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thanks so much for watching "strange inheritance." and remember -- you can't take it with you. >> his dream? big as a t-rex. >> when everybody else told him he was crazy, he just said, "no, i'm gonna build dinosaurs." >> his creation? a land before time. >> he was almost an engineer when it came to dinosaurs. >> can it survive without him? >> a lot of attractions that were the vision of a single person, all of a sudden they're gone, demolished. >> depends on his daughter... >> when you have an absolute passion, you think that other people feel the same way you do. >> his granddaughter... >> are you living on the edge, kiki, to make this all happen? >> a little bit. >> and his great-granddaughter. >> has your mom ever said, "we need to talk about the future of the park"? >> never. [ door creaks ] [ wind howls ]
[ thunder rumbles ] [ bird caws ] >> i'm jamie colby, and today i'm in southwest oregon, on the breathtaking pacific coast highway. if you've ever made this drive, you may have visited this strange inheritance and even met the heir trying to save it from extinction. >> my name is kiki mcgrath. my grandfather was really into dinosaurs. i inherited his version of jurassic park from a bygone era. >> hi. i'm jamie. >> hi, jamie. i'm kiki. >> great to meet you, kiki, and i like your friend. it was pretty clear i was in the right place. >> this is my grandfather's creation. let's go take a look. >> that "creation" is prehistoric gardens, which sits in a lush stretch of old-growth forest, with ocean mist filtering sunlight through its towering trees. i would camp out here, and i don't camp.
but be careful! giant monsters lurk. triceratops, wow. the grounds are teeming with dinosaurs. feast your eyes on 'em. there's the plate-covered stegosaurus... a towering t-rex... a soaring pteranodon and many more. each imposing creature a life-size replica of an ancient past, including this 46-foot-high, 86-foot-long brachiosaurus. >> four years from start to finish... >> amazing! >> ...to build this one. >> i just really can't believe the scale. the story of these creatures begins in 1907, in gordonsville, minnesota, where ernie nelson is born. young ernie can't stop drawing on his sketch pad, especially the prehistoric
creatures he sees in national geographic. definitely a creative character, according to his daughter bennii. was he always an artist? >> he always drew. he came out of the womb carrying a pen. >> a few decades later, in the 1930s, ernie gets married and has two kids. he settles down on the west coast and opts for a stable career path. >> he owned a gravel company when he was very young, and he was a public accountant in eugene, oregon. >> an accountant ever on the lookout for a more creative living. his dream job? a cartoonist at walt disney studios. he gets the offer, then talks himself out of taking it. >> he had two children, and it was during the depression, so he decided he just couldn't pick up and leave. >> so, ernie keeps counting beans for another two decades, knowing deep inside he's missing his true calling. then, when ernie's 47 years old,
he makes an announcement during christmas dinner that stuns his family. >> he goes out to the car, and he gets this cement dinosaur. it was a tyrannosaurus rex, and he brings it in, and he sets it down, and then he said, "this is what i'm going to do." we thought, "what?" he said, "i'm going to build dinosaurs." >> did you all think maybe he had had too much to drink? >> no one said a word. they felt that he had gone off the deep end. >> "no, really," ernie explains. he intends to open a roadside attraction filled with dinosaurs! he reveals he's been fascinated by the creatures his entire life. >> i said to mom, "why would he do something like that?" she said, "i'll go any place he wants to go." >> was that true love? >> yeah, that was true love. >> and it turns out his timing couldn't be better. >> ernie knew what he was doing when he started his attraction in the early 1950s. >> doug kirby is the author of two books on roadside
attractions. >> the golden age was after world war ii. gi's came home. they had families. they were starting to have money to buy better cars and take summer vacations. the u.s. highway system was built out across the whole country. attractions could find an audience. then all of these things started to crop up. >> these entertaining, and sometimes bizarre, roadside attractions become an american phenomenon. ernie the accountant figures a dinosaur park is a sure thing. what made your dad think that this was gonna be a winner? >> when you have an absolute passion for something, you think that other people feel the same way you do. >> before he can bring forth his creation, ernie must find his eden. he comes across 70 acres of lush forest in southern oregon, right off the famed 101, pacific coast highway. it's listed for 17 grand. did he have the money to buy
