Mansfield teen’s big idea: a U.S. history theme park

Posted Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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This summer Thomas Kelly visited a college, worked part time, traveled with his parents and hung out with his friends.

In other words, about the same as your average high school senior — except for one thing.

In his spare time the 18-year-old built a theme park down to the last detail on a scale model that now occupies most of his parents’ living room.

The Mansfield High student describes his big idea as a destination where visitors would time-travel through the major events of the U.S. experience.

“The park features American history from the Jamestown founding to the present day and everything in between,” said Kelly, whose résumé already lists professional theater set design credits. “It’s got World War II, rock ’n’ roll, the American Revolution, the French and Indian wars, the ’60s.”

The park’s concept includes nearly 200 rides, restaurants, hotels and exhibits, many featuring actors and replicas of historical artifacts.

“We’re not going to make a roller coaster about something like the Civil War, obviously,” he said. “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 1:200 feet and can be broken down into four sections that can be transported and reassembled 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 said he and his wife were blown away when they began to grasp the depth of their son’s vision for the project.

“I’ve been to Hobby Lobby and Lowe’s so many times this summer,” the elder Kelly said with a laugh. “And Amazon has been to our house more times than at Christmas.”

The idea 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 Kelly looked around and decided he could do things better.

“Once we got back from that trip, I did a concept drawing,” he recalled.

By the time school was underway 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.

“I knew I had to bring my concept up to another level, or else everyone would be, ‘Cool. Nice idea kid, but whatever,’” he said. “I wanted to do something that would advance my talents and prepare me better for college.”

Now that the project is completed, he 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.”

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