Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Maine

Lobstah! Uhhh, being north! Yes, those are things Maine is primarily known for across the North American continent. New England's biggest and least population dense state, it features a rugged coast, rocky interior filled with glacial lakes. Its biggest city, Portland, ranks 519th in the nation. Capital city Augusta has the third smallest population of any state capital, only larger than Montpelier, VT and Pierre, SD. There's not a lot of people, OK? But Maine likes to call itself "Vacationland," and for many many years it has served the good people of the Boston Metro area in much the same way that upstate NY serves the 5 boroughs, Sulphur Springs, WV the DC area, or Northern/Western Michigan for Chicagoans and Detroiters. With this sort of resort demand comes amusements. It just always does.

The three most well known amusement facilities in the state are all found within a rough 25 mile radius of one another around the I-195 branch south of Portland. Biggest of these is Funtown/Splashtown USA, which opened in 1960 as a drive-in restaurant with a few amusements (kinda like the current state of Didley's Place in Illinois, previously detailed here). As time went on, new rides were installed, and eventually, you get what is there today: a midsize amusement park featuring some decent rides, most notably the CCI wood coaster Excalibur. It's never been a top contender at any point of the great coaster wars of the 2000s, but it is a really fun ride with a couple standout spots of airtime. The park also features an S&S drop tower (with above average decoration), antique cars, log flume, a Maurer Sohne Wild Mouse, and a full water park with all the fixins'.

3 miles away is a beachside park - Palace Playland. The park has operated on this spot since 1902, and was part of a much larger seaside resort area until fires and hurricanes wiped out the larger rides in the 1940s. The present park is jammed packed with rides and attractions across its microscopic 4 acres, and there are also some excellent arcades around to hit up. Finally, there's York's Wild Kingdom. For many years, this park was ignored by most people because it didn't have a roller coaster. It did, however, and still does have, 4 walkthrough attractions. 3 of these are trailer based, but there is the very permanent Haunted House in addition to those. In 2010, the decision was made to add a Wacky Worm kiddie coaster, ensuring it an RCDB entry and slightly more attention. There's also zoo enclosures here to see and an array of flat rides.

Now, were one to do their research, they could go to those old amusement park listings in Billboard and find that back in the 1950s, Old Orchard Beach and York's Wild Kingdom were the only amusement parks then too. If one delves much deeper - say, the 1917 list - the parks found are extremely rudimentary, often lacking in actual amusements. Maine's amusement history is, effectively, a living one. Living history is of course the goal of many open air museums, which 19th Century Willowbrook Village was one of. I say "was" because it closed after the 2016 season, citing that it had been running in the red for years. The carousel there, an 1894 Armitage-Herschell, is the most complete of its sort. Red slatted running boards, animated Sambo figure cranking it; it is from a totally different universe than almost anything in you can find today.

As a vacation destination, Maine pushes the outdoors elements heavily. Flat Rock Bridge Family Camping in Lebanon has what appears to be a resurfaced terrain slide which switched from concrete to plastic. Papoose Pond Resort has a Allen Herschell carousel that operates for limited hours on weekends for those staying there. Naples' Maine is home to the Steamboat Landing Mini Golf, which is fully themed over the 18 holes to the state's most well known symbols.

Like most of the states in New England, Maine does not have a state fair. It chooses instead to have a big ol' booth at the Eastern States Exhibition in Springfield, MA. There are county fairs, but none have anything permanent worth noting.

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