austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Buy your girl a cotton candy while you're down on the ground

We got up early, for us, Tuesday, so we could get to Kennywood at opening. The day promised to be overcast, maybe with passing storms, which we figured would be good for people like us who were there to take in as many rides as possible. Kennywood is an old-style amusement park with many old-fashioned rides, including multiple roller coasters from the 1920s, and other rides that just don't exist in many, sometimes any, other places. bunny_hugger had been there twice before, and fallen deeply in love with this eccentric park; she's been sharing stories of the generally weird ways they do things for years, and I was eager to see how the park compared to them. It's a wonderful park, and weird, which is part of what's great about it.

Kennywood has, like most world-class parks, a paid parking lot. It also has, like every Pennsylvania-area park we visited, a free parking lot. Theirs was just a little bit farther away from the entrance. The park had us all line up around the gate for 10:30, when they started letting people in --- we overheard over the public address system the sounds of one of those carousel band organ CDs we've got --- and they didn't ask to see inside or camera bags, though we did have to go through a metal detector. (More on that later.) The entrance gate is separated from the main park by an underground tunnel, which gives entering (and exiting) a good sense of theater.

We walked in, with the crowd, and I saw first that there were signs saying it was Greek Day, and second that the Sky Coaster roller coaster, right by the gate, had a line but was closed. bunny_hugger pointed out other rides, such as the old mill ride --- a nearly-extinct form, riding a boat in a water trough through a haunted house-type ride, which was re-themed to Garfield in 2004 because of reasons that surely made sense at the time --- and which was also closed. Here's something they just do differently from, say, Cedar Point: while people are let into the park at (say) 10:30, the rides are closed until 11:00, so people can filter throughout the park and there's not a race to get to the highest-prestige rides before the crowd does.

At about 11, as bunny_hugger and I waited at their antique carousel, Kennywood opened its broadcast day. I'm only slightly exaggerating: the announcer welcomed everyone, and they played inaugural music --- I'm not sure that it was actually The Star-Spangled Banner, but it was along that line --- and we only lost the thread of that opening because the carousel organ came to life and the local music overwhelmed that. This would be our first ride, on a beautiful old machine with antique organ playing and the excitement of a happy crowd at the start of a better day than the weather forecasts called for.

The next thing we wanted to ride, the Kangaroo, was closed, so we went to some of the roller coasters --- Jackrabbit, first, and then a ride on the Racer --- but the roller coasters of Kennywood are such a strange and personal bunch I want to discuss them all in a group, in a separate post.

So after those roller coaster rides we got back to the now-working Kangaroo, which is the only known remaining non-kiddie-ride example of a Flying Coaster, and which is not a coaster of any kind. It's a set of cars on a circular track, connected to a vertical axle. The axle rotates, and the cars go around. What makes this a ride is the track contains a very steep ramp, which you go up while your stomach trails far behind; then, at the end of the ramp, your car drops rapidly and bounces.

We got lucky a few ways in this: for one, it was running at all. As often happens with antique and one-of-a-kind rides, it can be blasted hard to maintain. (We'd miss out on another antique ride later in the day because that seems to be down all season until replacement parts can be fabricated.) It'd been down just a few weeks earlier, we'd learn. Also, as the ride came to a stop we were the lucky one-in-ten-cars to have the car that's just going up the hill as it rolls to a stop, so that we were gently rolled down the far end of the slope instead of getting one more bounce at the close of the ride cycle. That may not sound like much, but it's a little odd.

The Kangaroo has got the classic simplicity of great rides and you should go to Kennywood and ride it. The Kang-A-Bounce ride at Morey's Piers (and other parks), which we loved, sure feels like an attempt to do this in modern form. Kang-A-Bounce got much of the same motion as the flying coaster Kangaroo, with multiple bounces on each loop instead of just the one.

We got lunch at the Parkside Cafe, which bunny_hugger had liked from earlier visits. It's in the former Casino building, which was built sometime around 1900 and so should be one of the oldest buildings at the park. I have to say about because there were contradictory bits about exactly when it was built, between a historic marker on the building --- the park has many historic markers, both for its own history and because of all that action from the French and Indian War which happened in the area, so if you ever wanted to visit an amusement park built on land George Washington lead armies over, Kennywood is just one of the ones we visited this trip --- and other signs around it. The building also has photographs of it from luncheons or dances in what looked like the 1910s or 1920s; we were almost more interested in those and in working out the apparent stories of the people not at the center of the photographs, based on their looks and actions and movements caught in a moment.

We were wholly and wholeheartedly delighted, and we'd barely started the day.

Trivia: Medieval European superstition supposed the odor of garlic and onion would demagnetize a lodestone. Source: Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation, Alan Gurney.

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

Tags: pennsylvania parks trip
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