The stuff that's not supposed to happen at amusement parks is often more AMAZING than the stuff that does. Death and dismemberment. World records and walks of shame. Civil rights and creepy rides. Melees and marriages. Sex, cockroaches, evangelists—you won't believe your eyes!
From Disneyland to Dogpatch USA, pop culture maven Nathaniel Tolle has gathered the strangest, the silliest, the spookiest, the most amazing amusement park stories—all of them true! The human condition reveals itself on roller coasters and log flume rides, in haunted mansions and rickety relics from bygone eras, and under the bright and not-so-bright lights of amusement parks from around the world.
Your admission buys you:
Part 1: The Heart-Warmers
All Hail the Roller Coaster King!
The Powder Keg Barely Recognizes Tim
It’s Not My Home Movie But I’m Still Ready for My Close-Up
Where a Kid Can Be a Kid
The Killing and Reincarnation of Humpty
Freedom Finally Comes to Gwynn Oak
One Last Bash at Neverland Ranch
Best Wedding Ever
Daffy’s Special Volunteer
Hulk 1, Tumor 0
The Roller Coasters That Kept a Girl Alive
The Five Oldest Amusement Parks in the World
Teagan Defies All Odds and Wins a Therapy Puppy
Gary Coleman’s Diamondback Devotion
This Is Hardcore Santa
Splashin’ the Question
The Return of the World’s Oldest Roller Coaster
Part 2: The Head-Scratchers
The Strange Afterlife of Elmer McCurdy
A Bat Nap on the Demon
Serenity Not Now: Five Memorable Amusement Park Brawls
Step Right Up for a Resurrection, Folks!
The Moose Out Front Should Have Told You That Colossus Is Burning
The Day King’s Dominion Stood Still
They’re Creeping Up on the First in Line
Disney: Where Insane Anniversary Wishes Come True
A Totally Radical Place to Get Black and Blue
If You Jump, I Jump, Never Mind
‘Til Death or Dismantling Do Us Part
Finally, an Amusement Park for Tortured Souls
The Five Strangest Amusement Parks in the World
All Hallows Eve with The Rat Lady
A Not So Amusing Shootout
Boxing and Grenades
The Creepiest Ride in the World
Part 3: The Soul-Suckers
King’s Crimson-Covered Black Sabbath
Napa High’s Final Trip to Waterworld
It’s a World of Pain and Suffering, After All
Fire in the Haunted Castle
Cedar Points and Pulverizes
Ferris Wheel Tragedy in the Bronx
The Five Spookiest Abandoned Amusement Parks
Please Wait Until the Ride Has Stopped to Enjoy the Deer Jerky
In Space, Sometimes Your Screams Are Heard
Chariots of Fire-Survival
Poltergeists Get in for Free
Part 4: The Gut-Busters
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Goose
Pac-Man in the Flesh
The Five Weirdest Amusement Park World Records
Escape from Tomorrow Escapes the Wrath of Disney
Al Bundy’s Dream Job
Oh Bother, I’m Rumbly in my Tumbly and Fists
Farewell Falwell, Speaks Thy Alligator
The 5 Best Amusement Park Video Games
Keep Paws inside the Ride at All Times
Invasion of the Sitcom Families and the Funnel Cakes from Mars
About the Author
In moments of stress and anxiety, a popular coping mechanism is mentally focusing on a happy place, and mine is often an amusement park. Barring any unforeseen developments like a rapid succession of roller coaster accidents or sharknado attacks, 2016 is setting up to be a record-breaking year for the amusement park industry, so clearly I’m not the only one whose happy place involves log flumes and dark rides. When 300 million people visit one of approximately 400 amusement parks in the United States in a single year, it’s safe to say that a few of them encountered something completely unexpected that gave them quite a story to tell when they went home.
The idea of compiling the most amazing true stories that have ever occurred in an amusement park seemed promising, although there was the possibility that material would be so scarce I’d have to write 100 pages about the time Fabio got hit in the face with the goose. While that incident will probably always hold the crown for the most amazing amusement park story, to my delight I found many worthy contenders. Other books have chronicled the many horrible accidents that befell amusement park visitors, and while this book does feature its fair share of tragedies, I wanted to give just as much, if not more, attention to the bizarre, funny, and heartwarming incidents. It was certainly tedious to research hundreds of years of amusement park history—on some nights it only took 20 minutes to find a story worth re-telling from newspaper archives, at other times it took several hours, but it seemed I always struck gold eventually and was reminded of just how unpredictable and odd this world is.
In addition to keeping these stories—most of which were printed in a single newspaper or featured on a local news program decades ago—alive, I also wanted to catch up with the participants and see how these events affected their lives. This turned out to be more challenging than I expected because without the funds to hire a private investigator, I could only rely on the internet. It was discouraging to finally track somebody down only to have my e-mails and letters go unanswered, as if only a lunatic would go to the trouble of finding them to ask about the time they were stuck upside down for hours on a roller coaster 25 years ago. Equally annoying was getting the rights to re-print certain photos, so hopefully you will use Google images for visual aids. Frustrations aside, this was a rewarding project that only strengthened my appreciation for amusement parks.
