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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Rye Playland

Located on Long Island Sound north of New York City, Playland Park in the town of Rye is a classic park with a treasure trove of art-deco architecture.  When it opened in 1928, Playland was unique in that its layout--situated around a grassy mall--was completely planned out before the park opened, marking the early origins of master-planned theme parks. The park is still beautiful today, yet sometimes it is forgotten by amusement park fans due to a lack of a notable roller coaster.

Named a National Historic Landmark for its art-deco buildings, Playland is one of only two amusement parks (the other being Kennywood) to have received such an honor.

In 1929, a year after the park opened, Playland debuted the Dragon coaster, which is still the park's most popular ride. It's one of the last remaining coasters by notable designer Frederick Church, but it doesn't offer much in the way of forces. The highlight is a dragon-styled tunnel that "eats" the train.
The iconic "Music Tower" is a wonderful art-deco centerpiece to the park. A wider view can be seen in the background of the first picture in this post.
Before Playland was laid out, there was a more haphazard amusement park on Long Island Sound. Its 1915 carousel is still spinning today and was completely restored in 2021. The repainted horses are delightful, but the LED lights are slightly underwhelming.
Seen below is an example of the art deco design found around Playland. The "WC" stands for Westchester County, where the town of Rye is located. For 90 years, Playland was the only government-operated amusement park in America. While this situation meant much of the park was preserved as it was for decades, it also means that some areas have fallen into disrepair. Starting this summer, Playland is being turned over to an independent operator to the tune of a $135 investment, which is in part going towards a complete rebuild of much of the park's original art-deco flourishes.
In 2021, Playland was home to three darkrides. The oldest of the bunch is Ye Olde Mill, which winds underneath the structure of the Dragon coaster. The displays inside are from the late 1980s, however.
Directly across the landscaped mall from the regular carousel (seen below), you'll find an identical building that houses Playland's signature ride, the Derby Racer.
An original ride from 1928, the Derby Racer has beautiful horses carved by the Marcus Illions factory, perhaps the finest designer of carousel figures. But the ride is intense! The platform thunders around at a speed much faster than an average carousel, with the horses sliding back and forth to determine a "winner" of each group of four.
The attraction that interested me most was the Flying Witch darkride, which opened in 1971. It has an extremely busy facade. Some may look at it as tacky, but it's a great example of amusement park ballyhoo in person.
Spanning an impressive three levels, this ride is actually portable in spite of being set up in one place for 50 years.
Here's an example of the terror that is found inside the Flying Witch.
The teeth of the Devil's face move back and forth like the cogs of a gear.
At the time, I had no idea that I was riding the Flying Witch in its last season at Playland. After being owned by the county for so long, the new owner is ending the leases of some of the independent concessions, and that includes the Flying Witch. While the ride will be leaving Playland, there are rumors that it will be set up at another park in the area.
The park is really lush for being so near to New York City. Note the dragon-themed coaster tunnel in the background.
This Whip ride blew my mind! It was not properly maintained, causing the cable to jolt and snap around each turntable. Even when they're rough-and-tumble, Whip rides are great!
Rye Playland had been on my bucket list for years, and it did not disappoint with its great collection of old rides. Above all, I am glad I got to ride the spectacular Flying Witch at its original home.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Busch Gardens Williamsburg 2022

Spring has finally come, and that means the amusement park offseason is over. My first trip of the year was with my high school orchestra to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. Our time at the park was cut due to a stomach virus, but I'm grateful we had the time we did. The fourth Busch Gardens park (originally named "The Old Country") is themed to European countries, and even at the start of April, the park was many times lusher than my Western Pennsylvania home, with lots of flowers and budding trees.
The attraction I was looking forward to the most was the new Pantheon coaster, which just opened on March 25th. It's the closest I've ridden a coaster to its grand opening date, and it's hundreds of miles away! Pantheon, my first roller coaster of 2022, completely blew me away. It's been a really long time since a steel coaster left me so impressed. You go forwards, backward, 200 feet in the air... a great ride.
Busch Gardens had two of its three steam engines circling the park. It's hard to see in this image, but the Alpen Express has a snowplow on its front.
Der Hochbeinige approaches, steaming across the trestle bridge.
You would be shocked at how many of my friends said they rode the bumper cars and swings when they could've ridden a real steam train!
The Busch Gardens Skyride is another fantastic ride. Tracing a one-of-a-kind triangular path, the one-way Skyride has three stations. It has been at the park since opening day in 1975.
Just for fun, here's a picture I took of the Cedar Point Skyride with the colors lined up in sequence. Von Roll Skyrides are some of the most relaxing rides anywhere!
Back at Busch Gardens, here are some buckets setting off across the river valley the park is built around, nicknamed the "Rhine River."
Multiple coasters use the park's natural terrain, but none are more legendary than the Loch Ness Monster.
Opened in 1978, Loch Ness Monster is one of the most iconic rides built by Arrow Development. It was the first coaster ever to feature interlocking loops, in an age of ever-more convoluted rides, the comparingly simple interlocking loops still leave an impression (and are cleverly worked into the ride's sign).
Just a little rough after nearly 45 years of operation, this coaster is one of the most charming I've ever ridden.
In the foreground is the Rhine River Cruise attraction, which was not yet ready for the season.
We're setting off towards France on the Skyride now. I hope you enjoyed this look around Busch Gardens Williamsburg on a beautiful spring day!