that property? were you rich? >> no, no, ultra-poor. they had practically no money when they came down here. >> but ernie works his accounting magic, selling his home and business. and presto! he has the cash. now he's ready to flesh out some dinosaurs. he researches the creatures exhaustively, drawing up sketches and blueprints. i mean, he was almost an engineer when it came to dinosaurs. >> yes, the steel frame went on and then, after that they put metal lath, and they molded it, and then on top of that they put cement. >> then comes the fine artistry. ernie adds details and hand-paints precise features -- eyes, scales, teeth. look at the skin texture even. >> yes. >> but ernie does take some artistic license, adding splashes of bright paint and vibrant patterns. >> grandpa didn't know the exact color scheme, but he said it was the man behind the
paintbrush that chose the colors. >> and "the man behind the paintbrush" chooses colors that draw customers. >> part of the formula with the roadside attraction is people want to be able to take pictures that they can share when they get home. ernie had an eye for what would make a great photo. painting things in bright, garish colors was a way to make those dinosaurs pop out. >> after a year of construction, ernie's ready to open his prehistoric gardens. so, what was the reaction initially? >> they loved it. >> and not just the tourists. do you have some recollections as a kid of playing in that park? >> oh, my gosh, do i? like, i just got chills, yeah. >> ernie's great-granddaughter tells us why. that's next. >> but first, our "strange inheritance" quiz question... the film "jurassic park" made an infamous villain out of the velociraptor. how big was the dinosaur in real life? the size of a...
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roadside dinosaur attraction in southwest oregon, along the pacific coast highway. that's a big jump from being an accountant. >> he just had a real drive. he wanted to create something and share it with everybody. >> on new year's day, ernie's "prehistoric gardens" is finally ready. signs point the way from the highway. admission's 50 cents for adults, a quarter for kids. to the family's relief, tourists flock to it, just as ernie predicted. so, what was the reaction initially? >> they loved it. we would walk with them through the gardens. we would point and tell them what the name of the dinosaur was. >> the family enlists every visitor to spread the word. >> we used to put on bumper stickers. it said prehistoric gardens on it. it showed a picture of a tyrannosaurus rex. >> bennii spends almost all her time at the gardens during the park's first few years. and her daughter, kiki, born in 1957, does, too.
in fact, when bennii divorces in 1959, she moves away, leaving kiki to be raised by her grandparents in the family home, right on the property. kiki watches her grandfather expand his shangri-la year after year. >> i remember rvs and trailers parked everywhere. >> was it magical to watch him create this? >> magical, yes. he would get, like, a just big, you know, grin on his face when he would see kids coming in, and they'd be squealing with the parents. i think it was really important for him to see people be happy. >> after high school, kiki ventures beyond the dino park but within a year returns. what brought you back? >> i really like being around my grandparents, and i didn't want to do anything different. >> it was a life kiki would also want for her daughter, rain, who's born in 1982 and spends her childhood playing amongst the massive dinosaurs.
do you have some recollections as a kid of playing in that park? >> oh, my gosh, do i? like, i just got chills, yeah. my whole childhood was that park. my friends and i, we'd kind of climb up the stegosaurus or we'd climb up the elasmosaurus and slide down his back. we would even hide in the bushes sometimes and make noises and stuff when the guests came by. [ laughs ] >> but the world has changed in the four decades since the 47-year-old accountant chucked everything to open his prehistoric gardens. the "jurassic park" generation doesn't see these guys so much as prehistoric creatures but corny 1950's kitsch. fewer visitors turn in to the aging park that's increasingly difficult for its octogenarian founder to maintain. >> the '80s and the '90s were really, really tough, and my great-grandmother had a stroke. so, that set the family back. there was some tough times, definitely. >> did dad ever consider selling or closing? >> oh, no, oh, no, unh-unh. that was his baby.
