The big countdown

Oh, my gosh — it just hit me! How does time pass so quickly from year to year?

There’s never enough time to get ready.

And now, all of a sudden, we’re down to single digits!

Just eight months till Christmas!

(Faked you out, didn’t I?)

It’s so much fun to be out at the Front Gate during the season, to see the look on our Guests’ faces as they enter the Christmas section. All of a sudden, there’s Christmas music! Some folks look shocked, but then start laughing. Others immediately start singing along. Still others don’t notice; they’re too busy checking to make sure they didn’t already misplace their car keys.

And then there’s the Santa statue. How many families crowd around Santa for a family portrait each summer? It’s really sweet to watch. Sometimes we get to play photographer after offering to step in and snap the photo so that the entire family is in the shot.

He’s all spiffed up and ready for opening day:

Santa statue in 2005

One of my favorite stories from over the years involves the Santa statue.

A young family was walking into the Christmas Plaza. Mom, Dad, and a little girl. She was four, tops, and cute as a button.

Daddy pointed out the Santa statue, “Look, honey, there he is! You’ve been waiting and waiting to see him! Who is it?”

The little dumpling turned to see. Her face suddenly broke into gleeful recognition. She let out a joyous squeal and ran toward the statue as fast as her chubby little legs could take her.

Who is it, honey?


Woodn’t you like to know?

Will Koch does not like to cut down trees.

Let me rephrase that:

Will Koch does not like to cut down tree

It’s against his nature. He wants as much shade as possible in the park. And the beauty of the old hardwoods is part of his family’s heritage. He’s the third generation to run this lovely playground and he doesn’t want to be the one to mess it up.

The popular “S curve” at the bottom of the last drop on The Raven actually came about because Will didn’t want to lose any more precious trees. The initial design skimmed along the edge of the forest, creating the need to cut down an entire row.

“Can’t we zig-zag it into the woods and save some trees?” he asked the engineers at Custom Coasters.

They made it work.

Whenever we do have to take out a tree, I think about that wonderful old Keep America Beautiful ad. Remember it? The one with the Native American sadly looking out over the polluted, trashed river? With that single tear slowly sliding down his weathered face.

I picture Will that same way.

Well, when I saw this on my way to work this morning, I felt compelled to run by the store to pick up a box of those man-sized tissues for Will:


What’s going on? Who would do this?

Does Will know about this?

To give you a bit of perspective, gentle readers, I risked life and limb and stood along Highway 162 to take this photo from up near Holidog’s FunTown:

Highway 162

I can’t tell exactly where on the property the trees originated. It’s certainly not a clear-cut operation, as the forested area beyond Splashin’ Safari is still there.

It looks as if the trees have been removed very precisely. One by one. As few as possible. Making room for … could be just about anything!

Well, whatever it is, it’s big.

Really big.

Even the skulls are smiling!


A friend from Massachusetts emailed me this morning to tell me about his young daughter.

Ella just turned six and is a darling little girl. As the mother of three sons (no daughters) and the sister to three brothers, I do have an affinity for stories about daughters.

They watched one of the Harry Potter movies the other night and now Ella wrestles with “bad thoughts” as she tries to go to sleep at night.

Her daddy used the age-old “let’s think about something else” trick. He cleverly turned her thoughts to their upcoming trip to Holiday World. They’ve not been here before, so they couldn’t rely on memories but instead turned to their imaginations to dream up ideas about what might be here.

One of Ella’s ideas was, “There should be big snowflakes that you swing back and forth on!” She was on the right track, happily drifting toward dreamland.

This all screeched to a halt when she remembered we also have a Halloween section.


The Halloween holiday can be scary

Spooky stuff.

My mom always loved the creepy side of Halloween; she used to take my brothers and me on nightly “Witch Walks” each October. At dusk we’d skulk about our neighborhood, telling ghost stories. We’d dash from a light post to behind trees to keep the “witch” from catching us. My brothers reveled in the thrill. Scared me half to death. So, I’m with you, Ella!

And to quell your fears a bit, take a look here at HallowSwings, which we added a few years ago.


When our graphic artist and our marketing department were working on the graphic design for this ride, Mrs. Koch brought up an interesting question: “Will the design be scary-scary or friendly-scary? I don’t think we should terrify the smaller children.”

