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Valley of the Moon

The Whole Story

George Phar Legler was born in Evansville , Indiana on November 19, 1884 (there is some controversy here: he may have been born as late as 1887). A gentle, peaceful man who saw the need to heal the mind and soul, as well as the body. A devout pacifist, some time in his middle years he decided to dedicate his life to spreading happiness and to the mental and spiritual health of all mankind, especially children. George's greeting was A-ZE-O, which means Health to All. Since 1923 all of George's works, including Valley of the Moon, have had one central theme, that Kindness to All is the Golden Key to Happiness.


George met his wife, Felix, while living in Indiana, and they raised three children. George moved to Tucson in 1917 and purchased the land for the Moon soon after his arrival. He took the civil service exam and worked part time as a clerk in the post office. George was a vegetarian, but unfortunately by the time he arrived in Arizona, he had a significant stomach ailment, which prevented him from working full time, so he received a partial disability from Social Security. He later retired from the Post Office with a disability. His stomach ailment became progressively worse until he felt he could eat nothing but condensed milk and vitamins; his son, Randall, would bring him milk by the case.


One of George's best friends, Frank Thibault, lived on the property for many years with his wife, Rose. Frank was a "starving artist" painter, and Rose, also an artist, was an invalid with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Frank helped George build the Moon, and in return, George gave him the land to build a small adobe house for him and his wife. Frank painted the Chinese characters found under the Wizard's Tower. Frank was also George's "back-up man" for the show, the first of what we now call tour followers, as well as the Secretary of the Valley of the Moon Memorial Association (VOMMA) from it's inception in 1945, until his death in the summer of 1966. Frank, Rose, George's son Randall, and George became the first non-profit Board of Directors for Valley of the Moon Memorial Association (VOMMA) in 1945. Rose lived on the property until her health forced her to move, but Frank lived on the property until his death, dying in the house he built. Today, Frank and Rose's house is used as our costume and make-up rooms.


INSPIRATION

George certainly loved to entertain children, but his underlying motivation were his Spiritualist beliefs. Spiritualism was an American and European faith in the early 1900's. Practitioners of this faith believed, among other things, in ghosts, spirits and fairies, the presence of which was explained through the burgeoning sciences of electricity and magnetism. Even into the 1950's there still existed a world-wide(!) organization of folks who believed in the existence of sprites: The Fairy Investigation Society. Its motto was "We welcome all who have the Fairy Faith." Among the 127 individuals included on its List of Members is G.P. Legler and . . . Walt Disney! -- News-Letter, TFIS, Summer, 1957.

George's belief in fairies found their "proof" around 1920. There was a highly publicized story of two girls who claimed to have seen and photographed real fairies (the movie: A Fairy Tale). George had the newspaper clippings taped to the walls in the Cave Room, above his bed. George even corresponded with the women in England.

The above story was later proved to be a hoax, but not until a year after George's death. His granddaughter later remarked that she was glad he never knew the truth about the story. The beauty of what George created with his beliefs shows the value that sometimes it is more important to be kind, than to be right.


TThe actual idea for Valley of the Moon came after he went to visit a terminally ill 14-year-old girl (the daughter of the local clergyman) who was dying of consumption (tuberculosis). George decided that the girl needed something to spark her imagination. So, outside her bedroom window he created a miniature cement mountain scene, complete with a lake made from a washtub and a waterfall. The "lake" held fish, and water plants, and there was a little path leading to a ladder up the side of the "mountain." The waterfall was made by filling a reservoir at the top of the mountain, which would run back down into the lake. George was very proud of his early Fairy Land, and used to say that whenever she wanted she could climb that ladder "in her imagination."

When the girl died two years later, the girl's father came to George and asked for his help. The mother of the girl had become inconsolable, and the father felt that George's belief in the human spirit would help. So, George went to see the mother and explained that her daughter was not gone, merely transported to the "spirit world" where she would live forever. The mother indeed felt better, and George's life changed as well. He decided there should be a place where everyone could express their imagination, and heal the mind and spirit, and Valley of the Moon was born. The sign he made for the side of the road read, "Valley of the Moon, Tucson's Picture in the Third Dimension and Mental Health Center." While the scientific community of George's day puzzled over the division between 'sanity' and 'insanity' (Tucson Medical Center was still known as a sanitarium), George was creating a place dedicated to mental health 30 years before that term became used professionally; a true visionary.

