The Over-the-Top University Park Christmas Display Featuring Big Tex and a Six Flags Spee-lunker

by Paula Bosse

xmas-wayne-smith_university-park_2015_big-tex_speelunkerBig Tex on the roof, a “Spee” to the right (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

You may have heard about Wayne Smith’s annual spectacular Christmas display in the 3600 block of Southwestern in University Park — the one with a cast of thousands, including a previous head of Big Tex, what seems like hundreds of illuminated Santas, Dracula, Moe Howard, and a former denizen of Six Flags Over Texas’ “Cave”/Spee-lunker ride. Before I get back to the “Spees” (the name the creatures have been given by their surprisingly enthusiastic fan-following), here’s a wider shot of a photo I took during last year’s holiday season. (Click it!)

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(And this gives you only an inkling of what’s actually there. I LOVED it! I waited until after Christmas — in fact, after New Year’s — to wander around — I can only imagine how backed up with looky-loos the street gets closer to Christmas.)

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Back to the Spees. The Cave water ride debuted in 1964 and was an immediate hit. When it opened, there were 28 of these creatures who, according to the original marketing, “came from innerspace.”

They are 30 inches high and they play harps, do the Twist, play cards, hammer cave crystals into rock candy and engage in a shell game — turtle racing.

This ride was always one of my favorites (probably because it provided a brief, cool respite from the glaring sun and the blasting heat that plagued my annual summer visits to Six Flags).

The Spee-lunkers left Six Flags a long time ago, so it’s nice to see that one of them is still entertaining local crowds, right next to another beloved DFW icon, Big Tex … along with a phalanx of festive Santas!

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Lest you think the publicity mill wasn’t working all angles of this new attraction, we see below that one of the Spees got a visit from, of all people, TV-darling Donna Douglas who played Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.

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photo and article, Hood County News Tablet, June 4, 1964

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August, 1964

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Grand Prairie Daily News, May 25, 1977

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Sources & Notes

Photo of Wayne Smith’s Christmas display taken by me on January 2, 2016. The house is in the 3600 block of Southwestern, between Baltimore and Thackery. Since the display is probably visible from space, there’s no way you can miss it.

Postcards found on eBay and Google.

Every year TV crews descend on Smith’s house to do a story. Watch one from this year — from CW33 News — here.

For those who might like more info on the Spee-lunker attraction/ride (which, by the way, is classified as a “dark ride” in amusement park lingo) at Six Flags Over Texas, here’s a bunch of links:

  • Weird video and music (and history!) by a superfan, here
  • Article by the same guy who put the above video together, here
  • Spee-lunker vignettes described here
  • Google images aplenty, here

More on the new ride can be found in the Dallas Morning News archives in the article “$300,000 Hole: Six Flags To Open Cave Ride” (DMN, May 24, 1964) — accompanying the article is an amusing photo captioned “Gail Powers yelps in mock fear as lobster seizes her hand.”

A shout-out to Wendy Cook who, when I posted the top picture to the Flashback Dallas Instagram feed in January, pointed out to me that the Spee-lunker was even in there. She recognized him right away, but with so much visual overload, I hadn’t even noticed him! Thanks, Wendy!

See stuff bigger — when in doubt, click it!

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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