Once upon a time there were plans to build a major amusement park attraction in St. Tammany Parish. It was to rival Disneyland in its grandeur and creativity. Disney World in Florida hadn't even opened yet when the Louisiana version of a giant theme park was announced in 1967.
That 400 acre park, filled with every kind of ride, restaurant and revelry, was to be called "Hemisphereland," with geographic-themed attractions of every conceivable kind. I came across a couple of articles about it in local newspapers printed in 1967 and 1968, and they are found below.
And interestingly, before the huge park development was announced for St. Tammany, its original location was going to be over in Denham Springs, near Baton Rouge. Developers felt the huge open spaces north of Lacombe were perhaps a better location. The area near Hillcrest subdivision was also mentioned.
Here are excerpts from reporter John Fahey's Times-Picayune account of the Hemisphereland venture proposed for the middle of St. Tammany, as published June 16, 1968, some fifty-three years ago.
The headline read St. Tammany to Get 'Hemisphereland' and it told how plans were for final papers to be signed in a few days, dedicating 400 acres in St. Tammany for the building of a $12 million theme park.
The individuals involved were Regional Recreations Inc. Chairman Thomas Zammit and President Thomas A. Maher.
"Zammit and Maher had held a meeting in St. Tammany Parish on April 20 at which time public officials, chamber of commerce officials, and businessmen attended to learn what this project would bring to St. Tammany and to find out how they could help," Fahey wrote.
The location of the property was kept secret, but would be revealed after the signing of the documents. Gov. John J. McKeithen supported the project, comparing it to the beneficial impact of the soon-to-be-built Superdome. (Note: the Superdome was also first proposed in 1967 and became a reality in 1975, so it, too, was a project still in infant stages.)
The theme park would need 700 permanent employees with an additional 1,500 part-time employees, Fahey stated in his article, with most part-time employees being senior high school students and college students.
Maher was quoted as saying that St. Tammany was chosen as the site (although several sites across the state had been considered) because of nearby interstate highways and the Causeway. (Note: Interstate 12 wasn't completed all the way across St. Tammany Parish until 1976)
Fahey reported that "Regional Recreations Inc. is made up of a group of Baton Rouge businessmen, and Maher reported that $2.5 million in stock has been sold."
Operational by 1970
The article also noted that Zammitt had stated that once the site location was secured, it would be announced and he felt that Hemisphereland will be operational by summer of 1970.
For a longer and more descriptive account of its proposed attractions and associated restaurants and gift shops, we turn to an article in the St. Tammany Tribune newspaper published in February of 1967, a year earlier. More than 15 newspapers across the state ran the same article, some accompanied by advertising of stock for the proposed venture.
This Tammany Tribune article tells of the original plan for Hemisphereland to be located in Denham Springs, not St. Tammany.
The 1967 article/press release reads as follows:
Hemisphereland, Louisiana's answer to Disneyland and Six Flags over Texas, is now a reality.
(from the St. Tammany Tribune Newspaper, February 1967)
The 400 acre recreational park, located 13 miles east of Baton Rouge at Denham Springs, has already had 279,000 shares of stock registered by the Commissioner of Securities for the state of Louisiana and are being sold at $10 each.
Actual construction of the park is slated to begin in four or five months.
Governor John J. McKeithen has assured the Regional Recreations, Inc., corporation that he will do all he can to see that Hemisphereland is a success.
At a special meeting with officers of the corporation, Gov. McKeithen stated that the development should "be a great thing" when paired with the New Orleans domed stadium.
The Park has already received endorsement by lawmakers of East Baton Rouge and Livingston Parish, as well as well-wishes from scores of other officials throughout the state.
In a special statement, the East Baton Rouge lawmakers said:
"We think that a development of this type has long been needed in this area. It not only provides recreation, but jobs for residents of East Baton Rouge and Livingston Parish and will attract tourists which is to the benefit of all Louisiana."
President of Regional Recreations Inc., is Thomas A. Maher. L. D. Kelleher is vice-president and secretary-treasurer is Thomas E. Zammit. All are from Baton Rouge and feel that the park will give Louisiana a huge boost on the tourist attraction map.
The recreational development will offer between 2,000 and 2,600 job opportunities during its months of operation. The group has already been contacted by several banking firms wanting to offer long-term financing for $5 million after the first 250,000 shares of stock are sold.
Hemisphereland will be a fun and fantasy park for young and old. It will offer color excitement, high adventures and breathtaking beauty. It is planned to be a storybook land for children; it will offer exotic foods, live entertainment, and curios for the adults; thrilling rides and excursions into the past and future for all.
Some 110 stores and shops in the park will be developed and already scores have been leased as well as various groups. seeking leases of one sort or another in the park. An additional $3.5 million is expected to be invested in service stations, motels and an amphitheater on the fringe of the park development.
An Imaginary tour -- one that you may actively take in the not-too far distant future-- follows.