Friday, March 11, 2022

West View Park Remembered

When West View Park opened in 1906, it was advertised as an escape from the smog of downtown Pittsburgh. At the time, it was one of seven amusement parks in the Pittsburgh area, but only two parks--West View and Kennywood--found long-term prosperity. If still open today, it would be a mere 10-minute drive from my house!
West View Historical Society

West View Park closed for good in 1977, but a shopping center built on the site bears the park’s name, and its sign is topped with a carousel horse---serving as a visible reminder of a once-legendary Pittsburgh amusement park.

Attractions during the first few years were modest, but before World War I, people didn’t come to amusement parks for the rides. Although there was an Old Mill ride and a small roller coaster, the most popular attractions were group picnics, boating on the lake, and especially dancing. 

Known as Danceland, the dance hall would ultimately burn to the ground in 1973 after being one of West View’s greatest draws for decades. Recently, while writing a school newspaper story, I was able to hear some memories from locals who visited the park. “My parents met at Danceland right before my dad was drafted, and they were married for 63 years,” said Cheryll Geisler.

Dips coaster -- West View Historical Society

West View Park was the source of countless romances over the decades, but as the park grew, amusement rides--and especially roller coasters--became more important to its success. In 1911, the park opened its most famous attraction, the Dips. This simply-named coaster would be upgraded in 1929, but with its steep drops and thrilling swoop turn just feet off of Perry Highway, it remained West View’s most popular ride until the park’s end.

West View Historical Society
With the popularity of the Dips, West View Park soon opened another major roller coaster, the dual-tracked Racing Whippet. Ingrained into the natural topography at the back of the park, the Whippet is fondly remembered. Local resident Rick O'Leary told me that "One Saturday in 1970, my cousin and I rode the Racing Whippet over and over for the whole day -- many, many hours in a row. We didn't ride another ride all day.” 
West View Historical Society
Some of my own family members even have memories of West View Park, as it was home to my grandfather’s ironworkers' picnic until closing in 1977. My dad remembers seeing the huge bat on the front of the Haunted House and riding the Caterpillar with his mom.
Rock-O-Plane -- West View Historical Society

West View Park is responsible for countless fond memories, but it also served as a memorable first job for many local teenagers:

"When I started working there, I was so thirsty one day that I took a drink of water from the Fish Pond trough. It was only after I swallowed a mouthful that I realized how many hands had been in the water that I had just drank," said Ellen Aschenbrenner.

The park after its closure in 1977 -- West View Historical Society

While it can be hard to believe that Pittsburgh was once home to two major amusement parks, the West View Park Shopping Center leaves no question about the park’s existence. Though I am sad that I never got to experience West View Park, I don't think that its importance will ever be forgotten. 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

More Story Book Forest Postcards

Here's the second half of our trip through Story Book Forest with vintage postcards. It's a pretty expansive attraction, taking about a half-hour to fully walk through. I also don't have a postcard from every display.

Once part of the castle that was at the end of the previous post, the Sword in the Stone (Excalibur) was replaced by an updated version in 2016.
I spotted the old sign while snooping around a "backstage" area.
The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe display didn't use to have any fiberglass figures on it, as the postcard below shows.
Playing the role of the "old woman" seems like a pretty good retirement job to me. Read a book in the shade until some kids come up!
Little Red Riding Hood's house has remained basically unchanged over the years.
Here's the scene today, with the elves of the forest in the foreground.
Just for fun, here's what you'll see inside!
The garden of Mary, Mary Quite Contrary used real flowers for a short time, but they weren't able to survive in the shade.
Still, I think there might be a better option than evenly-spaced cutouts!
The elves of the forest, including this one painting a flower, are some of the oldest figures in Story Book Forest.
The elf's flowers were removed a few years ago, so now he's just gesturing.
Hickory Dickory Dock is one of the best scenes.
The clock hands spin, the pendulum swings back and forth, and the door in the clockface opens to reveal a mouse.
Humpty Dumpty is everyone's favorite! ;-) Note the speaker. One of my favorite things about Story Book Forest is the crackly old sound effects.
 The image on this postcard was taken from the parking lot and shows the building that used to be the exit to Story Book Forest.
Here's the other side of the building. I guess it's just used for storage now. Or maybe it's a private residence.
This Jack-in-the-Box is my favorite (okay, I have a few favorites). I have a poster for the "Great Old Amusement Parks" documentary in my room that features a huge picture of its smiling face. I see it every day... sadly this display was removed in 2015.

I hope you've enjoyed this look back at the history of Story Book Forest!