Why is it that so many ideas we mean to be fun and innocent end up actually being kind of frightening? From evil clowns to villainous children, popular culture lets us face the monsters of our own creation. Somehow, we’ve even turned bright-and-beautiful amusement parks into spooky shells of their former selves.
This is the case with one ill-fated amusement park in China. The project, labeled Wonderland, was slated to be the largest theme park in all of Asia. As it turns out, this small world wouldn’t be so wonderful after all — and the dark reality of what happened to the once-promising spot is dystopian to say the least.
Picture it: you’re walking through the skeleton of an abandoned amusement park, an urban photographer just looking for thrills and cool shots. That’s when you hear it: a strange rustling noise echoing in the shadowy halls.
You feel something behind you and, slowly, you turn around…
This is the terrifying situation Trey Ratcliff found himself in back in 2011, when he was out exploring the ruins of China’s abandoned Wonderland.
But the place wasn’t always the stuff of nightmares. Back in the ’90s, investors had grand plans for the spot.
The strange story of Wonderland and its ultimate demise begins with businessman Dr. Chanchai Ruayrungruang.
He created a successful investment group known as the Reignwood Group during the 1980s, and as a new decade was rapidly approaching, the entrepreneur scrambled to come up with the perfect business plan.
Then, one day, he landed on a bright idea.
Looking westward to the success of American theme parks like Disneyland, he decided to build a wonderland of his on in that iconic Disney image. He’d already found the perfect spot for it.
Just 45 minutes outside of Beijing, there was a huge stretch of open land totaling 120 acres.
Not only was it lush and grassy, but it also had incredibly scenic views of the nearby mountains. The determined tycoon got straight to work with construction.
He had big dreams for the spot, envisioning a theme park with rides for all ages, restaurants, shows, and all of the trappings you’d expect to find at Disneyland.
But although Reignwood Group had a decent reputation in Asia, the company would go on to do some shady business.
For one, it definitely threw U.S. copyright law to the wind, perfectly replicating Disney’s iconic font for its welcoming logo, even emulating the famous castle.
Locals in the area were excited; they couldn’t wait for Wonderland to open. But it never did.
In 1998, without warning, construction on Wonderland came to a complete standstill. It didn’t make any sense. So much work had been done on the park already, not to mention the millions of dollars poured into it.
People speculated why the park had been suddenly abandoned. A popular belief at the time was that the plans had been squashed due to disagreements between local officials and farmers over how much the land should sell for.
The real reason came out years later.
As years passed, locals lost hope that Wonderland would ever be completed. The once-bright paint began to fade, the formidable structures started to rust, and the whole park became more decrepit by the day.
Soon, an unlikely group took over.
The half-finished Wonderland, now more of an apocalyptic wasteland, became a place where local children would hang out and urban explorers would go to take pictures. Abandoned, the site captured imaginations.
Videographer Catherine Hyland visited and remarked that “tamed by the locals, the uncompleted remnants of Wonderland become the antithesis of everything it was supposed to be, its value altered permanently”.
But would the changes be permanent?
One of the creepiest — and most gargantuan — remnants of the park was its massive food court. While it was never completed, and no one ever got the chance to eat inside of it, the bare-bones structure still stands, a haunting reminder of what could have been.
Years after its abandonment, Wonderland became a nightmare, but from afar, it looked like it might just be a real theme park. Its tall (completely empty) castle and fake flags all looked real at a distance. Then, finally, the truth would come out.
In 2008, more than a decade after construction had prematurely stopped, An Fang of the Reignwood Group revealed that they’d actually been forced to halt construction after 1998 flooding resulted in a law that protected the land they’d intended to build on.
Soon after this announcement, a new group moved in.
Local farmers began taking over the area in droves, using every patch of land they could as fields where they planted rows and rows of corn crops. This gave the abandoned park an even more uncanny appearance.
It was at this point, after all the glamour had faded, that Trey Ratcliff found himself walking through those abandoned halls, listening fearfully to the sounds of footsteps and children laughing. And what did he see when he turned around?
Trey was met face to face with a child standing in the shadows, holding a weapon directly to his face.
Literally, the stuff of nightmares. Not taking any chances, he ran. An evil child in an abandoned amusement park probably would have been too much for any photographer.
