Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, April 4, 1960
April 4, 2010 | 2:11 pm
Sawdust Trail Leads Through Midway
To you, Cucamonga may mean nothing but a Jack Benny joke, but to history it may be remembered as the scene of one of Christianity's major jurisdictional disputes.
Recently, a syndicate was formed to buy acreage in that quiet village and to build a $15 million "Bible Storyland" which will attempt the astonishing blend of open-air Sunday school, Disneyland and Coney Island carnival concession.
The mere announcement made churchmen wince. But it wasn't until they read the imaginative brochure of Bible Storyland that the wince turned into a full-fledged howl of pain. A committee of 40 religious leaders has charged that the brochure contains "amazing Biblical interpretations and horrible religious ideas." The promoters claim their theological amusement center would "convert thousands, and fill our churches."
I don't take sides in controversial matters. All I'll admit for the record is that if Bible Storyland achieves nothing else, it will at least be a subject for a new Evelyn Waugh novel.
Jonquil Halbert is missing.
According to the brochure it will contain such remarkable attractions as a David and Goliath Slingshot Shooting Gallery. "Any number of Davids can play." A replica of the Colosseum with a unique hamburger stand in front of which is explained with the grisly statement: "We have devised a belated but nonetheless sweet revenge on those hungry beasts (the Colosseum lions) by providing a convenient food stand just outside. If you are a Christian, revenge will be doubly sweet -- the specialty of the house is 'Lionburger'!"
While accomplishing the satisfaction of an eye for an eye by munching lionburger-on-a-bun, the little tyke can buy a ticket for a ride through the Garden of Eden where the prospectus promises, he will see "a very large green snake who seems to be having an animated conversation with a very pretty, if somewhat informally dressed young lady." He can take the Mediterranean ride and pass "Nero's pleasure island, scene of much revelry lit by the soft glow of burning Christians."
He can take the Exodus Ride (although I always thought they walked that one). He can take the thrilling tour to the top of the Tower of Babel where, "almost as if to chastise us for this effrontery of entering the holy-of-holies, the floor drops out from under us and down we go . . ."
Round Trip on Glory Road
But best of all, the youngster can, if he has the price, take the Ride to Heaven, which the brochure describes with classic understatement as one "that should be a thrilling experience for people of all ages.
"We go out through a large window . . . A happy character, riding Cloud 9, waves cheerily at us . . . A group of disconsolate atheists hover alongside, momentarily, to thumb a ride, making rueful comments on their inability to get to Heaven . . . Presently an angel flies alongside and points the way . . . As we approach the Pearly Gates, St. Peter signals to a brace of cherubs who open the gates with a flutter of wings. Alongside our course we see signs advertising 'Angel Food Cake,' 'Harp Repairs,' etc.
"Little groups of the better known spiritual leaders who have made it can be seen happily engaged in conversation and other pleasant activities. Cecil B. De Mille is seen directing another Bible spectacle as a red light blinks for quiet.
". . . The Pearly Gates open. It's inky dark. A voice says, 'The eye has not seen, the ear has not heard! and so forth. You don't suppose we could show you what Heaven is like. End of ride. Everybody out!"
I don't know what the spiritual effect of that rebuke will be. But on a psychiatric level, the prospect of hundreds of little children growing up dimly aware that somehow, somewhere in their past they were refused admission to heaven ought to keep the analytic couches busy in a generation from now.