Monday, October 24, 2016

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Arkansas

Home to roughly 3 million people, Arkansas is another deep south state with all the negative issues traditionally associated with the deep south as it pertains to amusement and theme parks. Hurting it further is its own image to outsiders and investors. Wikipedia notes this was "characterized by early explorers as a savage wilderness full of outlaws and thieves." Perusal of Billboard's June 30th, 1917 issue gives us the name of 5 historical parks for the state operating then. That is but a tiny fraction of Pennsylvania or Ohio's take in the same issue. Of those 5, none seem to have operated past the 1920s.

Arkansas' first new full scale park in the post war era was quite an interesting one; Dogpatch USA, themed to a single IP (the Lil' Abner cartoon series). The park actually hung on for roughly 25 years before succumbing to debt load and poor investment decisions. Today, only one major park operates in Arkansas: CNL Management Group owned Magic Springs & Crystal Falls, located in the resort town of Hot Springs. Often rumored to be paring down to a water park only facility, Magic Springs is another victim of poor management/ownership as it is operated by a hedge fund seeking to create liquidity yesterday, not profits next year. Half of Six Flags St. Louis' original dual mine trains, a Maurer-Sohne X-Coaster, and the former wood coaster from Circus World/Boardwalk and Baseball all operate at the park.


The state has 4 parks of interest located on public lands and/or operating as trusts. Queen Wilhelmina State Park features a narrow gauge miniature diesel train for rides and mini golf. Funland Amusement Park, the state's longest operating amusement facility, runs on the grounds of Burns Park in North Little Rock. The Park at West End over in Fort Smith offers an Eli Wheel and carousel (non-historic). Finally, that brings us to the Little Rock Zoo, which happens to have a very unique piece of amusement park history. Constructed nearly 100 years ago by Herschell-Spillman, the Over-The-Dips Carousel is the only ride of its type in permanent operation anywhere on earth. Rather than using traditional mechanisms for jumpers, the ride uses an ondulating floor with the horses and flooring being mounted to a Caterpillar chassis. The ride was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, and fully refurbished in 2007.


Mountain Village 1890 provides insight into the history of the Ozark region, the Baldknobbers, and all that nonsense which frankly I know little to nothing about, just like all my Yankee brethern. The internet tells me Baldknobbers sided with the North, and if there's anything I learned from Silver Dollar City, it is that they are the bad guys so...this I'm sure is interesting. No rides, just lots of buildings and period costumes.


The Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame seems like a strange choice: a small free museum dedicated to musicians from the state doesn't seem that interesting. But alas: How about a Johnny Cash Animatronic that sings 6 of his best songs? Yes. This is a real thing.


This isn't the midwest, and as such, the number of giant haunts isn't really comparable. The Carpenter's Mortuary has the slickest website and claims to be in an actual former mortuary. The Old Haunted Warehouse promotes total darkness with only the aid of a glowstick. As someone who's been in total darkness, you'd really be surprised how well a glowstick can illuminate. They're rather underrated!

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