CONSTRUCTION

He began construction on Valley of the Moon around 1923. George built Valley of the Moon with the help of Frank, his son Randall, and anyone who would share in his dream, including a number of "hobos," homeless men who would work with George in exchange for food and a place to stay. He would never accept money from any of these men, insisting that they help him only if they do it in the spirit of brotherhood. He first lived in a small wood house on the property, which was accidentally burned down by one of the men he had staying with him. After that he moved into what we now call the Yellow Room, a small six-foot by six-foot room, behind the Enchanted Garden, just enough room for a bed. As he worked on Valley of the Moon, he expanded his living quarters into what is now called the Cave Rooms. While under construction, George's son Randall used the Cave Rooms as his tack room where he kept the saddle and hay for his horse. Eventually George settled into the Cave Rooms where his bed was aligned to look out the glass into the Enchanted Garden over the pond; reminiscent of the scene he made for the girl with consumption.

A mule team was used to dig out many paths, grottos and the amphitheater in front of the Wizard's Tower. A steam shovel was used to finish the amphitheater. Many of his finer, more detailed rock structures were constructed horizontally on the ground, using metal wire, rocks and concrete. When the pieces dried, they were wired together to form fairy houses. George was a visionary in this respect as well; using material such as Ôchicken wire', to reinforce concrete structures was not used widely in construction for another 30 years. Approximately 200 tons of stone and 800 sacks of cement were used in Valley of the Moon's construction, with one mailed shipment from the Sears/Roebuck catalogue of over 120 bags of cement. The magic snake was constructed using round oatmeal containers. Each container was filled with wire and concrete, and when they dried, the cardboard container was removed and the cylinders were wired together in a chain and covered over with a layer of concrete.

George always loved water, and the remaking of water scenes was one of the things he craved to do in the desert. He created several waterfalls and ponds, only two of which are in use today. He was fond of keeping fish, ducks and geese, as well as water plants, especially duckweed and water lilies.

THE SHOWS BEGIN

George's original inspiration for Valley of the Moon was a unique park, where visitors could wander freely, and have picnics. Before George ever opened for productions, beginning around 1926, the park was open to all visitors. George's first guided tours of Valley of the Moon began in 1932. Until 1945, free tours were given almost every Friday night; after that it was by appointment only. George never charged admission, but did accept donations and no one was ever refused due to their inability to donate. One of the most forgotten facts about George was that he also offered "Metaphysical Tours" to adults, during which he would explore the meaning of life. Although these Metaphysical Tours were never given to as many people as the Fairy Tours or BunnyLand Theater, he provided them consistently throughout the years.

George gave tours to anyone, but loved the children. He called himself the Mountain Gnome, and with a high, gravelly voice that was both gentle and engaging, he told stories of the Fairy folk who lived at Valley of the Moon and did magic illusions; sometimes he strummed a few chords on a guitar during his stories. No two of George's tours were exactly alike. He was always adding, changing and refining his show. His shows also depended on what donations he had received lately. A good donation, like dolls, usually made its way into the show, many such turned into fairies with handmade wings. George was recycling before there even was such a word.

Sometimes, George used to use a hole in front of the Wizard's Tower that he would jump in and out of, making himself "disappear." In the later years, the shows were filled with neighborhood children and his granddaughter, Linda. Randall Legler would make sure his daughter was safely concealed in her hiding place before the tour arrived, leaving 5-year old Linda in complete darkness, then he himself would hide from the tour. The shining entrance of the Fairy Princess was a very magical part of the original shows. Linda recalls that her fairy costume, a white dress, skullcap, and aluminum antennae on her head, were not what she had hoped they would look like. But the children who saw Linda in her strange costume, with magical lighting, truly believed they had seen a Fairy. The neighborhood children would also be fairies or gnomes, and it was considered a very special honor to be involved. No one who was in the show was allowed to talk about being involved with Valley of the Moon because George felt it would destroy the magic if people thought what they saw were actors. George advertised that the Moon was for children in Kindergarten, First through Third Grades, and Brownie Girl Scouts.

From 1932 to the early 1940's, George's original tours were primarily a one-man show, (we have no eyewitness accounts of this). Frank was usually there as his back-up man, but the entertainment came solely from George. Before the show they would spend up to two hours every Friday night lighting the two hundred or so oil lamps that he used before he had full electricity. A wind-up phonograph, hidden in the top of the Wizard's Tower, would play classical music as background to the show. The Mountain Gnome, dressed all in black, with a black veil over his hat, he looked a little like a dark beekeeper and you never saw his face. His stomach ailment caused him to walk bent over, making him look even smaller, and more elf-like. Then the Mountain Gnome would walk you through the Moon, telling stories about the creatures who lived in the structures he built, including the Blue Fairy who lived at the bottom of the well.

