Monday, November 18, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: “The Great American Amusement Parks: A Pictoral History” by Gary Kyriazi

Going back to the 1970s, the next book reviewed is Gary Kyriazi’s tome, “The Great American Amusement Parks.” The 1970s were really the first period which sees multiple books on the industry published, and Kyriazi’s is an example of a book that isn’t particularly heavy on text. If you’ve read the first couple primers I’ve brought up in prior reviews, you know most of the background information that Kyriazi is going to reveal already. Anyways, Citadel Press put this book out in 1978, and it is nice and chunky, filled with glossy black and white shots of rides from bygone eras.

Because this is an pictoral book first and foremost, the real value here is in what is seen in images that often was only otherwise something that lived in the imagination. You can read about a giant elephant shaped hotel at Coney Island in 1880s era Brooklyn, but seeing it and recognizing the lack of development surrounding Coney really drives the point home better than any flowery prose could hope to. Photos are meaningful, but having the depth of knowledge from other books on the subject is obviously very helpful at connecting the dots and seeing the relevance of what is imaged here. Much of the historical information is cribbed directly from Mangels 1953 book, with the over-emphasis on the African Dodger even being copied.
This is more of a companion piece, in my estimation, to something like Judith Adams’ later book on the subject, but worth a look see for the images (including some of rare and short lived parks like Marco Polo Park in Florida).
How does it read?: The pictures are excellent, and this acts in some ways like a “Best of Arcadia Publishing” archive for home use. Lots of solid archival stuff to look at. As far as the text accompanying those pictures goes….there’s some material here about Coney Island and the traditional amusement parks that does show the place of the book between Mangels and Adams as far as development/degeneration was coming along.
Will I learn anything?: Yes and no. The photos and some of the accompanying information can be valuable. I enjoyed the “100 best amusement parks” list in the back of the book, completed with some photos of various facilities. I also tend to think that this, being a contemporary account of the industry in the 1970s, favors the theme park explosion of the time and gives proper credit not necessarily to Disneyland for that, but more to Six Flags Over Texas for establishing the real foundation of what those parks would come to assemble.
(As an aside: somewhere around 40% of the “Top 100” amusement and theme parks of the time are no longer operating.)
Did you take anything away from this?: This was Kyriazi’s only book. That doesn’t mean he abandoned this hobby by any means. Kyriazi was credited for “writing” on the classic coaster dork footage porn “America Screams,” narrated by longtime coaster enthusiast Vincent Price. He continues to write for industry publication “Park World,” and you can find his articles on their website. Shane Huish uploaded this video onto Youtube featuring a much younger Gary discussing the book.

This is a book made by someone who was in the midst of a deep love affair with the subject at the time that he did them. It isn’t critical, it doesn’t really dig very deep, but it does provide content and that content has value. Looking at those classic pictures of Luna and Dreamland, I can’t help but think that Universal’s present offerings more mirror those grandiose parks of the past than Disney, and I suppose I can’t be surprised then that Universal is the one I prefer in that false binary competition.
Chapter 1: The Evolution of The Amusement Park
Chapter 2: Coney Island
Chapter 3: Steeplechase Park, Luna Park, and Dreamland
Chapter 4: The American Amusement Park- East to West
Chapter 5: Disneyland and the Theme ParksChapter 6: America’s Top 100 Parks

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