Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of America (Introduction)

Over a period of, well, I don’t even know how long, I’ve played with the idea of providing some sort of column to my friends over at Parkscope. There’s plenty of opinion pieces and photo blogging in the world today, and honestly, I find that stuff kinda lousy. I’ve reached a point long ago when I look to call a very specific and small group of people when they’ve done something that interests me to find out their opinion, and I’m not really interested in hearing anyone else’s. I’m old and insular and resistant to change. I’ve also come to accept that most people aren’t really that interested in my opinion unless I’m willing to yell louder than everyone around me. Why do that? Amusement parks are supposed to be fun. Theme parks (which are almost all amusement parks anyhow) are supposed to be fun. Why holler into the void?

Food stand at Junction Valley Railroad; Bridgeport, Michigan
Rather than take the bait and provide the kind of rage echo content so many desire, I thought that there had to be something I could do that would be constructive. I like rides - all of them, all kinds. Not just slow moving dark rides past corporate approved imagery, but ramshackle stuff people with dreams and no money managed to hammer together on their spare time at work. Classic flat rides of which few examples remain but no one realizes it. Unique or rare roller coasters, transportation attractions, strange haunted amusements; all that stuff is awesome, some of it basically a style of folk art which could be eliminated with a few adjustments in civil tort law.

Goldfield Ghost Town; Apache Junction, Arizona
But frankly, there’s nowhere to go to find information about much of these rides and attractions. It’s splayed out across the internet, sometimes “off the grid” of Google and Tripadvisor searches. Anyone who’s gone looking should already know about the basics, and if they don’t, well, this is them:

-Roller Coaster Database (RCDB): Duane Marden has been maintaining this, the most comprehensive census of any style of amusement ride in existence, for many moons. As of the time that I write this, 7856 roller coasters have been cataloged from historical records to whenever they’re discovered to be operating anywhere on Earth. In some cases, Duane holds the only keys to the knowledge we have of regional amusement park scenes in places you can scarcely imagine ever having had one.

-National Carousel Association Database: I’ll make this short - the National Carousel Society has effectively seemed to have won the schism among Carousel fanatics, and that’s good for you because they were the guys who wanted the carousels to run for the public, and the other side was more about preserving the horses as pieces of art by not having people ride them. Think ecology vs. conservation. Anyhow, the NCA keeps a very good and detailed database of permanent carousels in the United States with information about carving house, date of construction, type, number of rows, et al.

-Dark Ride and Funhouse Enthusiasts Attractions List: The club known as DAFE is almost comically unknown to the Disney dark ride fans in spite of being the one club in the US dedicated primarily to dark rides. In fairness, DAFE’s interest is less in the Disney style and more in the classic Pretzel/Tracy/etc styles that are increasingly rare. The attractions list is horribly out of date; perhaps Parkscope will soon be home to a more up-to-date one? (Stay tuned.)

Funicular, Hillbilly Golf; Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Because I don’t want to necessarily duplicate efforts, the majority of the posts I hope to make as part of this series will touch on attractions not necessarily brought up by those (sometimes) comprehensive lists or add some color and background to what may otherwise be a very two dimensional picture consisting of statistic regurgitation. Hopefully you, the reader, learn something, and maybe even find out about a ride or attraction near to you which you didn’t know about before, or maybe just didn’t appreciate qualities of. It might not get as much play as pictures of cupcakes over the long run, but I’d rather make something I’m proud of than make something just to get attention. Hopefully it’ll find an audience with you.

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