During the 1940's George added BunnyLand Theater, and his lead Rabbit, Jack, became the star of the show. George created rabbit sized castles, sets, and costumes, and began to tell his magical stories through his apparently trained rabbits. Children would be photographed with Jack in a special costume that allowed him to stand upright. During the show, the bunnies would sometimes be dressed in costumes, and other times they would be made to climb 8-foot ladders. George discovered that about one in one hundred rabbits could be taught to do at least two separate tricks. Jack could do five. When Jack died, it was publicized in several newspapers and magazines, and he was the first rabbit to get his obituary in the newspaper. Occasionally during these years, George would not take reservations for boys between the ages of 12 and 21 because he believed they did not have enough imagination.


George and "Groucho" in Bunnyland Theater, 1974.

Valley of the Moon grew to be great success, and had it's own display in the Tucson Chamber of Commerce for many years, being one of the few attractions that Tucson advertised, and people came from all over the country to see it, just as they do today. In 1952, McCall's magazine listed Valley of the Moon as a notable attraction for children to visit. In 1953, a writer for Tucson Magazine wrote: "Should Disneyland cover the entire state of California, not one corner would speak to childhood as does this imperfect, perfect little theatre." Also in 1953, Life magazine came to Valley of the Moon and that year he had over 2,500 visitors during the first 5 months of the year alone. An astounding number of people considering he had been doing tours by appointment only since 1947. George's granddaughter was photographed as the Fairy Princess, something she later recalled dreading. Valley of the Moon was scheduled to be on the cover, but was moved aside for another story.

As the years grew on, George added the neighborhood children as actors, and his granddaughter as the Fairy Princess. A typical tour, during the 1950's involved meeting the Mountain Gnome at the Front Gate who would say, "We are about to enter a magic fairyland, there will be good spirits and bad," then to protect everyone, he would either give you a magic rhinestone with a warning not to lose it, or rub magic oil on the back o f your hand for protection from evil, or both. (The "oil" was cheap perfume bought in large bottles at the local drug store.) He would lead the guests towards the Wizard's Tower and stop the guest near the podium and say "We need to ask permission of the Fairy Princess if it is safe to go on. We wouldn't want to go on if it wasn'tÉ" Then, he would do a small trick with some gunpowder, and POOF!, the Fairy Princess would appear at the top of the Magic Stairs, lit from behind for dramatic effect. She would grant her blessings, and then the tour would proceed to the stone cross at the base of the Wizard's Tower, where they would sit, while the Gnome told them a story. Then the tour would proceed under the Tower where he would give you small card with a hole in the center. Then you would look through the hole at a painting under the Tower, and while looking through the card, the cross on his painting would appear to float in midair.

"The cross, a natural one, was found in the Catalina's." (Mountain Range)
  -- Tucson The Magazine, January, 1953.

AAfter that, it was down into the Wishing Well, later known as PennyLand, to make a wish with a penny George gave them. The Wishing Well used to be surrounded by a numerous stone gnomes who all looked down upon the tour from above. The neighborhood children, disguised as Gnomes would hide amongst the stone Gnomes, and George would tell the tour that if they were good, they might see one of the stone gnomes move.

The tour would proceed through the Caves of Terror (now closed to the public) and up into the Cathedral Room, where a skull sat atop a piano and George would play a little song. Then it was back down through the Caves for story about some Victorian Dolls hidden in a secret cave. Then out of the cave, past the Wishing Well, and into the Enchanted Garden for another story. Inside the enchanted garden was a magic tree, where George would reach up and pull down a previously unseen magic gift for his guests. Then it was through the cave rooms where George slept, and out through the Rabbit Hole.

Valley of the Moon grew to be great success, and had it's own display in the Tucson Chamber of Commerce for many years, being one of the few attractions that Tucson advertised, and people came from all over the country to see it, just as they do today. In 1952, McCall's magazine listed Valley of the Moon as a notable attraction for children to visit. In 1953, a writer for Tucson Magazine wrote: "Should Disneyland cover the entire state of California, not one corner would speak to childhood as does this imperfect, perfect little theatre." Also in 1953, Life magazine came to Valley of the Moon and that year he had over 2,500 visitors during the first 5 months of the year alone. An astounding number of people considering he had been doing tours by appointment only since 1947. George's granddaughter was photographed as the Fairy Princess, something she later recalled dreading. Valley of the Moon was scheduled to be on the cover, but was moved aside for another story.

