Praise the Lord! Part IV  

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In the summer of 1988 I returned to Heritage USA to work at Recreation Village. I worked with a good group of people and my boss was absolutely fantastic. Jim Bakker was about to be indicted and Jerry Falwell had declared bankruptcy. The place was a shattered mess financially, but the park went on almost as if nothing had happened.

My main duty was driving the miniature train around the park and giving a tour to the people visiting. My tour was mostly ad-lib. Once when riding with my supervisor I said something about how this used to be a great place before Jim Bakker pissed it away. My supervisor was shocked, of course, and I pointed to the intercom which was turned off. Still, it was true. We were all cynical about it at that point.

I also rented bikes, worked at the pool/golf shop selling snacks and rounds of putt-putt, the antique cars, and a few other miscellaneous things. It was an easy job. I loved being outside and having the whole park to roam. The trams were still running, but usually I walked or took a bike during my lunch break and just explored.

The miniature train at buffalo depot courtesy of Standing But Not Operating.

The main train depot many years ago. It's gone now. Courtesy of Standing But Not Operating.

Most of the regular employees like me left after the summer to start college. I stayed. I still had my senior year and besides, I liked it there. I worked driving the train on a limited schedule and later, when it neared winter I helped put up Christmas lights for Christmas City. The show still went on, even after everyone had left.

I also worked in the hotel at the Concierge desk selling tickets to the dinner theater. When it was cold my supervisor would stop the train outside and blow the whistle. I'd switch places with him so he could warm up a bit. The lights at night on the lake were beautiful and I'd drive slowly to keep the wind from freezing all of us. Even with the cold we always had a packed train during Christmas City.

Cars would line up outside the park almost back to I-77 for hours and pay a few dollars to drive through to see the lights. It was a pain for us locals.

Eventually the place shut down, or at least recreation village did and we were all laid off. I think the hotel kept running for several more years under new management after the bankruptcy. For a while it was managed by Radisson Hotels. Here's a map to show you how big the place was.

I tried to visit again when I was in college, but I was turned away at the front entrance. The gate at the back entrance was locked. Eventually I forgot about the place as I went on with my life.

I saw an interview with Jim Bakker back in 96 on 20/20 and I was actually convinced that he'd changed, that he was more humble, and that he wouldn't try the same things again. I was wrong.

When I saw he was preaching again in Branson, MO, I wondered what had happened to Heritage. I looked around and found Standing But Not Operating and a few other sites. It was only looking through the pictures again that I felt a pang of nostalgia. It's sad what happened with the place, but I kind of like the idea of it rotting away. It was a monument to the monstrous fraud of religion and maybe still a warning to those who would try to cheat people in the same way again.

PTL was not the only place to take advantage of people in the name of religion. It's still widespread. But it's perhaps the most notorious.

The rotting structures have mostly been replaced by residential homes in the last few years and the blight has mostly faded or been forgotten. The cycle has begun again.

Read the other parts of my story

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6 comments: to “ Praise the Lord! Part IV

  • John Evo
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 1:27:00 PM CDT  

    I feel your pain, little sister. It has to be tough to find out that one of your most cherished memories was all built on a fraud. A little like growing up in America, being taught that we are the great hope of the world, the great democratic republic that fights for what's right and stands up in all areas against those who would subvert the human rights of others, and then live through 8 years of George Bush.

  • Anonymous
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 5:55:00 PM CDT  

    Thanks for another great installment. This series is fascinating.

  • The Exterminator
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 7:46:00 PM CDT  

    Very nice memoir writing here. Heritage USA reminds me again of Shelley's "Ozymandias": Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair.

  • Venjanz
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 11:56:00 PM CDT  

    Well John, if America isn't your cup of tea, you are free to leave of course. That's right, you are free to leave. You are also free to dissent against the government here. In fact, you can say pretty much whatever you want. Like this comment you left, for example.

    According to your profile, you still live in the USA. Better get out while you can, before Bu$hitler and the RIGHT-WING!1!! starts the coup, and unpersons like yourself are "erased" in the KBR extermination camps.

    That said... Oh yah, the Radisson! Was the restaurant there reasonable? (kudos to whoever gets that reference)


  • John Evo
    Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 1:31:00 PM CDT  

    Venjanz, I AM free to leave. But should that be the response to someone who makes note of the fact that our country is not what we were sold on? Look, I know that I'd have complaints about any country anywhere I go. Does that mean I have to keep moving? Or can I point out the lies and hope for changes?

    Better get out while you can, before Bu$hitler and the RIGHT-WING!1!! starts the coup, and unpersons like yourself are "erased" in the KBR extermination camps.

    Just because things are not as bad as you parody doesn't mean they aren't bad. If you were a Muslim citizen of the U.S. who had an brother or uncle "renditioned" off to a secret prison, tortured, not given legal representation or allowed to have charges presented in an open court and later died in custody, you might not act as if it's quite as absurd as you make it out to be.

    We either permit things like that to happen (in which case we are complicit, and this is no longer the America you were sold on) or we speak out against it. Or move. I choose "speak out".

  • John Evo
    Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 1:42:00 PM CDT  

    By the way, my complaints against our country are perfectly MILD compared to much of what's being said around the blogosphere. After responding to your comment, this was the the very first thing I read!


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