Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Noah's Ark - Kennywood

The 1936 Noah's Ark walkthrough attraction at Kennywood is one of the last old-time amusement fun houses remaining. It was refurbished most recently in 2016 with the return of its whale-themed entrance and the restoration of scenes to be more reflective of the Ark's "fun house" roots. In 1995, Kennywood removed the whale to try and re-theme Noah's Ark into a Disney-like experience. While they had good intentions with some impressive results, Kennywood fans lamented for years the loss of the light-hearted whale to such a serious retheme.

 As you see in this video, the defining thing about Noah's Ark is its rocking boat. A portion of the path you walk is rocking back and forth, which can be quite disorienting!

Noah's Ark was constructed during the biggest flood in Pittsburgh's history, which occurred on St. Patrick's Day. However, the refurbishments in 1968 and 1995 were also delayed by area flooding!

This is what the exterior looked like from 1995-2015. The tower at left was for the "Elevator of Doom," a faux elevator whose narrator said was "in place for almost a century." It was "sealed shut for 50 years," but just as you were told that "no one has actually gone down into the shaft," the voice faded out, the lights turned off, and the car started to vibrate. It totally got me the first time I did it, but of course, halfway through the walkthrough, you come out on the balcony that leads to the "front door," so the illusion was ruined.
For some context, here's the other extant Noah's Ark attraction at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England; it's been closed since 2008 but still serves a decorative purpose above the park's entrance.
The back side of Noah's Ark

The current first scene is a room of fluorescent crates. Some rock back and forth, and if you move your ear to each, then you'll hear the animal that's on the crate's label. There's even a skunk scent! They reuse the same stink smell later in the attraction in the scene at below right... you can guess the sound effects. There is one nice smell, though, near the end - honey in a bee tableau. 

The waterfall scene was a memorable part of the 1968 Ark that was resurrected in 2016. Of course, I thought the water lillies in the pond looked a little like a Hidden Mickey! 

Once you enter the Ark itself, you see Noah. The scene above is the 1995 version. Noah used to be an impressive animatronic, but he had become static by the theme's later years.
In 2016, Noah's wife was added. The bat is not a regular part of the attraction; it's a special prop for Kennywood's Halloween event, Phantom Fright Nights.
Here's an unrelated picture of the Kennywood carousel lit up for Halloween just because it's cool. Below, you see the contrast in one of the scenes between the regular season and Halloween.
The shaking floorboards were the last of the Ark's true fun house "stunts," but they were sadly deactivated a few years ago after a kid's fingers got stuck in the gap - note the metal plates, the current solution.
They ruin everything!
This room is a classic "mystery spot" with a tilted floor. The seesaw rocks back and forth, with the metallic ball going "uphill."
Other than the "Elevator of Doom," one of the other notable aspects of the 1995 retheme was the  "Bathmosphere," which aimed to provide the illusion of a return to the Earth's surface, but of course, something went horribly wrong, and water started pouring into the chamber. Luckily, the ride's exit doors opened and you escaped. I never go to experience this, as it was already decommissioned for good by the time I first saw the Ark in 2012. The more I think about it, though, the more forced the Ark's old "storyline" seems. So a mine shaft took you underground, but by the end you were somehow underwater?! In contrast to this, the current state of Noah's Ark is something you can tell was done on a budget, but it fits the atmosphere of the park much better than the theme that came before it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Heinz History Center

The largest history museum in Pennsylvania is the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, with 370,000 square feet of exhibit space. It's made up of the historic ice house seen below as well as a sizeable modern addition. I've visited here many, many times over the years and have seen several temporary exhibits, but in this post, we're looking at the first-timer highlights!

Here's a video of the amazing neon sign.
At left, we see a "Ford DeLuxe Sedan with stainless steel body from Brackenridge, Pa., 1936." The "Heinz Hitch" on the right dates from the late 19th century; it was restored in 1978 after being neglected for decades in a Central Pennsylvania shed - it had a tree growing through it. From 1986 to 2006, the wagon was used for promotional purposes by Heinz, appearing in the Thanksgiving Day Parade, among others.
This "combination fire engine" was made by the American LaFrance Fire Company in Elmira, New York in 1919 and was used by the Pittsburgh Fire Department. I once saw a kid sitting in the drivers' seat - pretty sure you're not allowed to do that! ;-) The covered wagon in the background is from c. 1784.
A vehicle that you can climb aboard is this, one of the old trolley cars that used to crisscross the city.

Although John Heinz, the museum's namesake, is famous for being a US Senator, there is a small exhibition about the Heinz Company. It includes some photogenic focal points.

Here's a Wikimedia photo of Heinz's downtown factory. Since the merger with Kraft, ketchup production has moved out of Pittsburgh, but some products are still made in the city.

