Often times places that have meant the most to us in our life tend to vanish from the landscape over time. Right after I graduated from High School I got a summer job at a western theme park in Cave City, Kentucky, called Guntown Mountain. It was perched on top of a large hill that passed for a mountain in the central Kentucky karst. That first summer that I worked there, there were only two ways to the top, a chair lift which was the typical means of transport, and an extremely steep unpaved road that required a four wheel drive vehicle and lots of chutzpah to navigate.
When I arrived, the park had been open a week and the rest of the crew had fallen into the rhythm of the shows. This being my first job, I was excited but unsure of what I was in for.
The cast lived in apartments on the mountain, with the exception of Jerry, the manager, and his wife and little boy. I brought a bag of clothes, two guitars, an amplifier, and a box of miscellaneous posessions. We carted them all up on the chair lift. I jumped on a chair with one of my bags. My dad stayed at the bottom and loaded the rest of my stuff on subsequent chairs. When I got to the top, the chair lift boys helped me pull my stuff off the chairs and stack them next to the gate to the town.
The town consisted of a saloon, a simulated sheriff’s office, a simulated bank, and various other buildings that contained simulated shops with antiques for the visitors to look at from the doors opening onto the boardwalk. There was a grave yard with wooden grave markers with humorous epigraphs on them behind the main buildings in town.
In the back of towns were several more buildings that served as apartments for the crew on the inside but were painted to look like period businesses, e.g. a blacksmith’s. There was an outdoor theater that was used for a magic show and a small shooting range where we demonstrated the Kentucky Long Rifle.
I was quickly indoctrinated into the profession of gunfighter and played the role of the kid in most of the gunfights. It was fun shooting the revolvers loaded with blanks. Less so falling on the limestone covered ground that had only a thin layer of sawdust sprinkled over it.
Integrating myself into the saloon show proved even easier since I had been performing in musical ensembles and plays for almost a decade. The rest of the crew were college students for the most part, as I would be come fall. They had the advantage of several weeks of rehearsal prior to the park opening but I dove right in and was up to speed in a couple of days.
I spent two summers working at Guntown Mountain, that first summer when I was eighteen and two summers later when I was twenty. Those two summers and the intervening summer when I performed much the same duties at another park, Kaintuck Territory, located in Western Kentucky near Kentucky lake, were some of the best times of my life. Those places were special and yet they are no more.
Kaintuck Territory has vanished into the wilderness of Western Kentucky while Guntown Mountain has finally gone out of business after struggling under several owners and several different themes, most recently featuring a haunted house. They haven’t had gunfights or saloon shows there in years. They say you can’t go home again but in this case, I really can’t.