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.
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…
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.