Friday, June 10, 2011

Knott's "Transfiguration" Souvenir

Today I am sharing one of my favorite oddball Knott's Berry Farm souvenirs!


Paul von Klieben was an early art director for the Berry Farm, and one of his first projects was a painting of Christ called "The Transfiguration", which could be found in the Little Chapel By The Lake (which was built just for this purpose). I will quote Chris Merritt's excellent book, "Knott's Preserved", because his description of the simple-yet-dramatic presentation is better than anything I could write!

"Entering the unadorned adobe church, guests would be seated in wooden pews and the room's dim lighting would diminish until only two golden doors were illuminated. As the recorded narration was played, the doors slowly opened to reveal von Klieben's painting... The focused lighting on The Transfiguration would gradually transition from incandescent to fluorescent and, magically, Christ's eyes would appear to open".

Zowie! Understandably, guests wanted a souvenir of this moving experience, and somebody came up with a clever concept. I realized that I have two slightly different versions of this item, one from when Knott's was known as "Knott's Berry Place" (probably pre-1947), and another from when it was the Berry Farm. The lighter, whiter copy is actually the older version. As you can see, both examples resemble a closed pair of heavy wooden doors, like you might find at one of the California missions.


Here's a view of the backs of both versions. Again, the older one is on the left.


Each version opened like a medieval triptych, with a detail of of Christ's portrait in the middle. If you compare the two, you can see that they are a bit different. The eyes are closed here, but there was an additional layer of glow-in-the-dark paint that was applied, and when you held it to a light and then viewed it in a darkened room, His eyes would be gazing at you. I hope you've been good!


The written description of Christ's physical appearance and demeanor is interesting. Yes, very very interesting. Maybe even weird.


I have the mailing envelope for the Knott's Berry Place version. Be sure to use a 3-cent stamp! I wonder what other Chapel souvenirs were available?


And finally, thanks to a 25 second exposure, here is the glowing portrait with the eyes open! Cue the heavenly music. Part of what I love about this souvenir is the honest sincerity in which it is presented. There is no crass commercialism or irony to be found. Sadly, the little chapel has been torn down; hopefully von Kleiben's painting survives somewhere.


Once again, I would like to recommend "Knott's Preserved" for anyone interested in Knott's or theme park history in general!

19 comments:

TokyoMagic! said...

What a great little souvenir. I can't believe that they bulldozed the Little Chapel By The Lake. It's still weird for me when I walk through that area where it used to sit along with the Church of Reflections, the Original Berry Stand, Doc Walkers Cabin and all those wonderful old trees....and now they're all gone! Shame on you, Cedar Fair!

Nancy said...

tearing down a CHURCH??...hmmm dont know if I would risk it!

these souvenirs are beautiful. thanks for sharing them.

jedblau said...

Hilarous souvenir. Its solemnity is what makes it so funny.

Progressland said...

Are we back in the Souvenir Dungeon already??

Allen P said...

There are two different sizes of these out there. The larger ones are the earlier versions. I have the art for the copy and outside, along with the die to cut it out. But not the portrait of Christ. We looked into reprinting these a few years ago but had trouble finding someone to do the fluorescent coating. We did find a scale model of "The Transfiguration" a couple of years ago and the display department has that. I have no idea what happened to the actual painting.

Major Pepperidge said...

TM, I know, it sucks that they tore those features down. Some of the best things about Knott's are (were) the little things.

Jed, I agree!

Progressland, it does seem that way, but I wrote my posts in a crazy order, so this is not an official Souvenir Dungeon entry.

Allen P, thank you for the interesting info! I'd love to find a larger version of this item. Strange that you couldn't find anyone to print a new version. I think the scale model of the painting is pictured in "Knott's Preserved". I was hoping that maybe the Orange County Historical Society had the original big version.

Anonymous said...

My dad picked up this Jesus card when he was a boy and passed it on to me. I'd also recommend Jay Jennings' nostalgic book Knott's Berry Farm - The Early Years. For amusement park history, there's Richard Harris' Early Amusement Parks of Orange County. I have all three and they cover all these topics quite well.

Bill Vasco

Chris Jepsen said...

Knott's still has the original painting (on glass), as well as the big wood doors with text on them. At least they did a few months ago. They seem to be safe and in good condition.

I'm told that someone aquired portions of the Chapel building itself, which may appear again (although not at Knott's) someday.

Chris Jepsen said...

By the way,... I'd say there's a fair chance that the glowing material on these cards is radium, which is radioactive. Up until sometimes around the 1960s, they used the stuff on watch hands, novelty items, toothpaste, and all manner of glowing merchandise.

I doubt that folks who have these cards are in any danger. But you might not want to sleep with a stack of glowing Jesi under your pillow every night.

Major Pepperidge said...

Chris, thanks for the news about the painting! Sure wish I could see it, since I never saw the original show.

It never occurred to me that it might be radium, but it does seem like a good possibility! I'm not very worried about it, but the thought is kind of cool.

I still remember seeing a demonstration in which a radium-painted watch face was placed in a "cloud chamber" so that you could see the tiny streaks left behind by the atomic particles.

Chris Merritt said...

I love these souvenirs - very cool - especially that Von Klieben did the lettering on the back...

Thanks for the plug on my book Dave! For more Knott's history, Jay Jennings book on Knott's is very good as well ( http://www.amazon.com/Knotts-Berry-Farm-Images-America/dp/0738569216/ ) and Richard Harris book includes more on Knott's, as well as rare info on obscure Southern Californian amusement parks ( http://www.amazon.com/Amusement-Orange-County-Images-America/dp/0738559474/ ) - both highly recommended!

Anonymous said...

The Church of Reflections was moved across the street. Now it's right near Independence Hall.

Anonymous said...

I went with my Mom and sister., it was a touching and memorable thing to see., the little chapel was very special.
and to have this souvenir, just prior to our Mom's passing away., meant a lot to my sister and I!
Still have it. My daughter thinks its cool! :)

Katherine Nobles said...

When I was in middle school, we lived about a mile from Knott's. I still have that picture, but have lost the "doors". I visited that place every time I went to the park.

Anonymous said...

Used to go there quite a bit when I was a kid in the 60's.

I still have one of these souvenirs....

Knott's Berry Farm was all character back then (it wasn't trying to be the typical amusement park ... there really wasn't anything that you could call a thrill ride). It had a really nice ambience.

The Little Chapel was one of my very favorite things there. Where and when else was a young kid going to relax as the lights dimmed and get to listen to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata uninterrupted? Loved it.

Anonymous said...

The little Chapel by the Lake was NOT bulldozed! It was moved across the street (under the tunnel) to a new location, close to tables and eating areas. It is rented out on a regular basis for weddings.

Catalina said...

Thank you! I've been searching for this image and info for years. I remember it vividly from my 1950's childhood. I spent endless hours in that chapel and received great comfort and inspiration. I remembered the painting and the Moonlight Sonata, but couldn't remember the text until I read it again here. And that you included the 'transfiguration' image is an answer to a prayer. Also loved the Sunday Chicken Dinners and "mining for gold." Ahhhh, nostalgia.

Vicki said...

I had one of these souvenirs from when I went to Knott's my first time. It would have been around 1957. I was about 6 or 7 years old. I kept it in a bible my grandmother gave me. I gave that bible to my daughter when she was about 10. Well, it disappeared. I wish I would have melted it for myself. It as so special to me. I'm glad I found this site. Thank you for bringing back a wonderful memory.

Vicki

jesusemarz said...

How can I find a recording of that beautiful narration of the Transfiguration with the moonlight sonata in the background?