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Reunion emotional for many former Ghost Town workers

When Todd Berrong, a former gun fighter at Ghost Town amusement park, walked through the gate of his old stomping grounds this week, he saw a circle of six men dressed in cowboy hats and boots, gun holsters slung around their waist, complete with leather vests and chaps.

The scene was once standard at the Old West theme park in Maggie Valley, but was nothing more than a memory for Berrong since the park closed down three years ago.

“I had tears in my eyes when I walked in and saw all them standing here,” said Berrrong.

A crowd of several hundred turned out for a celebration Monday of Ghost Town’s reopening slated for next year. The crowd swarmed with former employees of the park.

“It’s like a reunion,” said Pete Hobler of Cullowhee, a former gun fighter who is a senior at Western Carolina University. Hobler loved sauntering the streets of the Old West town in his cowboy costume winking at girls between gunfights.

“We were like one big Ghost Town family,” said Michael Wigington of Maggie Valley. “We worked together, played together and had great joy in making Ghost Town visitors happy.”

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Wigington ran a old-timey photo studio where visitors paid to have their picture taken in Old West outfits. Wigington went into wedding photography when Ghost Town closed, but hopes to get his old job back now.

“It was a blast,” Wigington said. “It’s not work if you enjoy it.”

Edward Rutherford, a former gun fighter who lives in the Bethel area, went into the construction business after leaving Ghost Town. But he, too, wants his old job back.

“I make double what I did here, but this is more fun. It’s where my heart is,” Rutherford said.

The same goes for Wilbur Howard, 73, who processed photos of visitors riding in the chairlift.

“I said ‘Wow! I got to go up there and put my name in the hat for a job,’” Howard said of the celebration. “It was fun. It was a job, but it was fun.”

R. B. Coburn, the founder of Ghost Town and owner for most of its 40 years, shared the same feelings as his former workers. The reason work there was so fun is simple, he said.

“When people are on vacation, they are in a good mood and are happy and I love talking to them,” Coburn said.

— By Becky Johnson

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