Mike Williams is a name that most casual Knott’s guests or even fans won’t readily know. However, if you’ve ever had a brush with a fast-talking wiseguy robbing the park’s steam train, or stumbled upon a kooky old miner shuffling around in the fog during Halloween Haunt berating people with his bullhorn, chances are, you’ve crossed Mike Williams’ path, or even been a target in his sights.
For nearly 30 years, Mike worked in varying capacities at Knott’s Berry Farm, from a cook at Captain Kelly’s Cafeteria, to a train robber in Calico, to a performer in multiple entertainment productions at the Farm. While he’s been an asset to Knott’s in each of those roles, none stand out quite as much as his reign as “Dusty Geezer” during Halloween Haunt for more than two decades. Outrageous, hilarious, and in the end, a friend to everyone, Mike’s contributions to Knott’s for the past 30 years have been the stuff legend is made of.
On Sunday July 6, Mike donned his Calico train robber outfit as “Otis West” one last time for his final shift at Knott’s Berry Farm. Throughout the day, he was greeted by loyal fans and fellow employees, all posing for pictures and farewell hugs. It was a bittersweet moment – Mike was ready to punch out for the last time and get on with new adventures, and at the same time, was closing a major chapter of his life that has touched so many people and forged friendships that will last forever.
“Mike was one of those guys that wasn’t happy doing what everyone else was doing,” said Jeff Tucker, Knott’s Entertainment Supervisor. “Everybody is so serious about their Haunt personas and their monster image they portray. And Mike’s a guy that’s like whatever! I mean, that’s the kind of guy you want to work with, because he’s fearless. We’re going to miss him like a member of the family.”
Craig Harreld, Area Manager of Live Entertainment at Knott’s, and a long-time colleague and friend reflected on Mike’s colorful run at the park this way: “Mike has always amazed me with his creativity and ability to ad lib at the spur of the moment. I think my most favorite thing Mike did in the Haunt days when things were a bit relaxed, was the Dusty on the barrel, acting like a Pirates of the Caribbean figure and having guests think he was not real. What a crack up! Mike was always very good with the guests while on the train as a bandit, and was always receiving guest compliments about his service and his going above and beyond what was needed to entertain the guests. I will truly miss him and his weird sense of humor; and don’t forget his Mini Dusty puppet! Mike, I say to you happy trails, and thank you for so many, many, many, many years of fun and excitement; and also don’t forget about Candy Corn Man!”
Candy Corn Man was just one of Mike’s inane characters he’d portray during Knott’s Scary Farm. It seemed like every time we turned around when covering Haunt back in the day, he’d be there – in a different costume no matter where we were! And each of his outfits was more outrageous than the other! There were some nights that Theme Park Adventure never got far out of Ghost Town, because we’d not want to miss whatever stupid gag Mike was going to do next; it was crazy! All too often, I’d head to another area of the park to shoot, and would be interrupted immediately with a radio call: “You’d better come back to Ghost Town… you’ve got to see what Mike’s doing… dear God!”
Way back in the day, when TPA would spend almost 10 nights shooting Halloween Haunt each year, there were nights we simply hung out in Ghost Town, cheering Mike on and laughing until we cried at his always-amazing shenanigans with guests and other monsters. At the time, I’d often say, “Man… we wasted a whole night in Ghost Town watching Mike mess with people!” and laugh about it. However in retrospect, I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything; they have become my favorite memories whenever I reflect on what I consider the true “Golden Age” of Haunt.
Whether dressed as Elvis, wearing an inflatable costume that looked like he was riding an animal, a crash helmet as a Student Slider, or simply tormenting clueless guests with his obnoxiously loud bullhorn, there was no disputing that the Scary Farm was his playground. Even when not in his normal area of Ghost Town, Mike was always on. I remember a night we were shooting the street monsters in a zone called Silver Bullet Mining Town – a gritty bunch that were tormenting guests from all sides by sliding at them, menacing them in groups, or simply breathing down the back of their necks. Suddenly, we hear this loud, industrial BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP, and here comes Dusty Geezer, passing through the area backward with his bullhorn on, sounding like a truck or piece of heavy machinery backing up! It was freaking hilarious – and he didn’t know we were there with our cameras on… that was just Mike, and that was how Mike did it every night all night long at Halloween Haunt!
When we learned that Mike was retiring from Knott’s, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach (no Mike, it wasn’t a burger from Crew’s Nest). For the most part, TPA’s stories are upbeat and fun. However, knowing that we were going to see and spend some time with Mike on his final day at Knott’s was a milestone I personally dreaded, because I knew it was the end of an era for me personally as a fan of Mike’s and of Knott’s. Over the years, a handful of people have either left Knott’s or have passed away that really represented the Haunt that I fell in love with in the early ’90s and started covering with TPA. For me, Mike Williams was a cornerstone – a constant that was always there making everyone laugh through good and bad times. And now, that integral part of my personal Haunt experience has left the building.
For the past 20 years, Theme Park Adventure has had the extreme pleasure of knowing so many fantastic people from Knott’s, be it Scary Farm staff or year-round employees. Mike has been one of the greats, and I’ll openly say it – Dusty Geezer is my favorite Haunt monster of all time, bar none. A few years ago, when Mike made the transition away from Dusty Geezer and became involved with Haunt shows, or even became an actual scary monster, it was different – but he was always there, you know? Always lurking in the shadows with a quick joke or perfect comment. I never wanted to think about the year we’d visit Haunt and not see Mike’s grinning face at some point during the night. Hell, we’ve found ourselves watching his Otis West character messing with Knott’s visitors in Calico during the non-Haunt season just as we used to during Scary Farm nights.
Mike’s on to bigger and better adventures, so this isn’t meant to sound like a eulogy; he’s very much alive and he left Knott’s on his own great terms after nearly 30 years of service. However, as we lingered with him that Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but be profoundly bummed out, because I knew I won’t see my long-time buddy from now on when we visit Knott’s. He won’t be there raising hell during Haunt, and he won’t be robbing any more trains on hot summer days. And that’s a drag, although we’re very excited for him, and will continue to support him as his friends wherever he goes next.
We took our “last day” pictures with Mike and shot video of him just being himself. A bittersweet afternoon, indeed. And then we said our farewells, thank yous, and walked away. It was a long, emotional exit through Ghost Town. I knew the day would come, but I never wanted it to. And, it finally did.
Theme Park Adventure thanks Mike Williams for all of the amazing memories we’ve shared, the gut-busting laughter, and for being one of our Halloween Haunt cornerstones for the past 20 years just by being himself. He truly is one of a kind, and is nothing shy of a friggin’ legend in our eyes. Good luck and happy trails, dear friend!
Knott’s Berry Farm will never be the same.
– Rick West
TPAers, if you have your own memories of encounters with Dusty Geezer, Otis West or one of Mike’s bajillion other Knott’s characters, share them below! We’d love to hear about your memories with Mike!