he loved the prehistoric gardens. >> loved them till the day he dies, in 1999, a dinosaur himself at age 91. his funeral is held right in the park near his favorite creature -- that 46-foot-high brachiosaurus. >> and it rained, and it hailed, and it snowed, and there was sunshine. it was very, very magical, very magical. >> a few months later, ernie's wife, kari, passes away. the will does not say who should inherit the business. did your grandfather sit down at some point and say, "here's what i want to happen with the park"? >> no, i think he was hoping that someone would carry it on, but i don't think he thought about who was going to do it. >> ernie's daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter now must choose. keep his dream alive or cash out? it's near the coast, if not right on it. you know what that property is
worth. >> mm-hmm. mm-hmm. >> did you ever think about selling or closing the park? that's next. >> here's another quiz question for you. the answer when we return. liberty mutual stood with me when this guy got a flat tire in the middle of the night, so he got home safe. yeah, my dad says our insurance doesn't have that. what?! you can leave worry behind when liberty stands with you™. liberty mutual insurance. while nothing comparesating modeto the real thing.d... experience the command performance sales event for yourself, now through april 2.
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and granddaughter, kiki. the inheritance includes his prehistoric gardens, a roadside attraction, featuring 23 life-size dinosaur replicas that ernie created himself. >> he loved dinosaurs. like, he absolutely loved them. when everybody else told him he was crazy, he just said, "no, i'm gonna build dinosaurs." to think of how much strength and tenacity he had. >> but now that he's gone, the fate of the 44-year-old dino park is unclear. ernie's daughter bennii, now in her mid-60s, has no interest in taking over the reins. >> i don't have a sense of business. i don't have the drive. >> so, she and her brother opt to put the dino park, family home, and surrounding forest up for sale. originally purchased for $17,000, it could be a dino-mite windfall. bennii's daughter, kiki, agrees initially, then has
second thoughts. >> i didn't want the gardens to go with the whole lump sum because i didn't want it to go to someone that didn't have the passion. >> that's because prehistoric gardens isn't just a park to kiki. it's the only home she's really known, and she's never wanted to leave. you love it that much? >> i kind of feel a little bit of my grandfather in me. he had to be there every day, and i feel that. >> you couldn't live without that. >> no, i don't think so. >> so, the three heirs carve out 44 acres of ernie's land along the ocean. bennii and her brother get that. it's valued in the millions. the remaining 26 acres, including all the dinosaurs and the roadside-attraction business, go to kiki, now a single mom in her early 40s, and raising her teenage daughter, rain. did people say, "what, are you nuts"? >> yeah, they thought she was crazy, you know, like she's sitting on a gold mine, and she's keeping it.
