Fans bid $788,892 for rare and important items celebrating the 75th anniversary of Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town attraction during a public auction of historic archives from America’s first theme park held by Heritage Auctions March 31 in Buena Park, California. The 228 lots were expected to bring $500,000 but when the gavel fell, they brought more than 50 percent over the pre-auction estimate. The auction included original paintings by well-known 20th century artists commissioned by park founder Walter Knott, theme park props, a 1919-20 Model T Ford, a 1940s fire engine, an 18th century covered wagon and even a locomotive.
The auction, held in the historic Charles Shultz Theater, saw intense bidding by Southern California collectors attending the event as well as people bidding around the world via HALive! The auction was the first of its kind for the theme park.
“The value of this extremely rare grouping of antiques and then tying it to Knott’s? World class!” said Mike F. Harrah, a major Orange County developer, art collector and floor bidder at the auction. “It was not only fun but rewarding and adds value to a tremendous collection of American history.”
Artist Henry H. Cross’ 1898 Baldwin Wagon Train Under Attack from Knott’s Ghost Town sold for $71,700, setting a new artist auction record for the artist. A rare, circa 1940s-50s Ghost Town California or Bust Ghost Town panorama painting by artist Paul von Klieben, who worked directly with Walter Knott as his primary art director during the early years of the park, sold to the floor at $10,157. The two collaborated on the 151-inch-by-57-inch mural of a wagon train that became synonymous with the attraction. Additional von Klieben Old West artworks drawing significant bidder interest included Under Attack, which sold for $3,346; Through the Desert, a painting for the Ghost Town exhibit sold for $3,346 and On Schedule, from 1953 ended at $4,780.
The auction also offered several vehicles such a 1940 Jennie KI steam-powered locomotive, which ended at $40,630; a 1919 Model T car purchased by Walter Knott in 1956 for the Ghost Town display, sold to a floor bidder for $37,045; a 1940s Seagrave-type Fire Engine changed hands at $31,070; the park’s Ford Custom Two Bucked Seat Hot Rod Roadster sold for $21,510; a 1965 “tricked out” Monster Halloween Haunt 1965 Hearse sold for $17,925; and a historic 1800s antique Knott’s park-displayed covered wagon, sold for $9,560.
Familiar signage ranged from a 1954 “Haunted Shack” Ghost Town Sign, which sold for $8,962 to a 1960 Calico Mine Ride sign from the first major ride at the park, which saw intense interest from floor bidders who pushed the final price to $4,780.
A number of vintage park attractions included one of the largest selections of antique coin-operated player pianos and coin-operated games to come to market in recent memory. Features included rare games, such as a circa 1904 Caille Brothers Double Slot Machine, which sold for $38,249; 1910 Washington Scale Caille Bros. coin-op machine, which sold for $11,352; and a “Voodoo Dance” Coin-Op Arcade Machine sold for $10,456. A selection of antique player pianos included a 1920s Coinola Player Piano, which sold for $7,170 and a 1910 Creamona coin op Player Piano, which sold for $3,824.
“Fans around the world turned out to celebrate the rich history of America’s first theme park,” said Jim Lentz, Consignment Director for Heritage Auctions. “It was an impressively large live audience for the sale and that only speaks to the enduring memories people have of this important, historical archive.”