Do you like fried chicken - a wing, a breast, and thigh or drumstick - all at one sitting? Do you like hot melt-in-your-mouth biscuits - all you can eat? Do you like piping hot mashed potatoes and gravy. Would you like to try boysenberry pie - the best berry pie in creation? Then come with Cousin Blaine Gilkerson, his wife, Katherine, and Virgil and me, to Knott's Berry Place, near Buena Park, Calif. Be prepared to wait your turn, which, in our case, meant a 1-1/2 hours wait. But I assure you, it is well worth it. You register when you get there, and then when you are within ten minutes of getting a table, you will hear your name called over the public address system. You may be looking for a beautiful souvenir in the gift shop, you may be buying some boysenberry jam or other de luxe jelly, candied fruit, nuts, or one of a hundred other choice California products in the "Market," adjoining the dining room; you may be wandering through the lovely rock garden - or even through Ghost Town - but you will still hear your names called. One person may register for quite a party. We heard one name called - "John Doe - party of thirty-seven." The only familiar name that I heard was that of Kenny Baker, the tenor, of radio fame. Over the P.A.S. came an announcement that caused men instinctively to reach for their wallets and women to clasp their purses a little closer. A pick-pocket was in their midst - .".. a heavy-set man in a gray suit." A merry-hearted young woman was certainly ribbing her in-law, who answered to that description. She pointed out that the place was equipped with a jail - even if it is of 1849 vintage. How many people ate dinner there last Sunday? About 9,000, according to the desk reservations. A great assortment of humanity; a good many tourists; some ultra-fashionable ladies, a few eccentrics, but mostly the garden variety of American citizen who knows that nowhere else can you get such delicious fried chicken - nowhere west of the Mississippi or north of the Mason & Dixon line, that is (to quote Senator Foghorn).
Knott's Berry Place had a most humble beginning. In 1920 Mr. and Mrs. Walter Knott rented this farm, built a tiny shed, and sold berries to people passing by. In 1927 they bought ten acres of this farm, and started the present buildings. Mrs. Knott started selling her famous boysenberry pies, and the family began serving hot biscuits and boysenberry jam. Their first chicken dinner was served in 1934. Mrs. Knott's fried chicken became famous, too. At first the little eating place could seat only 20, then 40 - and by 1937, could accommodate 300 at one time. Now it seats 700. The three daughters and one son grew up in the business and are now full-fledged and very efficient partners. They have built a marvelous museum of the Gold Rush years - "Ghost Town," it is called - a memento of old pioneer days in California. A fascinating place. The crowning feature is the Covered Wagon Show. The painting of the Covered Wagon Train, in which Walter Knott's mother came to California, measures 20x50 feet, and is the combined work of several American painters and wood-carvers. No, Knott's Berry Place is not just a cold business proposition. There is genuine sentiment and a love of one's fellow man that go along with the famous chicken dinners. Our generous Cousin Blaine, who paid the check ($1.50 per person) also drove us around in his new Studebaker - in search of an old friend.
When I was out here three years ago, this unseen friend - this fellow-writer of the Saltsburg Press - invited me to come and see him "if ever you are out at Knott's Berry Farm." So we drove to Anaheim, about six or seven miles east of Knott's Berry Place, consulted a county directory (or was it township) and found this road and rural mailbox address, west of the Farm. The important thing is that we found the friend. And who do you suppose it is? Mr. Milton Shirley, cousin of Mr. Walker, our editor, writer of many interesting letters about California, remember? I wondered why we didn't hear from him recently. An auto collision and terrific jolt caused a blood clot on Mr. Shirley's one good eye - his left eye. The other has a cataract, one of the unfortunate concomitants of advancing age. But nothing has dimmed his fine spirit. We four visitors received a cordial welcome from Mr. Shirley and his daughter, Mrs. Shipe, who makes a home for him. She is a vitally warm and hospitable person, who has that rare gift of making you feel at home the moment you enter their house. Mr. Shirley, despite his 87 years, is active and interested in all that goes on in this wicked but wonderful world. He wants to know if Mr. Walker is still "the thin man" - if his health is good, etc. I assured him that the passing years are good to Mr. Walker. I don't know which of the cousins might claim the prize for the most beautiful penmanship. They must have inherited it from their mothers, who were sisters. Now I have run over the "column." But one of these days I'll have a long visit with Mr. Shirley, and tell you about his boyhood when Saltsburg was a yearling. He is very nice.
Florence B. Taylor.
Next - 4/3/47 - More about the Tenants - Cornelia & Arvest
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