“Bizarro Kennywood” by Sean Collier

There comes a time during every great family beach vacation that one of the toddlers, distraught and angry over some perceived juicebox or boogie board injustice, tries to fling herself into the sea. Yesterday was that day and it was magnificent. Because it wasn’t my kid, but my sister Pens Fan’s kid. I got pictures. 47 of them.

I’m still in North Carolina, so here’s another great guest post, this one by Sean Collier. Sean is a colleague of mine over at Pittsburgh Magazine and he’s also another great writer who I have yet to meet in person. I’m starting to realize this is a problem. I need to get out more. As soon as my youngest reaches an age where she doesn’t seriously consider flinging herself desperately into the sea. 

Here’s Sean taking us on a journey through the Kennywood you’ll never know. It’s brilliant, except for the part where he forgot about how in the Rotor all the obese people’s fat would splay against the walls. Hawt.

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A few weeks ago, the excellent “Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show” podcast dedicated an episode to the infamous, defunct Action Park — a treacherous and hilariously ill-advised waterpark in New Jersey. While discussing the park’s hazards (water rides in ponds filled with poisonous snakes! Drunk, underage, overworked lifeguards monitoring hundreds of people apiece! Broken equipment! A loop-the-loop waterslide that never worked even a little bit!) Rubin and his guest, Action Park expert Seth Porges, talked at length about how amazing and entertaining the Wikipedia entry for Action Park is.

A Wikipedia entry? Worth reading, on its own merits? As an editor, this confused and confounded me.

They’re right, though — the Action Park page on Wikipedia is a masterpiece. Well-written, detailed, rife with illuminating anecdotes. It’s the crowdsourced online encyclopedia entry version of The Great Gatsby.

Inevitably, this led me down the internet wormhole that a certain Ms. Montanez is so fond of traveling, and I quickly found myself at the Wiki page for our own bit of theme-park history. While Kennywood’s page isn’t a timeless masterpiece like the Action Park treatment, there’s a lot to pique the interest of a trivia-obsessed ‘Burgher like myself. Most notable: a year-by-year breakdown of changes to the park, from the 1800’s all the way through Garfield’s godless encroachment onto my beloved Old Mill.

Here, then, let’s take a trip into what might’ve been. What could still stand in West Mifflin, had the winds of change blown in another direction and the element of all-too-real danger presented by Action Park filtered westward. Join me, on a brief visit to…

Bizarro Kennywood.

First, if you’ll look to your left immediately upon entering the park, you’ll find that the twisting mass of steel and yup-that’s-too-long-let’s-go-get-some-fries-instead lines known as the Sky Rocket has re-vanished, and the missing Turnpike is in its place. Do we really need a ride that’s just some little cars on a strictly controlled track? Yes. Yes we do. So that eight-year-olds can pretend they know how to drive, and fill up their tanks with gas payable only in FUN.

And yes, Garfield is gone; the horror kitsch of the Old Mill is back in full effect. Although once a week we change it to the name it used briefly in the ‘70s: Hard Headed Harrold’s Horrendously Humorous Haunted Hideaway. That’s not just the best name for a ride I’ve ever heard, that’s the best name for anything I’ve ever heard.

Noah’s Ark, you’ll note, has also been restored to its former version, where there were like eighteen more opportunities to break your leg and you had to walk across the squishy whale’s tongue to get in. Of everything that’s missing from Kennywood today, I think I miss the squishy whale’s tongue the most.

Here we have one of my favorite vanished rides – the treacherous Rotor, an old-school version of the common carnival ride called a Gravitron. You know it — you lean against the wall, it spins like a washing machine and you’re stuck to the wall? Well, in the old days, it was a big steel drum, and the floor eventually fell away. So you were there, hovering perilously over a slab of worn steel. Terrifying. Just like all good theme park rides should be.

Speaking of scares, with the conversion of the awesome Gold Rusher to the confusing Ghostwood Estate, Kennywood lost the last of its true dark rides — the ones where you sit in a cart while scary things happen, slowly. (Yes, also known as the ones where teenagers make out.) I just happen to think that dark rides are awesome, so we’ve installed not one, not two, not three, but four of the park’s bastions of bygone spooky darkness: the Gold Rusher, Laff in the Dark, Le Cachot and Ghost Ship. Fun fact: Ghost Ship burned to the ground in 1975! I’m still bringin’ it back!