Going to Six Flags as a child always seemed like a mini-vacation, because entering a fantasy-land where you could literally hug your favorite cartoon characters, eat a funnel cake for dinner and then cotton candy for dessert, sit on a magical swing set that does all the work, seemingly time travel back to the Wild West, practically touch the clouds before falling at a speed you never thought was even possible, pass by animatronic lumberjacks via giant log, stare in wonder at a collection of engineering marvels and thousands of flashing lights, and drive a car while giggling at every collision seems like it would require a long plane ride instead of a mere 15-minute drive. I was a firm believer that once the attendant scanned my ticket and allowed me to pass through the gates, anything was possible. After all, I once went to Six Flags with a boy from my 2nd grade class who I never liked—from what I remember, he was picking on me regularly at school and our mothers decided to arrange a play day—and by the end of the day we were friends.
Six Flags continued to entrance and entertain me as I got older and my insatiable hunger for adrenalin grew larger, because it consistently added bigger, faster rides. I used to laugh when my dad told me how the Mine Train used to be the scariest ride in the park; it was a mere kiddie ride compared to the speed demon that was the Screamin’ Eagle. But today’s kids are probably riding the Screamin’ Eagle just to relax and recuperate from stomach-churning modern goliaths like Batman and Mr. Freeze. In St. Louis, I had definitely been spoiled when it came to amusement park proximity, because having a Six Flags season pass allowed me to take a short detour on the way home from work or school just to go on a few rides or enjoy a waffle cone while soaking in the kind of atmosphere and ambience that made the stresses of daily life seem a million miles away. Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, was another one of my favorites, with its charming 1880s Ozark frontier village gimmick, memorable rides like the roller coaster-dark ride hybrid Fire in the Hole, and otherworldly strawberry shortcake. Busch Gardens in Virginia taught me that I wasn’t so useless after all when a stranger witnessed my Whack-a-Mole winning streak and actually gave me a few bucks to win her son a stuffed pelican. Indiana Beach in Monticello, Indiana, catered to my love of horror films with its Mystery Mansion dark ride and its walk-through attraction, Dr. Frankenstein’s Castle. Universal Studios in Orlando provided some of the most unique and surreal rides I’ve ever been on, like Back to the Future, E.T., and Jaws. But predictably, the fondest amusement park memories from my childhood occurred at Disney World.
One time in high school, a professional hypnotist visited my English class for some bizarre reason and proceeded to demonstrate his talents by sending one student on a round-trip journey through her head. When he asked for volunteers who wanted to re-live a special childhood experience in front of the entire class, a few hands were raised, including mine. The class all voted on what story they wanted to hear, and it was a tie between my day at Disney World and a female classmate’s Halloween party—I love Halloween more than just about anything, so I broke the tie and voted for her. Sadly, I never got to hear her favorite Halloween memory because when the hypnotist said, “You are getting sleepy,” I couldn’t help but agree, and my lengthy nap strangely ended the exact second he told the girl to open her eyes at the end of the session. It would have been interesting to go back to that day at Disney World that concluded with a ride on Tomorrowland Speedway under the most incredible lightning storm I ever saw. Perhaps it’s best to leave it as a vague, but perfect memory, rather than risk the possibility of uncovering some repressed memories like Snow White making fun of my Stryper t-shirt or stealing my Mickey Mouse ice cream bar.
Like many twenty-something weirdos who felt alienated in the Red states they called home, I hopped along the Oregon Trail shortly after finishing college in 2004. I chose Portland completely on a whim; I loved the fact that waterfalls, the Pacific Ocean, mountains, and the fictional town of Twin Peaks were just a short drive away. It was one of the few great decisions I’ve ever made in my life, but had I read the fine print that lists what was not available in this gray-skied paradise, I might have disqualified it from consideration. I mean, how could I live in a place without roller coasters or thunderstorms? OK, technically, there are thunderstorms in Portland, but if you happen to be napping during one, there’s a good chance you won’t get another opportunity for a couple of years. As for amusement parks, Portland has been home to Oaks Amusement Park since 1905, and Salem has the wonderfully weird Enchanted Forest, but both are quite small and lacking any ride that could give adults a true adrenaline rush. The nearest big, legitimate amusement park is Silverwood Theme Park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. So I went from being only ten minutes away from the awesome Six Flags in Eureka, Missouri, to having to drive over six hours to get my roller coaster fix.
It turned out not to be such a bad thing overall; if anything, being so far away from amusement parks makes me appreciate them even more and gives me more incentive to travel. Usually. when I take a vacation now, it’s to somewhere like Mason, Ohio; Anaheim, California; or Williamsburg, Virginia—places with reputable amusement parks that I’ve always been meaning to check out someday. So rather than going to Six Flags whenever I damn well feel like it, I now treat my amusement park day like an annual holiday that I look forward to all year, and if I ever find myself at Santa’s Village in October, then I’ll have the rare pleasure of celebrating my three favorite holidays all at once.