The resulting design makes me laugh every time I walk by HallowSwings …

Skulls on HallowSwings

Don’t worry, Ella. At Holiday World, even the skulls are happy!

Training on the high seas

Pirates in training

Training is one big yawn, right? The trainer says, “Blah, blah, blah,” while you nod politely and wonder what’s for dinner.

Our lifeguards get 32 hours of training before they start work

Each year the members of the management staff at Splashin’ Safari put on their thinking caps and come up with a theme.

The thinking caps, this season, just happen to be pirate hats, eye patches, and an assortment of attention-getting weapons.

Pirates in training

Lori, their fearless she-pirate leader, gave me a copy of the text of the skit her clever folks used to get everyone in the mood to learn about first aid.

Here are some of the lines from the skit:

Black-and-Bluebeard: Gar … I’m so thirsty … I’ve been up in the crow’s nest all day … my skin is all dry and clammy …

Burnacle Britt: Gar … Black-and-Bluebeard … due to your prolonged time in the sun without any fluid intake, you must be suffering from a heat-related emergency, which we medical professionals know as hyperthermia. The first thing… (Burnacle Britt then explains the steps to helping the overheated, under-hydrated pirate.)

Later in the skit…

Long Jen Seizure: Shiver me timbers! Will I have to fill out another one of those blasted reports?!

Captain Contusion: Aye, you will, mate. First-aid reports are very important. Anytime we treat someone, it’s important to document the event and describe the scenario as best we can. (Etc.)

Next comes the fight sequence:

Black-and-Bluebeard: Gar…quit your talking Long Jen Seizure…go back to Treasure Island. You couldn’t even get into a movie because it was rated “RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!”

Long Jen Seizure: Those be fightin’ words!

(There is then a “bloody” sword fight—a very dramatic and realistic battle, as only plastic toys can convey.)

Black-and-Bluebeard: Gar … (caring for Burnacle Britt) … looks like we have an embedded object. I’ll control the bleeding and I’ll leave the object for real medical professionals to remove.

Lifeguard training

Long Jen Seizure: Gar … do you do piercings, too?

Captain Contusion: Yeah … they’re a buccaneer (buck-an-ear, get it?).

Brace yourself; one more:

Long Jen Seizure: Captain Contusion, I’m not doing so well. My joints are stiff and sore. And it’s been taking a while for me cuts to heal.

Caption Contusion: Slow wound healing … arg! You have a Vitamin C deficiency! Gar … ye gots the scurvy, mate!

Poor Jen then has a seizure. The pirates hustle to put a towel under her head and remove potentially dangerous objects from the area. Once the seizing subsides, they are taught to maintain an open airway and do an initial assessment.

Well, blow me down! Who knew these landlubbers could learn so much from a bunch of scallywags!

Several years ago we had a TV crew in the water park to interview some of our lifeguards.

One comment stuck with me, “It’s not Baywatch!”

Aye, matey. Aye.

(Oh…and a reminder from Mrs. Koch: Don’t forget to swab the decks!)

The Christmas Crater

Christmas Crater

Three weeks till opening.

Rain this week didn’t help the process of getting ready.

Look at how much we got:

Christmas Crater

Who needs a rain gauge when you’ve got a Christmas Crater?

But wait! What’s that on the left?

There – by the edge of the giant puddle.

A white flag?

A treasure map?

A sail?

"Baby Bahari"

Whoever made that sign and posted it in the Christmas Crater … thank you.

It made a lot of hurried, harried people laugh today.
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Where did our fountain go?

Applause Fountain construction

Long, long ago … before the town of Santa Claus was even named … a giant meteor crashed into one of the town’s hillsides, leaving behind a huge crater for folks from miles around to come and see.

It was amazing.

A shooting star came to rest in this town. And it happened on Christmas Eve. What does this mean? A holiday miracle perhaps?

The reason I present this as fact and not legend is because I know it’s true.

Mr. Koch told me.

In fact, he knew the guy who dug the crater


I thought of this story the other day when another Christmas Crater appeared in town.

Applause Fountain construction

No it’s not a sinkhole. It’s the remains of the Christmas Fountain.

Here one day. Gone the next.

All that remains now is a big hole in the concrete. Sigh!

