Memorial Day weekend was the opening of a great memory of my past and that is Luna Park at Coney Island. In the mid to late 50s we spent many weekends in NYC thanks to my fathers business ventures and this resulted in some rather unusual opportunities for a young teen. First was exposure to Broadway musicals of which my mother would drag me to but the payback was she would have to take me to ballgames - so I spent some quality time at Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field and The Polo Grounds. So while I got to see everything from My Fair Lady to The Music Man my mother got to see Mickey, The Duke and Willie. Now the second part of this equation was Coney Island.
I was actually allowed to venture on the subway by my lonesome to go to Coney Island. Not bad for a twelve year old but I could easily navigate Boston so I could do NYC. Different age back then. I loved Coney Island. I loved the fun houses. I loved The Cyclone. I love Nathan’s. I loved the games of (no) chance. I just loved amusement parks.
My first venture into amusement parks was Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach. We actually rented a house one summer for a few weeks and I spent many a time attempting to get on rides for which I was deemed too small. For the next few years I would measure my height every few months hoping to finally reach the magic number that would allow me to ride The Giant Coaster which is still active in another life. This started me on the path to being a coaster affectionate after I experienced my first fright filled trip through the dark tunnel and up the steep hill with knees shaking and a death grip on a handle bar. The drop of that first hill wondering how the car stayed on the tracks and memories of newspaper reports of deaths from the coaster. The sheer terror of the quick turns and being tossed around like a rag doll and the bruises that appeared the next day from this harrowing journey. Naturally I rode and rode until my money ran out.
Once I was able to go on that coaster others would beckon and a train ride to Revere Beach provided the next great adventure for a local coaster rider. Since driving at age eleven was out of the question I would do anything possible to get a relative to transport me to one of the parks that still attracted great crowds. Lincoln Park was close by and so was multiple rides on The Comet whose decaying hulk still exists. My aunt’s lived in Hartford so Riverside Park was an easy drive for them and my aunt’s loved to play Fascination so a trip was almost a guarantee with each visit. Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon had a great song called Palisades Park and I could care less about the song as the park became a goal and on a trip to NYC I got to go. This was before the internet so research was limited but I knew of the parks in New England so I’d somehow manage to get to them all. My father had family in Pennsylvania and that opened up a treasure trove of parks topped off by Hershey Park.
This fascination with amusement parks has continued and I even joined ACE and would occasionally go to their meetings at various amusement parks. When Six Flags New England opened up Superman my ACE card got me to the front of the line and any seat I wanted - no five hour wait since we critiqued the coasters. Ride as many times as I wanted. VIP treatment. Eat your heart out peasants.
Some folks pass on certain things to their children and my big contribution has been they all just love coasters and amusement parks. One family vacation centered around a trip to the Mecca of amusement parks - Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. This is the coaster capital of the world! We managed to get my wife - The Lovely Cynthia - on one of the smaller coasters saying it was a simple ride. I still remember her vomiting into a large flower display after the ride.
Veronica or Betty? Mary Ann or Ginger? Coke or Pepsi? Steel or wood? Steel coasters do things that wood cannot. Twists, turns, loops, speed and so on. Cheaper to build and maintain and they were all the rage since Knotts Berry Farm installed one. Heck…I flew a a Citabria aerobatic plane out of North Middleboro for years so I didn’t need any loops. But like Vinyl with records the woodies have made an amazing comeback. I prefer them. I like the bumps and the grinds. My favorite is The Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. This one had to be changed three times since it had created too rough a ride. The designer eventually died of a heart attack supposedly brought on my the stress of getting this machine going.
I could create quite a list of coasters and parks and rate them but that would require a book rather than a post and just reflect opinion. In a few weeks I will go to Denver to see the Sox play but one game will be missed as I’ll head to Elitch Gardens for a few jaunts on their coasters. Cynthia will be invited but somehow I think she’ll pass on any and all rides. In fact the only think I now prefer is coasters as just about anything else makes me sick.
Some amusement parks have survived to this day while others have become faded memories of another time. A certain part of the demise can be attributed to the ultimate evil prince of amusement parks - Walt Disney! Yep - uncle Walt and the creation of the theme park. Some of the madness of theme parks have seeped into the world of amusements parks with shows and productions. I want rides! I want fun houses! I don’t want cartoon characters and fluffy Disney rides.