Unbelievably, though, the Reignwood Group just wouldn’t give up.
While the theme park was completely demolished in 2013, they still have rights to 15 hectares of land, and have used it to build a luxury mall called Badaling Outlets. But one ghostly element of the park still remains…
To this day, the castle can still be seen when driving through that part of China.
Those who don’t know the troubled history might assume it’d be a fun place to spend a day with friends and family…but they’d be wrong. This goes for a popular U.S. landmark, too.
Neverland Ranch was once a place that Michael Jackson cherished — a fantasy world where he could live out all his dreams.
Perhaps it was the childhood that Michael never had, or maybe it was a reach for joy in a world of fame and misunderstandings.
There used to be an assortment of animals, but by the time the photographers snuck onto the grounds, these were long gone.
Still, the rides and games were still there, although they had lost all their glory and were left dirty and damaged.
When Neverland was in its prime, it seemed the fun was infinitely large and endlessly long. Hundreds of kids had the time of their lives on the ranch, including Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin.
The Ranch used to bear a lot of resemblance to popular theme parks like Disneyland, with a lawn similar to Disney’s Alice in Wonderland area. A tiny train would take you all around the property when you were too tuckered out from all the fun.
Aside from the rides, there was also a pool featuring two diving boards where people could cool off from the burning California sun. Here, MJ could get to interact with his guests on a closer level than when they were running around the amusement park.
Near the pool was a grilling area for when visitors got hungry after a long day of swimming, rides, animals, and who knows what else. Rather than having staff cook, Michael would often grill up some burgers himself — anything to keep his guests happy.
Sadly, after several criminal accusations made against Michael, and later, his passing, the fun was definitely over. The gates of Neverland were shut, and they would not be reopened.
In 2003, the Ranch was raided by investigators following a series of child molestation allegations against Michael.
This was not only the end of the Neverland Ranch but perhaps the beginning of Michael’s end as well.
“Neverland” was not only the name of the amusement park but included Michael’s home as well. It was, of course, named after the famous home of Peter Pan, a boy who would never grow up.
Was this how MJ saw himself as well?
The ranch has been sitting in legal limbo ever since his death in 2009, with no clear owner emerging. This made sneaking inside to see the ranch’s remains a relatively easy feat for this group of intrepid urban explorers.
Near the entrance is a large art piece depicting Michael himself leading a very long line of children towards what can only be assumed to be the Neverland ranch. The sun is out, balloons are soaring through the air, and everybody looks happy.
But there were certainly a lot of unnerving items to be found as well, like these strange, redecorated magazines and demonic statues. Was this stuff meant to be seen by children?
While it is still unclear whether the accusations made against Michael were true, certain items on the property probably didn’t help his case.
This doorknob, for instance, depicts two children kissing — an odd choice for a door decoration.
Neverland once included a zoo, and it wasn’t just a small little petting zoo: it included apes, tigers, giraffe, a parrot, an elephant, reptiles, flamingoes, dogs, and livestock.
The King of Pop gave his approval for the final whereabouts of all of his pets, arrangements which were made by the pets’ vet, Martin Dinnes.
Even though most children entered the Ranch for free through Michael’s personal invitations, there was a cash register for adult tickets.
Above this old register was a portrait of Michael Jackson as an alien overlord.
Some would argue that abandoned theme parks are direct fuel for nightmares, and we wouldn’t blame them. Even the photographers, who were used to sneaking onto properties after dark, were spooked by the seemingly haunted ranch.
Statues of happy children were everywhere around the property. In this case, the kids are all occupied with toys, athletic accessories, instruments, or gadgets, and seem to be having a great time together. It portrays Michael’s dream: children, carefree, happily playing, every day of their lives.
The ranch has been listed for sale a long time ago, but with very little luck. Its size, curiosities, and, of course, the allegations keep potential buyers at bay. The property was listed for $100 million in 2015. As of 2018, it had still not been sold.
However, the rides were plucked dry by several carnivals and fairs like the Monterey County Fair, the Alameda County Fair, and the local fair at Pleasanton. Talk about faded glory…
After years of abandonment and decay, Neverland might be the eeriest place on Earth.
What was meant to be a place for children to come and be happy has been covered by a shadow of mystery and pain. Of course, MJ’s kids still remember living there.
