The Log Cabin Gift Shop leads off the midway, the side of it that isn't boarded up or burned out or abandoned, and is at the intersection of the roads that run through the park, just a bit east of the ticket booth. The stock looked that little bit worn and that little bit not-quite-enough that we'd really expected it to be. There were some of the things to expect at a park, T-shirts and shot glasses and dolls and postcards, and if the merchandise didn't cover the walls all the way to the ceiling, well, would you expect them to in the circumstances? At the cash register was the bored-looking clerk, a young woman who bore a striking resemblance in look and in projected attitude to April Ludgate, Aubrey Plaza's character on Parks and Recreation, who kind of acknowledged that we'd entered but not that this was much to get worked up about.
bunny_hugger had been picking up Christmas ornaments at all the parks we could --- that Tuscora Park was closed and that we had so little time in Idlewild kept her from a perfect streak --- and she of course searched for the best she could find. I didn't have anything in mind, but after being so impressed with the obvious work and care and love the park's supporters had I knew I had to buy something respectable to help keep the place afloat. And that's why we looked over everything, finding, first, the way that the merchandise wasn't all amusement park stuff. Oh, much of it was, but, then, some of it was just ... dollar store stuff. I don't think they actually had off-brand shampoos or miniature hot dog grillers, but they'd have fit right into the tone of the place.
They had flags. Conneaut Lake Park had flags to fly around the park, as many parks do --- ones with their logo, something we figure has to date from the late 70s given its abstracted view of the rippling waves and roller coaster and parklands behind it; and ones with the Blue Streak 75th Anniversary logo, designed if I'm reading correctly a park sign (``the result of devoted fans of Conneaut Lake Park and the Metamorpho Sign Contest by FastSigns'') the result of a design contest that brought out some really good work from someone --- but they didn't just fly them. They sold them. bunny_hugger said, it's not many parks sell their flags. ``Nope,'' said Conneaut April Ludgate, while shaking her head. bunny_hugger would spend time debating which flag to buy (and I thought she might get them both), but I knew at that point we were going to get at least one of them. We could fly one, I pointed out, when we went on amusement park trips, the way Buckingham Palace flies different flags when the Queen is or isn't in residence. We don't have a flagpole we could use for this. We'll get one.
Now I have to jump to the Cleveland area. Geauga Lake was a little picnic park, going back to 1887 --- an era when many local amusement parks got started, usually as picnic parks --- and over the decades it evolved into a small Cleveland-area amusement park. In the mid-90s they were bought out by Premier Parks, the chain which bought out Six Flags in 1998. Two years after that buyout and under the Six Flags banner, Geauga Lake was rebranded as Six Flags Ohio, then merged with Seaworld Ohio which for some reason existed (it was just across the lake) and rebranded as Six Flags World of Adventure. Six Flags tried to turn the park into a big thrill park, a rival to Sandusky's Cedar Point, by stuffing it full of roller coasters and flat rides in almost no time, wrecking the park's character and alienating the park's audience. Six Flags then, caught in the contraction of the theme park industry, sold the park to, of course, Cedar Fair, owners of Cedar Point. Cedar Fair restored the Geauga Lake name, turned the Seaworld site into a water park, and in a couple years and caught by the same theme park contraction closed down the venerable amusement park (though the water park continues). Many of the rides went to other parks; one of the roller coasters has a home in Michigan's Adventure, for example.
bunny_hugger had been to Geauga Lake, twice, once in the immediate aftermath of Six Flags's sale to Cedar Fair --- when the park name was changed and all the Six Flags licensing was hastily covered up --- and another time before it closed in 2007, a closure suspected but not announced until the last, fall, weekends.
I explain all this so you understand why we were both gobsmacked to find Geauga Lake merchandise in the Conneaut Lake Park gift shop.
We couldn't resist. We asked Conneaut April Ludgate why there was the Geauga Lake stuff. She explained: the last day that Geauga Lake was open, this guy went to the gift shops and bought them all out, and he's been selling it on consignment.
I want to point out how utterly wonderful, how perfect, an explanation that is: it's concise, clear, and seems to quite well answer the question until you realize that it actually doesn't explain anything. How did someone in 2007 figure he might make his fortune by grabbing all the Geauga Lake mugs and magnets he could for later sale, after the park was closed, and the market would be people who were upset they missed their chance for a last nostalgic bit of swag? How did he come to figure that a flailing amusement park in western Pennsylvania would be a spot to sell this off? Where else has gotten this zombie merchandise? Who at Conneaut Lake Park figured they needed stock for a dead park next state over? These are all questions that I cannot answer. The perfection of the explanation would be tarnished if I tried to actually understand the explanation further.
