LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Up until just a couple years ago, a drive up Route 9 toward the village of Lake George would take visitors past, among other things, Paul Bunyan and Uncle Sam.
The former Magic Forest amusement park, located at the corner of Route 9 and Bloody Pond Road, has since shed the towering fiberglass giants that once loomed over its parking lot. But some of the once-over 700 sculptures that once called the park home are just now resurfacing.
As of this week, over 700 lots from Magic Forest were posted by Schenectady-based Collar City Auction & Realty Management, all put there by the park’s former owner, Jack Gilette. Gillette sold the park in 2019, but much of the remnants have remained on the property, now operating as Lake George Expedition Park.
The park had its first season under new name and ownership in 2021, and that was what pushed Gilette to finally get it done.
“I thought it was really just time to get it out of their way,” Gilette said in a phone interview on Thursday.
The “it” in questions runs the amusement part gamut, from typical equipment – like a heater and a store product stand – to any number of stranger things. They include paint-chipped animals, old theme park legends, and quite a few broken fae folk.
Gilette was something of a collector, amassing his estimated over 700 items over decades while running Magic Forest, which first opened in 1963. That means the array of memories up for auction come from a variety of other fairs, carnivals and fun lands.
Greetings from Danbury Fair
Many lots share a common origin: the now long-defunct Danbury Fair in Danbury, Connecticut. When sorting through his collection, Gillette knew that those items, in particular, should be auctioned.
“It’s different,” he said. “It means nothing to most people; but for people who went to the fair and loved it, it’s worth its value to them.”
Gillette’s own connection to the Danbury Fair comes from a family background in show business. His father and uncle started a carnival together.
In the 1950s, his uncle took that carnival to the Danbury Fair, where it played through the fair’s final years.
By that point, Gillette’s father had broken off from the fair to found Carson City, an amusement park in the Catskills themed around the American wild west, and which also has relics in the auction lot.
However, that didn’t keep father and son from getting together at the Danbury Fair – after it had closed, for the grounds to become a mall – to rescue hundreds of statues and decorations.
“I was buying stuff and bringing it back up here and just putting it in my parking lot, wherever I could,” Gillette recounted. “I made, I don’t know, about 20 or 30 trips, sometimes with a tractor-trailer.
The Gillettes bought so many items from the Danbury grounds, in fact, that at one point they were cut off.
“The fella I’m buying stuff from says, ‘We gotta leave some stuff for the auction.'”
However, not long after, Gillette got another chance; all thanks, unknowingly, to another local entertainer, whose name lives on in nearby Glens Falls.
“He says to me, ‘Do you know Charlie Woods?'” Gilette remembers. “And I said, ‘Charles Wood,’ and he says, ‘okay.'”
As Gillette tells it, Wood – the creator of StoryTown USA, the former theme park where The Great Escape now stands – was protesting the sale of any items from the sale prior to a proper auction.
When Gillette came back down to Danbury, intending to pick up the last of what he had already paid for, he caught the seller while he was still in a bad mood from that conversation.
“He comes to me and says, ‘Now, what more do you want?’ And so Charlie Wood’s attitude helped me buy more stuff.”
From one enthusiast to the next
Gillette’s over 700 nostalgic lots are all up for the bidding now, and can be seen in-person by appointment. Most of them sit at a starting price of $25.
In addition to Danbury Fair and Carson City, other items come from places like Lake George’s own Gaslight Village; Charles R. Wood’s Story Town; as well as amusement parks with names like Animal Land, Hoffman’s Play Land and Land of Make Believe.
Putting prices on the items and getting them ready to go was a bit bittersweet for Gillette, but overall he says he would rather see the statues and decor go to people who can continue to get some enjoyment and use out of them.
“Just people who want them.”
Since putting those larger fiberglass statues up for sale in 2019, Gillette says he’s been impressed over and over by the kindness and care of the interested buyers he’s met along the way. He’s come to the buyers, too.
“I even went as far as Kansas this summer, and everybody I have met has been nice, friendly and very appreciative. I haven’t had a bad experience with anything I’ve sold.”
Former Magic Forest decorations have also made their way to California, Oregon and Texas.
Anyone who wants to be one of Gillette’s next buyers has a month to do it. The full, 700+ lot posting will stay online until the end of September. Gillette can be reached at 518-895-8150 to schedule an appointment.