Launch - Upcycling - July 2017

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The Williams of Hollywood Prop Shop at Universal Studios Florida sells props and other items used in Universal attractions. (CREDIT: Universal Orlando)

One Park’s Trash … Another Fan’s Treasure

How and why two theme parks allow guests to purchase historic or celebrated artifacts 

by Keith Miller

The costumes, props, animatronics, and other themed objects used in attractions eventually become coveted relics to park enthusiasts and collectors. Now, two theme parks have made these collectibles available for purchase by memorabilia-hungry fans. Funworld looks at how and why these facilities “upcycled” their old material. 

Knott’s Shares Park Memorabilia with Fans 

Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, made a collection of artifacts available in a public auction on March 31, 2017. 

An assortment of collectibles from its 75-year history comprised more than 200 lots sold at the auction, which was conducted by Heritage Auctions in the park’s Charles M. Schulz Theatre. They ranged from a 1919/1920 Ford Model T car, to Western paintings by Paul von Klieben once on display at the Knott’s Steak House, to animatronic bears from the “Knott’s Bear-y Tales” ride.

“There was a variety of auction items ranging from antique signs, theme-park vehicles, coin-operated pianos, slot machines, and much more,” says Diana Bahena, who represents the park’s public relations and marketing department. A full list of auction items was made available in a catalog along with the full history of each piece, so interested parties knew exactly what was available. 

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Hearse used in “Knott’s Scary Farm” Halloween event. (CREDIT: Knott’s Berry Farm)

Fans of the park’s annual “Knott’s Scary Farm” Halloween event had the chance to bid on two hearses featured in the haunt. Figurines used in the “Timber Mountain Log Ride” before it was refurbished in 2013 by Garner Holt Productions were available. And, Snoopy’s roadster made it to the auction block—the cartoon beagle is one of the Peanuts characters licensed by park owner Cedar Fair. 

Walter Knott, who founded the park with his wife, Cordelia, assembled a collection of coin-operated player pianos to entertain visitors. More than a dozen of them were sold at the auction, and some of the continuous rolls of perforated paper the pianos played to create the music.

In addition to online bidding, the auction attracted more than 400 attendees. The 228 lots were expected to generate around $500,000, but when it was over, the event brought in $788,892. The highest price paid was $71,700 for an 1898 Western oil painting from artist Henry H. Cross. Walter and Cordelia Knott’s 1919/1920 Ford Model T sold for $37,045, and one of the Halloween hearses went for $17,995. 

Bill Butler, creative director of design for Garner Holt Productions, paid more than $40,000 for a 1940 Jennie K Steam locomotive. He plans to restore it to working condition at the company’s headquarters in San Bernardino, California. 

Though the auction opened needed storage space, Knott’s Berry Farm also wanted to provide some of its past to collectors, historians, and loyal park fans. “The auction gave Knott’s the opportunity to share a bit of its history with its guests and park enthusiasts,” she says.

As for what items were personally most intriguing to her, Bahena notes, “Some of the more interesting items were the old ‘Scary Farm’ props. It’s fun to see what was scary in the 1970s and 1980s!”

Universal Store Practically a Theme Park Museum

If you experienced “Twister...Ride It Out,” the attraction at Universal Studios Florida based on the 1996 movie, then you certainly remember the cow flying across the set of the intense special effects experience as the twister reached full force. Would you like to own it? Well you can if you visit the Williams of Hollywood Prop Shop, a store in the Beverly Hills section of Universal Studios Florida loaded with set pieces, costumes, signs, and other items once used in attractions and events at Universal Orlando Resort.

The store offers park fans the opportunity to snatch collectibles they can find nowhere else. There’s a door from the tram used in the “Disaster!” attraction, life-sized zombies and costumes from Universal’s annual “Halloween Horror Nights” event, a bicycle from the queue of “Twister...Ride It Out,” and masquerade masks from the resort’s Mardi Gras celebration. The storm-data-gathering devices from the “Twister” attraction, Dorothy II and Dorothy III, were also available for awhile, but they didn’t last long after the store’s November 2015 opening. 

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Masks used in Universal Orlando’s “Halloween Horror Nights” are available at the Williams of Hollywood Prop Shop. (CREDIT: Universal Orlando)

Since many items are collectibles and part of Universal Studios history, the store can feel like a museum. But these garments, hand-painted dinosaur heads, and classic film strips are pieces you can actually buy and take home.

Universal says most of the items in the store are collected from numerous departments throughout the resort, and the merchandise can vary depending on the time of year. For example, during the holidays, Williams of Hollywood carries many items related to the resort’s holiday events and shows. However, the store also partners with a retailer near Orlando called The Coop Antiques to provide some articles that add to the diversity of the selection.

According to Universal, the background of the merchandise inside Williams of Hollywood is provided by members of the resort’s internal teams that supply the items. Then, the store’s staff is trained on the history of each individual piece. Once an item is ready to be displayed for sale, the store creates a special sales tag specifying its origin to help educate guests on the piece.

In addition to the popularity of items from “Twister,” Universal says many of the more coveted pieces come from its extraordinarily popular “Halloween Horror Nights” event. Some guests come into Williams of Hollywood looking specifically for “Halloween Horror Nights” merchandise, wanting to “own a piece of ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ history.”