By Dennis Minich
I know that people from all over the world travel to Branson to see the sights and sounds, visit Silver Dollar City and the Shepherd of the Hills.
With my son and brother both living in the Springfield area, I travel that direction frequently, but I haven’t taken the trip south to Branson, at least not lately.
I think the first time I was in the Branson area was in the late 1960s or early 1970s. On various trips in the past we had seen the signs for Silver Dollar City and one weekend my dad decided we would actually see what it was about. He was not big into touristy stuff, so we drove past camping parks with mini golf and race cars and other attractions and instead parked the camper on Lake Taneycomo, which had no excitement for a pre-teen or early teenager, whichever I was. We literally sat beside the camper and watched the water rise.
The next day we went to the park and all I can say was my mom and dad were every bit as wowed as I was. It was a much simpler place then, just a few rides, but mostly the crafts and entertainment.
I went back with my parents a couple times and we were there the first year of “Fire in the Hole,” which is now considered one of the park’s legacy rides. While I never went back again, my parents went annually for the mountain music festival until their health no longer permitted.
Since those trips, I can only remember being in Branson twice. Once was for a Missouri News Editors Association meeting, where we went to one show, but everything else was work in the hotel. The second was a Missouri Municipal League meeting when I was on the Harrisonville Board of Aldermen. Again, we went to one show and spent the rest of the time working in the hotel. So needless to say, I didn’t see much of Branson other than traffic congestion and outlet shops.
I finally returned to Branson and Silver Dollar City last weekend as part of an invited media group to see the premier of the park’s new eight-story Christmas Tree. Prior to the tree unveiling, we, along with about 400 guests who were present as part of a charity fundraiser, were treated to the traditions of the park, the Christmas parade and musical versions of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s A Wonderful Life.” All of those things were amazing.
On Saturday, we visited downtown Branson, saw the museum, shopped at Dick’s 5 and 10 (I bought candy bars I hadn’t seen in years) and then had a tour of some of the city’s Christmas Trees. We then went to a show on the Branson Belle and closed the evening with a quick ride on the giant Ferris wheel which used to be on the Navy pier in Chicago.
All of that was incredible, but the best part for me came on Sunday when we traveled back to Silver Dollar City to just play in the park. I still had no idea what direction I was going, but the interesting thing was, I started to see landmarks and attractions I remembered from 40-something years ago. A few times I actually remembered what was around the next curve because of how it was years ago. The grand finale for me was again riding “Fire In The Hole” with the same fun and excitement as I had riding with Mom and Dad.
The park is much bigger now. There are many roller coasters, whatever your favorite variety of the thrill ride, you will find it there. The main roller coaster, “Time Traveler” is not open to kids under a certain height. Likewise, it is not open to fat old men who can’t fit in the seat, so I missed the opportunity, but it looked like fun.
Before coming home, we attended Dolly Parton’s Stampede for another great Christmas show.
In the near future, we will run a story about some of the holiday attractions as well as a profile of the young man who invited me, who between he and his wife, have their roots planted firmly in Cass and Bates counties.
But for now, I am simply reflecting on my two overriding feelings from the weekend. First, I have probably not been this excited about Christmas in years. After three days of sights and sounds I am amped up and full of good cheer (don’t worry, the good cheer will probably pass.) Second, except for the weather being cooler than in the past, if felt like old times.
Watching the blacksmith, watching the glassblowers and candy makers and all of the other craftspeople as well as riding a few of the legacy rides, it was like reliving some old memories. I could still remember what my parents and I talked about as we watched these same things so many years ago.
It was bigger, shinier and probably busier, but it was a trip back in time for me, a trip I really enjoyed.