Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
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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 story.

So, as one of Pulp Worlds few surviving park goers: I'm going to tell it.

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 was.

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 undecided.

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 ventures.

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 opportunity.

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 plan.

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 Park.

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 had.

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 written permission!

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 of him!"

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.

5. The 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 failures.

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 rounds instead.

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 that.

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 smoke.

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 chance.

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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