Welcome to my tour through the early origins and inceptions of Constitutionland. A virtual amusement park of this magnitude does not just pop up one day out of thin air. It takes a combination of hard work, dedication, obsessive compulsive disorders, coffee and jelly donuts. Clearly, the beginnings of Constituionland 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. Just the reminiscences and ramblings of a not too old (but not too young) man with a little bit of hair (but not too much) left on his head babbling incoherently about the constitution and amusement park rides. (Which frequently happens on Friday nights anyway.) But Constitutionland, the virtual amusement park, is a reality. And here is the epic story of its forefathers. Thanks for taking this walk down memory lane with me...shall we begin?
Do you want to read the true life back story about how Constitutionland went from one man's idea to this grand website? Want to know what inspired, Peter M. Carrozzo, the Chief Executive Jurisprudineer? Say tuned for the true life story of one man's bizarre obsession with the Constitution.
"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 series 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 Theater, 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 that sold the most amazing bowl of chili in town. But there were pictures of Supreme Court justices and 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 amusement park business for a few years. Eventually, during a lucid interval in this attorney's life, he began decorating the tiny little shack that housed the merry-go-round 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, a bowl of delicious chili 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., no one knows why) 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).
As America geared up to fight in World War II, Stage Door Canteens opened in many cities as places for entertainment, refreshments and companionship for G.I.s on their way to fight the war. In the Philadelphia canteen, one hostess, known only as Miss Donna, would hand out pocket Constitutions to the service men along with pieces of lemon meringue pie and stimulating conversation. Many soldiers returning home after the war remembered Miss Donna and her pie very fondly, and spoke of the "many cold and lonely nights spent in fox holes: that they got by reading the Constitution given to them by the red haired beauty who was oddly obsessed with Constitutional Law. "It was all she would talk about. I remember asking her to dance one warm spring evening but she insisted I sit and enjoy a piece of pie while she explained to me Justice Jackson's decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette" recalls Private First Class Charlie Kolowaski. "To this day I can't eat a piece of lemon meringue pie or read the Barntee decision with remembering Miss Donna.
Rumor has it, Miss Donna was a frustrated legal scholar who had difficulty gaining admission to law school because of the antiquated gender roles of the day. So, she spent her life baking pies for a tyrannical bakery owner (no relation to either Lochner brother) and read Constitutional Treatises during her breaks. Unfortunately, Miss Donna only worked at the Canteen for a year or two and she is lost to history, but the memory of her pie, and her passion for Constitutional Law, kept the joy of the Constitution alive for thousands of servicemen.
"This is Billy. Billy never read the United States Constitution. One day, instead of going to high school civics class, his friend Eugene lent him his copy of The Communist Manifesto and he began reading it, even though his friend Margaret warned him not to. Within six months he attended his first Communist Party meeting. Soon, he was smoking strange cigarettes and he was spending all his time at the train station telling people Communist lies. Don't be Billy!"
Educational films were a popular method of advising Americans about the dangers of many nefarious activities. Classics in this genre include "Lucy never Kisses on the First Date," "Bobby Forgot to Wash his his Hands" and "Stay Away from Jazz Musicians.". Other videos promoted the benefits of proper behavior. Classics in that latter category included "Johnny has Good Posture," "Mikey Doesn't Talk to Strange Men" and "Politeness is Fun." One of the lesser known classics of the genre is "Billy never Read the Constitution!"
This rare educational film had a number of Constitutional facts, detailed the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and was an all-around salute to our Constitution. Of course, it contained several falsehoods you know, Billy, evil people like Communists and atheists have no Constitutional rights") and plenty of sexism ("Margaret, you you can even read the Constituion after you're done learning how to bake a cake from scratch in Home Economics class.") But it was pioneer film and an excellent example of bringing the Constitution to the masses. In that way, "Billy Never Read the Constitution" was an important forerunner of Constitutionland.
Want to learn more about the treatment (and sometimes mistreatment) of Communists and other dissenters by the Supreme Court? Click below.
WHO CAN FORGET that beautiful spring day when Constitution-Land first beguiled America? Idealism was in the air, Camelot was in the White House, and everything seemed possible. Who can believe that nearly 50 years have passed? What a great day for our country and a great day for our venerable Constitution.
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 3 and Amendment 5 pictured below.) 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.
Love-Ins were peaceful gatherings where hippies practiced meditation and free love while protesting issues of the day such as the Vietnam War, and listening to music (and some drugs, here and there.) The "Love In" tradition continued in 1971 when, just outside Washington DC, a group of Constitution loving hippies gathered for the first ever (and last ever) "Constitution In."
It was a wild three day celebration of all things Constitutional, with psychedelic and folk music playing songs inspired by the US Constitution, people loving each other and the Constitution (some clothed, some nude) and a psychedelic journey through jurisprudence. And, although by the early morning hours of day two, everyone in attendance was so drugged out of their minds they had no idea why they were there, a new tradition was, born...naked public demonstrations of love for the Constitution.
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 in Akron, Ohio with some cases that could be researched on the computer's main frame along with simple computer games that could be played while waiting the three hours it took for one case to be downloaded. But, 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 for people who love the US Constitution opened for business....a great moment for web-based theme parks...a greater moment for our Constitution. The villagers still sing songs about the vision and dedication of that courageous, obsessive and idealistic young man who woke up one morning and said "by God, why isn't there a theme park about the Constitution?!" That story is still being written...stay tuned!
They all scoffed in arrogant dismissive tones..."an amusement park on a space station?!" Well, they laughed at Fulton when he was playing with steam power and the Wright Brothers when they were experimenting with flight and Walt Disney when he was drawing a mouse...and they even had the temerity to laugh 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!
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!
THE CONSTITUTION LIVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!