The entrance to Hemisphereland sets the overall theme-- the Western Hemisphere. An outline of this portion of our world will be traced in a huge circular Hemispool, and the surrounding area will be colorful mass of flowers, trees and shrubs. Towering nearby will be the Hemisphere Skylift -- a 230 foot shaft on which visitors will be transported high in the sky to view all of Hemisphereland. Special lighting effects are planned to enhance the entrance at night.
Going on into the park, visitors can take any of several routes to make either partial or complete tours of its many scenic attractions.
For instance, near a dock at the park's entrance will be the "Volcanic Mountain River Boat Ride." Here, launches will board up to 20 "explorers" for a voyage over the major waterways of the hemisphere. As the trip progresses the boat crosses a broad expanse of water into a "Haunted Cavern" inside the mountain.
Next it enters the "Yukon River," complete with icy climate, Eskimoes fishing in kayaks, and polar bears. At the "North Pole" youngsters will thrill at seeing Santa Claus and his busy elves.
A complete change of scenery next confronts the boat travelers, as the launch moves through a transitional area into the underground "Mexicala River of Old Mexico," then emerging into the open water again. Rounding a bend, they come upon the "Old West" a burning trappers cabin surrounded by war-whooping Indians.
The river continues on, and the lush vegetation of South America's mighty Amazon comes into view. Jungle sounds, Jivaro head hunters, vicious and voracious piranha, sun-bleached skeletons, even a missionary tied to a stake are realistic parts of this subtropical landscape.
Nearing the end of their journey, passengers skirt a giant whirlpool, formed by paddles beneath the water. A headhunter figure is caught in the deadly pool, circling half-submerged in the whirling water and unable to break its deadly grip.
As this trip is completed. back near the main entrance, the visitors disembark near a bridge fashioned as a Chinese Junk. This is the pedestrian approach to Old San Francisco's China Town. Entering, they will see a reproduction of the great and furious San Francisco Earthquake, complete with fissured streets, tumbling buildings, broken water mains, people screaming.
Also, nearby is another part of Old Mexico, "Tobasco, the Topsy Turvy Tamale Town." Scaled to 65 per cent of actual size, this little village presents authentic scenes of Old Mexico caballeros. Early Mexican Architecture and senoritas. The buildings in Tobasco will be constructed with unusual angles to accentuate the "topsy-turviness" of the little town.
Also, in the Old Mexico section, tourists will welcome the chance to purchase authentic Mexican handcraft and artifacts, and to enjoy Mexican food prepared by expert chefs. A Mexican Silver Mine and a Mexican courtyard are also planned for this area.
Near this section, a complete change in time and scenery is experienced as visitors enter the "Time-A-Rama" area through a time-machine, destined to take them into the land of tomorrow. By a novel quirk, an "error" made by the machine lands them in One Million B.C. After they watch animated cavemen, dinosaurs, etc., the machine corrects itself and then takes the visitors far "Into the future," and they see how our world might look in 2000 A.D.
Exiting from the time machine through a revolving wind tunel, one can see two more major attractions of Hemisphereland -- Giant Land and Miniature Land. The entrance to Giant Land will be through the mouth of a huge animated human head protruding from the side of a hill. Once inside, the viewer Is confronted by all manner of anatomical marvels - giant teeth, a big tongue, gigantic bones, enormous eyes. Traveling through the giant's windpipe, down to the ribcage, you come to the exit — a giant hand which forms an archway.
Flying Saucer Whirl
In Miniature Land, the effect is just the opposite. Tiny figures, buildings and exhibits create the illusion of being a giant in a land of little people. In this area, a "Flying Saucer Whirl Ride" is planned.
Proceeding further into the park, the Hemisphereland visitor enters "Dixie City," a four-block grouping of picturesque shops and store buildings that would have been seen in the Old South a century or so ago. At the entrance is Orleans Square, a beautiful plaza opening onto a main thoroughfare intersected by side streets filled with other attractions.
In Dixie City will be shopping facilities of all kinds ,- souvenir shops, antique, gift and novelty shops, snack bars, ice cream parlors, a wax museum, an old livery stable, a museum and a private dungeon. Several of the buildings here will be service facilities - rest rooms, barber and beauty shops, first aid station and rental lockers.
On one of Dixie City's side streets will be located one of the most unusual and entertaining attractions - "Big Las Vegas." Through a huge replica of a slot machine, the visitor comes to an amusement area in which the rides resemble giant gambling apparatus. On the "Big Roulette Ride," they whirl on a huge, fast revolving roulette wheel.
Down another Dixie City street, the tourist comes to Pirates' Lane. Down still another is a "Sugar Mill" of the type common to the Old South. A blacksmith's shop, sugar cane and cotton fields are part of the nearby landscape.
A short distance from the end of Dixie City's main thoroughfare will be Jefferson Davis Plaza, gateway to the Old South of the ante bellum era. Here will be still another boat ride, the "Mississippi River Boat," on a simulated Mississippi River.
