Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Ken Ham’s Christmas Letter | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Photo of the bow of the Ark at the Ark Encounter with people walking around it.
Ark Encounter, photo (c) 2018 by Susan Trollinger

It is the season for Christmas letters. Some of these letters provide much-needed information from friends whom you have not heard from recently. Some of these letters are extended and exhausting lists of spectacular achievements, from Chelsea’s third-place finish in cross-country regionals to Johnny’s perfect attendance as a second-grader at Mark Twain Elementary School. Some of these letters are simply a creative fail, as in using the pet hamster to recount the family activities over the past year.

But Christmas letters can also provide the opportunity for letter writers to issue mea culpas, to make amends, and to begin the process of restoring broken relationships. I thought of this when I received from the intrepid Dan Phelps – thank you, Dan – a month-by-month breakdown of Ark Encounter attendance numbers over the past 2½ years. (It’s his numbers I use below.) Given these numbers, and given the occasional tensions between folks at the Ark and local government officials, this holiday is the perfect opportunity for Ark Encounter CEO Ken Ham to send Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner and the members of the Williamstown city council a Christmas letter that will put their relationship on solid footing heading into 2020.

I drafted a letter that I think could work quite nicely. Ken, you are free to cut and paste as you see fit.

December 24, 2019

Dear Rick, Amanda, Bob, Greg, and Kim:

Merry Christmas from the Ark! While we are just on the other side of I-75 from you in Williamstown, it feels as if we never see you. Maybe over the holidays you could have a City Council excursion to the Ark. At $48 apiece ($38 if you are over 60!) it’s quite the bargain, made even better because you don’t also have to rent hotel rooms (which is a good thing, because, as you can see from our website, there aren’t any Williamstown hotels to recommend!

I fear that, in my obsession with the overwhelming dangers posed by the LGBTQ menace, I have failed to adequately express my gratitude for all the gifts you gave to the Ark. My bad! Our big boat does not get built without you floating $62m in high-risk municipal bonds (I will NOT call them junk bonds — they are not junk!) in our behalf. But this is not all. There’s the gift of $175,000 from Grant County. There’s the sale of 100 acres to us for only $1. It goes on and on — so many gifts from government!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

And the repayment scheme – wow! Pure genius: over the next 30 years, 75% of what we would have had to pay in property taxes will instead go to paying off our loan, It doesn’t get much sweeter than that – thank you so much!

Of course, much of that lost property tax revenue would have gone to local schools. But let’s face it, that’s no great loss for the children of Williamstown. Public schools are havens of atheism! Home schooling is a much better alternative – it is a great way to make American Christian again – and it just so happens that parents can get fabulous creationist curricula at the Ark gift shop (and the Creation Museum bookstore), including the famous 23 foot Adams historical timeline that begins when God created the Earth in 4004 BCE. Moreover, Mom (and Mom should be in charge of homeschooling, as it is best for her to be in the home) can bring the kids to the Ark for science field trips ($25 apiece for ages 11-17, and only $15 apiece for ages 5-10!)

So, once again, thank you, and my apologies again if I have not been clear as to how grateful we in the Ark Encounter family are for your remarkable generosity! 

Speaking of your remarkable generosity, I have to bring up what could be – I hope not! – a touchy subject. And that is the 2013 Ark Encounter Feasibility Report. You remember, the report we provided you as you were considering whether or not to float the $62m worth of bonds for our big boat project. I know that in our report we stated that our first year attendance would be between 1.2 and 2 million, with the likelihood that it would be closer to 2 million. More than this, the report asserted that there would be 4% attendance growth annually. More than this – and this is where the we got crazily optimistic – the report claims that there will be 10% annual growth after years 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10. (These are the years in which we promised major improvements to the theme park, like the Tower of Babel and the Ten Plagues Ride and the Walled City). 

According to our formula, our projected minimum attendance for the Ark’s year #4 (the year we are now in) was 1,427,712. Whups!! In 2018 our attendance was 827,591; in 2019 our attendance through November is 859,319. Maybe we will get to 900,000. That’s better, but it is a long way from 1.4 million . . . and our October and November 2019 attendance was below our October and November 2018 attendance. Hmm. 

We can’t even get to our projected minimum first-year attendance in year #4, much less get the attendance growth that we told you we would have. Now, I am sure you have heard me say that the attendance numbers would be much higher if we counted children under 5, and if we counted the free tickets given to lifetime members. But between us, we know that this is ridiculous. Who counts infants and toddlers? And, really, who is dopey enough to believe that we actually have enough lifetime members to make up this year’s attendance shortfall of 500,000 (or more)? 

If the Feasibility Report is what led you to float the bonds, I am sorry. Truly sorry. And I confess, as I re-read the report I am amazed at some of the claims that were made. The proposed “Ten Plagues Ride” – described in the report as including “special effects depicting the ‘Ten Plagues’ in a fun way [to] help make the story memorable” – would draw in the crowds? Really? What could possibly be entertaining about watching people covered with gnats and flies and locusts and boils?

Trust me, I am not blaming you for believing what we said – that’s an easy mistake to make! In fact, let’s just forget what we said in the feasibility report! Let’s just let bygones be bygones! Merry Christmas from all of us here at Ark Encounter. And remember, for a paltry $48 you can visit the Ark and learn why God found it necessary to drown twenty billion people. It’s the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit!