August 26th, 2013

jeep

The parachutes at Riverview Park

Another of Kennywood's oldest rides, and another nearly-extinct one, is an Old Mill, a kind of haunted-house ride in which your car is a boat, sailing in a trough. We rode one at Rye's Playland and loved it. Kennywood's was for some reason re-themed as Garfield's Nightmare, in 2004, playing off the universal love children have for Garfield twenty years before. The rooms in the ride are now all set with Garfield strips in which he does something like fear going to the vet, leading to a room in which the props are vet's office fixtures that move around a little. It's painted all fluorescent and black-lit to make it seem like more than it is; we're also all given 3-D glasses to less effect than that suggests. The Old Mill ride dates to around 1902, and people have been expecting Kennywood to drop the Garfield license and re-theme it as something better for years now; I hope when we get to the park next year (and hope we do get to the park next year) there'll be better treatment for a venerable ride.

Some more roller coaster rides and then we wandered into farther areas of the park, to a log flume which had been, apparently, Kennywood's first million-dollar ride when it was built in the 70s. It's a good old-style log flume, on which I got a little bit wet, and on which bunny_hugger got soaked, throughout, to a depth of about two inches past her skin, on a bad turn.

I thought we might take the scenic railway tour; trying to find the entrance for this let us discover the Kiddyland section where, against all expectations, they had an historic children's carousel apparently from the opening of their original, 1927, Kiddyland, as well as a Ferris Wheel that apparently has had replaced cars but otherwise may be the original. (The sign is ambiguous on the point, and there are obvious problems in talking about a working machine with parts that necessarily wear out.) Kiddyland also had a ``Dino Dig'', where kids root around in the sand to find plastic, which was closed for some reason. It also had a water fountain with the spout inside the mouth of a yawning plastic lion, reminding kids of how much fun it is to get drinks from inside the mouth of a lion. bunny_hugger remembers this sort of thing from the amusement parks of her childhood; I don't remember such from mine.

While looking for the railway we found the Auto Race, another 1920s-vintage ride of the cars-on-a-track variety. This has older cars than average, obviously, and built in that streamlined 30s style. It also wasn't running; we would learn that the ride's been down much of the year, and probably won't reopen until next year, because of the problem in fabricating replacement parts for extremely rare rides.

But we finally found the entrance to the scenic railway, where we got to take in fabulous views of the Monongahela, and in principle, got to hear of the history of Kennywood. We were seated on an outside car, far enough from the speakers that all I really made out were scraps, like, the log flume having been their first million-dollar ride, or that they got in the 1970s the new mascot of Kenny Kangaroo. While bunny_hugger dried, I got to thinking about there being something fundamentally weird that there was an amusement park pretty much on the site of the Battle of the Monongahela, where General Braddock got killed and George Washington got to see the world war he kicked off really start to flower. The park has markers for this, complete with British and French flags correct to 1755; it's one of the many little details that contribute to Kennywood's Kennywood-ness.

We walked past a couple other attractions (including a pagoda which has a historical marker noting that it is not particularly old or interesting, but that the dragon-heads used as decorative elements had been used on the boats for the Old Mill ride and so those were of historic interest, and again, this is a park that puts up a historical marker that, without hyperbole, beings, ``Although not a historic landmark'') and went to the Thunderbolt to take a new ride on the roller coaster. We also saw a storm rolling in, that wonderful sharp line of clouds we could see from far down the valley. It would be a race to get on the ride before the storm started, and we were right at the gate, ready for the next train, when the phone rang, and the ride was shut down till the storm passed.

With memories of the Cedar Point fiasco in mind I figured we were better off going to the Parkside Cafe and having dinner through the storm, and we ran there just ahead of the deluge, as did every other person in the world. We got on the enormous line for macaroni and cheese, and after a half-hour of waiting got up front to learn they were out of macaroni and cheese. The only vegetarian options they had were bread sticks, and if we were smart we'd have gotten some of them, but we didn't think of it and just left, heartbroken, to go over to the sandwiches stand where we should have started.

Eventually, finally, the rain let up, and the crowded cafe emptied out, and we saw the roller coasters doing test cycles again. So a little past 7:00 we dared poke out again, toward Thunderbolt. And then came The Voice.

The Voice of Kennywood is as the name implies: a voice, speaking with the tones of an old-time radio announcer, someone surely proudly wearing a mustache indifferent to how ironic or hip it might be (``We don't actually know that he has a mustache'' ... ``But, yeah he has a mustache''), and he began to tell us of the park's closing. Time does have a way of slipping by, he told us, and they would soon be putting the rides to bed for the night. I worried: were they closing as early as 8 pm? Were we going to have barely any time to leap onto the roller coasters? bunny_hugger knew what he meant before I did. He told us that if there were any rides we wanted to get on, we should do it now. This was the fifteen-minute warning. They were closing the park at about 7:30.

We rushed to the Thunderbolt to find the queue closed. I thought we might be able to get to the Noah's Ark. Its queue was closed too. bunny_hugger knew that all the roller coasters had closed their queues, so that the rides might be finished at the scheduled closing time. I had to learn the hard way, rushing to Jackrabbit and the Racer and on before giving up, passing up the bumper cars --- which might have taken us --- or the carousel --- we just missed the final ride of the night --- before that, too, closed for the night, and the band organ let out a sad deflating sound.

We walked around a little; the glow of twilight was just beginning and rides started to turn on their lights, about to turn them off again. There's a great photograph from across the lagoon of the Jackrabbit roller coaster that bunny_hugger had taken and had framed; we had, earlier in the day, wondered where we would have to be to re-create the photograph. It didn't matter; we couldn't get it at night, regardless of how trees had grown in the meanwhile.

The only thing that made sense was supposing the weather would turn dramatically worse again, maybe squalls moving in. We did a little further walking around, discovering for instance a windmill which the historical marker said used to be in the center of the lagoon until it was relocated in 1940, and which was itself a copy of one in the Coney Island amusement park (Cincinnati).

And lights started going off. Cedar Point will let people linger, particularly in gift shops. Kennywood has no such tastes. It just starts turning lights off and closing attractions, even the presumably revenue-generating ones like snack stands and gift shops, while the public address system plays some sentimental old tunes of parting and speaking of when we might see one another again. So we joined the crowds walking to the tunnel --- including everyone who'd been at Greek Day, one of their remaining ethnic-festival days, and a pack of what looked like Pennsylvania Dutch women that had been there all day --- and the large valentine-heart reading ``GOODNIGHT'' above it, which hadn't yet lit up for the night. (The ``GOODNIGHT'' sign, I learn, had been part of the Lost Kennywood gate, a replica of such a heart which was in the Luna Park that Lost Kennywood imitates. It feels very right at the tunnel, though, and was probably confusing as a farewell message from a spot soundly within Kennywood proper.)

On the outside of the tunnel are the yellow arrows, with Kennywood written on them, which are the park's logo. I patted one, promising that we'd get back. Someone else imitated my patting. bunny_hugger said, ``Oh, now you've started something.'' She patted it too.

As we walked miserably out of the park, we came near some park employees in ponchos handing things out. Rain checks, good for admission any day the remainder of the season. bunny_hugger looked at it and took a few steps and then cried out, ``Kennywood is awesome'', making everyone in earshot smile through the gloom.

And we were turned out of the park.

Since we wanted to avoid the traffic jam we walked over to a Dollar General --- just at the end of the parking lot, since Kennywood is lodged neatly in the city --- and I bought a needed pair of sunglasses. Following bunny_hugger's much-better-than-my sense of taste, I got a pair with translucent cyan plastic, the better to look all 80's. (Watch this space for a followup to that.) And we drove back to the hotel, where we saw a double rainbow.

We rested for the night. The anticipated squalls never came. We went to sleep amidst thoughts of how the Voice of Kennywood had betrayed us.

We couldn't return Wednesday. We had an appointment with Altoona, and history.

(I expect tomorrow to write one just about the roller coasters of Kennywood, which deserve special attention.)

Trivia: The first baselines for the United States's Coast Survey, in July 1816, were laid down by Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler along the beaches of what are now Coney Island and Englewood, New Jersey. Source: Measuring America: How The United States Was Shaped By THe Greatest Land Sale In History, Andro Linklater.

Currently Reading: Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise And Fall Of States And Nations, Norman Davies.