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Once upon a time, in the far off land of Germany, Bob and Ruth Morrell were surprised by a knock at their door. They were not expecting visitors. Bob and Ruth, husband and wife from North Conway, New Hampshire, were living in Europe at the invitation of the US Army. A veteran of the famed 10th Mountain Division of skiing soldiers in World War II, Bob had been summoned back to serve during the Korean Conflict.
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When they opened the door they were greeted by a stranger, an old woman who introduced herself as Frau Edith Von Arps. She was accompanied by several small characters who needed no introduction, dolls she had made based on classic children’s fairy tales. She was going door to door, selling the dolls.
Frau Von Arps and the Morrells became friends, and the old woman sold them more than 25 dolls in the weeks before they returned home. She also planted a suggestion, which turned into an idea, which grew into a business, which blossomed into a life’s work and a legacy.
Her suggestion was that Bob and Ruth build a small village around her dolls. The Morrells had the idea to create a village of more than just dolls, a village where storybook animals could live and where storybook characters could come to life. The idea grew into a business, as Bob and Ruth added plans for rides and play areas, to create a place where young families could play and have fun and live happily for at least a day or longer.
They bought some affordable land in Glen, acreage that the previous owner said wouldn’t even make a decent pasture. With some local help, they built a handful of colorful buildings and characters, and opened for business in 1954, the same year that the opening of Disneyland forever changed amusement parks.
A few good years were followed by a few not-so-good years, as the economy slowed throughout the country. The fledgling park was truly a risky business venture, and local bankers shied away from holding a mortgage on the home of the three bears. Through perseverance, hard work, ingenuity, and continuous reinvestment in the park, Story Land has survived and grown.
Story Land always has been, and continues to be, a family oriented business, run by Morrell Family disciples, and geared to young families everywhere. In the beginning, and throughout the rest of their lives, Ruth ran the gift shop and other things while Bob ran from place to place to make sure everyone was having fun. As a child, daughter Nancy portrayed Mistress Mary in her garden. As an adult, son Stoney carried on the family legacy until his unfortunate passing in 2006.
As the business grew through the years an unplanned evolution of sorts developed. Teenagers that visited when they were children took their first jobs at Story Land. Many of the grandparents and parents visiting today used to come here as children themselves. And currently, many of the people who make the park run from day to day and season to season are part of the aforementioned evolution. They indeed worked here as teenagers, and either stayed in the family to make careers here as adults, or came back later to be at a place where it’s okay to whistle and smile while they work and kids play.
The history of Story Land is less about the singular history of one family or one business, and more about the multitudes of personal histories that live in the memories of thousands of families and tens of thousands of people from all over. It endures in the hearts and minds of children who grow up hearing and reading about magical people and places, and who find a real live world of those same characters in Glen, NH.
Today, the theme park in New Hampshire still entertains young families and children. The amusement park has grown to include more shows, dining, characters, rides and play areas. At the same time, the Story Land Team has been careful to keep the park from outgrowing the very people – the very little people and their parents – that Bob and Ruth dreamed about entertaining over half a century ago when they were far away from home. And kids have been playing at Story Land happily ever after.