Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...New Hampshire

For those who are outside New England, trying to understand New Hampshire's relationship to everything else can be tough. There's not any major cities that are recognizable to anyone. Their state universities aren't famous for performing well in anything athletically, but Dartmouth is in the state to represent it in the Ivy League. It seems green? So some things about New Hampshire that I can explain to you, the non-New Englander:

-New Hampshire touches the ocean. I know that may seem weird, but it totally does in a small space between Massachusetts and Maine.

-The state's symbol, the Old Man of the Mountain, crumbled into nothing one night. Formed by erosion, annihilated by erosion. 

-New Hampshire has no income tax. It also has no sales tax. Cigarette taxes there are roughly half of what Massachusetts' are, 47% of Rhode Island's, and 45% of Connecticut's. Most of the taxable revenue comes from property taxes of people who've chosen to live there commute to Boston for work. Fireworks are also legal here, car registration is more lax, and you can purchase any kind of gun you want with no license or permit. Why point all this out? Just that New Hampshire is a sort of libertarian playground in a lot of ways and culturally is very different than Massachusetts. But keep in mind: without the money flowing through Boston and Providence, there's not really any demand for the sorts of things New Hampshire brings to the table. It would be Alabama with mountains.

So now that we've reconfigured what it is you should believe about New Hampshire (should you have believed anything previously), let us go forth and mine its history and present for amusement rides. 

From the beginning, there were two key players in NH fighting for Bostonians' money: Pine Island and Canobie Lake. Both had similar sorts of appeal and locations, but competition was not the death knell here that has left us with only one. No, instead it was that great threat to all wood structures (especially amusement parks): fire. Pine Island burned in 1961, and attempt to keep it afloat afterwards with limited rides and a dance hall proved impossible. Canobie Lake is still there, still operating, and it's business model resembles so much of the rest of New Hampshire that it is virtually indistinguishable. It pulls heavily from a nearby metro area because it is located along the border and convenient from freeways.

Canobie is still around and still family owned even after all these years. Home to the Yankee Cannonball wood coaster, the Gerstlauer Eurofighter Untamed, and some wonky stuff like a ticket redemption casino (with slots and video poker), an old Rotor, a skyride, and the Mine of Lost Souls dark ride (featuring many effects from Sally and a totally random Egyptian section). The park has a lively fanbase online too. One strange thing about it: Canobie is surrounded by residential now, which has led to a ton of restrictions on ride operation and noise. Bit of a bummer since they were there first, but that's late stage capitalism for you.

Upstate in New Hampshire, one finds a surprising amount of theme parks. Storyland (now owned by Palace Entertainment) was founded in 1954 during the rush of storybook parks. Rides like the Slipshod Safari Train (with its "monkey bar" caged cars) and the Cuckoo Clockenspiel spinning ride fit as wonderfully cute pieces along with their two coasters: The Hopkins-built Polar Coaster, and the more recent Gravity Group family wood coaster Roar-O-Saurus. Santa's Village is the other actor in the region; it is still family owned and operated, and home to the likes of "The Great Humbug Adventure," an interactive dark ride, and Zierer family coaster Rudy's Rapid Transit. There was, at one time, a 3rd park in close proximity: Six Gun City. However, that closed in the early 2010s and is now being turned into less of a dry park under the title of Fort Jefferson Fun Park, and features more water park attractions.

Fort Jefferson is not the only frontier-themed attraction. Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln may not have a dark ride or coaster, but does have a Haunted Swing style attraction in Merlin's Mystical Mansion, a train ride, and a Wildlife Segway Park. Yeah, a zoo you ride a Segway through. Less frontier-like are the mountain coasters like those at Attitash Mountain Resort, Cranmore Mountain Adventure Park, and Gunstock Mountain Resort. There's other rides at those ski resorts - summer tubing, Cranmore's Giant Swing attraction, and chairlift rides that may make up for that.

With only a sliver of the ocean available, New Hampshire still manages to have a seaside resort. Hampton Beach, with its famous casino ballroom, draws all sorts of events, but for visitors to the town, there's arcades (Playland and Funarama, both filled with electromechanical classics) and a set of water slides (Casino Cascade). Inland is Weirs Beach, which has seen two water parks close in the 2000s, but has retained the legendary Funspot arcade (known most from King of Kong) and also some secondary attractions, like the Half Moon Bumper Cars concession.

In the early 2000s, it was commercials on WAAF for a haunted attraction in Foxboro Stadium that caught my attention. In the years since, Spooky World, known as New England's largest Halloween attraction, has moved to New Hampshire to take advantage of all the same things everyone else does. There are hayrides, haunted mansions, and outdoor mazes galore.

Finally, we head into aquatics. Water Country is still one of the larger water parks in the country, and long before Six Flags New England went about building a proper set of slides and pools, this was pretty much *it* for everyone living in the region. I used to go with my family once a year or so, waking up at dawn and travelling the 3 or so hours to go on slides until I was fully exhausted. Entire generations grew up with knowing that the Geronimo speed slides were ultimate test of prepubescent bravery.

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