Welcome to my tour through the early origins of Constitutionland. Clearly, the beginnings were humble...nothing like the virtual world of today. Each moment in this history is vital, however. Without these predecessors, Constitutionland would still be an unrealized dream. Thanks for taking this walk down memory lane with me...shall we begin?
"WHO SAYS CONSTITUTIONAL LAW AIN'T FUN?" was the question first asked by Skip Lombardi, leader of a 1920s musical comedy troupe. The genesis of Constitutional law as entertainment started back in the days of vaudeville with the "Konstitutional Kapers of 1924." For the first time, US Supreme Court decisions were shown in a musical comedy format. The "Kapers" were a serious of short acts comprised of sketches, songs and commentaries about various famous and infamous cases such as Dred Scott, Plessy, Lochner and current decisions from the twenties. Lombardi, the author of all the sketches, loved the law (having a father who was a judge) but loved theater more and dropped out of school to be a vaudeville gypsy. The Konstitutional Kapers was the amalgam of his two loves. It featured comedians such as Bucky Smith and beautiful dancers like Cloris Daniels.
The material was hysterical--for example, there was a dance called the "Taft Waddle" in honor of the portly Chief Justice Taft...a real hoot. In the skit, "Lochner's Laughs" Lombardi played Mr. Lochner and would perform an abusive tirade of jokes directed at his employees--true genius. But...no one found it funny. Besides the April 16, 1924, performance at the Old East Haven Theatre, where there were ten young men from Yale Law School in attendance, no one liked it. The comedy troupe was disbanded after touring for two months and the "Konstitutional Kapers of 1924" died a very sudden and anonymous death. But, a new concept was born...Constitutional hijinks!
It wasn't much...just a dilapidated merry-go-round (perhaps the grandfather of the Marbury-go-Round) and a little refreshment shack. But there were plenty of Constitutional facts written on the walls. The manager of the miniature amusement park was a disbarred former New Deal attorney who, after leaving Washington in scandal (a woman or alcoholism being the cause, no one really remembers) retired to the family business for a few years. Eventually, during a lucid interval in this attorney's life, he began decorating the tiny little shack with information from famous New Deal era cases, such as "Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States" and "West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish." A very small handful of parents took notice. A very mild following grew. Soon, parents (well, at least one parent who was interviewed) began to take their kids to thrill on the frequently malfunctioning merry-go-round while they (really just this one parent) enjoyed a lemonade and read about the famous "switch in time that saved nine."
Alas, it only lasted for a year...soon, our attorney left for Europe (either to pursue the woman or the alcohol that led to his ignominious departure from D.C.) and the Constitutionally inspired decorations were removed.
However, the merger of merriment and constitutional knowledge begun by the "Konstitutional Kapers" took a step towards the amusement park direction...a very important moment in the evolution of Constitutionland.
FOOTNOTE: Our attorney's name is suppressed for privacy reasons, and because he really would not come under the definition of a public figure under "New York Times Co. v. Sullivan" (more on that later in the Bill O' Rights Village).
WHO CAN FORGET that beautiful spring day when Constitution-Land first beguiled
May 1, 1961...back then, when the sixties first started swinging, Constitution-Land was a very different place…a hyphenated named park with a merry go round, a museum of Constitutional memorabilia and Supreme Court history, a roller coaster with a 60 foot drop (the sixth largest drop in the United States at the time) and a water skiing show.
The Bill of Rights Water Skiing Extravaganza was the most popular attraction... one water skier would start it off holding a flag emblazoned with "Amendment 1" representing the first amendment. ("Amendment 5" pictured above.) The show ended with a pyramid of ten water skiers (one on the shoulders of two on the shoulders of three on the shoulders of four) holding an "Amendment 10" flag representing the underappreciated Tenth Amendment. Constitution-Land was a truly un-PRECEDENTED place (ha ha ha ha).
Alas…Constitution-Land was a financial disaster. It seemed like a homerun…a fun educational place for children of all ages who love the Constitution. The owners imagined profits beyond their wildest dreams. But on closing day, a mere 4 months to the date of opening day, the great floodlights spotlighting the giant 30 foot tall metal replica of the Constitution went dark for the last time (I still have the “We the people…” from that old rusty Constitution…every now and then I take it out to reflect on the journey of my Constitutional amusement park ancestors.) The structures at Constitution-Land had a sad demise…the merry go round was sold to an amusement park in the suburbs of Montreal (in 1966 it was burned to the ground by anarchists), and the museum became a Krispy Kreme in the late 1960s, a funky car wash in the 1970s, a drug den in the 1980s and a coffee bar today.
Sadly, there is neither a plaque nor demarcation recognizing its illustrious history. Fortunately, that is not the end of the story.
It had been 25 years since the first incarnation of Constitutionland. Fast forward to the mid-1980s...it wasn't much...just a research center with some archaic computers and really basic computer games. Importantly, the Constitution continued to be studied in a fun environment with entertaining activities that made the ideas of liberty and self-rule accessible to all ages. The research center eventually closed...but the torch for Constitutional amusements, although barely flickering, continued to burn.
After years of planning, on January 2, 2010, CONSTITUTIONLAND, a virtual amusement, park opened for business....a great moment for web-based theme parks...a greater moment for our Constitution. The story is still being written...stay tuned!
Constitutionland: The Orbital Space Station
They all scoffed in arrogant dismissive tones..."an amusement park on a space station?!?!?!?" Well, they laughed at Fulton and the Wright Brothers and Walt Disney and even at the original Chief Executive Jurisprudeneer Peter M. Carrozzo, when he started Constitutionland: The Virtual Amusement Park. But Constitutionland cannot be held down by the gravitational pull of the earth. (However, the gravity that keeps us in orbit around the earth is very important and we, by no means, want to trivialize it.) Constitutionland lives both on the good earth and beyond!
Constitutionland: The Interplanetary Amusement Park
What a great day in the history of Constitutionland! Mars...September 17, 2287...the 500th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. It's a balmy -138 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but a beautiful 70 degrees inside (that's right... no one uses Celsius in the US even in the 23rd century). We're in the Northwest Quadrant...USA Extra-Terrae. Two entire planets are abuzz as the first amusement park on Mars opens on the quincentenary of the signing of the Constitution. At 500 years the Constitution may be old, but make no mistake, it is still chugging along!