Remembering the Magic (and Problems) With Magic World in Pigeon Forge

the magic world ufo and a critter from the confederate show

Magic World guests loved the UFO on top of the mountain (background). But the critter show would have been considered problematic today (foreground) (UFO image courtesy of oldgatlinburg.net, montage by TheSmokies.com staff)

A local shares memories of Magic World – a defunct theme park in the Smoky Mountains

Imagine reaching into a child’s toy box in the late 70s, past the Star Wars figures and the Godzillas and Bat-people, and pulling out the little bits of molded plastic that didn’t get played with as much as the other toys. Then sprinkle them onto a lot on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge. These are the types of attractions you would have seen at Magic World, a children’s amusement park that operated from 1971 to 1996. The theme park was a relic of its time, nestled in between the car museum and the Twin Water Ski-Doo, across from the Police Museum and just down from Baby Animal Kingdom and Porpoise Island.

the magic world brochure
A scan of an original Magic World brochure (archive photo from a late 1970s Magic World Brochure/TheSmokies.com)
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ufo from magic world in pigeon forge
The UFO at Magic World in Pigeon Forge, TN (image shared with permission from oldgatlinburg.net)

What was Magic World like?

If you never experienced Magic World, imagine being on the set of a late 50s sci-fi movie. At the entrance, there was a 100-foot volcano that held an 80-foot fresh-water aquarium deep in its heart. Merlin the Magician lived not far down from the Land of Arabian Nights, which featured a Magic Carpet Ride. The Haunted Castle rested on one corner of the lot, across from the Flying Saucer. The Dragon Train took you through Dinosaur Valley, ruled by giant – and not overly realistic prehistoric monsters. The dinosaur museum was next where you could get your picture made with a wooly mammoth that looked like it was the last of its species with two feet in the extinction grave.

For children of the 70s and early 80s, Magic World was a place of wonder. These days, modern parents wouldn’t let their children pet the wooly mammoth without a tetanus shot. But for the times, Magic World was cheesy heaven. The Haunted Castle, for example, featured a Phantom of the Opera-esque ghoul, Frankenstein and Dracula as well as an executioner known as the Mad Headsman.

From the Mad Headsman’s Haunted Castle, it was a short walk to The Flying Saucer. The saucer was a strange metallic spaceship, piloted by beings from the red planet Mars. Inside was a panoramic film tour of the Great Smoky Mountains – with scenes soaring over Clingman’s Dome and diving under Fontana Lake. This was IMAX for the ’70s. The show that put the Magic in Magic World belonged to Merlin. The famed wizard – in the form of a person in a giant head stolen from the set of H.R. Puffinstuff – performed feats of magic with a variety of assistants.

woman at magic show with large magician at magic world in pigeon forge tn
Merlin’s Magic Show at Magic World (image shared with permission from oldgatlinburg.net)

Problematic parts of Magic World

Like many things of the era viewed from a modern perspective, Magic World reflected the attitudes of the day when it came to other cultures. To use the preferred euphemism, there were parts of Magic World that could be considered problematic today. The Land of Arabia Nights, for instance, had a ride that carried passengers – in a similar style to Disney’s Peter Pan ride – over assorted dioramas that featured scenes from the classic 1,001 Arabian Nights and a few Middle Eastern stereotypes. Magic World also had The Confederate Critter Show, a Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronic show featuring a variety of characters dressed up as Confederate officers and singing mountain ballads. A 1979 brochure promises:

You’ll grin as General Cornelius Bearpatch spins his yarns, strums his guitar and sings some of your favorite mountain ballads. Then tap your toes and slap your knee to the banjo pickin’ of Colonel Stonewall J. Fox. And Major Mosby Greyhound III will rock the house down with his rinky tink piano.

animatronics from magic world in pigeon forge
These Confederate critters were featured in an animatronics show where they dressed up and sang mountain ballads (archive photo from a late 1970s Magic World Brochure/TheSmokies.com)

What happened to Magic World in Pigeon Forge?

Magic World did its best to change with the times, adding more carnival-type rides and diversions. By 1991, there was a Dragon Coaster and a Red Baron ride (like Disney’s Dumbo but with World War I-era biplanes). There were also bumper boats and a tilt-a-whirl. But Silver Dollar City had rechristened itself to Dollywood in 1986. And by the 90s, it was growing fast. The competition was fierce. Magic World held its own for a good while.

