Mount Tremper, New York
What happens after ex-hippies go to business school? Perhaps they build things like the World's Largest Kaleidoscope, anchor of the Catskill Corners boutique mall, "New York's most innovative family entertainment complex." A mysterious pair of eyes are painted on the converted grain silo that houses the 60-foot tall Kaatskill Kaleidoscope. Nearby, a giant fiberglass fish leaps from a pond; the front half of a fire engine sticks out of an attached restaurant. Like nearly everything in the Catskills, a slick film of hucksterism coats this attraction -- but it's not necessarily a bad thing.
The $250,000 Kaleidoscope was designed by '60s psychedelic artist Isaac Abrams and his son Raphael, opening in 1996. The elder Abrams calls it the "first cathedral of the third millennium." It is the brainchild of Catskills developer Dean Gitter, a local P.T. Barnum. Visitors walk through the mall to get to the Kaleidoscope, while their senses are assaulted by scented candles and Space Age Bachelor Pad music. The merchandise-to-attraction ratio is high -- the trademarked words "World's Largest KaleidoscopeTM" appear on a plethora of gifts and souvenirs.
"While your eyes enjoy the visual explosion,
you are energized by a multidimensional soundtrack of music and effects."
The silo barely fits twenty people, who must lean back against sloping padded boards with sliding neck supports to gaze into the darkness above. The show begins with an announcement to "Make sure to move your head from side to side." A few senior citizens just don't get it. A woman behind us keeps barking "Look UP, grandma. Look UP!"
The show is ten minutes of frenzied fractal imagery, very loosely based on the history of America. We see the faces of Civil War soldiers, Lincoln, Stalin, Marilyn Monroe, Native Americans, kaleidoscopic patterns of American flags. Loud synths and corporate guitar riffs blend one era seamlessly into the next. The presentation finally finds its rhythm with a whirling pattern of marijuana leaves and audio snippets from Martin Luther King's "I have a dream." Then the harsh shouts of a woman -- "Look UP, Grandma! It's a KALEIDOSCOPE." Our necks hurt. The show ends with Watergate and Richard Nixon. Apparently, nothing kaleidoscope-worthy has occurred in the subsequent 25 years...
We stagger stiffly out into the Kaleidostore, full of upscale kaleidoscopes, new-agey puzzles and Kids Zone stuff -- and Kaatskill Kaleidoscope baseball caps, T-shirts and shot glasses. The "World's Smallest Kaleidoscope" (not trademarked) sits in a glass box near the exit.
Somewhat impressive, a surreal mid-afternoon experience -- Grandma and all.
Ready to work out those spinal kinks? It's on to nearby Pratt Rock...
Update - November 2004: The Kaleidoscope is still in operation, but the facility around it has been absorbed into a complex of buildings in town called "Emerson Place." Tipster Nancy Lott writes: "The shops are very pricey and the old tag line of 'New York's most innovative family entertainment complex' definitely no longer applies. The new iteration is not kid friendly and there is no longer a restaurant on premises, although they proudly serve Starbucks coffee, if you consider that lunch."