You can see it from the road, clear as day, when the leaves are gone. It’s right off the side of the road after the highway exit.
It just sits there.
I drive by an old drive-in movie theater in Albion often. By the road, there’s a pair of old abandoned houses, with a drive next to them that leads to the drive-in.
The drive-in concession stand sits way back in the weeds, surrounded by a rotting wooden fence. The speaker poles are still out there – an invisible grid to a long-ago torn down screen.
As soon as the snow melted, I ventured out there to see what it was all about.
Years ago, the drive-in did pretty well. It drew in people from all over, thanks to its handy interstate location. But then things took a downturn, and the drive-in had to specialize. What did it pick?
Porn. Of course.
And much like anything else, you know you’re on the downturn when you resort to smut. So the drive-in closed. And rotted. And the screen was torn down and turned into scraps.
One story says that cars would pull over on the side of the highway to watch the on-screen smut. So the drive-in owners installed spotlights to shine into the roadway, blocking the view.
Now, there’s no shining. It’s all dark. The snow is melting, and everything is dripping and peeling.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Michigan, just down the road from the Irish Hills, a place like Prehistoric Forest was a once-a-summer destination for my family. In fact, all of the little mini theme parks along US-12 were: Stagecoach Stop, the putt-putt courses, Mystery Hill.
But times change, the interstate redirects the Detroit-to-Chicago traffic, and one by one these little tourist traps are closing shop. Even some of the mini golf courses can’t seem to stay open.
It’s a shame.
There’s no more visual manifestation of the decline of the Irish Hills amusement parks than Prehistoric Forest, though. It sits right along the highway, with the fiberglass dinosaurs crumbling more and more, looking more sad with each passing year.
Closed for more than a decade, even the facade is depressing.
The kicker is if some little kid were to pass by the place and see that mastodon, or the apatosaurus resting its head on a non-native fake palm tree (good engineering!).
“Mom, what’s that? Can we stop?” the kid would say.
“No, honey. The park is closed. All the animals are becoming extinct.”
But then this is a story repeated all over the country. The kitsch of these little roadside attractions couldn’t keep up with changing consumer behaviors and patterns. It became a clichéd joke to even think about stopping by the Giant Ball of Twine. So people don’t stop.
Meanwhile, I’ve made it a personal project to document this area and its abandoned tourist traps.
Prehistoric Forest gets brought up a lot around the Jackson area. Rumors of people buying the property, stories about students charged with vandalism – it’s all led to a very touchy and mysterious situation.
Do you go in, risking trespassing charges? Is the owner active in the park’s redevelopment? Have the dinosaurs come to life, devouring intruders? Their cries deafened by the crushing jaws of a Tyrannosaur?
Yes, maybe, and probably not.
I can say the park is in serious disrepair, and I wonder how anyone could hope to restore it to its former glory. The photos I’ve seen had the dinosaurs in passable condition, but when I was there they were seriously degraded. The park is pretty well overgrown.
There’s just not much left.
The letter “R,” brought ot you by the Abandoned Lumber Yard – Jackson, Michigan