Mansfield teen designs amusement park

Posted Monday, Sep. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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By all appearances, Thomas Kelly’s summer was no different than that of any other Mansfield teen. He visited a college, he worked part-time, he traveled with his parents and he hung out with his friends.

In fact, it was a school vacation that could be accurately described as unremarkable—in all aspects except one. In his spare time this summer, the 18-year-old also designed a theme park roughly the size of Epcot—visualized down to the last detail on a large scale model that now occupies most of his parents’ living room.

The Mansfield High School senior described his big idea as a destination that will allow visitors to time travel through the major events of the American experience.

“The park features American history from the Jamestown founding to the present day, and everything in between,” said Kelly, an aspiring entertainment designer who's already racked up an impressive resume of professional theater set design credits.

“It’s got World War II, rock ‘n’ roll, the American Revolution, the French and Indian wars, the 60s,” he said. “Everything is addressed and experienced.”

The park’s concept includes nearly 200 rides, restaurants, hotels or exhibits, many featuring live history actors or replications of historical artifacts.

Despite its amusement park trappings, however, Kelly’s concept doesn’t shy away from the controversial or uncomfortable topics of American history.

“We’re not going to make a roller coaster about something like the Civil War, obviously,” he explained. “So I decided to deal with issues like slavery or women’s rights by creating museums. People won’t have the same kind of ‘fun’ that they would have on a Buzz Lightyear ride, but they will enjoy learning more about important events in our history.”

Built primarily with plywood and foam, Kelly’s model is scaled at one foot for every 200 actual feet, and constructed so that it can break down into four sections that can be transported and re-assembled when necessary.

To finance the project, the young craftsman used money earned from his theater set design jobs.

“And my parents helped a lot, too,” he said.

Brendan Kelly, Thomas’s dad, said he and his wife were blown away when they began to grasp the depth of their son’s vision for the project.

“Although at first we weren’t exactly sure what he was talking about,” laughed the elder Kelly. “But we were very supportive. I’ve been to Hobby Lobby and Lowe’s so many times this summer. And Amazon has been to our house more times than at Christmas.”

The origin for the project stems from a Kelly family vacation that included a visit to an Old West town in Arizona. Then a high school junior, Thomas looked around at what he saw as a less-than-impressive historical travel destination and decided he could do things better.

“Once we got back from that trip, I did a concept drawing, and then while we were on vacation in Ireland I started writing down ideas,” he recalled.

“But I knew I had to bring my concept up to another level, or else everyone would be ‘cool, nice idea kid, but whatever,’” he went on. “ I wanted to do something that would advance my talents and prepare me better for college. And I knew that no other high school kid had ever built a theme park.”

By the time school was under way last fall, Kelly had set up a production schedule, drafted sketches and divided his bedroom into work stations he used to construct the smaller elements of the model.

He also dove into research, using documentaries, the Library of Congress and studies in his advanced American history class as sources for ideas for the park.

Now that the project is completed, the young designer is considering copyrighting and marketing his idea to an investor or to an industry giant like Disney or Universal Studios.

“I would love to see this get built,” he said. “The time travel park can help everyone learn more about history and bring back memories from the past for those who lived it. I see it as a destination for family vacations, school trips, everything.

“The possibilities are endless,” he said.

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