Cure for the Common Cody

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Garden City's claims to fame are few. Tony and Minnie Washington, direct descendants of George Washington, lived here briefly in the nineteenth century. As the marker at the end of the town's quiet, two-block business stretch explains it: "This family might have been the royal family had the U.S. become a kingdom." But it didn't, and they weren't, and finally the Washingtons left town. So did the two decent Mexican restaurants that once served up tacos on Main Street. A hand-lettered sign in the window of Jim and Jean's Body Shop promises "Farm Fresh Eggs From Runaround Chickens," but no one's around to sell them.

And then there was Mack's Country, which anyone in town will tell you has been closed for the past month.

"They don't do the Wild West shows anymore," says a woman at the historic-hotel-turned-gift-shop-and-junk-store. "Mack's out there ripping apart his town with a crowbar."

His town?

"Well, you know, he had that old Western-town theme thingie. Not now, though."

On the south edge of Garden City, right by Mack's Trailer Park and across from his modest, somewhat modern house, is what remains of Farrell McMahon's vast old Western-style land holdings: a street filled with carefully reconstructed Wild West structures, including a general store, saloon, antique windmill, barn and corrals. (The post office and jail have already fallen to Mack's crowbar.)

"Well, we tried to sell the property as a complete town and amusement, but no one wanted it," Mack explains. "And we used to have a hundred people in the saloon here for food, drink and a show."

Today the saloon is crammed -- from its tiny triangular stage to its antique bar back -- not with people, but with reenactment relics, including rack after rack of period costuming once worn by Mack's Gang, a group of amateur gunfighter impersonators. "We did skits -- fifteen minutes and a lot of shooting," Mack remembers. "It was all flash and flair -- I learned that from Bill Cody. He liked flash and flair, too. So much so that he kept on giving them 'farewell performances' until someone finally told him to give it a rest."

In Mack's office behind the saloon, where a TV blares the movie Dr. Detroit and cigarette smoke fills the air, the clutter is so thick that it looks like a tornado has raised the building from its foundations in order to shake the good stuff out onto the floor. Mack extracts a photo album from one of the piles and locates a picture of himself some forty years ago, back in his high school days, playing the part of a vigilante in a reenactment of the shootout at the O.K. Corral. "See that? Growing up, I didn't know anything but to ride," he says. "Here I am with another horse...and this is a trick mule I had. I've always liked an audience. I did some radio and TV announcing."

A career Air Force man and a Missouri native, Mack moved to Garden City in the early '70s, where his empire-building/ property-acquisition phase roughly coincided with his realization that he was an alcoholic.

"I quit drinking for health reasons," he says. "My wife told me she would castrate me if I didn't, and castration would have been terrible for my health."

Retired at 37 with energy to burn, Mack started a number of small businesses, including the trailer park, and experimented with American-style leisure by driving around the country in a well-appointed RV for a year. "Once I got sober, I had to do something," he points out. But he remained restless. "Shuffleboard," he shudders. "I'll never be old enough for it."

He seemed exactly the right age, however, for Old West reenactments, in which a gang of Western characters act out a fifteen-minute skit that usually ends in murderous gunplay or cornball, family-style humor.

"They throw competitions," Mack explains. "You can win for guns or authenticity or showmanship. The last big skit we did involved a lady being kicked out of the bank, because women can't own land in the Old West. Then you see me whipping my kids out of town. Then all hell breaks loose, you see a woman dragging me down the street with a rope, and then another gal shoots the banker right through the stomach. It was called 'Sweet Revenge.' The whole thing took fifteen minutes, no more."

By the time "Sweet Revenge" debuted in 1994 at a show sponsored by the American Federation of Old West Reenactors, Mack had gathered a posse of loyal cowboys and girls. Most came from towns in Missouri or Kansas, and several had to drive over 150 miles to get to rehearsal. But it was at home in Garden City that Mack found the backbone of his cast. Recruiting was easy, he says.

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff