Pulp World: The Greatest Theme Park That Never Was
by P. F. White
Most people don't know a damn thing about Pulp World.
Oh sure: we've all heard the stories, and the rumors, and one or two
tall tales of the mysterious theme park that went horribly wrong.
Everyone knows the name of Pulp World's would be creator: the legendary
millionaire Oswald Byron Nail. It's common knowledge that the park was
only open for one day, and that during that day over two hundred park
goers died. The tragedy is so long ago now that most people are content
with not knowing about some crazy and his pet park. Few people will
take the time to examine the specifics, to realize the genius and
appreciate the special madness that went into Mr. Nail's monstrosity.
Everyone thinks that Pulp World was a crazy idea that could never
work. They think that Oswald Byron Nail wasted his fortune and his
life. Some people call him a monster. Few people ever hear the whole
So, as one of Pulp Worlds few surviving park goers: I'm going to
I'm going to try to be fair, but I know that such a thing is
impossible. I'm a fan. I've been a fan of Pulp World since I was a
child. My father, now deceased, was a fan before me. He fairly obsessed
over the theme park when he was alive, and now that he is gone I'm
taking over where he left off. Pulp World became more to him then an
amusement, it was a miracle. Hopefully, with the aid of nearly fifty
years of painstaking research: I can begin to share this miracle with
you, the readers. Maybe together we can enjoy this mad dream that never
1. The Secret Origin of O.B. Nail
The story begins in that wondrous year of our lord 1950. Millionaire
playboy Oswald Nail had just finished a deal selling his remaining
animation studios to Walt Disney and earned a tidy profit. He had
millions to invest and none could guess where his interests would take
him. There was, as you can imagine, all sorts of wild talk in the
tabloids about private rocket research, motion picture studios and
military manufacturing for our escalating conflict with the reds.
However as the documents of the time will tell you: Oswald Nail
already owned a profitable film studio in Hollywood, a small arms
factory in Virginia, and was violently and publicly opposed to any arms
escalation or open conflict with the communists.
It was a time of great celebrity for Mr. Nail, yet his persona
remained largely secretive to the public. He appeared to be a man of
mystery: a golden boy raised from humble origins with a past largely
obscured by rumor and unconfirmed fact. Every move he made seemed to be
the right one, netting him fortune, fame, and further celebrity; yet
serving no further to illuminate the mind of the man behind the
decisions. He spoke against war, yet sold rifles and handguns
throughout America. He condemned rabble rousing and anti communist
sentiment, yet made millions from the propaganda films of the era.
Though vehemently condemned for these contradictions he stuck by
them with the sort of stubborn good nature that would later come to
characterize him in cartoon parody and satire. Many were also confused
by his stance, citing him as un-American and even accusing him of
socialist leanings. The truth, as always, was far simpler.
Oswald Nail had secretly served in the Second World War, and had
seen more than his fair share of armed conflict. Though he never spoke
of this publicly, his private writings indicate that during his tour he
encountered cases of unusual human cruelty, savage heroism,
supernatural valor, and the bizarre unknown. His journals and
correspondences ramble at times like a man possessed and there can be
little doubt that the horrors of war left its marks upon his mind in
the form of fictitious madmen, monsters, and sorcery.
Eventually he returned to America at the end of the war, and took up
a mantle of peace. Privately it seemed he swore an oath to a fictional
deity of some sort, a sort of binding contract now enshrined in the
national archives as a curio to one of America's most secretive
citizens. Having personally viewed the article in question I can attest
to its strangeness. It is written in what appears to be human blood yet
maintains a flowing feminine script quite unlike any other handwriting
sample of Mr. Nail. Throughout the decades it has been dramatically
proven by experts to be written by him in deceptive style, or not
written by him, or indeed not written by anyone. Whatever its origins:
this contract forever censures Mr. Nail from the wages of conflict and
war in exchange for payments unknown or perhaps deliberately left
This strange document and Mr. Nail's wartime journals were
discovered several years after his mysterious disappearance and have
served only to heighten the mystery with which he is shrouded.
Conclusively they prove nothing, but when taken together serve to build
exactly the sort of myth that Oswald Nail has always cultivated: the
myth of a true American hero.
2. The Powers of the Word
The idea for Pulp World itself began when Mr. Nail purchased a small
publishing house named: "Hard Nosed Words" and began to examine their
somewhat lackluster trade in adventure, crime, science fiction, and
horror novels. None of which were particularly well written, but all of
which managed to turn just enough profit to keep the company afloat.