On this ride, passengers see a plantation home, a battle between a federal gunboat and a confederate fort, an accurate replica of famous Port Hudson, and the old Natchez waterfront. This simulated "Father of Waters" will circle an island, move boat voyagers into the dark and forbidding "Devil's Swamp" area.
Convicts attempting to free themselves from quicksand, huge hulking alligators, and buzzards add to eerie atmosphere in this area of dense vegetation. Penetrating further into the swamp, you come upon a pirate's camp, the home of Jean Lafitte.
Disembarking from this ride perhaps you'd enjoy a tasty meal at "Crawfish Bill's Waterfront Restaurant," where seafood dishes are a specialty. Or, perhaps you'd like to go on board the Mississippi Show Boat permanently docked nearby and presenting nightly entertainment of top-notch variety.
The famous "Dueling Oaks" of Jim Bowie fame furnish a glimpse of history, with an actual duel taking place right before your eyes. The unlucky loser of this "Code Duello" is transported by pallbearers selected from the audience to a replica of the Old St. Louis Cemetery of New Orleans.
Leading the funeral procession is a Dixieland band playing mournful tunes, just as they used to do in old New Orleans.
One of Hemisphereland's principal restaurants will be located in the Old South section in a typical imposing Southern Mansion, and will feature just as typical menu items such as fried chicken, black-eyed peas and the like.
One of the most impressive and memorable sights in Hemisphereland will be the "Hawaiian Volcano" from which will rumble fire and belch smoke. The ominous bulk of this volcano will loom over thatched lints of a Hawaiian village situated near its lava-strewn base. A cavern will lead into this fire mountain, and visitors come upon a scene from Hades -- leaping flames, animated 'devils' and even 'sinners.'
Since space limits a full description of many attractions of the proposed Hemisphereland, a listing of the major ones will have to complete our imaginary tour until we enjoy the park in reality when Its actually completed. And the list is imposing, including: Realm of the Ancient Mayans with a Mayan Temple and sacrificial pool; Treasure Island, with a beached ship entrance and treasure maps to lead youngsters to dig for actual treasure; a cypress log ride; an antique car ride, 'Hollowstone Park,' with Old Fate-ful,' a motorized geyser;
(pause to take a breath)
a Teen Town Dance Pavilion; Hemisphereland Railroad, completely encircling the park; a sports car ride; Old MacDonald's Barn, with a silo slide to thrill the children; an animal petting zoo; Robinson Crusoe Island, with a large tree house and a stockade; Fort Custer, an Army outpost of the Western Frontier; a wagon train; an Indian village; canoe rides; a Western-type steak house; a Conestoga Wagon Ride; a replica of the legendary 'Lost Dutchman Gold Mine', a swimming pool; a bowling alley; an amphitheater which will feature musical and theatrical productions; a Hemisphereland greenhouse, to assure good maintenance of the beautiful landscaping that is planned; restaurants and shops of every conceivable type, convention facilities -- even a heliport!
End of Tammany Tribune newspaper article
So there you have it, Hemisphereland's list of attractions. Instead of driving 10 hours to Disneyworld, residents of St. Tammany could have just driven to Lacombe for everything listed above and added a new T-shirt to their souvenir collection.
Since the same press release as above was published by more than 15 newspapers across southwestern Louisiana in 1967 (sometimes accompanied by a large advertisement telling about the stock for sale in the Hemisphereland development corporation), newspaper readers in Lafayette, Opelousas, St. Martinville, Columbia, and numerous other towns all read the same information about the proposed amusement park.
The proposal was even discussed by the New Iberia Rotary Club.
A picture taken by Covington photographer Hazel Ogden around that time showed Thomas Maher, president, and Thomas Zammit, secretary-treasurer, both with Regional Recreations Inc., in a meeting with landowners Lester Wainer and W. R. Core at Covington City Hall. According to the caption, they were meeting to discuss an agreement for the use of 300 acres in St. Tammany Parish for the construction of the $12 million Hemisphereland amusement park.
in 1968 San Antonio, Texas, hosted the Worlds Fair at a downtown
location called Hemisfair. That site is now a public park with many
attractions of its own. It's interesting that Hemisfair and
Hemisphereland sounded similar and came at about the same time.)
Whenever people hear about the proposed Hemisphereland project , it brings up considerable discussion about the time when the Disney organization investigated building Disney World in the New Orleans area instead of Florida.
Several people in the know at the time (the early 1960's) recalled efforts to buy land for what would become Disney World being located in St. Tammany Parish, possibly in the area of Bayou Sauvage, Abita Springs or Ramsay. This possibility caused some residents considerable concern about what the project would do to the environment, the quality of life, and the impact of traffic and population.
Apparently Louisiana politics was too demanding, according to several accounts. Land price was a critical factor, and Florida swampland was less expensive than St. Tammany high ground, especially since Disney officials took special care to keep it a secret from Florida interests what they were buying the acreage for at the time, as revealed in published reports over the years.