And their own legacy is always shifting too. For almost the entirety of Jackson’s life, rumors seemed to constantly circulate about who the actual biological father of his kids was.
For whatever reason, people found it difficult to believe Jackson himself sired them. So, who exactly did people think the real father was?
Many of them thought the father of the first two of Jackson’s children, Paris and Prince, was actor Macaulay Culkin.
He and Jackson were great friends, and they spent a lot of time together on the Neverland Ranch estate. However, there were other rumors as well…
Mark Lester ( an actor who starred in the hit film Oliver!) is also thought to have been a sperm donor for daughter Paris.
Confusing, right? Until DNA evidence proves any of these rumors true, the biological father of Paris, Prince, and Blanket will remain a mystery.
2. The family that raised the King of Pop were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and didn’t celebrate the holidays.
It wasn’t until Elizabeth Taylor helped Jackson decorate the Neverland Ranch for Christmas in 1993 that he became completely obsessed with it — even choosing to keep the festive decor up year-round.
3. Jackson was always concerned about his children’s safety, so nearly every room in his enormous home had a panic button.
One morning, Jackson’s security team saw a panic button was pushed and stormed into the house…
Luckily, they found Jackson and his children completely safe. The family was startled, of course, and the guards eventually learned that Blanket had wandered over to one of the buttons and pushed it out of curiosity.
4. Celebrities are sometimes known to give their children very unique, and sometimes bizarre, names. Jackson’s third child was named Blanket due to the idea of “blanketing” a family with love. However, when he was fifteen, Blanket changed his name to Bigi to avoid ridicule from classmates.
5. The mother of Paris and Prince, a nurse named Debbie Rowe, really didn’t play a significant role in any of the kids’ lives. Jackson and Rowe were married for three years, but not once did they live together.
6. With Debbie being responsible for the birth of Paris and Prince, who was the mother of Bigi? The name of the woman has been kept a mystery from the public, but we do know she was a Mexican nurse hired as a surrogate.
7. It was obvious Jackson deeply cared for his children, so naturally he appointed them godparents in case anything were to happen to him. His choices, oddly enough, were Macaulay Culkin and actress Elizabeth Taylor…
Paris wasn’t always the sprightly, happy person she is today. In 2013, when she was fifteen, she battled a severe bout of depression and misused prescription drugs to cope. Luckily, therapy helped pull her out of that slump, and she now models and acts.
9. Perhaps Paris getting inked helped her move on too; she’s not even twenty years old and already has over 50 tattoos! Several of them are tributes to her late father, including the album cover art of Jackson’s 1989 Dangerous.
10. Every child who has siblings wants to believe their parents favor them over their brothers or sisters, and Paris Jackson firmly believes her father enjoyed being around her more than her brothers. How come?
Paris claimed the reason she was Jackson’s favorite was due to the fact that she was the only girl in the family.
Jackson treated her like a queen who could do no wrong. His obsession over his daughter even led to a somewhat staggering social learning curve after he passed away.
11. Jackson kept all three of his kids heavily shielded from the outside world.
Since the estate they all lived on was basically a big amusement park, everything the kids needed was always at their disposal. However, when they did leave the premises, it was always a strange sight…
Jackson would try to cover as much of his children’s faces as possible to protect them from the lenses of the paparazzi.
Everyone wanted to get a rare glimpse of the King of Pop’s kids, but few ever did…
12. After Jackson’s passing, people wondered what would come of his kids since they were so sheltered. The children initially lived with their grandmother Katherine, a strict Jehovah’s Witness, but eventually, they fell under the guardianship of their uncle T.J.
13. Much like Paris, Bigi hit a rough patch right after his father died. He was only seven years old at the time, and was suddenly thrust into a world full of Neverland outsiders who didn’t immediately warm up to him.
It took time, but eventually, things leveled out.
14. Thankfully Bigi recovered because, according to his grandfather Joe Jackson, he is the kid who has the potential to be the next great musical sensation. Looks like we will have to wait and see…
Even though Jackson’s kids might not all be singers and dancers like their father, they are, in a way, following in his footsteps by making names for themselves in other industries. When you’re the child of arguably the greatest showman to have ever lived, you’re bound to make your mark somewhere.