For many years, whenever actress Delta Burke was mentioned on TV, the first thing I thought of was The Screamin' Delta Demon, the awesome fire-breathing monster that could be found at the Opryland theme park in Nashville, Tennessee.
The marketing department of the Opryland theme park had a knack for making a simple amusement park ride a highly anticipated experience. There wasn't actually a fire-breathing, flying alligator creature threatening anyone on The Screamin' Delta Demon.
Isn't this photo scary? I'm talking about the Eighties fashion and hair, not the highly themed Screamin' Delta Demon ride vehicle.
The Screamin' Delta Demon was an Intamin Bobsled roller coaster that weaved around a flume-like ride track through a forest in Opryland. Sadly, there was NOT an animatronic version of the Delta Demon roaring at riders (that would have been awesome!).
The ride was as visually intimidating as its name. I was terrified to ride this, but I'm glad I did.
My first and only visit to Opryland was in September of 1985. Back then, the park was called Opryland USA. The name would be changed around over the years.
I got to stay in the Opryland Hotel, which was pretty amazing. An expanded version of The Opryland Hotel is still open today, though the Opryland theme park closed down years ago.
Why did Opryland close? I'm not sure.
The theme park was said to be landlocked, so expansion may have been too difficult.
Opryland had some rides on my visit, but the focus was clearly on the shows.
The "Modern 1980s" Opryland musical presentation reminded me of the Saturday Morning TV show "Kidd Video" (which I DID watch at the Opryland Hotel right before going to Opryland) and I remember seeing a reference in the park's rock and roll section to "The Flipside" (which was also a setting on Kidd Video).
Opryland had a great deal at the time called the Tricket. You paid for one day and got two consecutive days free.
There were two rides in Opryland that captured my imagination when I was a kid. One was The Screamin' Delta Demon, and the other was Grizzly River Rampage.
The exciting ads for Grizzly River Rampage appearing on TV, newspapers and billboards featured a ferocious bear attacking river rafters. In reality, the bear was a static figure in a tunnel with a flickering strobe light. I think most people did not realize there was a bear there.
Many years later, Disney built a grizzly bear themed raft ride. Check it out at Disney's Country Bears At Grizzly River Run In California Adventure.
Opryland had some very famous mascots, including the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee.
Visitors to Opryland could meet all sorts of General Mills cereal characters.
Box tops from different "Big G" cereals were used for discounts on park admission.
Lucky the Leprechaun always had to worry about kids going after his Lucky Charms, whether it was the cereal or Lucky getting strategically kicked by rowdy children.
The Trix Rabbit could also be found at Opryland's Big G Cereal Play area for kids.
Opryland also had a Petting Zoo, complete with coin operated "game machines" featuring live animals (like bunnies and ducks). The animals would perform a simple trick (like playing basketball) and get food. I can't make this stuff up!
Count Chocula and the Monster Cereal gang are among my favorite advertising characters, and they were on hand to frighten visitors. Well, I don't think Boo Berry was there (he's always been tough to find).
Opryland really missed an opportunity by not making a haunted house ride with Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Boo Berry and Fruit Brute (the lesser known werewolf character---you can see references to him in Quentin Tarantino movies).
Sonny is Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!
Like all the General Mills characters, Sonny's appearance has changed over the years.
I think General Mills introduced more cartoon cereal spokesmen than any other breakfast cereal manufacturer, for a wide variety of cereals that did not last (anyone remember Ice Cream Cones Cereal?). Cinnamon Toast Crunch originally had three baker characters, but only Wendell survived.
To see the two Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bakers that did not make the cut, and get a look at Ice Cream Jones (the mascot for Ice Cream Cones), take a look at Magic Trix Aren't Just For Kids.
Look, it's the Cheshire Canine! No, it's Chip the Cookie Hound, the mascot for Cookie Crisp Cereal (originally made by Ralston Purina, this became a General Mills cereal in 1997).
Cookie Crisp originally had a wizard mascot named Cookie Jarvis. Later, the character was replaced by the Cookie Crook and his dog Chip, who were always being pursued by the Cookie Cop. When General Mills bought Cookie Crisp, the Cookie Crook and Cop were dropped, making Chip the mascot for the cereal. Chip eventually lost his mask, and eventually his job when he was replaced by the Wolf character that is used to promote the cereal these days.
The General Mills Breakfast Babies bean bags were part of a mail-order promotion released in 1997, which is the same year Opryland closed.
Just a few months before my September 1985 visit to Opryland, Dolly Parton (a talented performer and business person) announced her plans to open the Dollywood theme park (formerly known as Silver Dollar City) in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Here's a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article that mentions plans for Dollywood parks in Japan and Europe.
Dollywood (and later, Dollywood's Splash Country water park) have been huge hits for Dolly Parton. Get your minds out of the gutter---I said HITS!
For a look at an early map of the park, check out Dollywood is Open From 9 to 5.
The former site of Opryland is now home to a mall, Opry Mills. Wait a minute---Opry Mills? General Mills Cereal!? Coincidence? I think not!
For even more southern fried fun from the past, see Tennessee It No More: Magic World in Pigeon Forge.
*UPDATE For January 21, 2012:
On January 20, 2012 (the day after Dolly Parton's Birthday) it was announced that Dollywood and Gaylord Entertainment are joining forces for a "water and snow park" near the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. It should open by Summer 2014. Great news!
Also on January 20, Bobby Bickert wrote to me about those game machine performing animals at Opryland:
"I believe you about these performing animals, because I saw what may have been the same animals in Florida a little while before you did.
They were part of St. Petersburg's famous "Webb's City" department store, which I visited not too long before it closed. The year after Webb's City closed, all of the animals except the tightrope-walking chicken (which wasn't in an enclosed space) turned up at the Florida State Fair as the "IQ Zoo". After that they disappeared. Since this was in the early 1980's, I wonder if they were taken to Opryland?
Here's what I can remember:
Chicken that walked a tightrope
Chicken that played Tic Tac Toe with you
Chicken that "danced" (after turning on a "jukebox")
Chicken that gave you a "prize" out of a gumball-type machine
Duck that played a piano (It turned on a lamp first.)
Rabbit that "kissed" a fake female rabbit
Rabbit fire chief
There were probably others, but that's all I can remember."
Yes, that sounds like the same animals to me. Thanks for the information, Bobby!