Doing research for this book introduced me to many amusement parks I had never heard of, and hopefully in the upcoming years I’ll be able to cross off a few from my “go-to” list. In the meantime, dear readers, if you find yourselves at an amusement park, make sure you do something wild and goofy that makes the evening news so that I’ll have plenty of worthy material for a sequel!
Nathaniel Tolle graduated from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Film Studies. His first book, Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween, was published in 2014. He now resides in Portland, Oregon and writes for the website Geek Legacy.
Rye Playland bans women's headgear. Muslim women wear headgear. Put the two together&and in this case, it's not just one Muslim, it's 3000 of them together at the park&and you know the hajibs are going to fly.
An even more chaotic disturbance occurred on Tuesday, August 30, 2011, in New York’s Rye Playland, resulting in the injury of two police officers and the arrest of 15 people. This Westchester County amusement park had made special arrangements with the Muslim-American Society of New York, which brought approximately 3,000 of its members to celebrate the end of Ramadan (a month-long holiday in which fasting occurs from dawn to sunset) with a day of fun, rides, and tasty treats. Deputy Parks Commissioner Peter Tartaglia repeatedly explained the headgear policy to the group’s leaders before they arrived at the park, but many of its female members were still surprised to learn later on that they wouldn’t be permitted to wear the traditional head-covering scarves known as the hijab on 10 of the 26 rides. “Somebody wears some sort of a scarf, it could be a strangling situation. If something goes on a track of a roller coaster, it could cause that ride to stop and cause injury,” Tartaglia told multiple media outlets. “There are many reasons why we would do this, but we don’t do it lightly either. We look at every single ride and make that determination.”
The women attributed this headgear ban not as a legitimate concern for the safety of patrons, but as an outdated policy and as a persecution of their religion, and refused to take off their hijabs. Park officials decided that since this was an unfortunate misunderstanding, they would issue refunds to those wanting to leave the park. During this exhausting procedure at the entrance, members of this very large group allegedly started arguing with each other, creating such a disturbance that park rangers had no choice but to get involved. Ali Salem, who was 17 at the time, told Lohud.com that he saw a park ranger push a Muslim woman, and after she pushed back, a scuffle broke out in which rangers used batons excessively. Reiterating this claim was Haifi Ali, who was also at the park during the incident, and would tell Patch.com that things escalated once a park ranger struck a woman repeatedly with a baton, resulting in a group of men coming to her rescue and police calling for backup. With over 60 police vehicles now parked out front and a row of officers in riot gear swarming the entrance, the gates were closed for hours, causing immense frustration to those who got a late start on the day or who had momentarily left the park to get a cheaper bite to eat somewhere.
Continued in "Amazing Amusement Park Stories"!
Unless it's a water park, think again about that evening swim.
One of the oldest amusement parks in the country, Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, has long been rumored to be haunted. Seeing as how a cemetery rests between its parking lot and campgrounds, you couldn’t pick a more appropriate setting for ghost stories. The Sy-Fy TV show Ghost Hunters even shot an episode there, focusing mostly on the ghost of a little girl named Missouri Jane, who drowned in the lake on the property back in 1846. Kings Island opened in 1972 and saw its first fatality four years later when a 20-year-old employee was mauled to death by a lion; up until around 1994, a section of the park served as a wild animal safari. As shocking as an amusement park lion attack may be, it doesn’t quite compare to the bizarre events that befell Kings Island almost 15 years later on a day that many people still refer to as Black Sunday; not only is it an amazing horror film from Mario Bava, but it’s also one of the darkest days in the history of amusement parks.
At around 8:30 on the night of June 9, 1991, 22-year-old Timothy Binning entered the fenced-in pond that surrounds the Bier Garten. It was never clear why he decided to go into the water, but he soon felt the jolt of an electrical current that knocked him into the shallow water. Seeing that his friend was lying face down in the pond, 21-year-old William Haithcoat attempted to rescue him, but was also shocked. A 20-year-old park security guard named Darrell Robertson was walking down the boardwalk when he saw that Benning and Haitchcoat were in trouble, and without any hesitation, instinctively jumped into the pond—in which dead fish were collectively rising to the surface—to try and save them. Within seconds, he dropped face first and starting sinking.
According to an eyewitness, additional security guards arrived and were told by panicked onlookers that the water was charged with electricity. Once the announcement came, the electricity was turned off and the pond was safe to enter. A few men rushed in to pull the three submerged, motionless men from the water. Paula Earls, a park visitor and nurse from Indianapolis, administered CPR to the three victims. By the time ambulances showed up, all were breathing. But ironically, the only one who would survive the incident was the first person that entered the pond. Binning was rushed to Bethesda North Hospital (approximately eight miles away); by the following night, his condition was listed as good. Haithcoat and Robertson were taken to University of Cincinnati Hospital (36 miles away); by 10pm, both had been pronounced dead from electrocution.
As if this night couldn’t get any crazier at Kings Island, another ambulance would be rushed to the opposite end of the park a mere 55 minutes after the Bier Garten tragedy.
Continued in "Amazing Amusement Park Stories"!