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How the West was won - four times, daily – at Fantasy Island

The Wild West Shootout at Martin’s Fantasy Island is as much of a part of our heritage as the Chautauqua Institution and the Darwin Martin House.

Not only that, but it’s a heck of a lot louder.

Bang! The guns have been altered so they can’t hold real ammunition. But there’s no mistaking the sound, or the smell, of gunfire. Kids stick their fingers in their ears. When the villain, mortally wounded, rolls off the roof of the saloon, it’s a shock. The other day, it was so realistic that the crowd gasped.

Staged four times a day, the Wild West Shootout is the real deal. We have it on the authority of the marshal himself, Dan Monroe, that its spirit is the same as it has been for 50 years. So if you haven’t seen it, or if you haven’t seen it since you were a kid, what are you waiting for? Gather ’round!

Western Town is near the park entrance, by the dappled canoe pond. Grab a seat. Perch on the curb by the marshal’s headquarters, lounge by the saloon, or lean up against the Post Office.

Not to give away the plot, but the drama ends as it always has, with the kids gathering ’round the marshal to receive their badges as deputy marshals. They take the same oaths their grandparents took – to keep their rooms clean, do their homework, not argue with their parents, and uphold peace, justice and the American way.

John Velasquez, 13, was part of a family group visiting last week from Las Vegas.

“I liked the gunshots,” he said with zeal. “I like when he falls off the roof.”

Cathy Rouleau, of Steubensville, Ont., was there with her two small fry, Sofie, 2, and Alex, 5. She liked the show so much she could not name a favorite scene. But she had a favorite character.

“Calamity Jane is very interesting,” she said. “She’s the powerful woman in the show.” Rouleau remembered her from when she was a girl. “I feel she’s unchanged.”

Calamity Jane is Sandy Grover. She was happy to hear how the Ontario mom enjoyed her portrayal. “I try to play her so she’s a little bit funny and relatable,” she said. “She’s tough – good and sweet, but she can hold her own with all the guys.”

A DVD called “Shoot-Out: 50 Years of the Whacky Wild West” is for sale in Western Town and features historic footage as well as emotional interviews with the show’s long-running stars. Linda Harle-Mould, Calamity Jane for decades, recalls the July night in 1969 when the cast gathered ’round a TV to watch the moon landing. On a poignant note, they also gathered ’round a crackling transistor radio in the Vietnam era to hear the draft list.

Grover, relaxing for a moment after the show, said that her predecessor comes to catch her act sometimes, and cheers her on. Sure enough, Calamity Jane Sr. (as Harle-Mould calls herself) can be seen on Facebook telling her, “Girl, you rock!”

An offstage chat with Wild West characters is, alas, brief. They have other commitments. Calamity Jane was in mid-sentence when Black Bart whisked her away. Over their shoulders, they apologized: “We gotta do a train robbery.”

But that, kiddies, is a story for another day.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com