The forgotten Aurora scandal that played a part in an international crisis

What does a failed multi-million project in the city of Aurora have to do with Iran’s hostage crisis? Despite being thousands of miles apart, there is a key connection between the two events that some might find a bit science fiction, but rest assured there is nothing fictional about what really happened at Aurora in the late 1970s.

Complete with a jet-powered rapid transit system, robot workers, and several high-rise structures, it would go on to be the world’s largest theme park and bring millions of tourists and tax dollars to Aurora. That was Hollywood producer Jerry Schafer’s promise to the city in 1979. But of course, that never materialized, and Schafer found himself facing criminal charges when it all fell apart.

Science Fiction Land was to be the name of the 1,000-acre theme park planned for an area of ​​land just south of Interstate 70 and east of South Piccadilly Road in what was then Arapahoe County, but which is now within the city limits of Aurora. The park was announced in late 1979 and was to be used as the setting for a $50 million movie to be shot there before it opened to the public.

Schafer promised a lot, making fantastic claims in an interview with The Denver Post on November 13, 1979. The tone of the article apparently indicated that the project was too out of this world, foreshadowing what would eventually become glaring evidence.

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Denver Public Library.

Historic photos from the Aurora Museum of History Archives. A copy of the artist’s original concept drawing of Science Fiction Land in Aurora circa 1979.

Schafer said Post Science Fiction Land would offer:

– More than 2,000 hotel rooms
– A 38-storey Ferris wheel
– Three 10-story statues of “Lord of Light” characters with restaurants inside
– An attraction where park visitors could experience weightlessness inside a cube held by a giant hand
– A 30-story structure that would contain a 1,000-lane bowling alley with robots
– Streams where guests could fish for trout
– Park employees on jet packs
– Laser holograms that would be projected throughout the park
– Boat rides that would turn into submarines

The movie the park was built for, “Lord of Light,” is based on a science fiction novel by Roger Zelazny. Published in 1968, the novel received several awards and is set in the future on a strange planet. The movie version of Lord of Light was to be shot entirely on the grounds of Science Fiction Land.

In the 1979 Denver Post article, Schafer told the newspaper that Lord of Light “will have the biggest budget of any movie in history”. Comic book artist Jack Kirby, one of the creators of Captain America, Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk, was hired to design the permanent sets. Other big names in the industry, including Ray Bradbury, have been invited to be part of the project.

“Lord of Light” was never made, but parts of the unfinished project helped solve a concurrent dilemma halfway around the world. On November 4, 1979, Iranian students in Tehran stormed the United States Embassy and took 52 American diplomats hostage. But six American diplomats managed to evade capture, taking refuge in British and Canadian diplomatic facilities.

A secret joint American and Canadian rescue mission was soon launched to get the six Americans out of Iran. The “Canadian Caper” was the name of the mission and involved CIA agents posing as Canadian film producers who flew to Iran to scout locations for an upcoming film, “Argo.” The script they used to convince the Iranian authorities that the mission was legitimate was the script from the never made movie “Lord of Light”.

Leaders of Iran hostage crisis regret


FILE – In this Nov. 5, 1979 file photo, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, left, a representative of the Iranian students who stormed the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4, holds a portrait of one of the hostages blindfolded, during a press conference at the embassy in Tehran. Posters of the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, adorn the wall. The man on the right is unidentified. Speaking to The Associated Press ahead of the 40th anniversary of the attack, Asgharzadeh acknowledged that the repercussions of the crisis are still reverberating as tensions remain high between the US and Iran over the collapse of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. (AP Photo/File)

The mission was successful and the six diplomats, along with the two CIA agents posing as Canadian film producers, managed to escape from Iran on a SwissAir flight on January 27, 1980. 52 American diplomats detained at the embassy were released six days earlier. .

By the time the hostage crisis ended, Aurora was well aware of the alleged scam perpetrated by the real Hollywood producers who had come to town a year earlier. But not before the money changes hands and the wheels of bureaucracy start turning.

Over $2 million was invested in the land that would become Science Fiction Land. According to a December 6, 1979 Denver Post article, Schafer said he purchased the land from rancher Earl Meairs. He also obtained water rights from the San Luis Valley.

Schafer told the newspaper he would sell land next to the proposed park to fund the project. But before the waters started to flow and the lots went on sale, the “sci-fi” part of the Science Fiction Land project started to shine.

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Denver-Rocky Mountain News Public Library

Jerry Schafer (L), promoter of Science Fiction Land. His attorney (R) James L. Hammer.

On December 13, 1979 – just days after touting the purchase of the land and water rights for the proposed theme park – Schafer and his boss, Barry Geller, were arrested and charged with violating laws governing the securities in Colorado. Authorities grew suspicious of the project after Schafer’s glowing claims in local media, according to the Denver Post article.

Investigators were also looking into the actions of city and county officials surrounding the project, some of whom have been charged as part of the investigation.

Shafer was finally convicted and probated in 1980. Others caught up in the scheme had their charges dropped, and the Science Fiction Land scandal seems to have faded from the memories of many in the community. Although “Lord of Light” was never released on the big screen, a TV series is reportedly in development, according to IMDB.

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