It has been surmised that Mr. Nail came across the company during
the war, as many soldiers were fond of reading such escapist exploits
and routinely passed reading material amongst their fellows. A second
theory is that Mr. Nail had come across the publisher by chance,
reading one of its advertisements in his beloved comic books and
following up as he was sometimes known to do.
The widely accepted rumor is that he came across the company by
supernatural means, its name escaping the lips of a side show medium
that addressed him directly before dropping dead on the spot. Just such
an account is reported in a Detroit newspaper while Mr. Nail was
reportedly visiting. Though there is no doubt Mr. Nail routinely made a
habit of frequenting such folk, it has never been proven that he was in
attendance or that he made serious financial decisions based solely
upon the advice of ghosts.
Considering the limited financial sustainability of "Hard Nosed
Words" its limited customer base and the lack of experience Oswald Nail
had with running a publishing house: most people would have simply sold
off the company as soon as they could make a profit, giving the entire
venture up as a loss and moving on. While there was still a market for
the pulp styled books, they had already begun a steady decline in
popularity and a publisher as small as "Hard Nosed Words" was never
going to net Mr. Nail the sort of success he had achieved with other
It is certain that at this point Mr. Nail had developed a fondness
for the works, but most businessmen will not let such a petty thing
deter them from sound financial planning. Oswald Byron Nail was not
like most businessmen. To Oswald Bryon Nail the books were more than
the escapist fantasies of fringe America. To Oswald Byron Nail there
was a power and a hope hidden behind every lurid cover and pulse
pounding adventure. Where others saw only trashy literature, he saw
A call to arms was announced: $1,000 a novel would be paid to any
novelist worth with a thrilling tale that Oswald Nail found worthy.
Over the next seven years Mr. Nail would publish over four hundred
novels this way. Whence came the cheaply bound paperbacks that flooded
every supermarket, bookstore, and newsstand remains a mystery to this
day, (The location of Oswald Nail's secret printing press having even
become a sort of running joke amongst publishers.) No matter how far
you trace the line of deliveries they seem to originate from nowhere
and run in circles around America. Many theories have arisen about this
phenomenon, yet it seems most likely to be a simple yet effective
method of advertisement on the part of the publishing house, most
likely originally designed to prevent "Stripping" (The process in which
a paperbacked novel is removed of its cover, which is then sent back to
the publisher in lieu of the entire book to save on shipping.)
Stranger yet: the public read Mr. Nail's pulp novels by the dozen,
filling their bookshelves and crowding malt shops with dog eared copies
and gossip. Wielding the twin swords of quantity and novelty Mr. Oswald
Nail had single handedly revived an industry that thrives even today. A
typical Nail move that netted him just as many accolades as any of his
previous projects yet was still only the smallest part of his master
As Oswald Nail's literary machine was still building momentum, he
was already moving on.
Within a month he had written personal checks for thirty thousand
acres of unspoiled Texas flatland, purchased directly from the various
owners at very generous prices and always in person with a strong
handshake sealing the deal. Within two months he had over three
thousand laborers working day and night to reclaim the land, in one of
the largest and most rushed landscaping jobs in history. Within three
months the number had risen to six thousand workers, and the press was
running speculative articles daily.
Oswald oversaw every facet of this early operation: setting
unreasonable goals, pouring money into every conceivable aspect and
even going so far as to pitch in himself with shovel or pickaxe. Every
report from the site claims that the workers loved him. Firsthand
accounts say he was a tough boss but infinitely fair minded and
good-natured, possessing a boundless energy and cheery smile. There are
also many stories of him drinking and carousing with the blue-collar
men after hours (Though few of these saw the light of press.)
The public loved the idea of a vast secret project; the investors
were not as pleased.
Having spent a fortune on the project without letting a single
shareholder in on its purpose hurt many feelings and stirred a lot of
ill will. They tried in vain to contact him but to no avail. They
turned as a group to the press where they made their displeasure known.
Finally, when the clamor grew too loud for even Oswald Nail to
ignore; he held a press conference with rolled up sleeves, a digger's
hat and mud on his boots.
It was going to be a Dream Park. Oswald Nail was building a Dream
3. Grand Dream of a World
Oswald Nail didn't like to use the term theme park. To him there was
something dishonest about the idea of a fake land designed only for
amusement. He preferred the term "Dream Park" because to him, that's
exactly what he was selling.
Where others were content with gaudy plastic islands filled with
animatronics, clanking rides, and overpriced gimmicks: Oswald Nail
wanted to offer something else entirely. He would give the world what
he felt it wanted, what he felt it needed. He would give America
adventure! Real, two-fisted pulp adventure! Not in some dime novel, but
real as dollars and large as life. Entire worlds designed to the
specifications of imagination. Not a penny spared or a gimmick to be
Imagine: A city of the future built in the center of the desert! Jet
packs roar overhead and robots wander the streets selling cigarettes
and candy. To the north is a dusty railroad leading to a wild-west boom
town where outlaws hold showdown with lawmen and saloons serve cactus
whiskey and whores. To the east is a jungle paradise lush with wild
animals, lost temples filled with unimaginable riches and cannibalistic
savages hungry for human flesh! To the west: A pirates cove on an
artificial ocean, complete with waves, storms, and buried treasure! An
entire world of danger and excitement at your very fingertips!
At night vigilantes would stalk the streets of tomorrow town hunting
for cowardly criminals and detectives would snoop after clues while
dastardly villains cackled into the moonlight. Car chases would career
around corners and mad scientists would unleash unspeakable horrors
with the regularity of clockwork! Boxers would struggle like titans in
any one of a dozen nightclubs and when times looked grim the cavalry
would always be ready on the charge!
His vision was to be marvelous, and he explained it all in a
stirring speech to his legions of shareholders reporters and fans. His
voice never wavered, and his passion wrote itself upon his face like a
fever. He appeared to be a very man possessed and when the words
finally left him he tossed the microphone to the ground in disdain,
threw up his hands and proclaimed that there would be no questions. He
had to get back to work.
Most were stirred by these words and there was a great shout, yet
from this beginning stirred many doubts as well.
The most conservative engineers said it would take twenty years just
to construct the things Nail was talking about. Scientists said that
the technologies he wanted to use were pure fiction and couldn't be
built at any price. State officials said that the dangerous wildlife he
spoke of simply could not be allowed to roam free in a public place, no
matter the training or handling.
Oswald Nail ignored them all.
With a phalanx of lawyers in front of him and a parade of
secretaries behind him he marched each elaborate construction project
straight passed such petty concerns and buried all government officials
in a mountain of litigation and red tape. He was a man with a mission
and claimed he could not be bothered with the: "Pathetic ranting of
feeble imaginations, too overly obsessed with reality to appreciate a
good yarn!" (Perhaps his most famous and memorable quote.)
Instead, he concerned himself primarily with the human element,
which he said would be the real lifeblood of the project.
He visited every circus in the country and recruited fully half
their numbers to serve as stuntmen, sideshows and behind the scenes
movers and shakers. He visited half the playhouses and theatre troupes
on the continent and hired three quarters of them to serve as full time
character actors portraying pirates, cowboys, intrepid explorers, and
gangsters. Then he traveled abroad, recruiting even more bizarre talent
amongst gypsy caravans, African shaman, and Buddhist monks.
His travels took him to strange and unusual places and involved some
of the more bizarre headlines of the age as Oswald Nail encountered
troubles with exiled scientists, mummified royalty, and lost
civilizations. His "recruitment drives" as he called them left the park
without strong management, and it was unsurprising that soon very real
problems began to occur.
4. Enter the Hammer
Oswald Nail had a knack for bringing projects and people together,
but he was also phenomenally lucky. That the construction site for Pulp
World had gone as long as it did without incident was a testament to
Oswald's luck more than any other factor and without him present, the
massive project suffered setback after setback.
There was not enough water for the work-force, let alone the
artificial lake. There were not adequate roads to handle the constant
stream of trucks delivering supplies and personnel and not enough
housing to store them all. There was no discipline at all amongst the
work crews and the site was too far away from civilization for any
authorities to monitor the work effectively. Somehow there was also a
surfeit of liquor, which added fuel to the already raging metaphorical
fire (While also starting several very literal fires as well.)
Then when the caravans of actors, carnies, and gypsies poured into
the encampment like a occupying army: all sense of order was abandoned
and anarchy reigned.
Thankfully in the absence of Mr. Nail's unifying presence, another
stepped into his place.
General Barton "The Hammer" Cole had recently retired from the
Australian army and was looking to do something worthwhile with his
retirement. He had been following Mr. Nail's project with interest ever
since its initial press release and upon picking up the paper to read
of the construction sites fourth consecutive fire he was reported to
remark to then present witnesses at his favorite pub: "Looks like those
yanks could use a helping hammer!"
The General then booked himself a steam-ship and headed for the
states where he promptly arrived on site and took charge.
Now the amazing, and hereto unknown part of the tale is that Oswald
Byron Nail and General Barton Cole had never before communicated in any
fashion. Though the correspondences of both individuals have been
thoroughly searched there is no reason to suspect that Oswald Nail had
ever even heard of Barton Cole prior to his assuming command of the
entire construction project. Yet through sheer willpower and command
ability the aged Australian General was able to arrive, assume
authority, and get the site back on schedule without the first hint of
It was only months later, while riding the Orient Express in search
of secret order of Chinese assassins, did Mr. Nail learn of "The
Hammer's" involvement by reading a newspaper article about his own
project. Mr. Nail then had the train stopped at great expense and
placed a call to the campsite, whereupon he informed his head foreman
that: "From now on that pushy Australian is in charge. I like the sound
Less than twenty four hours after making that call: Oswald Nail
disappeared. Where he went and what he did remain a mystery. Upon his
return, he steadfastly refused to answer any questions about his
whereabouts and walked from then on with a limp. He was gone for only
slightly under four years, and during that time General Barton "The
Hammer" Cole had transformed a ragtag collection of shacks into the
bones of a veritable behemoth.
Rise and Fall of a Pulp Kingdom
Things had changed in the absence of Oswald Nail and progress had
come to the camp at an astonishing rate. Where once there was desert
there was now a flourishing city of half finished buildings. Character
actors paraded the grounds in bright costumes that had become everyday
clothes and constant raucous performances had become the norm.
In these long years of labor a unique sort of culture had arisen and
become established amongst the builders and staff. Not close enough to
be called a brotherhood and too unprofessional to be called a business,
these few thousand workers and performers had grown together into a
diverse spectrum of tiny kingdoms, principalities and tribes based upon
their personal fantasies and supposed role in the park to come.
There was a mad scientist union that incorporated electricians and
handymen as well. A league of heroes enforced order across the land in
the form of tin star sheriffs, intrepid bi-plane pilots, and
swashbuckling officers of the line. Noir-styled gangsters teamed up
with all aspects of commerce amongst the towns to ensure a brisk
business in whatever was desired. The Pirates also housed the majority
of artists and musicians, while the cowboys and explorers handled and
trained the parks hundreds of animals. For every character role there
was a functional use in this unique society. For every fantasy there
was a costume and expert ready to show a newcomer the ropes.
That all the former "normal" workers had been long since assimilated
into these groups is a misconception: many simply left the camp over
the years and were replaced, others came after hearing the fantastic
stories of a new society based upon the precepts of fantasy and
prosperity…many more simply disappeared.
Over the seven years of its construction: Pulp World had over six
hundred disappearances, with just under half of its number confirmed
dead. Not one to waste an opportunity: Oswald Nail had the bodies
interred in an onsite graveyard and surrounded it by several authentic
haunted houses painstakingly purchased and moved from their historic
locations. The entire thing was then gone over with suitable rituals
from the various magicians and witch doctors in the camp and went on to
become the most infamous site in the entire enclosure.
The water problem was similarly dealt with by the use of a
concentrated mass magicking in which the supposed "Ancient Ones" raised
a lake from the depths of iniquity and filled it to the brim with dark
foreboding water. (This ridiculous story has a surprising amount of
corroboration, with over one thousand witnesses to the ritual and a
surprising amount of similarity to each account. However it seems far
more likely that the engineers simply found a way to tap the local
water tables of the surrounding counties for the project.)
Whatever its origins the lake itself maintained a very foreboding
appearance and held perpetually storm wracked and troubled waters
across its ten square mile surface. It was an atmosphere perfectly
suited for high seas adventure and considered a crowning achievement.
Yet for each success the project still seemed to encounter more
The pirate cove (by far the most dangerous of the miniature towns,)
repeatedly burned down and had to be rebuilt of cheaper and cheaper
materials. Terrible storms from the artificial lake flooded the central
city time and again. The trains mysteriously and repeatedly exploded
from mischief, improper boiler maintenance, or completely unexplained
causes. Outside of the park: Mr. Nail's film studio could not produce a
single money making film and his munitions factory was repeatedly sued
as the blanks he supplied for the park consistently turned up with live
Eventually the factory and film studio went under and Nail was put
into very serious financial circumstances. His publishing house had hit
a steady decline as television stole his best writers time and again.
Every market was slowly closing to him and Oswald Nail was still stuck
orchestrating his madness in the desert.
The year was 1957 and the park was no more than half way complete.
It seemed to the world that Oswald Nail's famous luck was finally
running out. At its current rate of financial drain he could afford no
more than six months of construction before he was completely bankrupt.
His only choices were to release a half finished project upon the
world, or scrap the entire project altogether.
A sensible businessman would have sold everything and reinvested in
his remaining holdings, Nail's investors screamed for him to do exactly
Oswald Byron Nail was never a sensible businessman.
