Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kicked out of the Holy Land

Holy land has been locked in a dispute with Orange County property appraiser Bill Donegan over whether it deserves to be tax exempt. Since it is a "Church" they are required by the government to provide one day a year free admission to the park. In the past the free admission day was never publicized. For those who might not know, Holy Land is an Orlando Christan Theme Park where you can watch singing and dancing Israelis, see Christ drag a cross through the streets of Jerusalem then even watch him get crucified. Having never gone, I figured it might offer some interesting sketch opportunities and for free!
As I drove up to the park I was shocked to see a long line of cars perhaps a quarter of a mile long snaking out of the theme parks entrance and over the I4 overpass blocking traffic. I only had a two hour window in which to sketch so I didn't want to wait in that insane line. I drove around the block approaching the park from another angle.I saw cars parking in an empty lot across the street from the park and I figured this must be overflow parking.
When I walked through the gates I passed a man handing out park tickets but didn't pick one up since I only planned to sketch the long line of people waiting in line. The crowd inched forward at a steady pace with the end of the line nowhere in sight. The Star Spangled Banner was being sung inside the park and all the excited activity made me feel like I was at a baseball game. A woman walked past me and said to her son, "Look he drawin!" A familiar song caught my ear "This little light of mine I'm gonna let it shine" I drew to its beat and it inspired me to draw faster.
The police man I was sketching walked up to me and I braced myself, he said, "Look at me, I made your sketch better." As he walked away he said, "Hey you want some water?" I said I was fine. I probably should have accepted his offer since I was sweating like a wet sponge. I was sitting directly in the scorching Florida sun.
Then suddenly the park gates were closed. The parks capacity was 1,700 people and they were full. Outside the gates the gathering and ever growing crowd pressed forward. Police whistles were blowing constantly as officers tried to get the cars to keep from blocking traffic. A news helicopter swooped in and started shooting footage of the growing crowd. It was starting to sound like a war zone. The officers started shouting that the park was full and there was no point in waiting at the gate. I started to imagine that the pearly gates of heaven might offer a similar scene of confusion.
Later a parks person drove up blocking my view with his huge SUV. He advised that park tickets be offered to the people outside the gate for any day in the rest of October. For some reason the people were then allowed in the gate and then told to exit through another gate. Many people given tickets didn't speak English, so they started walking toward the parks turnstiles. Park workers had to shout out that the tickets were not good for today, but since the guests didn't understand, they continued on their merry way. The scene was constant chaos.
When the crowd was finally dispersed and the scene returned to normal, a new Lieutenant was posted at the gates and his first order of business was to get the female officer to tell me to stop sketching and leave the park. I was just about finished with the sketch and I asked her if I could have just 5 more minutes, as I talked to her I continued to sketch. She said, "I like the sketch and if it was up to me I would let you stay here as long as you want, but I have my orders." I quietly packed up my things. I am starting to feel that I haven't covered an event until someone forces me to leave. As I was exiting the female officer thanked me and I said "Have a good day." Inside of course I was fuming. I had a job to do as well.
When I got back to my truck, I found a parks person taking photos of the license plate of the car parked next to me. As I drove off I hoped he hadn't taken a photo of my license plate and now I am wondering if I will get an expensive ticket on top of getting kicked out of Holy Land! I doubt I will ever want to return to these pearly gates.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Brad said...

You're like Michael Moore--in mime. Bill Maher got a similar reception when he tried to interview a guy who plays Jesus for his political mockumentary "Religulous." I love this new "fresh from the front lines" bent to your blog. I keep checking in to find out what you'll get kicked out of next. ... p.s.: the hot dog vendor is back on Colonial, a few blocks east.

John Pierro said...

He does work in mysterious ways, and so do you Tom:)

Anonymous said...


Thor said...

Hey Brad,
I saw that mockumentary, it is part of the reason I wanted to experience the park for myself.
I will have to head out and sketch the hot dog stand in it's new location. Everyone must have wondered where a 20 foot hot dog could just up and disappear. Time to end the mystery. Inquiring minds need to know!
See you at "parkin lot pickin".

David Nethery said...

Tom, you crazy wild-eyed radical you ! Running around Orlando .... DRAWING it . What next I ask you ? What next, sir ?

First you get kicked out of Needless Markup and now this ?

Well, I've been to the "Holy Land Experience" and it was an ... um, experience, but not very holy . This is one holy place you're probably better off getting kicked out of .

(who knew sketching was such a subversive act ? )