Dispatches | June 07, 2007

For a mere admission price of 12.50 pounds (that’s $25.50), fans of Charles Dickens can now visit a theme park based on the author’s books and life in Chatham, Kent, England, where he spent most of his childhood.  Sounds like great fun.  Visitors can experience a typical Yorkshire schoolroom.  One wonders whether such a visit is replete with verbal abuse and a good beating from a one-eyed Wackford Squeers-like schoolmaster. 

Next, stroll the dark, damp, fetid London streets or float through the city’s fabled sewers.  Work up an appetite at Fagin’s den playground.  No telling what’s on the menu at one of the themed restaurants. Moldy bread?  Runny gruel?  And before going home, have your pockets picked, so to speak, at Ye Olde Curiosity Gift Shop.

Ironically entrepreneurs hope to revive Chatham’s flagging economy by recreating the sights, smells and sounds of urban blight at this new 62-million-pound complex.  (They are hoping for at least 300,000 visitors a year.)  Perhaps when people tire of the park, they can visit the town proper and experience an up-to-date, real-life scene from Hard Times.

Why not build a theme park in a Chicago suburb inspired by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle?  In the Union Stock Yards, help herd cattle and then visit Slaughterhouse Alley to experience the stench and death throes of their harrowing end.  Don’t forget to have hands-on fun in the packing plant, helping butchers grind the mystery meat into salami, sausages and hot dogs.  Why not open a sister park based on the hunger, disease and unending war of Orwell’s 1984?  Is there nothing better than being a literary tourist?