned and the results declared for the new leader of the newly named mega-gang. And another Founder’s Day is recorded into the history books.
Is Ghost Town Alive for you? It’s not an easy thing to answer. You can’t find this anywhere else. It’s a very social day-long role-playing experience. You get out of it as much as you put in. Do you just want to play cards, or deliver packages? Perfectly fine. Do you want to solve some puzzles and track down the hidden cats? Cool. Do you want to build a comic book reconstructing a wild dream Emery Mund had because of an upset stomach from eating a bag of spoiled carrots? That’s your prerogative. And that’s what Ghost Town Alive excels at. Turning an entire town into an interactive toy for all ages. There are over 40 folks keeping the town running year after year. If it feels overwhelming, take it slow. You aren’t expected to do everything and learn everyone’s name in a single day.

Ultimately, if you’ve participated in Ghost Town Alive before, you’ll find more of the same this year. The same structure still exists with a majority of the same awesome citizens returning. The new folks, as always, are amazing to interact with and give a chance for new twists. There’s still a big bank robbery, lots of packages to deliver, and an election to vote in. The biggest change this year is that the story leaves a lot of room for free time, unlike last year which kept every single citizen constantly occupied. For us, this change of pace is appreciated, because Ghost Town Alive comes into its own once you go off the beaten path. That’s hard to accomplish when everyone has a strict schedule.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the shrinking of the refurbished dress shop. That previously was a busy hub for crafts and socializing, as it was a large indoor location. Now it’s cramped, serving primarily as a pathway to a lounge. The schoolhouse and town hall still are available for some crafts, however. And it’s worth reiterating this is being written early on in the season, so many things are expected to evolve over the coming weeks.

It also is worth noting that this is the first year the event didn’t begin on Memorial Day Weekend, rather starting three weeks later, in the middle of June. The event thankfully still runs through Labor Day, though. We understand it takes time to prepare Ghost Town for Founder’s Day while also wrapping up the Boysenberry Festival. But as we’re officially in the summer season now, those early chill weekends were always a nice way to enjoy an afternoon in the park.

Regardless, we’ll take whatever days Ghost Town Alive is offered to us. It’s the people that make it fun, and they always succeed at making it a season full of memories. There’s nowhere else we’d rather spend our summer afternoons than mixing it up with the townsfolk of Calico.

Ghost Town Alive runs daily through August 11th, and then weekends only through September 2nd. Tickets are available at Knotts.com.