One of the museum's main attractions is the house set from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, as well as a few pieces from the Neighborhood of Make Believe. I really enjoy coming here often, as there is very rarely a crowd, even on the weekends. When you combine this with the first and last episodes of the show playing on Picture Picture, this exhibit is a favorite.
I'm probably the last generation to have grown up with Mister Rogers, which is too bad. Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood isn't the same.
Although Mister Rogers is a well-known Pittsburgh celebrity, sports and steel are the most popular images of the city. Reflecting this, the History Center includes a two-story "second museum" dedicated to the Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, and everything else under the sun, from bocce to marbles.
Of course, I want the Pirates to be better. This is the uniform Bill Mazeroski was wearing when he hit a walk-off home run against Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, clinching a Pirates victory.
Back on the ground floor, this view is looking straight up through the central atrium that runs through all seven of the History Center's floors.
This exhibit traces Pittsburgh history from the French and Indian War through to the present.
Like the rest of the museum, A Tradition of Innovation is a well designed space.
There are many interesting artifacts here, but let's focus on some pop culture subjects. George Washington Ferris, the designer of the first Ferris wheel, lived in Pittsburgh.
Check out the measuring stick behind Andrew Carnegie!
Behind the house facade a couple of pictures above is a reproduction of a mid-century living room and kitchen.
There's also a focus on Westinghouse, including a reproduction of Elektro, the famous mechanical man of the 1939-40 World's Fair. I want to see the original in Mansfield, Ohio someday.
To me, the Heinz History Center is definitely the best museum in Pittsburgh! Don't miss it if you visit the city.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Bayernhof Music Museum

It's very cool when you find out about a new place that is close by and interesting to you! In 2017, I learned about the Bayernhof Music Museum, a house museum in Pittsburgh with an eccentric setting, unusual collection, and interesting story.

Charles Brown (yes, Charlie Brown) was a local entrepreneur who made his fortune running a gas lamp business. He spent his money on unusual things, the most notable being a collection of antique mechanical musical instruments, like player pianos and band organs.

Also notable is how he housed his collection, building an elaborate mansion decorated in a Bavarian style. As you'll soon see, this theme was carried out to its full extent!

Situated above the Allegheny River, this is the view from the living room.

I love old music machines like this, especially the moment when they "come to life."
This is just another example of the intricate detailing.
The time period of the machines ranges greatly, with the one below being from the 19th century.

When Brown died in 1999, he willed that his collection become a museum, and the house opened for tours in 2004.

Here's a type of "juke box" for those old phonograph canisters. As you can tell, I'm quite knowledgeable about these things.

An observatory? Sure, why not!

There are band organs too, like you often find on a carousel.
This one supposedly came from West View Park, my neighborhood amusement park that closed in 1977. It's really loud when it's in a small room like this; these machines were meant to be heard from hundreds of feet away!
One of the house's most impressive features is its myriad of secret passageways, such as this one behind a tapestry that opens to reveal a cave-themed hallway!
"Perry" is very excited in this clip.
The "purpose" of the caves is to serve as a passageway to the wine cellar.
The caves end at the last stop on the tour, the swimming pool room, complete with a waterfall and wall murals. 
Overall, the Bayernhof Museum was shocking to experience and is definitely a "hidden gem" of Pittsburgh!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Knoebels 2020

After a slightly disappointing four hours at Hersheypark, my dad and I made the hour-long drive to Knoebels, one of my favorite amusement parks. This was one of the first weekdays they were open last year, so I was able to get multiple rides on all of my favorites. Here's the amazing Flyer, still the best flat ride that I've been on. These "flying scooter" rides are a dime a dozen, but none of them allow you the wild level of control that Knoebels' does!
Twister is one of the park's two fantastic wooden coasters, patterned after the legendary Mr. Twsiter at Elitch Gardens.
 As you might guess by the picture below, the Pioneer Train provides great views of the ride, as well as the surrounding woods during its 1.5-mile trip.
While I love Twister, Phoenix will always be one of the great American coasters. Saved by the Knoebel family from a closed park in Texas, it set the example of how a coaster could be saved and is still consistently voted as the best wooden coaster in the country. 
A refreshment stand and its seating areas are housed in former merry-go-round frames that Knoebels bought. The two closest ones in this shot rotate, with the rotation of the red-and-white striped covering at left controlled by the water wheel in the far rear.
There's plenty of concession options. After all, Knoebels has the best amusement park food in the nation!

The Time Machine Theater is the home of puppet shows, and normally, ones that let the audience be part of the story.
With picnic grove roots, Knoebels lacks the grand architecture of Kennywood, but there's still some old neon.
Being from Pittsburgh, I had to go for the black and gold car on the world's best bumper cars, Skooter.
The creeks that run through Knoebels are scenic and look good at night when illuminated, but the threat of flooding they pose has caused the park some setbacks over the years, all of which they've recovered from very quickly.
This visit to Knoebels is one of my fondest memories from last year. Hopefully I'll get to go back soon!