Little pig, little pig, let me in
For many years I lived across from Children’s Fairyland, yet I wasn’t allowed inside its gates. Why? Well, to enter this park you are required to be accompanied by a child (and vice versa). And, I didn’t yet have one of those.
If you’re not familiar, Children’s Fairyland is a charming storybook theme park next to Oakland, California’s Lake Merritt. Built in 1950, the story goes that Walt Disney was inspired by a visit to the park to create Disneyland and even hired away their first executive director and puppeteer.
At the park, for a few bucks, you can buy a Magic Key which you can then plug into one of the many storybook boxes to “unlock” them and activate the audio stories inside. The design of this key, which I adore, hasn’t changed since the 1950s.
It was years before I had the real magic key to enter the mysterious fun-zone by the lake: a baby. I no longer lived nearby but made a special trip to visit. I felt such victory pushing the stroller with my six-month-old-ish daughter through the “Old Woman in the Shoe” and straight into the park. That was 2005.
This is one of the photos I took of Scarlett that day. She wasn’t really that tall; her dad was propping her up from behind so I could get this shot.
So, remember that article about me in Oakland Magazine? Well, Children’s Fairyland’s current Executive Director, C.J. Hirschfield, read it and contacted me. She invited me over for a backstage tour as a “kindred spirit.”
I stopped by last week midday –when the park was closed to the public– and had an absolutely delightful time. (We are indeed cut from the same cloth.)
A highlight was being escorted through the door that reads, “Do Not Enter! Puppets at Work” (behind the Storybook Puppet Theater) into the neatly-organized and memorabilia-filled puppet crafting shop. It’s where I met Annie Wong, an animator and the park’s former art director, and master puppeteer Randal Metz (who trained under Bob Baker himself). If I had known when I was younger and childless that someday I would get to visit Fairyland and get a backstage tour, sans child, I would have flipped.
That was 15 to 20 years ago though. Nowadays, the park occasionally hosts cool “Fairyland for Grown-ups” type events. Keep an eye out for those, as they’re a lot of fun.
As Tom Robbins once wrote, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” So true, so true.
— Rusty Blazenhoff
p.s. If you love those iconic Magic Keys as much as I do, be sure to get a fancy one as a keepsake (pewter or 23K gold plated) [order form].