Ever find yourself trying to explain to someone that there was definitely a weird ride where you got water sprayed in your face around for like five years, seriously, just a few years ago, it was here, I remember it? You’re not crazy! It was called King Kahuna, and it only did its spraying routine for a couple of seasons before people pointed out that they had trouble breathing, what with all the water in their mouths. Well they’d better toughen up, because the King has returned!

Pitt Fall? Back. Best view of West Mifflin parking lots ever!

And finally, most importantly, you’ll note that the Laser Loop is back, in all of its incredibly simple glory. Is it a super-short roller coaster, mainly just offering one big loop? Yup. Are the lines way too long? Yup. Is it vastly inferior to every other roller coaster in the park? Oh yeah. So why am I bringing this forgettable ride back from the dead?

Because it was removed in 1990. I was born in 1985. That means I was never tall enough to ride it. And I’m still bitter about it.

Sadly, though, we must recede from the mists of Bizarro Kennywood and back to the real world — where the park is more fun, friendly and safe than ever. Not so bad at all, I know. Those bygone rides will have to remain in memory, stories, and a not-at-all-convincing account from your weird cousin who swears a dude got thrown off the Jack Rabbit right in front of him this one time.





30 Comments

  1. Rachel Weber
    July 19, 2012 2:27 pm

    My first coaster ride was the Laser Loop. I was probably 6 or 7 and my grandfather dragged me on it. I came off crying and green in the face. I love my grandfather for that because I still, to this day, love a good roller coaster, even if I do end up crying and green in the face!



  2. CarolineFB
    July 19, 2012 2:34 pm

    Awesome guest post. Great memories!



  3. Dana
    July 19, 2012 2:48 pm

    I feel like it would be remiss not to discuss Le Cachet in this Bizarro Kennywood world, with it’s magical ride through an old castle, ending with a room full of seizures.



    • Erin
      July 19, 2012 4:11 pm

      Hahaaaaa – I miss that candy-striped room. Also, remember the spinning prism that used to be in Noah’s Ark? Loved it.



  4. red pen mama
    July 19, 2012 2:51 pm

    Loved the Laser Loop, and I still miss it. Its simplicity was its genius!

    I could do without the Pitt Fall forever, though.



  5. BBandG
    July 19, 2012 2:55 pm

    Yes! Though it was still called the Haunted Hideaway in the 80’s, because that’s when I was a kid and went to Kennywood and I STILL call it that. I want the booth back where you could sing along to Corey Hart or Whitesnake and get a cassette tape of your mewling that you could take home, play for your parents, and then wonder where it went by the next day when it was accidentally destroyed maliciously. The ferris wheel. Put the Whip back where it belongs, by the Log Jammer.

    Oh, and most importantly – the Monongahela Monster.



    • Dave Weber
      July 19, 2012 3:02 pm

      Wait wait, so you are telling me The Whip had moved? Can you tell me what year because I knew it had been moved and I might get to use an “I told you so.”



    • empirechick
      July 19, 2012 3:43 pm

      LOVED that booth!! Back in ’91 my state champion softball team crammed in the booth and did an awesomely terrible version of We Are Family. Not surprisingly, none of us knew the verses – so there’s lots of mumbling along, then a full chorus of “We are family! I got all my sisters with me!”.

      Good times. I wish I still had that tape.



  6. Dave Weber
    July 19, 2012 3:00 pm

    Rachel and I went to ‘da Burgh at the end of June to see family among other things. One stop was Kennywood which I had not been to in over 20 years. I was immediately saddened to find out that the Monongahela Monster was no longer there. That octopus looking contraption on top of the one restaurant was my favorite thing ever! Whenever I was at other parks through my life if they had a ride like the monster I would ride it just to feel like I was back home.



  7. inBrookline
    July 19, 2012 3:05 pm

    The Garfield branding of the Old Mill ride may have been Kennywood’s official jump the shark moment.

    I do not miss the Rotor… or the Hell Hole as it was known at the lesser Conneaut Lake Park. My brother would always position himself next to me and threaten to spit a loogie while the ride was in progress. Terrifying.



  8. Lauryn
    July 19, 2012 3:09 pm

    I vividly remember riding the Rotor and wondering what would happen to all of us if the thing suddenly stopped. What a crazy contraption. Loved Le Cachet and Noah’s Ark with the tongue. So weird.

    When I was little, my best friend’s dad would shove cigarette boxes in our shoes to make us tall enough to ride some of the scarier stuff. If that ain’t Pittsburgh, I’m not sure what is.



