Visionaries behind three coastal Delaware attractions have more in common with the famed theme park pioneer than you might imagine

By Bill Newcott | Photograph by Carolyn Watson
From the July 2019 issue

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A mercifully cool onshore breeze wafted off Rehoboth Beach and filtered through the bustling arcade of Funland.

The mid-August sun had already set behind the boardwalk shops and hotels, and it seemed like everyone who’d been sweating and sunning on the sand that day was now crowding into the mom-and-pop amusement park. Determined teen boys desperately tried to impress their girlfriends at Super Shot basketball. Families patiently waited their turns at the carousel. Nervous young parents strapped their toddlers into the round-and-round fire engines, perhaps experiencing for the first time the anxiety of watching their little ones do something without them.

For my grandkids and me, the day was coming to an end. We trudged along Delaware Avenue, our flip-flops slapping against the soles of our feet as the music and merriment of Funland faded in the thickening night air.

I felt a tug on my hand.

“Papa,” my 5-year-old grandson said, “can we come back to Disney sometime?” 

Al Fasnacht laughs out loud when I tell him that story.

“Disney!” Funland’s 91-year-old founder smiles. “That’s rarefied company to be in!”

He thinks for a moment.

“But you know, I get it.”

There is, in fact, a common thread that joins small-town folks like Al Fasnacht with global titans like Walt Disney: a desire, bordering on fanaticism, to share a particular vision — and confidence that the world at large will invest its time and money to experience it. The only real difference among them is scale.

Tourist regions like coastal Delaware, where visitors are always looking for something new, are especially fertile grounds for such visionaries. As I sat down with three very different next-door Disneys — an amusement park owner, a campground operator, and a folk artist — it quickly became clear that they see the world a little differently from the rest of us.

They also make that world just a little bit richer.

 

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