May 16, 2006


The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma is home to all sorts of places that are dear to me. The Casa Bonita restaurant (specifically the cave room), the weekly Tulsa Flea Market at the fairgrounds, the 11th street stretch of Route 66, the giant statue of the Golden Driller, Starbase 21 (my first "big city" comic book shop) and at the top of my list is Bell's Family Amusement Park.

As a kid I had the pleasure of visiting Bell's most every summer. All of my favorite attractions were clustered together, so I seldom strayed from one particular corner of the park. Sandwiched there between the Ski-Ball banks and the wooden "Fun Slide" was the very pinnacle of the park, of the city, of the state, and of my fears.. a "dark ride" called Phantasmagoria.
A few years ago I created my own "love letter" to the ride in the form of a "Flip" web toon. Just as it happens in the cartoon, I spent great amounts of time standing in front of the foreboding facade struggling to interpret the faces of exiting children and to get a glimpse of the interior. I never dared to enter.

Back in the "real world" part of my father's job was to oversee a college dormitory for guys. I often enjoyed following him on his evening rounds. Many of the students constructed elaborate lofts and make-shift furniture that fascinated me. But one night I encountered a single bureau of drawers that I would remember for the rest of my life. It brandished a freshly stuck Phantasmagoria bumper sticker! I had only a few precious seconds to study it, but that sticker adhered to my brain. And as a budding collector I had to have this tangible expression of my allegiance to the haunted attraction.

Two fruitless decades later, the internet seemed to be delivering on every lost memory, and missing relic that my mind could summon. But my ebay "saved search alerts" and routine Googling turned up nothing on the bumper sticker. Eventually I came across a nostalgic site called Tulsa TV Memories that seemed to be my ticket to Stickersville. A fellow named Billy G. Spradlin had contributed an image of a sticker that advertised another Bell's ride, a roller coaster called the Zingo...

I issued my public request and confidently waited for results. Still nothing.

Months later I revisited Bell's and rode my favorite dark ride several times (I overcame my fear when I was 17) and naturally my thoughts returned to that stupid vinyl sticker. I found myself looking in out-of-the-way nooks in the park and employee hang outs in hopes of finding a stray sticker from the days of yore. Nothing. But later that day as I redeemed my Ski-Ball tickets I felt like I got one step closer when I found a sticker for yet another attraction.. the White Light'nin' log ride. Oddly enough, the sticker was "vintage" and part of a "warehouse find" and available for a mere five Ski-Ball tickets.

(Click to enlarge)

A few weeks ago I spent a workday coffee break lamenting the whole ridiculous crusade to a friend. The one other coworker within earshot said "Oh yeah, I had one of those. It was stuck to my old toy cabinet. I think it's still in my parents garage." I knew better than to get excited. "You should take a look next time you're over there." I calmly replied. Later that day I returned from lunch to find that this coworker had visited his folks house during lunch hour and retrieved a flimsy but massive piece of child's furniture which was crammed into his back seat. Within moments the sticker and I were reunited.

(Click to enlarge)

Admittedly, I'm somewhat ashamed of this tale because it reveals my capacity to focus on that which is absurdly trivial (as if the Secret Fun Spot doesn't). But I can't deny the feeling of accomplishment that came with that silly sticker. I think it's neat that something so devoid of value to the general public could give me such an intense thrill on an otherwise mundane afternoon. I also appreciate the fact that all the power of the World Wide Web couldn't compete with the guy who sits at the next desk over.

For more information on the Phantasmagoria visit this page.


AWG said...

I love that story, Kirk! Those stickers absolutely rule!

Prather said...

This is a fantastic piece of Americana. Damn good fer nothing internet.

TulsaTV said...

We didn't locate the sticker for you, but we did exhume the opening for "Plenty Scary Movie", the other item on your wish list! (see the linked page)

Good to see this new blog.

Kirk D. said...

Thanks Mike!

Hope it didn't sound like I was knocking your amazing site. So let me clarify to the readers out there.. Tulsa Tv Memories has provided me with a wealth of happy visits to yesteryear, including the time they reunited me with the "Plenty Scary Movie" intro. But that's another post for another day!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Kirk,
You mentioned Casa Bonita, and I flipped out. I grew up going to the one in Denver! I planned as a child to one day buy the restaurant and turn it into my home, with my room in the dreaded "Black Bart's Cave", complete with bottomless pit, dragon and various monsters and skeletons. As a kid who couldn't get enough of spooky weirdness, it was a dream come true. I also wanted live entirely on their sopapillas. I plan on going back soon (my kids love it), I'll take some pictures next time I'm there and email them to you. I love the blog, by the way.
Take care,

Kirk D. said...

Thanks John!

The one in Tulsa is a mere shadow of the one in Denver. Here's the website for the Denver location...
I hope I can visit sometime because it sounds incredible. I'd love to see your pics.

The Tulsa owners used to have another place called Crystal's Pizza. I like pizza more than Mexican and it had more videogames so it was the greatest. Unfortunately, it closed a while back.

All this would make a good post. I think I'll be at the Tulsa Casa in two weeks so I'll have the camera ready.

R. Scott said...

By the way, with a clear, full sized image, even a little larger than the one you posted, new copies can be made of any of those bumper stickers. There is a multitude of online services that will print even small quantities for reasonable prices, and create a high-quality result, in the inks/silkscreening and vinyl.

I think I used a service called "carry a big sticker" once, but I don't remember well enough. I may still have a few Phantasmagoria stickers fabricated for my car and friends; thanks for posting the image!

R. Scott said...

Also very much enjoyed Casa Bonita and Crystal's Pizza as a kid in Tulsa, especially the movie theater/cartoon room at Crystal's. I also recall some kind of antique, peek-into, flip-book "movie" machine that absolutely captivated me (I don't know what they're called... "nickel arcade" or something)

Kirk D. said...

r. scott- I do have a high res scan of the sticker that could easily be printed from. I've considered doing just that. It would be fun to see them in print again.

I miss Crystal's too, and I remember those machines. Casa Bonita is now Casa Viva and aside from the missing carousel, it's easily as cool as the Bonita.