  9. RichD
    July 19, 2012 3:57 pm

    The mention of Action Park reminded me of Holiday Sands in Ravenna OH. We took a trip there every summer. It was a death trap water park on a small private lake. They had a couple rusty water slides, a couple rope swings, giant floating barrels and the scariest playground in the known world! It was great!



  10. Julie
    July 19, 2012 5:11 pm

    I Sean Collier!!!



    • Julie
      July 19, 2012 5:13 pm

      dangit…that should read I *heart* Sean Collier….

      I don’t know what I did to make the “heart” disappear!



  11. Mitchell
    July 19, 2012 5:48 pm

    http://mitchellb.com/kennywood.htm

    Here are photos of when I documented Kennywood during their 100th Anniversary.My favorite is The Old Mill



  12. Suzie-Q
    July 19, 2012 6:48 pm

    LOVE Kennywood….so many wonderful memories…..it was our official family vacation destination every year….and we loved it!!!



  13. YinzerInExile
    July 19, 2012 9:22 pm

    It’s funny to hear/see any fixture of my high school picnics referred to as “old school.” *pops a Tums, beats up Hines for his last Werthers*



  14. Caroline
    July 20, 2012 1:23 am

    My mom used to loooooooooove the Roter when I was a kid (early 90s) and it sounded so terrifying to me…now that I’m older, it sounds like a BLAST and I’m so upset it’s no longer there. You know how the park is so big and confusing when you’re a kid? I wasn’t sure for years if it was still hiding somewhere around a corner….

    Ugh I refuse to think of the Old Mill as Garfield land. What ridiculousness.



  15. Emily
    July 20, 2012 1:24 am

    Dear Ghost of Rotor Past,

    I still love you despite what others may think. I miss you and I wish you’d come back. You’re probably the only ride my stomach could stand anymore.

    (Seriously, what is that? I hit the mid-twenties a few years ago and can no longer scarf down funnel cakes and then ride for hours on end! Sadly, I don’t think I can pass for the “Grandparents just here to watch the grandkids” rate.)



  16. Marisa
    July 20, 2012 8:59 am

    Bizarro Kennywood – I want to go to there!

    I remember my last ride on Le Cachot, which, coincidentally, happened to be with my long-time high school crush. Also, extremely sad when the Laser Loop disappeared because, as a kid, I always thought, “When I’m big enough, I’m going on that!”



  17. bucdaddy
    July 20, 2012 10:35 am

    The only school picnic at an amusement park I can remember was at White Swan.

    Cheap-ass school.

    Anyways, we ain’t SEEN bizarro Kennywood yet. Wait till they sell beer.

    I bet they’ll sell TWO kinds of beer: Bud and Bud Light.



    • Sam's Dog
      July 23, 2012 8:29 pm

      Buc, With all due respect, White Swan had the frickin’ Mad Mouse, for God’s sake. How can you so callously toss that aside?



  18. Trish
    July 22, 2012 2:31 pm

    Being a Jersey girl, it warmed my heart/scared the hell out of me to see Traction Park (everyone called it that, some also called it Class Action Park) mentioned on here. I’ve also been to Kennywood, and there’s no comparing the two. If you grew up in New Jersey in the eighties, you knew someone–it could very likely be you–who got seriously injured at Traction Park. For the record, the looping waterslide was open very briefly. I know this because I actually went on that wretched thing when I was 18 and can vouch for the bloody nose and wrenched back many of its riders experienced. My brother broke his ankle on the alpine slide a few years earlier. Add in a less-than-stringent ID policy and the place was filled with drunken teenagers, many of whom worked there. I remember going to the first aid station after my mishap on the waterslide and there were so many bloody people there it looked like a M*A*S*H* unit.



  19. A.J.
    July 25, 2012 7:08 am

    For those who want to relive the old Laser Loop coaster exists in Mexico City at an amusement park. I was too scared, and too short to ever ride the thing. Its called Cascabel in Chapultepec Park. Road trip?? haha.



  20. Happy troll
    July 26, 2012 3:35 pm

    I was there the day the Ghost Ship burned down! I was afraid that all dark rides could somehow go up in flames after that. Except for, of course the Old Mill which was safely ensconced in water.



  21. Amanda
    July 26, 2012 4:43 pm

    Have I been hallucinating every time I’ve gone into the Ark? I swear, that at the beginning, there is still a piece of the whale’s tongue. Shortly after you get off the elevator and have to cross over the dead person pit. I feel as though I need to right now to find out.