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Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Time Event
12:10a
Would you like to go on the Coney Island Steeple

So we went to Coney Island. The other Coney Island. The park started in the 1860s as Parker's Grove, and started calling itself the Coney Island of the West in the 1880s, and gradually shed the ``Parker's Grove'' and ``Of The West'' parts. It developed as your classic city amusement park, with carousel and huge wooden roller coaster and varied attractions and, in the 1920s, a just freaking enormous swimming pool, the Sunlite Pool. Come the late 60s, park management sold out to Taft Broadcasting, which wanted to get into the amusement park business, and Taft noticed that the park had a lot of fine rides and a pretty good location, but it also flooded. Constantly. It's right on the Ohio and it suffered flooding between ``severe'' and ``catastrophic'' about every four weeks on average.

So Taft bought out some land farther from the river banks, dubbed it Kings Island (taking the ``Island'' from Coney Island, which is why Kings Island is an amusement park that's not even remotely an island), moved what rides could be moved and left what remained to rot. The thing is, there was still that freaking enormous swimming pool, obviously unmovable, but also really remarkable. So they started opening just the swimming pool, which attracted a paying crowd, and that encouraged putting a few more attractions in, and before you knew it, Coney Island had budded a new, little, amusement park (spun off to a non-Kings-Island owner) on the strength of the swimming pool, offering a fresh challenge to people who like to ponder the question of identity.

The result is a park that curiously blends being really quite old --- technically, I suppose, it's the oldest park we've been to, beating out Cedar Point by a couple of years --- while being also very new, as they've got almost nothing but a few buildings from earlier than the 90s. The park has a gorgeous 30s-style entrance from the road, and on driving in ... well, you have to take a path that wends its way through the park, between the water park that's grown around the swimming pool and the various amusement park rides that have grown in the budded new park. We parked in the lot beside the Riverbend Music enter, an amphitheater that supports many concerts and that tries to spruce itself up by having what look like ... signs with pictures of gargoyles or other architectural features up top. It looks, in passing, like an ornamented roof, but then looks stranger and more confusing the more you look at it.

We actually puttered around a little, rather than going right to the rides, because if we waited about a half-hour we'd be able to buy the starlight or evening or whatever they call half-day wristbands and it's not like we don't want to support small parks but it was a pretty good discount for waiting another half-hour to ride things. Also it gave us time to walk to the river side of the park, past a number of picnic pavilions named after rides that used to be at the park (The Whip even looks like it might have once been a Whip's enclosure, and we're not sure the large building dubbed the Land Of Oz wasn't that ride back in the day), to the river entrance. Years ago ferries would come up by river to the park, and the entrance there has a nice overhead arch and even a lighthouse. bunny_hugger photographed it for her lighthouse passport book, and was glad to add another to her roster of Amusement Park Lighthouses That Actually Exist And Aren't Just Decorative Features. (One might ask whether this is properly technically a lighthouse, but it's hard to think of a good reason it's not --- it's a tower which, in its day, shone a light used by boats to navigate the river. Maybe it was never operated by the Coast Guard or the Lighthouse Service, but then you get into the conceptual theory of lighthouses. Yes, there's no house for the keeper nearby, but that ground would rule out all automated lighthouses as lighthouses.)

Also by the old entrance and the lighthouse is a pole marking flood high-water marks. The pole itself starts fifty feet above the normal river level --- the sign by it says ``Floods come in all sizes! The begin here'' --- and at that it still has high-water marks from the floods of 1948, 1933, 2000, 1994, 1997, 1893, 1870, 1875, 1859, 1924, 1915, 1950, 1917, 1921, 1887, 1952, 2005, 1890, 1991, 1996, 1899, 1891, 1958, 1939, 1979, 1882, 1950, 1927, 1901, 1967, 1943, and 1940 (this gets us up to 60 feet), then 1936, 1943 (again?), 1955, 1897, 1962, 1898, 1918, 1907, 1913, 1933, 1832, 1997, 1948, 1907, 1964, 1883, 1945, and 1913 (this gets us to 70 feet), 1884, 1773, and 1937 (80 feet). Considering all this it's amazing the park ever existed, and also that they built their rides near the river and the freaking enormous swimming pool far from it. We took off our shoes and dipped our feet in the Ohio and thought of what it must've been like coming to the park that used to be here, by the entrance that's still here.

The park's got a couple buildings that appear to go back before the 1970s rebudding, and some murals showing off rides they used to have and rides they do have, and it must be admitted the old rides are more thrilling than what's there now. They didn't even have a roller coaster between 1971 and 1999, and what they have is a small steel roller coaster, the kind that's sized for a fairground attraction or a family entertainment center that's stretching itself, or as the roller coaster for the kids section of a bigger park. But they do also show off posters of their history with advertising flyers for events like the Twins Days they'd had, or talent shows, or the most curious, ``Suicide Simon'' (``Blows Himself Up With Dynamite! You've Got To See It To Believe It!'', which made us think of Daffy Duck, obviously; apparently he was stuntman Leo Simon. The Milwaukee Journal article quoted there ends with Simon saying, ``This act isn't so hard. You should have seen my last one. I soaked myself in gasoline, lit up and dived eighty feet into a flaming pool of water. It was awfully pretty at night''). And they show off things like the older rides (eg, the Shooting Star roller coaster, 1947 - 1971), or what they claim was the first wedding on water skis, a surprisingly late August 1963, that sort of thing.

There's also several attractive-looking buildings such as the Moonlite Gardens (surely a match to the Sunlite Pool), where we saw small groups of people dressed too well for an amusement park but not quite well enough for a wedding approaching and going past a sign indicating there was some special event going on. So it seems the Moonlite Gardens are still being rented out well. Not a building but no less curious was a small green booth labelled ``Mis Toucan Information'', with the Mis placed so it might be a title or might prefix ``Information''. It had a curtain covering it, reading, ``Toucan Has Flown The Coop''. Behind the curtain I saw the stage prop branch on which, presumably, a toucan puppet would stand. Whether this was an animatronic gadget out for repairs or an occasional puppet show just not being done today or what, we couldn't tell, and we didn't quite work up the courage to ask anyone at the Actual Information booths.

Trivia: The game of wicket, a derivative of cricket popular in the United States (particularly Connecticut) in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, expanded the game from 11-man teams to groups of thirty players on a side. Source: Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For The Roots Of The Game, David Block.

Currently Reading: King Leopold's Ghost: A Story Of Greed, Terror, And Heroism In Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild.

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