>> running the dino park proves more difficult than either mother or daughter imagines. >> i resented the gardens when i was younger, just because it took my mom away from me all the time. >> fifteen years later, the job's no easier. >> she works there every single day -- 12-, 14-hour days. she's the janitor. she is the ticket taker. she has to clean the dinosaurs. she does it all. >> planning any vacations? >> not right now. >> ever consider a sick day? >> not really, no. >> nowadays, about 200 guests visit the park daily during peak tourist season. at 12 bucks for an adult and 8 for a kid, the park brings in around $150,000 a year. but there's not much money left over after taxes, landscaping, and costly dinosaur repairs. he looks like he may have had an injury. >> pteranodon did have an injury. a tree came down on his cute,
little wing and broke it. so, it was just dangling for quite some time, but, as you can see, it needs a little bit more work again. >> are you living on the edge, kiki, to make this all happen? >> a little bit. it's kind of a one day at a time. >> she's constantly putting the park before herself. sometimes she had to put it before her family. >> do you get it? >> i get it, but i don't get it. i get it because it's her legacy, and it's what she knows. but it zaps her energy, and it takes away her life. >> a life, rain says, that could be so much easier for her mom. >> when things are tough, i've been, "well, mom, you know, you could sell it and retire and live on the beach," but i don't think she'll sell it. >> so, you're never gonna let it go? >> no. >> and yet, with all her determination to continue her grandfather's legacy, has kiki made any plans for the dino park to outlast her? has your mom ever sat you down and said, "we need to talk about the future of the park"? >> never. it's a running theme in our
family that nobody talks about it. >> doug kirby has seen this scenario many times before. >> a lot of attractions that were the vision of a single person -- you can feel their enthusiasm around everything. by the third generation, it's tough to say whether that's gonna be a generation that's gonna carry it on. i've seen great parks that, all of a sudden they're gone, demolished. >> kiki's best hope for a successor is her daughter, rain. oh, and did we mention that she got married and ran off to europe? do you think there's more than a 50% chance they'll step up, like you did? >> probably 75. >> not 100. >> not 100. >> could you ever see, rain, going back to oregon? what's your "strange inheritance" story? we'd love to tell it. send me an e-mail, or go to our website, strangeinheritance.com. more and more people have discovered something stronger... more dependable...
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prehistoric gardens, a dinosaur park which her grandfather, ernie nelson, first opened in 1955. she's dedicated her life to keeping the roadside attraction in the family and in business. what about when you can't do it anymore? >> well, hopefully someone in my family will want to continue on. >> that puts the pressure on kiki's 34-year-old daughter, rain. she's married and living 5,000 miles away, in london. >> i'm really happy right now. this is where i want to be, and it would take a lot to go back and work at the gardens. >> but in the back of your mind, could you ever see, rain, going back to oregon with your husband? >> not full-time. it's a part of me, but i don't want to be defined by it. >> that may not be so easy for rain. >> so, there's just a lot of guilt that i feel, being this far away from home and, you know, not being there to help her.
but -- sorry, guys. >> meantime, back in southern oregon, prehistoric gardens still has the power to delight travelers who pull over, stretch their legs, and check out ernie nelson's dinosaurs, not yet extinct. >> i've heard of this place since i was a kid. this place is kind of legendary. >> i think it's a must-see because a couple people just built this by themselves. it's just a great thing to see. >> don't you ever come out here and say, "i can't do this anymore"? >> mm-hmm. yeah, i do think that, but when i come out to the registry room and look at these different remarks that people have made, it brings back a feeling of resurgence. >> oh, my goodness -- "haven't been here in fifty years"? >> mm-hmm. >> a boyhood fascination never outgrown compels a frustrated accountant to build a dinosaur playground. the future of the prehistoric gardens may be uncertain, but for now, this
strange inheritance remains a testament to the will of bennii's father, kiki's grandfather, and rain's great-grandfather to seize his dream and share it with the world. >> it's more than just a park now, because it's so ingrained in the history of the place. it's not just our park. it's everybody's now. >> a lot of people tell me that, that go through the gardens. they tell me it's magical. i hear that all the time. there's a magical something out there. >> but whatever happened to the other part of ernie's land that kiki did not inherit, here along the pacific coast highway? her mother and uncle sold it for 1.6 million bucks and split the profits. the new owners have kept the land undeveloped and say they plan to one day either donate it to the state of oregon or place it in a trust in order to protect its magnificent rain forest forever. i'm jamie colby.
thanks so much for watching "strange inheritance." and remember -- you can't take it with you. guests monday. have a great weekend. >> announcer: from the fox studios in new york city this is maria bartiromo's "wall street." maria: welcome to the program that analyzes the week that was and helps position you for the week ahead. i'm maria bartiromo. former federal reserve vice president roger ferguson. gerri willis is standing by with the headlines from wall street to main street. gerri: the jobs report was a blowout by can standards. u.s. economy adding
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