Frontier Town offers a look at the Old West Wild Coast

August 07, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

WEST OCEAN CITY — West Ocean City--Six-year-old Paul Murphy is ready for this day: He's strapped on his gun and been sworn in as a deputy.

"He's been here before, so he's ready for the bad guys today!" says his mother, Sherry Murphy of Frederick, with an affectionate smile, watching her son and about 45 other children line up for the pony ride that follows swearing-in at Frontier Town.

The western theme park, opened in 1959, is a miniature town that occupies 38 acres in West Ocean City and includes an amusement complex with water slides, a golf course and a campground.

The town, set about 1860 in the Old West, includes a stable,

rodeo corral, church, barbershop, general store, two saloons, a leather shop, a general store, a mine, a train, a stagecoach, a petting zoo, an Indian village, a bank and a hotel.

The barbershop draws some young customers on this day, as children cluster around and wait their turn for a "shave." The barber's sign advertises "Shave 1 Mustash trim 1 Lilac water Leeches " A hot bath is a quarter.

In the chair getting lathered up is Jamie Clutter, an 8-year-old girl from Brogue, Pa. Her brother, Derrick, 10, is waiting in line.

"He put boy stuff on me!" says Jamie to her mother, Yvonne Clutter, rubbing at her face to get rid of the aftershave smell.

"Her first shave!" says Mrs. Clutter. "That's my son's first shave, too!"

Although the park's typical customer is a family (young children with parents), it is popular with others, too, says Gino Bailey, the park's show manager. "The biker people really like it," he says with a bemused smile.

Mr. Bailey is one of 50 employees at the park who act out parts in the cancan show at the Golden Nugget Saloon, the re-enactment of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, bank, train and stagecoach holdups and an Indian dance ceremony.

The park opens the second Monday in June -- "when school gets out," says Mr. Bailey -- and closes after Labor Day.

"We'll put 45,000 people through here in about three months," he says.

All but three of the park's employees are seasonal hires -- Mr. Bailey and two others work year-round. Many of them have been working there since childhood. Mr. Bailey has worked there 13 of his 24 years.

Two other employees can boast an even longer tenure: Screaming Eagle and Laughing Wolf, two Cherokee Indians who perform dances for the park's customers.

"Every summer of my life," says Screaming Eagle, whose American name is Aimee Moore. She and her brother John (Laughing Wolf) were born in Hollywood, Calif. Her father, Red Bird, worked in movies with Tonto and the Lone Ranger, she says, and worked at Frontier Town in the summers, bringing his two young children with him. "He started dancing here when he was 11," she says proudly.

She is 27 and her brother is 25. Their father is dead now but his two children still perform at the park in the summers. Both have other jobs: She's a massage therapist in Utah the rest of the year, and he's a performer in Las Vegas.

They're also award-winning Indian dancers. "We do a lot of competition," says Screaming Eagle, who recently won $1,000 at a powwow in Fayetteville, N.C.

While her brother pounds a drum, Screaming Eagle entertains about 30 children with two dances, then looks for "one brave person" to imitate her feather dance: The dancer circles a red feather, then swoops to pick it up with the mouth; neither hands nor knees can touch the ground.

On this day, the brave person is Breann Amanda Gieski of Moosic, Pa. The 5-year-old girl dances around the feather in a creditable replica of Screaming Eagle's footwork, but improvises when she gets to the feather part: She bends down, both hands firmly planted on the ground, to get it.

Her parents cheer, as do the others watching, when Breann finishes her dance. With a big smile, she climbs out of the ring and finds her parents. Her prize for bravery: Laughing Wolf has promised to paint her face for free when the dance show is over (face painting is usually $2).

After the Indian dances, park visitors disperse, with many heading for the train ride. A steam train makes a loop through the park and robbers hold it up and find the gold during the ride.

"Hands up! This is a stickup!" the three robbers announce as they stop the train. They walk up and down the open cars, looking under seats.

The gold is found under the seat of Charlie Bockner, 6, and his sister, Samantha, 9, who denied they had it when first asked.

This is an opportunity to impart a moral precept, and the robbers don't hesitate.

"You guys lied to us," says one robber in a threatening tone. "Don't you ever lie again!" Wide-eyed, the children nod while their father, Chuck Bockner of Port Deposit, videotapes the events.

Also part of the day's events is a rodeo, which is staged twice each day.

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