The Beautiful Orient, like many of the Wonderland attractions, comes from a line of attractions that were made popular by the World’s Fairs and then by the Coney Island parks. A man named Gaston Akoun started an attraction called The Streets of Cairo that played at several of the international expositions.
As was the case with the Fighting the Flames show, Wonderland did not go to the originator of the attraction, but created their own from scratch. Akoun had no association with Wonderland’s Beautiful Orient, which featured make-believe minarets and onion domes surmounted by crescents in an Arabian Nights fantasy architecture that was as pink as the creations of Hieronymous Bosch.
There was a theater inside, muscle dancers, Turkish Wrestlers, a bazaar, camel rides, and a Near Eastern restaurant inside.
Note the Street Vendor and the Camels in the above photograph
The Beautiful Orient as shown on the 1906 Sanborn map. Note the Turkish Restaurant, the Theater, and the Camel Barn out back.
Like many of the first year’s attractions, The Beautiful Orient did not return for the 1907 season. This, despite its having its own dedicated building that, with its pseudo-eastern architecture, would seem completely inappropriate for anything else. Nevertheless, Wonderland didn’t waste time or effort on extensive renovations of the building, and over the next four years it housed attractions completely at odds with the external form of the building
The Florida Alligator Jungle
The next year the Middle Eastern palace was transformed into the Florida Alligator Jungle by the simple expedients of painting over the word on the walls (“Bazaar”, “A Congress of Strange Oriental People”, and so forth) with scenes of Florida swamps and bayous. On the domes and and the “keystone” and over the doors were painted “Alligators”, “Crocodile Farm”, “Alligator Joe”, and “Sea Cow”
The Alligator Farm was the creation of Warren Frazee, AKA “Alligator Joe”. He was an obese animal keeper, alligator wrestler (he claimed to have invented the sport), and raconteur who pretended to be Hispanic/Seminole (but wasn’t), and held forth spinning tales in front of the pink building.
He claimed to have brought 200 alligators and crocodile, a collection of birds and turtles, and two manatees, one of them pregnant.
Alligator Joe holding an alligator and speaking to the crowd
A closer shot of Alligator Joe with a friend
Alligator Joe with a sea cow. Sadly, shortly after the manatees arrived the pregnant manatee gave birth to a stillborn calf, and died herself.
Alligator Joe’s assistant William Salisbury, who they said lost his leg to an alligator.
The Florida Alligator Jungle was only there for one summer, as well. It was replaced the next year
Darktown was, to modern eyes, an outrageously racist attraction. It featured a musical performance, much like The South Before the War, the revue from Wonderland’s first year, a steamboat race between two miniature steamboats on the canal next to the attraction, with one of the boats “exploding”, and a performance by the Darktown Fire Brigade. It was produced and organized by the same W. C. Manning who put together the Fighting the Flames show the previous two years.
The Darktown company in front of the former Beautiful Orient/Florida Alligator Jungle Building. The Florida swamp and marsh scenes have been repainted to represent Southern Plantations and Slave Huts. Notice that there is an orchestra, police officers, and elegantly dressed ladies. I suspect that many of the performers are white actors in blackface.
The Darktown Fire department in front of the steamboat “City of New Orleans”. Again, many of the Fire Department characters are probably in blackface.
Above — the restaurant/ballroom and Darktown in a 1908 photograph. The painted scenes have been changed from the previous years, although that;s hard to tell. The “Keystone” that used to be in the center (it read “bazaar” the first year and “Alligator Joe” the second) has been replaced by a sign that presumably reads “Darktown”
It’s not clear what was done with the building in 1909. There was no big attraction installed there that year. There were many small shows and vaudeville attractions. It’s possible that the building may have hosted a Magic Show.
For the park’s last year, the building held the Wonder Wander.
Here is how it was described:
It contains a fascinating array of tilts, teeter boards, swings, self-propelling whirls, and other mechanical contrivances for giving the boys and girls a succession of rides, on which they work their own passage and continue the trips as long as they please. When the rides wear out, there is a rattling Punch and Judy show on the side, which no child could leave till the last act.
The name of the attraction was clearly inspired in part by “Wonderland,” but it comes from The Dinky Bird, an 1898 poem by Eugene Field (famous for his other childhood poem, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod). The poem opens with the lines
In an ocean, ‘way out yonder,
(As all sapient people know)
Is the land of Wonder-Wander,
Whither children love to go,
It’s their playing, romping, swinging
That give great joy to me
While the Dinky-Bird goes singing
In the amfalula tree!
Maxfield Parrish painted an illustration for the poem: