austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

We're leaving ground

We drove up to Conneaut Lake Park. There was a line, an actual traffic jam, just like we might see at Cedar Point. There was even a parking fee and a card to put in the dashboard, something we could not have imagined needing on our previous visits. Their parking lot is several large grassy fields; the second time we visited the park we got there just before opening and were literally the only car there. This day, though, it was packed. They had guides directing people deep into the parking lot, down the sloppy rows of cars that you get when people park on grass fields.

At the far corner of the parking lot was the former Toboggan roller coaster. This was a ride that Conneaut Lake Park used to operate; it was also a fairground and travelling carnival ride for decades. It's a model of roller coaster that takes up very little space; it's basically a trailer bed. The roller coaster cars climb vertically, and then roll down a spiral track around the climbing tower. Conneaut Lake Park's had been a rusting ruin for years, and technically left on the grounds of the Hotel Conneaut, with which the park has a troubled relationship. More, and more ironic, points about this to follow. This year the park finally had the funds to move the ride off the Hotel's property, although not so far as to restore it or sell it or do anything but put it in a quiet corner out of the way, a problem to deal with later.

And the crowd ... we knew that Pumpkin Fest was a popular event. We had no conception of how popular. It felt like everyone in western Pennsylvania was coming to the park. They were stopping traffic to give people the chance to cross the street between parking lot and park entrance. There was traffic on the street between the parking lot and park entrance. It was almost hard to recognize the bedraggled and ever-endangered amusement park we knew.

It wasn't just the crowd. It was hard to recognize for small things like how well-fixed-up and fresh-painted and repaired things were. There weren't the empty and broken wooden flower planters, for example. The flagpoles around the park entrance all had flags on them, although none of them were Conneaut Lake Park's flags.

Most disorienting of all was that they had dropped a harvest festival into the middle of the park. That is, along the streets of the amusement park were all the tents and vendors and stuff of a county fair. Many of the fences had canvas signs with local business logos painted on them. We realized that the park is surely the best spot in the area to have a county fair. They have the space, after all, and the layout, and even the bathrooms and other needed permanent fixtures. Even before we got to the main midway we stopped in at several different booths. One was all chip dips, with samples, some of them spicy enough even for our tastes.

Along the path between the main midway and the entrance gates are some rides, including a Tilt-A-Whirl that's apparently one of the oldest still extant. It hadn't been working in previous visits and if you saw the Travel Channel's Mission Amusement program --- filmed days after our first visit to Conneaut Lake Park --- you know how the park manager had made a slightly strange obsession out of fixing the thing. It looked in pretty good shape and we'd learn later it was running again. I wanted to take a photograph of the 'Be Considerate' sign in front of the ride, urging courtesy and ride safety rules and no smoking rules. The sign, inside a plastic bag, had gotten rain-dampened and was pretty sad looking. While photographing it, my camera broke, of course. It was just the little trap door that covers the battery and the SD card slot, but still, of course it would. I'd save the parts and superglue it back in place, eventually.

Besides the relocated Toboggan ride, and the Tilt-A-Whirl looking to be in good shape, some of the other rides seemed changed. The Musik Express/Himalaya had the cars back on the track, after last year when the ride just had the bare track. It didn't have everything needed to run, like the canopy and an obvious sound system and stuff, but it did look closer than it had been.

And then we walked into the gift shop and were stunned. The place had less than half the space it'd had the year before; a wall partitioned off much of what space there had been. And the park gift shop didn't have its miscellaneous mix of clearance items from closed parks like Geauga Lake (closed 2007) or obsolete merchandise such as that from Paramount's Kings Island parks (Paramount sold that park a decade or so ago). It wasn't empty, though. The gift shop actually held Conneaut Lake Park merchandise. Some of it was T-shirts, some of it was coffee mugs, some was shot glasses, some was nonsense you'd give kids. It actually looked like the stuff a functional park would have. Oh, there was a guy trying to sell tea towels or something to everybody who came in, but even that made more sense in context. The shop was lined with photographs of the park's past, as well.

The rest of what had been the gift shop had a new carpet, and was set aside as an art gallery. This was very sparse, but it was what it claimed to be. There were a couple of pieces set up for an auction to be held Sunday as well. One of them was a glass commemorative plate from 1902, the ``Fifth Annual U.P. Reunion, Exposition Park''. That was the park's name, back on the 14th of August, 1902. The auction was to be run by C Sherman Allen, the fellow with the huge foam hat and the write-in campaign.

Along the games section the blacktop was still chopped up. But the street lamps were all repaired, light bulbs in place, globes covering them, and --- we would learn --- functioning. The lights actually turned on.

Also present, and apparently in good order, was the Bessemer Railroad. This is their miniature railroad ride, and it had been damaged in a catastrophic fire ... nearly two years ago, I want to say. We hadn't ridden it our first visit and they were still repairing it on our second. This might be our first chance to ride it, and of course, might be our last.

In short, Conneaut Lake Park looked more like a functional and working and pre-apocalyptic park than we had ever seen it before. A person having their first impression of Conneaut Lake Park this weekend would probably see it as a run-down and desperately cash-poor park, but they would not be reaching for the word ``post-apocalyptic'' nearly so much as we would in 2013. The difference was astounding.

Trivia: Cooper Union, in New York City, is named for Peter Cooper. Peter Cooper and his wife Sarah are credited with the invention of powdered gelatin. Source: Remaking The World: Adventures In Engineering, Henry Petroski. (Petroski credits them with Jell-O, but that seems to be an editing error; Jell-O dates to 1897, a decade and a half past Peter Cooper's death.)

Currently Reading: Barnaby and Mr O'Malley, Crockett Johnson.

Tags: amusement parks, conneaut lake park pumpkinfest

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