Conneaut April Ludgate came to life when hearing about what we'd been doing and how we ran across the park and how impressed we were that it was kept alive. I'm not sure that she actually said she was working there gratis, but it was the impression I got, or at least that she was there because she knew the park needed her. I may be reading into it, but I think I'm right anyway.
I wanted to get something, of course, yet felt constrained by my need to get something at least a bit useful and I already have enough keychains. They had music CDs, though, recordings from ``Artie'' their band organ. That struck me as perfect: it's tied distinctively to the park --- even to the day, since we saw the organ being brought back to life --- and I'd certainly listen to it, since among other things Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 lets you import music from CDs and actual music from a real band organ would fit that right.
The CDs were in a box of jewel cases bought from Staples --- the generic Staples brand of jewel cases --- with home-printed covers and, we'd see, labels that were also printed out on inkjet and looked to be pressed on by hand. The cover didn't really fit inside the jewel case exactly. When we got home bunny_hugger would spend some time trying to get it to fit, speculating that the folded paper was just inserted wrongly, or something like that, to fit neatly in the case. It wasn't, or at least it's not something simple that's wrong. The cover sheet just doesn't quite fit the jewel case, somehow, and while bunny_hugger was able with effort to get its fit improved, made a little less loose, it wasn't a very great improvement for the time it took, and she understood now why whoever burned the CDs just let them in the slightly misfit configuration they started in.
The CD --- well, it wasn't in the Gracenote database for album information, you probably expected. So I did my part, reading the track titles off the cover and doing my best to verify that they actually were listed correctly. I know such songs as ``Let Me Call You Sweetheart'' or ``Rum and Coca-Cola'' or ``Pennsylvania Polka'', of course, but ``When I Grow Too Old To Dream'' was a new one on me. Looking up its heartbreaking lyrics proved they had the song listed correctly, though.
The CD is spiritually akin to those neat professional albums you can buy, where some perfectly-tuned Wurlitzer in near acoustic perfection plays out ``How're You Gonna Keep Them Down On The Farm Now That They've Seen Paris'' or ``American Patrol''. But it's homemade, rougher, more scrappy. It's clearly the recording made by holding a microphone up to the actual ``Artie'' while it plays, and the organ isn't so carefully tuned, and the mix isn't perfectly balanced so everything is perfectly clear. I'm not positive that you can't make out ambient park noise during the quieter stretches. But, boy, it sounds the way a real actual calliope sounds in a real amusement park. You can feel the the solidity of the thing when you're there. I'm not sure I could have made a righter purchase for me.
Conneaut April Ludgate thanked us for buying this stuff, bunny_hugger buying more than I did, and we kind of hoped that we weren't the ones whose purchase decided whether she'd get any paycheck this week. She was also good enough to tell us how to pronounce the park's name --- just say ``Connie Otter'', like the mascot who we only saw in the form of plywood figure with the nose cutout is named, and skip the final syllable. Their online store --- which is not, as I grimly quipped when bunny_hugger discovered it, hosted by Angelfire --- has a second volume of CDs. I'm not sure whether I want to buy it online and be certain of it, or whether I want to have some pending business that demands I return to the park in person, if I can.
By the doorway were some faded postcards, not of Conneaut Lake but of other parks, such as Paramount Parks's King's Island or Paramount's Carowinds. Paramount sold its amusement parks to Cedar Fair in 2006, and the parks stopped calling themselves Paramount's anything in 2007. I suspect the hidden hand of whatever mad genius figured to sell fridge magnets for Geauga Lake's Steel Venom roller coaster in western Pennsylvania a half-decade on.
Conneaut April Ludgate is perhaps the type case for the employees. They might cast a facade of boredom or surliness or that slight creepy otherworldliness that gets attributed to carnival workers, but it's a facade. Perhaps it's because the park has been beaten down so long: anyone who was there just for the paycheck has to have given up and gone on to places that can provide paychecks. To still be at the park, I think, it has to have woven itself into your heart, and become something that you want to nurse through its desperate condition. The result is that the park staff is a delightful surprise, with --- at least for us, that day --- possibly the best attitude of any park employees we'd seen. They're not running a Tilt-a-Whirl. They're inviting you into a secret place, and if they look wary it's because it isn't a place that's obviously lovable, and they want to know you won't laugh at them for having fallen in love.
And we were in love.
And we would learn more about the park.
Trivia: In September 1910 Fred Thompson announced three models of personal consumer airplanes, including the ``Runabout'', the least expensive, to be sold for 1,750. (Little came of this, partly from Luna Park fires and Thompson's subsequent bankruptcy.) Source: The Kid Of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements, Woody Register.
Currently Reading: Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 2013, Editor Shiela Williams.
PS: On Moritz Pasch, a mathematician you likely didn't ever hear of before, but who did work that was important and that you understand.