The Photo Inside the TV
My mother had no idea when she squinted through her Polaroid instant camera and snapped a black-and-white photo in 1965 that she would be providing cover art for a book nearly 60 years later. She just wanted to capture a moment in time of her three children – my sister, Shelia, my brother, Ricky, and me – visiting an attraction called Six Gun Territory during a Florida vacation.
But that photo, faded and crinkled, survived long after my mother and Six Gun Territory were gone, and now graces the cover of Eisenhower Babies as an appropriate art element inside the image of an old-fashioned television. I like to think she would be proud of her work and the memories her photo kept alive long after that day in the theme park had passed.
I was an excited 7-year-old when I learned our vacation that year would include a visit to Six Gun Territory. The cowboy-themed attraction opened near Silver Springs in 1963 at a time when TV Westerns such as Bonanza, Rawhide, Wagon Train, and The Rifleman dominated prime-time viewing. Six Gun Territory was the inspiration of a man named R.B. Coburn, who had enjoyed success with a similarly themed attraction called Ghost Town in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. I had seen TV commercials for Ghost Town and longed to visit. Six Gun Territory served as an acceptable substitute.
The park included 40 Old West buildings, an Indian village, and can-can dancers in the saloon. A 2010 Ocala Star-Banner article that reminisced about Six Gun Territory included this description: “The train ride from the entrance … was routinely ambushed. Bank robberies happened daily, followed by shootouts between good guys and bad guys. Digger, the town's comical undertaker, was kept busy.” Admission cost $2 for adults and $1 for children.
For a boy who engaged in his own Old West shootouts in the back yard, Six Gun Territory was nirvana. I drank in the ambience, covered my ears during the gunfights, and waited apprehensively to learn whether the train would be ambushed while we were aboard. Near the General Store, Shelia, Ricky, and I clambered atop an unhitched buggy so Mom could take that photograph.
Six Gun Territory entertained tourists like us for two decades, but closed in 1984. By then TV Westerns had faded in popularity, and competing theme parks had risen to steal away tourists’ dollars. When my family returned to Florida for a 1974 vacation, we gave the cold shoulder to Six Gun Territory and turned our sights on Disney World, opting for animatronic singing bears over gun-slinging cowboys.