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Jurassic Lark

Mark Cline with a couple of his slime monsters at a haunted house that runs at the Natural Bridge park
Mark Cline and some of his haunted house creations, adjacent to the Escape From Dinosaur Kingdom attraction he constructed in Natural Bridge, Va. (Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

"Dad," he said, "when I grow up, I'm gonna build these."

And now he does. He builds sculptures of dinosaurs and skulls and monsters and celebrities -- sculptures that are displayed in tourist traps and theme parks and miniature golf courses and haunted houses all over this great land. And he has fulfilled his childhood dream by building dinosaurs for Dinosaur Land.

"He's made, golly, 15, 16, maybe 20 dinosaurs for us," says Joanne Leight, who inherited Dinosaur Land from her father, who created it in 1963. "His faces are so good, much better than the ones we had in the '60s. The eyes seem to follow you. The dinosaurs built for Daddy back in the '60s, they kind of just sat there, but Mark makes dinosaurs that interact with the environment. We have a triceratops that looks like it's gouging into the stomach of a T-rex."

Cline works his magic in a studio near Natural Bridge, about 40 miles north of Roanoke. You can't miss the place: Superman is perched on a tower above a fence lined with Egyptian pharaohs.

Inside the fence, the ground is littered with fiberglass pterodactyls and random pieces of sharks and elephants. "This place is a real mess right now," Cline says.

He points to a huge fiberglass frog. "I made that for a guy who has a day-care center in Alabama."

He points to four fiberglass skeletons. They're destined for Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum, which is right next to Cline's Civil War dinosaur attraction.

"These are not just any skeletons," he says. "They're going to be the Marx Brothers' skeletons. Harpo will have a harp and Groucho will have a cigar."

In a storage area, Cline points to a cowboy wearing a hat and bandanna. "He was my Headless Horseman," he says, "so when we rented him to a cowboy-themed dinner, we had to add a head."

On the balcony stands a statue of Michael Jackson that could be described as lifelike except that the real Michael Jackson isn't particularly lifelike.

"I built him in the '80s, when he wasn't so, um, controversial," Cline says. "Since then, I had to make his nose smaller and I had to change his color."

His Purpose in Life

Cline can't sit still. He squirms in his chair like a little boy, then pops up and paces around his office, talking a mile a minute.


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