COLUMN: Jack Binder, creator of roadside figures and signs in region

st usa front sign

February 08, 2013 11:45 pm • BOB CONDON

A question in the Sept. 22 column asked about the origin of the statue of a cowboy on a rearing horse and the accompanying sign at the entrance of Storytown U.S.A. decades ago. The inquiring reader also wondered about where the roadside icons ended up.

A check with local historians, officials at the amusement park (now Great Escape) and others in September resulted in few answers.

As noted in that column, the sign and statue were removed in 1983 when the park changed its name to Great Escape, and they remained in storage for several years. At some point, the sign and statue left the park, perhaps publicly auctioned or donated away, Great Escape officials said.

Now, more is known of the history of the statue and sign.

Edward Binder of Athol contacted The Post-Star to say it was his father, the late Jack Binder, who created the horse and rider statue and the park entrance sign.

He recalled that his father modeled the horse statue after a Palomino owned by Edward’s brother Ronald.

Jack Binder was living in Warrensburg when he created the statue and sign in the early 1950s.

Edward Binder said his father also created the gorilla statue in front of the Animal Land zoo that was across from Storytown, as well as dozens of signs and sculptures for tourist-related businesses in the Adirondacks.

The gorilla was created inside Jack Binder’s Warrensburg home, his son recalled, and the horse and rider statue may have been put together in a building in the town’s Paddock area, where Binder had a studio.

Jack Binder, who was trained in the fine arts, died in 1986 at age 83. His obituary in The Post-Star noted his work creating roadside figures and signs throughout the region, as well as his earlier career as a cartoonist.

He produced life-size figures for Gaslight Village and historical figures and dioramas for Fort William Henry, both in Lake George. Binder also designed and sculpted the figure of the Good Shepherd in front of the Lutheran Church in Glens Falls.

He was known for his work as a cartoonist during the golden age of comic books. The most famous character he drew was Mary Marvel, little sister to Captain Marvel.

Where the Storytown statue and sign ended up is still a mystery, however. Edward Binder doesn’t know, but said he would be interested in finding out, as would Robert Vorreyer, a resident of West Palm Beach, Fla., who worked in the Storytown art department for 30 years.

Vorreyer mailed a note to The Post-Star in January recalling his Storytown memories, including his involvement in repainting the horse and rider statue and other figures, such as Humpty Dumpty, at the park.

“Great time in my life,” he wrote.

Albany Co. officials, Great Escape meet about future of Hoffman’s Playland

Albany Co. officials, Great Escape meet about future of Hoffman’s Playland

Posted: Aug 27, 2013 6:19 PM EST

NEWTONVILLE, N.Y. – David Hoffman, owner of Hoffman’s Playland says Albany County leaders met this week with Great Escape officials about the possibility of Six Flags taking over the family-friendly playland on Route 9 in Latham.

In June, a rumor about plans to close Hoffman’s Playland ignited an online movement to “save Hoffman’s.”

At the time, Hoffman told NEWS10 that there were no concrete plans of selling the family-friendly park and no offers on the table.

“It’s the only job I’ve had in my entire life,” he said.

County Executive Dan Mccoy says he recognizes the importance of Hoffman’s to the Capital Region, and he wants the landmark to stay, but notes that the final decision ultimately lies with the Hoffman’s.

In an effort to find a solution, Mccoy went straight to the owners of Six Flags Great Escape, calling it a “perfect marriage.”

“Imagine if they’re together. Imagine a season can pass you get so many things at Hoffman’s and admission to six flags,” he proposed.

“We’re excited about it because they have infrastructure and expertise to run operation like ours,” said Hoffman about the talks.

For many who visit Hoffman’s, it’s all about people bringing their kids to ride on the same rides they enjoyed as children.

Tricia Cupp and her two boys are regulars at the playland, and her experiences date back to the early 80s.

“Great, then when I had kids and it was early enough, I had to bring them here,” she said.

Talks are still in the early stages, and no agreements have been reached.

But for the Hoffman’s and the lifetime they’ve put into the playland and the generations of people who now support them, they say is just simply overwhelming.

“We’re just thrilled people want to preserve the park and we’re still making generations happy right now,” said Hoffman.

Rest in peace, Wild Windy Bill McKay, the greatest marshal Storytown’s “Ghost Town” ever knew…

Rest in peace, Wild Windy Bill McKay, the greatest marshal Storytown’s “Ghost Town” ever knew…
July 10, 2011 at 5:39 am by Chuck Miller

Sometimes blog posts that I’ve written months or even years ago still receive comments from time to time. Such is the case for anything I’ve ever written regarding the best amusement park of all time, Storytown / The Great Escape.

Last night, I received a Facebook message regarding one of those blog posts. And sadly, it’s one that I feared I would receive someday – one of the icons of my childhood has finally ridden into the sunset. The message is from Danielle Corning, who grew up as a neighbor with the McKay family.

Thank you posting the slide show of Storytown. I am collecting websites and photos and footage of Bill and his partner Lady Marshal Tommy Atkins. I was Wild Windy Bill McKay’s neighbor growing up in Lake George. And to this day a very close family friend. There is little footage of him doing what so loved doing for 50 years… entertaining children. Sadly, yesterday, July 8,2011 “Uncle Bill” passed away at age 90. Tommy was also a close family friend and passed away a few years ago.Few people knew Windy Bill as I did yet he touched so many lives in his dedication to music, children and entertainment. He was heavily involved with Jerry Lewis’ MDA marathons in Schenectady NY, was one of the Son’s of The Pioneers Country/Western singing group with Roy Rogers and was friends with Roy and Dale. But most of all he was my friend and honorary “Uncle Bill”. He bought me my first pair of cowboy girl boots and taught me how to ride when I was 6. He gave me his love of music and horses and today I am a musician and rider.

I’m absolutely crushed. Every time I visited the Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom – especially back in the days when it was Storytown U.S.A. – one of the highlights of my trip was to visit the section of the amusement park known as Ghost Town. And like every other kid who visited Storytown, I was deputized by Wild Windy Bill McKay during one of the Ghost Town stage shows. We were told we were going to make mashed potatoes out of the varmints who robbed the Ghost Town Bank – and sure enough, we did; we defeated the bandits, as did the kids earlier that afternoon and did the kids two days later.

Here’s a picture of Sheriff McKay, as gleaned from an old Kodachrome slide, circa late 1960′s.

Sheriff Wild Windy Bill McKay at Storytown U.S.A., circa mid-1960’s. Photo taken by Doris Robinson; from the Chuck Miller collection.

A few years ago, I returned to Storytown – now the Great Escape – on to write an article for RoadKing magazine on the theme park’s 50th anniversary. I interviewed Wild Windy Bill McKay, who told me about how much admiration he had for park founder Charles Wood, as well as the support Wood gave for the various park areas.

During the interview, he again kept the bad guys from robbing the bank. And afterwards, several more children were deputized as junior marshals – that year, instead of yellow badges, the kids received blue badges, to commemorate the theme park’s 50th season of operation.

Wild Windy Bill McKay handing out marshal badges to new junior marshals. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Last year, when I visited The Great Escape as part of my Kodachrome photography project, I saw a marker on the side of the Ghost Town Marshal’s office. The marker commemorated McKay’s long tenure with the park; and inside the Marshal’s office was a larger, heartfelt tribute – pictures of Marshal Wild Windy Bill McKay with many of his junior deputies. Pictures that were taken years ago and pinned on the wall of the Marshal’s office, in grateful tribute from generations of kids and parents.

The only remaining sign that Wild Windy Bill McKay kept Ghost Town safe from all the bandits that showed up four times a day. Photo by Chuck Miller.

At the time, I didn’t know what had happened to Wild Windy Bill McKay, other than the was retired from the park.

Today, unfortunately, I found out that the sheriff that kept Ghost Town crime-free for 50 years passed away last Friday. He was 90 years old.

For five decades, he and Ruth Buckley – who was “Lady Marshal Tommy Atkins” – not only entertained thousands of kids every year at Storytown / The Great Escape, they also appeared at the WRGB Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day telethons. Buckley passed away in 2000; McKay kept in constant contact with Buckley’s husband for years after that.

This Times Union profile of McKay, written in 2007 by Tom Keyser, is a fascinating read about the long-time marshal of Ghost Town.

Rest in peace, Marshal Wild Windy Bill McKay. Thank you for all the great memories you provided to me and all the other kids who visited Storytown / The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom.

We miss you already.

SOURCE: Times Union

Great Escape to debut new Storytown features

By BLAKE JONES, | Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 7:15 pm

QUEENSBURY — The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom is returning to its roots this summer by reintroducing some of the original features of Storytown USA.

Great Escape has always had buildings and characters from its nursery rhyme-themed predecessor, which was created more than 50 years ago. But this is the first time Six Flags Inc. has rehabilitated and reintroduced more of the historic attractions.

The park is rebuilding Cinderella’s Castle from the foundation up and is in the process of restoring characters from Storytown, Jungleland and Ghost Town – the three earliest attractions at the park.

Many of the characters will be pulled out of storage or relocated from other places in the park and placed along the Storytown Train route. The 15-minute train tour will now feature information about the history of Storytown and the original Great Escape.

On Wednesday, maintenance crews were touching up the paint on the original pumpkin coach that circles Cinderella’s Castle. Work was also being done on the Humpty Dumpty attraction, the Hickory Dickory Dock clock and some old Storytown signs. Others that will make an appearance on the revised train tour are PoPo the Purple Cow and about five other Storytown characters, including three to four Ghost Town pieces – some originals and some replicas – and Jungleland animals that are being taken out of storage or relocated from elsewhere in the park.

“They’ve been in storage, and we are taking them out and putting them up,” said Great Escape spokeswoman Rebecca Close.

Cinderella’s Castle has been torn down and the walls rebuilt. Much of the embellishment remains to be added, but the end result should be slightly larger than the original castle.

Asked how the park balances tradition with renovations, Close said the focus is on providing the same experience for families while improving the structure.

“Whenever we do anything, we make sure we keep in mind where Great Escape and Storytown came from,” she said.

Close said the goal was to enhance some of the history and nostalgia of the park, as many guests come to Great Escape every summer with memories of trips they took to Storytown as children.

Don McCoy, president of The Great Escape Properties, has said Storytown is an important piece of history for the community – and something the park will continue to evaluate.

“We are very fortunate to have wonderful traditions here at The Great Escape,” he said. “For 57 years, families have created lifelong memories with us, and these two nostalgic offerings will strike a familiar chord as guests recall their childhood visits.”

Charles R. Wood created Storytown USA in 1954, a year before Disneyland opened.

Ghost Town and Jungleland were added next, followed by a steady stream of new attractions until the sale of the park in 1996 to Premier Parks Inc., which later became Six Flags.

Since then, Great Escape has added large attractions like new roller coasters, a lodge and water rides to the park on a nearly annual basis, the most recent being the Sasquatch drop tower in 2009.

The Storytown additions are among the biggest changes on tap for the 2010 season, which begins on May 8. Great Escape’s parent company, Six Flags, remains in bankruptcy court after filing for Chapter 11 protection almost a year ago.