But eventually, the Magic was gone. Not, reportedly, due to failing business but rather a dispute over the cost to lease the land. Property on the strip was far more valuable when it closed than it had been 25 years earlier. The parties involved could not reach an agreement.

In 1996, Magic World closed for good. Today, all that remains of this once beloved attraction are a handful of scenes that have been integrated into the mini-golf course at Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf. They are the volcano and what looks like part of the original ship. A plaque is also on display at the mini-golf course. It honors the original creator of Magic World and Professor Hacker’s: James Sidwell. The plaque reads: “In memory and honor of James Q Sidwell, Sr. (Big Jim) … For your vision, integrity, friendship and leadership.”

aerial view of hackers lost treasure golf shows parts of the old magic world park
Pieces of Magic World are believed to be part of what is now Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf in Pigeon Forge (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Do you remember Magic World in Tennessee? Let us know in the comments below.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at editor@thesmokies.com.

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18 thoughts on “Remembering the Magic (and Problems) With Magic World in Pigeon Forge”

  1. I fondly remember school field trips to magic world, every year in elementary it was almost a shoe in, (yes they had the old ladys shoe house)that we were minimum of 2 trips, loved it, remember getting lost from the crowd (my version as stated to teachers)and racking up some serious skee ball tickets. Didnt cost much and was truly magical. 38 now and really appreciate the simple things

    Reply
  2. I remember going there in a school field trip. It was the first park of it’s kind I had ever been to. I loved it. I was small and it was big and wonderful. It was a new experience for me.

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  3. I remember riding my bike there from Wears Valley. I enjoyed the park and was excited to see the BMX bike show.

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  4. This is one of my favorite childhood memories. I loved the flying saucer “ ride “. Does anyone know where I can see this vintage piece of art ?

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  5. Loved that place, and on our yearly trip to smokies, even when we weren’t stopping there, always loved looking up on that hill, seeing it from the road.. Still have pics, me and my little brother in Jaws’s mouth and King Kongs hand. They had a diving team one year, 70ft. and a big guy would do the Shamu splash, soak everybody. Got to take my son when he was 3 or so, he doesn’t remember, but I do. Glad he got see it before it left. I was crushed when it left. Some of the old items are stored somewhere. I think carpet bagger, the u tubber showed them a while back.

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  6. Oh I remember magic world! It had a carpet ride which today would be considered in politically correct. Loved it! They had the Confederate banjo pickers loved it! And the UFO that you could see the silhouette of the helicopter that was filming on the projector. Loved it! You still got vertigo! It was fun and it was amazing.

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  7. Know that place, I worked there for 4 years during the summer. It’s was the best, most fun job I have ever had. Met so many people there! there!

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  8. Loved Magic Mountain. My sister and I spent many good times there. I still have a picture of us in king Kong’s hand. If i can find the picture I will post it later.

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  9. I sorely miss it! I used to live in
    Fairbanks Alaska and would visit my grandparents in Sevierville when I was little. I moved to TN in June and kept asking everyone what happened to the place and everyone just looked at me like I was crazy. Fond memories afterwards we would go close by and have ice cream I always got the gumball ice cream! Good times!

    Reply
  10. Yes I been to Magic World alot in the past. It was fun and exciting. It’s sad to learn that this happened and why it closed down. But I would love to know if someone could come up with another fun park to place in Pigeon Forge TN today? We need something besides Dollywood..

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  11. I remember going to Magic World during a family vacation to the Smokey Mountains back in the last 70s/early 80s. After all these years, two features of the park still stick out in my mind — the Arabian Nights ride and the flying saucer ride. Even though it was quite obviously not a top-of-the-line amusement park, I still enjoyed it — enough to still remember it after forty years!

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  12. There was also a passion play. Where the water skiing show closed. It was a good play we still have pics.

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  13. OMG, I finally figured out where my family took me for vacation when I was 5yo! I was so in awe of the place and remember the carpet ride to this day (turning 50 next month!) I LOVED the setting in the Smokey Mountains and wish it was still around. Thank goodness for the internet and thank you for your story!

    Reply

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