He was a great American and he had a dream.
6. The Adventure and The Storm
Oswald Nail sold his remaining properties, closed the companies
still belonging to him, and liquidated his assets before taking up
residence in one of the haunted houses built around the foreboding Pulp
World graveyard. He brooded in seclusion for an entire month before
coming to a decision.
The entire Pulp World staff went into overdrive as he publicly
declared that in three months he would open the park for a single day
and night. Admission price would be triple the normal cost, and contain
no discounts, credits, or refunds. Then if all went well they would
open the park permanently in another month.
Some said that the gambit wouldn't work, that no one would come due
to exorbitant price and the night was sure to end in ruin. Others
declared that Oswald Nail had gone insane.
Some people never believed in Pulp World. I was only 15 at the time,
but I did.
My family and I had the good fortune to be a part of that opening
night, as did over ten thousand others. My father was a reporter; he
had followed the parks construction from the beginning and saved up to
afford a ticket for himself and me, his only son. My mother was
furious, they fought about the fantastic expense for weeks but my
father insisted it was important. He was wrong of course: it wasn't
just important: it was glorious.
The half finished monoliths of the future city sparkled like
diamonds and the music of tommy-guns sounded from every direction. Fire
poured from the smokestacks of factories and criminals leered from
behind speak-easy windows where jazz music floated amidst the cigar
Like most kids I soon escaped my father's supervision.
Before the night was over I had broken my left arm, been captured by
a mad scientist and rescued by a costumed hero, been bitten by a
rattlesnake, beaten a man near to death with an unloaded musket and
gotten my first shot of whiskey, and my first kiss.
I remember ever minute of that night. It was a rollercoaster with no
bottom, a constant thrill of danger and excitement and pain. I nearly
died more times that night then in the rest of my life combined. I
still cannot flex my left arm fully and I will carry the scars of the
powder burn on my cheek forever.
It was the single best night of my life.
Unfortunately many didn't feel that way, and many never got the
The pirate cove caught fire, the north line train was dynamited,
most of the dangerous animals managed to escape into the town and
somehow in the confusion the largest recorded storm in north Texas
history hit the park without any warning at all.
There were over three dozen tornadoes that night and over four
hundred eye witnesses claim they saw Oswald Byron Nail directing them
across creation from the rooftop of his haunted mansion like an ancient
sorcerer in one of the millionaire's own dime novels.
I didn't see it. I was too busy escaping on horseback through the
rioting streets, a tornado chasing me and most of my impromptu cavalry
brigade with a vengeance. I didn't find my father until hours later at
the evacuation site. Many folks never even made it that far. Over two
hundred were confirmed dead at the end, with three times that number
missing and nearly seven thousand injured.
General Barton "The Hammer" Cole denied that Oswald Nail had any
part in the tragedy of the opening night. He also denied any knowledge
about Nail's whereabouts after that night though there have been
numerous unconfirmed sightings of Oswald Nail ever since.
The park was shut down the following day and its total evacuation of
all personnel completed within a month. Many protested, but the wave of
litigation that swept the park was far harsher than any storm of
nature. By the end of the year most of the buildings were torn down,
and what could not be torn down was left to rot. Most of the
deconstruction was done by unpaid volunteers as Nail's share holders
had pulled all money towards the legal defense funds and possibility of
saving themselves from total bankruptcy.
It didn't work.
Over ninety per cent of all shareholders were bankrupt within five
years. Criminal charges were also filed against Oswald Nail, though as
he has never been officially located they remain unresolved.
General Barton "The Hammer" Cole was extricated back to Australia
where he served a minimum sentence of two years of house arrest for
"Gross Negligence". Unconfirmed reports state that no one ever actually
enforced the house arrest and the general was repeatedly seen in his
local bar, telling stories of the park and laughing it up with any
tourist who wanted to buy him a drink.
I've visited him myself, and can say that the man is quite a sight
to behold. Perhaps more than any other man alive he understood the true
meaning of Pulp World.
A lot of folks call that fateful night a disaster and the entire
park the dream of a madman.
A lot of folk have never experienced true adventure.
Mr. Oswald Byron Nail did, and he gave it to the American people. It
was a gift long since forgotten and never to be repaid, but wherever he
is, I for one am grateful.
© 2013 P. F. White
Bio: P. F. White is a Navy veteran now residing in Oregon and
seems to have found inspiration for his stories in all sorts of places.
His works have appeared a half-dozen times in Aphelion, the last being Super-Feud in September of last year.
E-mail: P. F. White
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