Here’s the backstory

In late 2003, we were named as one of the three finalists for the highly coveted Applause Award.

Normally, I wouldn’t use a word like “coveted.” Sounds trite, and a bit sinful.

But let there be no misunderstanding, our Will Koch coveted the Applause Award!

To be a finalist for this international award the first time we were nominated was a coup in itself. It suddenly hit us that we had a chance to win this thing. And we’d be the smallest park ever to win.

“If we win,” Will pledged in staff meeting, “we’re putting those hands in the fountain.” We all chuckled.

The Applause Award is a work of art. It’s a pair of hands, applauding. Will talked about having a large version made and added to the fountain.

After hosting the international Board of Governors for the Applause Awards last summer we knew we had a shot. So did the other two parks, both magnificent European parks.

Well … we won.

Will Koch holding the Applause Award

Not long after, Will distributed our Capital Improvement Budget for 2005.

As I scanned the long list of line items, I blurted out:

“Oh! You really meant it about the fountain!”

All those months, I’d thought Will was joking (he jokes a lot; he’s a jovial guy).


Yes, he really meant it. We’re getting a new fountain. Same size, but with a bunch of bubblers, jumping jets, and colored lights. And, rising proudly from the center of the waters, a pair of applauding hands, eight feet tall.

The giant hands are being hand-crafted for us, so it may be a while before they’re ready. Meanwhile, bronze plaques will be installed along the perimeter, naming the other parks that have won this coveted award in the past. It’s our way of starting a hearty round of applause for all the people who developed, worked at, and visited these parks over the years.

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A taxing topic

About 18 months ago, I got a new computer here at work. One of the fussy little set-up chores is to go through and choose all the “Options” in Outlook.

I send my emails HTML. I sort my Contacts by Address Cards (but not Detailed Address Cards). And I prefer my Icons small and in a list, thankyouverymuch.

Next, it was time to sort out my Calendar.

One option presented is “show holidays.”

Rather a no-brainer, don’t you think? If you work at Holiday World, being aware of the nation’s holidays is a good thing. On the appointed day, up pops the announcement of the holiday. Ground Hog Day. St. Patrick’s Day. Columbus Day. Tax Day.

Tax Day?!

Who in the world declared today a holiday? Was this the work of a federal agency? Or some mischievous software designer who claims an extra three dependents each year and gets a fat check back from the IRS?

Could there possibly be a method to this madness?

Once in a while, just for fun, we toss around ideas for a new themed section. But no one has ever suggested Tax Day.

Think of it, though, for just a minute…what joy a Tax Day section could bring to families:

  • Shake You Down Go-Round, the world’s first inverted merry-go-round
  • The Taxman Cometh dark ride, complete with laser pointers for scratching out errors
  • The Bean Counter Carousel, sponsored by H&R Block
  • a musical show called Evasion Jubilation
  • a dunking booth with – you guessed it – simulated IRS agents; and finally…
  • The Taxinator roller coaster, which only goes uphill.

Thanks to my Cousin Jeff in St. Louis for helping me with these ideas. I tried calling our corporate controller first but was told he has taken the day off.

Huh. I guess, for some, today is a holiday.

The Queen of Clean strikes again

Mrs. Koch and her broom

Rachel came back from the main office this afternoon with the following story about our resident Queen of Clean:

As I was looking for more letterhead over at the main office today, I heard a big sigh come through the door first … then Will.

Mrs. Koch and her broomI chuckled and Will said, “I asked Marlene if she had seen Mom, and she said, ‘The last time I saw her she was headed out with a broom.’”

Will laughed and said loudly, “AND IT’S JUST APRIL!”

As I was leaving the office I noticed Will had found Mrs. Koch. I thought, “Oh that’s nice, they are going to lunch together.”

But wait, she was just showing him the door leading out of the main office. She was so proud … she cleaned all the metal on the door and it was shining beautifully.

That door had been bothering her all winter.

Will and I just stood there for a moment and Mrs. Koch said, “You don’t remember what it looked like before do you?”

Nope, we sure didn’t.

She went on to explain it had a lot of black grimy stuff on it and was disgusting. But now, it gleamed like new.

Will shook his head.

“Oh, great! Now we have to paint the door.”

