Knott's Pulls the Plug on Edison Workshop

Times Staff Writer

Peter M. Small has switched off the lights for good in the Thomas Edison Workshop at Knott's Berry Farm, ending a 10 1/2-year run.

The historical impersonator -- long known to thousands of school-age children as Thomas Edison with his oversized white lab coat and floppy bow tie -- closed shop last month.

"It's really a shame, because how will children understand today's technology if they don't know where it comes from?" said Small, 49, a former U.S. history teacher from Placentia. "It's sad and disappointing to see the workshop closed. It was my livelihood for 10 1/2 years."

The Edison workshop was one of Knott's older, educational attractions shut down as part of a renovation of Camp Snoopy. The area, geared toward young children, is being revamped for its 20th anniversary next year, park officials said.

Knott's earlier closed its beloved 6-acre petting zoo and some Indian trails. The Edison workshop shut down Dec. 10 and will be replaced with Peppermint Patty's Candy and Souvenirs.

Additional work at Camp Snoopy includes a fresh layer of paint, new themes and updating the remaining attractions. The park has yet to release the cost of the renovation.

Small was hired in 1992 when the Thomas Edison Workshop opened to tell of Edison's life through anecdotes and examples of inventions, such as the light bulb, motion picture and phonograph and sound recording.

The attraction became a hit with schoolchildren. Youths and park visitors came to the Thomas Edison Workshop to tinker with gadgets, displays and games related to electricity and magnetisms.

The small laboratory contained the inventor's notes and instruments. It was regarded as one of Southern California's major displays of Edison's inventions and was part of Knott's unique school-tour program, Adventures in Education.

But attendance had waned at the workshop in recent years, park officials said.

"The Edison Workshop was really a small part of the education tour program, and more classes were opting out of the actual 10-minute workshop," Knott's spokeswoman Michele Wischmeyer said.

So instead of the hands-on demonstrations, schoolchildren can learn about science by experiencing the rides, Wischmeyer said.

Some see the closure as Knott's attempt to move away from its old-fashioned, home-grown roots.

"The historical and educational tour programs, such as the petting zoo and Indian trails and the workshop, were all the things that made the park unique, that gave it character," said Small, who will continue his historical impersonator tour program at schools.

But park officials said closing the Edison workshop and the other older attractions is not a sign that Cedar Fair, Knott's parent company, is moving away from the park's original western theme celebrating Orange County's farming heritage.

"The actual rides throughout the park are used to demonstrate the scientific theories of Edison. We're just revitalizing our programs, but we're not moving away from our educational and historical programs," Wischmeyer said.

"The workshop was one stop along the tour that's been taken away, and instead it's roller coaster rides like Supreme Scream that will illustrate gravity."

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