Monday, March 7, 2016

Religious Roots

When I started training to be a dog walker at a shelter in Fort Mill, SC, the volunteer took me along the preferred route: cross the street, go up the hill, take a right down the abandoned road, turn around at the end and come back. On the street where traffic could not go, I noticed right away I was walking through what used to be a grand entrance of some sort: the two way traffic setup, divided by a median with tall trees. It was in my imagination anyway. The current landscaping left a lot to be desired.

The more I walked, the more I wondered, "What was here? Something big must have been here." Once I began following other dog walking paths, I found another clue: a big slab of concrete where some structure once stood. And in the distance, every day, there was the sight of that big high-rise with the broken windows and huge parking lot. This is an old picture I found online. The building with the domes is still there. The fence is not.

My first thought: it was some sort of college campus, and the tower housed dorm rooms. But why the fancy entrance then? Then I rationalized it was an assisted living complex. But then what had stood nearby on that concrete plot, and why was it torn down?

I finally got my answer last week. I discovered a new, longer path around the lake, and another, far more seasoned volunteer, ended up alongside me with her dog of the day. I asked her if she knew what had been here, before all of the new housing developments and dog walking took over. She said, "You've heard of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker?" I said, "Yes." She said, "This was Heritage U.S.A."

You know the Bakkers: the PTL Club televangelists who ended up ruined by money and sex scandals? It turns out I've been walking dogs smack dab in the middle of what used to be their Christian-themed amusement park! It opened the year I was born and attracted millions of visitors, until it closed in the late 1980s. That slab of concrete? A castle stood there. The high-rise? It was supposed to be a hotel, but I don't think it was ever finished. There was also an amphitheater, a water park, a train...all of the typical theme park attractions.

I found this picture of the castle online, and it best represents what I see when I walk. The bridge over the lake is still there. I walk through a housing development to get to it. Starting in the bottom right corner of this photo, I go across the bridge, up the steps in front of the domes, then head back through a field just to the right of the castle, I mean, empty concrete slab. Then it's pretty much a straight shot back to the shelter.

Isn't that crazy? I can't wait to go back this week and look for more park remnants. From what I can tell, the whole thing was torn down only a few years ago. So I missed my chance to truly explore it. But, I knew I was onto something...