… but somebody’s got to do it

Raven station

The call came out on the two-way radio first thing this morning:

All units, we need 24 bodies for The Raven!

Training is a particularly rough time around here. We have to ride roller coasters over and over. We have sample new food items day after day.


Rachel and I trudged dutifully out to the station. There were two seats left for us in the new Raven train.

We were both a bit alarmed as the seats felt a bit … um … cozy.

We decided it wasn’t because we were wider, but because the train is brand new. Gotta break in those new seats. You know, like a new pair of shoes.

Sure, that’s it.

What a relief to find out we were correct!

It’s funny to have 24 fellow employees together in a train. Lots of different departments were represented; picnics in front of us, warehouse and shops immediately behind. Really good people; jovial teasing and laughter in anticipation of the first ride of the day.

On a side note, we now have a Transfer Track Storage Building adjacent to the Raven station. It’ll be handy for the maintenance staff and will provide storage for the second train on slow days. It’s an extra tunnel at the very start of the ride.

Raven station

Now that we have two trains, the lift-hill chain will go slower. In essence, it will make the ride experience a longer one.


I think it’s more fun to take your time heading up the hill. Gives you time to look around. Check things out.

Hey, Vanessa! Your shop windows need cleaning!

At the top of the hill, we crested and down we flew. I’m a screamer, remember? The guys up ahead seemed to find that amusing.

Rachel just peeped out an occasional, “Oh!” Up and down the hills. Over the lake. And that wild ending back to the station.

Whew! Great ride. Who needs caffeine?

Let’s go again!

It amazes me how some people can ride over and over and never tire of it. Me? I definitely have my limits. On the third ride around (which I was promised would be my last ride of the day), they practiced stopping the train on the lift hill. (Training, remember?) Didn’t like that one bit. No, sir. Going up, up, up, is okay. Stopping on the hill, for me, goes against nature. Vanessa and Dee Ann, farther back in the train, felt the same way.

I tried getting everyone to sing “Kumbaya” but found it far more soothing to holler, “I’m freaking out!”

How embarrassing.

We made it back to the station and hopped out.

Thank you for riding Raven Air!

Sure. Happy to help. Call anytime. Glad to be a team player. Whatever it takes.

Okay, so where else are they training today? Funnel cakes or the fudge shop?
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Praise from Paris

Happy Kellems at Santa Claus Land

… Illinois, that is. Here’s what an email from Mike had to say:

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading the articles you post on the HoliBlog site.

I have visited Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari every year since 1979 when my grandparents would bring myself, my brother, and cousins every summer. Now I have made it a family tradition of my own and bring my child every year. I could probably walk through the park with my eyes closed and know exactly where I was just by the sounds of the rides. Keep up the good work and tell Mrs. Koch I think she looks as good in person as she does on TV. Every time I have visited the park I always see her greeting guests and helping to keep the park clean. You all deserve a huge round of applause for providing such an enjoyable experience to everyone, young and old. I look forward to another wonderful visit in July of this year.

Sincerely, Mike   Paris, Illinois

PS – I was just curious, I believe back in the early ’80s, prior to the Hoosier Celebration Theater, there was another theater behind Mrs. Klaus’ Kitchen. There was also a play area with I believe a rocket-shaped slide. Has all this been removed? I always try to peak through the fence to catch a glimpse but have never been able to see anything.

I forwarded Mike’s email to Will Koch, who remembers that area well.

Here’s Will’s reply:

Happy Kellems at Santa Claus Land

He is correct. The theater was called the Showboat Theatre. (It was originally built for the Santa Claus Land Children’s Choir.) That was where Happy Kellems (the clown) and Gene Smith (the tap dancing magician) performed. There was also a country show there in some years. The theater was where the pole building that houses the carpenters’ shop supplies is now. There was also a rocket-shaped kid’s slide that was located literally right where I now park my car.

Happy Kellems (that’s his wife and partner, Lillian, bonking him on the head) was a popular clown at Santa Claus Land. We’ll have to talk more about him in the coming months and years. During his long career, Happy performed for presidents, with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and for families at Santa Claus Land.

For now, here’s a Happy quote from a 1979 newspaper article:

“The most important this is to bring as much laughter and happiness as you can to a tired world that needs laughter.”

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