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At Story Land Amusement Park, Keeping the Magic Alive is a Full-Time Job

Camp fairytale.jpg
Sarah Gibson
Actors perform for families in the Camp Fairy Tale theater, one of the 30 or so attractions at Storyland in Glen, New Hampshire. The amusement park has been running since 1954.

Each day at 1:30, families gather near a wooded corner of Story Land, a fairytale-themed amusement park near Jackson, to watch Cinderella ascend to her hilltop castle in a pumpkin tram. Then they hop in and follow her up the hill for a photo shoot.

Cinderella, played by 25-year old Elly Rebeka, sports a bleach blond wig, a billowing ballgown, and a fake rhinestone necklace.

Once at her golden throne, she gets a dizzying round of questions. Did she find her glass slipper? Where is it now? What kind of food does she like? Other kids stand there, awestruck. Some bring her fan mail.

“Kids don't lie,” Rebeka says. “Oftentimes kids will come in and be like: ‘Wow. She's gorgeous.’ And you’re like: Thanks for the confidence boost!”

The make-believe world of Story Land depends on 150 seasonal staff, many of whom travel from other countries and parts of the U.S. for the job. Some garden and clean. Others take care of the live storybook animals, including Peter Rabbit and the Three Little Pigs. Others operate rides. And some, of course, get to wear ballgowns and rhinestones.

“It blows my mind, all the pieces that have to fit together,” says Jane Fitzgerald, a member of the office staff who is living at the employee campground in an airstream with her husband. “Everything you can imagine: the rides, making sure that the staff is here, the cleaning, the flowers, every little detail.”

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Nick Puiia operates the train at the entrance of Story Land. He has been coming to the park for the last 40 years.

Nick Puiia, of West Paris, Maine, started working at Story Land during the pandemic when his home office job as an insurance agent got too boring.

His parents brought him to the amusement park as a kid in 1985. Later, he brought his own kids.

“They're unfortunately outgrowing the park,” he says. “But now I get to come on my own.”

Puiia drives the miniature red and blue steam engine here three days a week, pointing out the attractions along the way, including the Dutch village, where kids sit inside oversized yellow clogs, and Mr. Geyser’s raft ride.

In between the throngs of strollers and kids with slushies, Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, and Little Red Riding Hood make their way to an afternoon performance.

One kid asks Peter Plan if he flew here.

“Unfortunately, it’s a no-fly zone,” he says. “They yelled at me last time I tried to fly here.”

The fairytale actors are trained performers with contracts with an entertainment company based in New York. Elly Rebeka, i.e. Cinderella, is based in Chicago. Her most recent amusement park contract was as an elf stunt fighter at Six Flags America. Before that, she was an alien monster.

At Story Land, Rebeka doubles as Tinker Bell and Little Red Riding Hood. She

Sara Plourde

gives each character their own personality.

“Cinderella never has her arms down, so she's very elevated, very proper” she says. “And then Little Red…has her hands in fists. She’s very grounded and aggressive.”

Tinkerbell is the ditz, Rebeka says: happy and ethereal.

Rebeka doesn’t always fool the kids who come to visit. Sometimes they approach her in the castle and accuse her of not being the “real” Cinderella. She stays in character and smiles, assuring them that she is.

At the end of the day, her voice is so fried, she sometimes does “vocal rest” and stops talking. Then the next day, she gets up, puts on the ballgown, and delivers the magic all over again.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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