RECYCLYING, PATRIOTISM AND BUNNIES

George was never a man to throw anything useful away. Much of Valley of the Moon was built or inspired by things that George would find. In the Enchanted Garden, George tried to create tiny, movable fairies in the Fairy Queen's palace using recycled dolls with handmade wings, and an old washing machine motor. It never worked very well, but George was always thinking; long lengths of cable salvaged from industrial hoists support many parts of Valley of the Moon. When his collections became too much, he used them as well; the hills at the front end of the property near the front benches are piles of discarded supplies that George covered over with dirt.

During World War two, there was a United States beef shortage, and George tried his hand at raising alternative animals to cows, namely frogs and rabbits. The first was the frogs and several of the structures on the Moon were built as breeding ponds for the frogs. George ordered two breeder frogs through the mail. Unfortunately, mosquitoes would also lay their eggs in the frog ponds; the result was that the mosquito larvae ate the tadpoles. George, not a man to be deterred, tried rabbits. He used the lowest level of Valley of the Moon caves to keep the rabbits cool, but the does could not produce kits in the Arizona heat. At this time, George still had quite a few rabbits, and he was man would made the most out of every situation. He knew that his rabbits had different personalities, some were shy, some bold, and he understood their behavior. Thus, Bunny Land Theater was born.


George's 96th Birthday Party

Valley of the Moon also became a refuge for lost and wounded wildlife: skunks, Gila monsters, jack rabbits, and others were all brought to Valley of the Moon where George would pay $1 for a permit to keep the animal, nurse it back to health, and release it. One jackrabbit even found his way into BunnyLand Theater as a "boxer" in the B.L. Gymnasium. George also raised ducks and geese, and envisioned one day having an otter pond, but that dream was never realized.

THE LEGACY IS PASSED ON

He became very ill during the 1940's, due to a stomach ailment caused by a car accident earlier in life. His eyesight began failing him, especially at night, so in 1945, George deeded the 2 and 1/2 acre property to Valley of the Moon Memorial Association, Inc. (VOMMA). In 1947, the open tours at the Moon ended, and tours were given by appointment only.


In 1967, George stopped giving tours altogether and Valley of the Moon fell into disrepair. Vandals destroyed many of his rock structures. George was becoming very ill and it looked like the light was going to go out on Valley of the Moon forever. But fate stepped in, in the form of a group of Catalina High School students, who had visited the Moon as children, but all thought it had been a dream. One of them decided it wasn't a dream and they went to find out the truth. What they found was the old Mountain Gnome living by himself in 1971, and eating nothing but a diet of condensed milk and vitamins. When George was convinced these children who had jumped his fence weren't vandals, he gave them a 2 and half hour tour that day and opened the Moon to them. Soon, they and their parents became the foundation of Valley of the Moon Restoration Association (VOMRA) in 1973. The new Association did significant restoration work, re-opened the Moon to tours, and became the foundation of the long line of volunteers that would later inherit the Moon. Once again the master storyteller, they called him Uncle George. George had been living in the cave rooms for over 30 years so the volunteers refinished the inside of the cave rooms, then tried to build him a small house. They abandoned the idea to help him buy a small trailer, and today, the house foundation they started we call the Witch's Cauldron, a heavily used performing area. When he broke his hips, they found him an apartment nearby. But later that year George's health failed and he was moved to Posada Del Sol nursing home.

In 1975 the Moon was listed on the Arizona Historic Places Register, and in 1978 the deed to the land was legally cleared and signed as a gift to VOMRA, Inc, with the Boy and Girl Scouts of America listed as secondary owners. In 1981, VOMRA became The George Phar Legler Society (GPLS) and obtained legal rights to the property in the form of another gift deed. About this time a reporter for the newspaper asked George if he minded all of the changes that the volunteers were making, George replied, "It's theirs now." On George's 97th birthday, then-Mayor Lew Murphy presented him with the Tucson Outstanding Citizen Award for the creation of Valley of the Moon and his devotion to the free entertainment of Tucson's children. George crossed over to the spirit world four months later on February 22, 1982, at the age of 97, leaving behind his legacy and property to the work of volunteers: people who believed that giving of yourself is one of the greatest gifts. A memorial service was held at the Moon on March 2, 1982.


In 1959, George said, "If we can influence children to develop a friendly attitude toward everyone while they are children, they will be happier adults. That friendly attitude will unconsciously react on their subconscious minds and, in turn, will strengthen their characters and give them deeper spiritual outlooks on life, regardless of what church they may ultimately belong to."

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