Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....Rhode Island

It's small!

Really, really small!

"How small is it?"

It's half the size of the Toronto-Hamilton Metro Area!

"Uhhh, how small is that?"

There are 431 counties and parishes in the United States larger than Rhode Island. Brevard County Florida is bigger than Rhode Island. 

"That seems small."

That is small. Officially named "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," it also has the largest and totally not at all overcompensating name. 1.06 million people live there says Wikipedia, which is also a number that is now decreasing. Why the departures? It costs money to live in Rhode Island and things just aren't as fun now that Mayor Buddy Cianci is dead. Yeah, he was in the back pocket of the mafia, but look at how much rad stuff happened in Providence thanks to him. They got like, one of the few things I'm gonna list here!

So because this is a place without much happening today, I'm gonna go into the recent past, because there was a lot happening. Like, even during my lifetime. I could have gone to Rocky Point - I saw the commercials, and I could have asked to visit, but nah, it never happened. I wasn't a theme park fan or coaster enthusiast then, and it like Americana in Ohio and the Texas State Fair wood coaster are the ultimate "almosts" in my lifetime. When it closed in 1995, both of it's coasters (steel) were relocated - one to Prince Edward Island at Sandspit, the other to Wild Waves in Washington to become the Wild Thing. The most unique rides were argurably its sky ride and the gravity driven House Of Horrors though, and both were lost to time. The park followed Crescent Park in East Providence which had shuttered in the late 70s. Their death left the state with no full size parks.

The state's capital at this time was a mess. Providence, like many of the feeder cities to the megasized Boston and New York areas, resembled a warzone in a state of total collapse. Buddy Cianci was given the task of righting the ship there in a second time around as Mayor. The first time Cianci had been in charge, he had put out a cigarette on a contractor he believed was sleeping with his wife while his police escort watched. He took a felony charge and wound up getting to stay out of prison. He returned to prominence in 1991 on a populist campaign intended to spur action. Depending on what neighborhood you were in or who you were, Buddy's second run as mayor was either heroic or tragic. In some neighborhoods, people would call when the sidewalk was cracked and see it patched a day later. In others, mob affiliated henchmen stole city property in broad daylight for scrap. Cianci was accused of a multitude of crimes over the years: rape, intimidation, racketering. The last of those landed him a 7 year federal prison term and the effective end of his political career (though he would run again, even as cancer ravaged his body).

Cianci unquestionably found success with his plan to remake Providence's waterfront around artists. Artists, he thought, would attract people with money and talent, and people with money and talent invest and create businesses, which in turn stabilizes and sends the city into a growth period. The centerpiece of this was WaterFire, which now enters its 24th year in 2018. Peformance art, music, spectacle, WaterFire has become the symbol of Providence to the world. Cianci is a deeply divisive figure to many, but in this, his place as the man who led the city out of the dark ages has effectively been forever guaranteed.

Westerly is not exactly well known outside of the immediate area, but yet it's the center of the present day Rhode Island amusement universe. Misquamicut Beach draws people, and when you have crowds, crowds want to do things. In a tight space around Atlantic Ave lies the largest aquatics facility (Water Wizz; converted concrete terrain slides and some 90s era speed slides), Atlantic Beach Park (kiddie park with the state's only operating coaster and an arcade pavillion), and Bayview Fun Park (mini golf, go karts). I can't say that any of this is really worth rushing over to, but as someone who grew up visiting often, I know that it has a special place in my heart even if it isn't exactly Wildwood or Coney Island.

One thing Rhode Island does have that's pretty different are some rather spectactular carousels. Adults can't ride the Flying Horse Carousel in Watch Hill, a late 18th cenury ride that was driven by a horse and had a hand cranked organ when it first started running for the public in 1876. 142 years later, it has been given an electric motor to get the thing spinning, with horses suspended from the ceiling (leading to the age requirement to prevent big folks from boarding). Crescent Park's carousel stayed put when the park died, and it's a fantastic showcase machine featuring all different pieces from the Looff catalog circa 1895.

Aside from these, there isn't that much left to talk about in the modern day: Adventureland of Narragansett is a fairly expansive FEC featuring mini golf, go karts, bumper cars, and even a small carousel. Mulligan's Island has a mini golf facility to go along with Par 3 golf, Driving Range, and Pitch and Putt. Rhode Island is unlikely to ever get a big park again, but hopefully what it does have sticks around awhile. 

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