Like the last of the good ol' puffer trains
Bowcraft Amusement Park in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, is probably closing for good this weekend. You might want to get there, if you can. But it's admittedly been probably closing for good before, most notably at the end of 2016. My father says it's been probably closing for good for as long as he can remember. But they had an all-but-settled agreement with developers last year, and only the reluctance of the city to agree to the plan delayed things. Who knows how long the delay will last?
bunny_hugger just assumed the park had closed last year, and was delighted to know it hadn't. When we learned it had at least one more year of life it became one of our priorities for this trip. Scotch Plains isn't actually near Toms River, except insofar as nothing in New Jersey is that far from anything else because, you know, land grants circa 1667. We decided to make the day, in part, going to this.
The park, by the way, Wikipedia says is featured in two movies from the 90s that you haven't seen: the Demi Moore/Glenne Headley/Bruce Willis murder mystery-thriller Mortal Thoughts, and North, which Roger Ebert hated Hated HATED so.
I drove, partly because I always feel more confident in rental cars. Partly because Scotch Plains is in the relatively mountainous, densely-packed part of the state. Even with our satellite navigator the path wasn't easy, and it included a lot of narrow, obscure roads with sharp turns to navigate. But then, finally, there we were, pulling up to ... a strip mall? It sure looked like a strip mall. What's an amusement park doing huddled up against the edge of Route 22 West where, like, karate schools and a Subway shop ought to be? (Those were across the road.)
Well, it's not the park's fault the area turned into that sprawling strip mall that is North Jersey around it. The park opened in 1946 as an archery and ski equipment store, thus the name. And then somehow it transmogrified into a small, family-friendly amusement park, complete with roller coasters and a carousel and redemption games and quite a bit of parking, and an arcade hall up front with a sign warning the downstairs bathroom did not work and you had to go into the park to find a bathroom. The woman working the arcade counter explained that ever since the flooding a couple years back they just haven't used the bathrooms down there. The stairs, and what we could see of the basement, looked like every early-70s suburban furnished basement. I don't know how far back the flooding goes.
We bought all-day wristband passes. We didn't expect to be there all day; the park has only 21 rides, per Wikipedia, and in any case we had evening plans. But we had got there early, on a pleasant, warm, early summer day, and we could almost believe the park was opened for us alone. Some of it looked fine and respectable, like the sharp and quite well-decorated brick patio and central fountain. Some of it looked a little old but normal enough, like the Castle reserved for children's parties that weren't going to happen that day or, from how a look inside the window suggested, this week. Some looked like the park in recessional, cutting out things it wouldn't need given its anticipated doom, like a snack stand that still had the menu boards but no sign that any food had touched the place all year, and maybe not for years past.
And then the question came to me: had I been here before?
It all seemed --- not familiar, exactly. But nagging close to familiar. The setting, most of all, of a tiny amusement park tucked inside the foothills of the Appalachians. But that's not distinctive. Much of North Jersey is inside small mountains that seem more imposing when you've gotten used to the flatness of Michigan's Adventure and of Cedar Point. The rides? --- Mostly the same ones you might find in any amusement park. The statues? The decor? I spent part of the day distracted, watching. I spent hours ready for a madeline which never came.
My father, later, said that yes, he took us to this park ``all the time''. I have doubts about some of my father's recollections of things he did with us; he is certain, most notably, that he took me to the famous Action Park, while I am as certain he did not. I am agnostic on whether he took my siblings. But this --- this park, its location so close to South Amboy and his parents' house, that it is inexpensive and manageable for one parent with four children to guard --- this makes sense. Combined with my anticipation of a clear childhood memory? I accept that I was here before, most likely in the 70s, when the park was, everyone knew, doomed to close anytime.
Trivia: Excise brought in about a third of England's state revenues in the 1690s; customs another fifth.
Source: To Rule The Waves: How The British Navy Shaped The Modern World, Arthur Herman.
Currently Reading: Time Travel: A History, James Gleick.
Since I don't learn easily, here's some more pictures from the ballpark minigolf from when they replaced the outfield grass last year.
The penultimate hole, in the infield between first and second base. After all that time on real grass you don't realize how friction-free the packed clay is. With just the twisty hose serving as the bounds, my hit caused the ball to leap out of bounds and roll over to the Fort Wayne Wayne Newton Forts ballpark, in Indiana.
The final hole: putting from second base up to the pitcher's mound. Also a chance to stand on an actual pitcher's mound like you belong there and everything. Notice me taking the chance to photograph bunny_hugger taking the chance to photograph me taking a photograph.