When it comes to Knott’s Berry Farm, three things leap to mind: the boysenberry; Calico Ghost Town; and Snoopy. The first two were an integral part to the success and growth of the theme park in the early days of operation. While Snoopy and the Peanuts characters mean so much to Knott’s, they have their own celebration beginning weekends in late January. And although Snoopy and the Peanuts’ gang feel like an indelible part of the Knott’s Berry Farm tradition, there was once a time when it was not so. The man behind the Peanuts’ characters, Charles Schulz, had other things in mind when the Knott’s family first approached him. What happened next to bring Knott’s Berry Farm and the Peanuts’ characters together? A little boysenberry magic.
Knott’s Berry Farm had been a popular tourist attraction in the area for decades by the time the calendar flipped from 1979 to 1980. While competing for the entertainment crowd in Orange County, they created a unique niche, all their own. Between the boysenberry, the ghost town, and all of the other attractions and themed lands they invented, Knott’s drew audiences from around the globe to visit their little slice of heaven in Buena Park. But in all that time, Knott’s Berry Farm never had a character to call their own. Despite their success, they wanted some character to engage families as they entered the park. At this point, they had tried out a few iterations, to no success.
First, they brought on a live burro named Pepino to interact with the guests. But the burro had limited appeal, and he couldn’t engage with the audience the way other characters at theme parks had done. Next, they decided to use the Ghost Town setting, a good-sized section of the park, to introduce the audience to Whittles, a grizzled miner created from a cartoon of “The Old Timer.” He scared both kids and parents with his overly large head and not so friendly look. Finally, they decided to bring on the bears. Not live ones, but those lovable ones found in the Bear-y Tales ride. While the ride had been popular, the characters did not seem to make an impact. Girlsen Bear-y could not cut it. They needed something different.
By this point, Walter Knott had relinquished much of the day to day operations of the theme park to his children. The task of finding a character which connected to audiences and drew more family-friendly crowds fell to Marion Knott. She brought with her fresh ideas and decided to recruit Ron Mizaker, one of the spearheads behind Disney’s Main Street Electrical parade. With a lot of forethought, they decided to find characters which already had an audience and were as “American as apple pie” would be the best route. But who would that be?
After much consultation, the Peanuts seemed to be the natural fit. They had already created these amazing television specials which connected the country and were seen by nearly everyone. They were already working with Met Life and Dolly Madison. It seemed like a marriage made in heaven. There was just one stumbling block: Charles Schulz.
Knott’s may have had designs on what the Peanuts’ characters could do. After all, they had a new child-friendly section of the park they were working on, which seemed a natural fit. But Charles Schulz had other things in mind. According to Schulz son, Sparky (Charles nickname and preferred moniker) had envisioned an entire park with a Snoopy theme. So, while agreeing to meet with Ron and the Knott family, Schulz had a different vision.
Looking back, what happened next was fortuitous. After meeting for several hours and seemingly at an impasse, Schulz needed to see his daughter’s rehearsal for an ice skating show. Being kind, he invited his guests from Knott’s to see the rehearsal across the street at the ice skating rink he owned. Mizaker could have taken this as a sign of disinterest. And possibly it was. But he used the opportunity to plant an idea in his Sparky’s head.
“One of the things we feature at Knott’s is an ice show . . . Wouldn’t it be great if we did an ice show with Snoopy?” Mizaker asked.
That one question turned the whole meeting around. A smile grew across the lips of Schulz as ideas flashed inside his head. How amazing would Snoopy be in his own ice show? And what if . . .
“Really?” Sparky questioned. “Could my daughter play Snoopy?”
Mizaker knew he had his deal at that point. “I think we could work that out.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Schulz would make a trek out to Knott’s Berry Farm getting to look at all the plans they had for their characters. He and his family helped consult with Knott’s to get all of the characters looking right. By 1982, the Peanuts gang became officially part of the Knott’s family as they came to life within the park. And in the summer of 1983, with a canopy of beautiful green trees, meandering streams, waterfalls, and all of the Peanuts’ crew, Camp Snoopy came to life. It immediately attracted larger families and quickly became one of the most popular areas inside the park. And the relationship between the Schulz family continues on to this day.
Even now, Camp Snoopy remains one of the more popular areas of the park. So much so, last year, Knott’s Berry Farm added the Peanuts’ Celebration to its list of Seasons of Fun. They take over the entire park from the end of January to the beginning of March. From hopscotch to sketch art to PigPen in a pig pen, Knott’s Peanuts’ Celebration honors those loveable characters to which we have all become attached. And when you do go, make sure you check out the plaque on the Knott’s wall honoring the relationship which all began because of a miner, a bear-y tale, and an ice rink.
Picture credit to the Orange County Archives