austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

We're gonna rattle this ghost town

So returning to the Conneaut Lake Park, and what might be called the after-trip report. You've seen what the grounds are like, and then what the ride experience was like, and what I think the gift shop reveals about the park and how it can carry on. Now, some bigger context, some things we discovered afterwards, after we left the park and tried to quite understand what we had seen.

The day after our visit, a group of volunteers working with a TV production team --- creating a pilot a new show they hope to sell to the Travel Channel, in which they go to distressed amusement parks and fix up what they can --- started work. The objective was to fix up as much as they could, including the Devil's Den, as well as to build a new attraction. The park's official web site was vague about what the attraction would be, because it was to be revealed only at the end of the repair and renovation week, but, obviously, it couldn't be something big and the terming of it as an attraction suggested that it wasn't a ride, or at least not exactly that.

One target of the work was the Devil's Den, which we learned had been renamed in 1992 as Dr. Moriarity's Wild Ride. Now we had an explanation for the ghost appearance of ``Dr.'s'' in the sign which read ``Featuring the      Infamous GUM WALL!!''; the ride was changed back from Dr Moriarity's in 2001. This also suggests things about how long the park goes without fully repainting rides, given its late challenges.

This did mean, though, that we might have been on this dark ride in its last operating day before getting new livery. If we'd not had the lucky accidents that brought us to the park, we'd have missed it obviously; but if the accidents bringing us there had been even a little different --- say, starting the next week --- we'd have had a very different experience. (In either direction, before or after, really; for example, apparently the Tumble Bug had only been put back into service three weeks before we visited.)

Volunteers and donated time contribute a lot to keeping Conneaut Lake Park intact. The park has almost become a volunteer project, really: the Blue Streak, for example, was standing but not operating for a couple of years, until the American Coaster Enthusiasts, and local park fans, and the help of a Pepsi Refresh Grant (which bunny_hugger had voted for back a couple years ago when there was public voting for what should get the grants, without ever quite knowing whether they had gotten it) put it into working shape. A couple years ago a volunteer project restored the railway to functioning (and the Tumble Bug too), and let the park have a partial season. The start of this month, volunteers --- with the support of a local contractor --- were to go about fixing some of the many fences in need of repair, and there's work under way to repaint the Blue Streak roller coaster. The 14th and 15th was a ``Bring Your Own Mulch'' landscaping event.

I'm not sure that the Blue Streak needs significant structural repair, though. Apparently, at one point in its volunteer-restoration project, considerable woodworking repair was done by local groups of Amish carpenters. You can likely hear the Internet giggling over that one. It'd left me with a grin at how wonderfully quirkily odd was the chain of events that would bring the park to that. And, really, giggling people on the Internet, if I had to choose a group purely on stereotype grounds, ``Amish carpenters'' is about the best group I could think of to complete the task of ``fix a huge wooden structure so it stays fixed on its own''.

Oh, that MetamorphoSign contest I mentioned the other day, along with talking about the sign put together for Blue Streak's 75th anniversary? That turns out to have been (according to Conneaut Lake Park Junction, one of the park's fan sites) the result of winning an online vote scheme. The park got a $10,000 sign makeover thanks to its online fanbase.

I can't think of any park that draws such determined and ongoing support from its community. Oh, everyone rallied to Casino Pier and to FunTown Pier after they were smashed in Superstorm Sandy, but that could be sated by buying ``Restore the Shore'' bumper sticker magnets, and it hasn't been a lingering mess. (Also, last November, everyone in the area had their own problems to consider.) Pittsburgh would probably riot if Kennywood announced it couldn't open for the year, and there's wide swaths of northern Ohio and southern Michigan that would have a reaction if Cedar Point were to tear down its Blue Streak. But to put out, with a straight face, a call for fifty volunteers each bringing their own bag of mulch and a roll of landscaping fabric, maybe get a truckload of dirt if they could, and have a reasonable expectation of people turning out? That's an incredible act of community.

They hope to do more, as ever. For the Halloween events --- and I have to admit it's not hard to imagine the park being its own Halloween makeover without changing anything --- they're hoping, between the actual management and the Halloween event (called Ghost Lake) management and the volunteers, to put together what they hope will be the longest (and scariest) Halloween attraction in the world --- more than 160 live creatures, and a (somehow) 13-level park, according to its Ghost Lake web site, something projected to take two hours to walk through. bunny_hugger and I thought it might be something as simple as letting people work up their courage to walk over the scary abandoned bridge that seems to lead to the jungle primeval. That bridge does appear in the photo montage for Ghost Lake.

The new attraction, by the way, that the folks making that show on spec for the Travel Channel unveiled? It's called the Hostile Hostel, a walk-through haunted house (based apparently on a Romanian hotel), and it opened with great fanfare on the 3rd of August, alongside the other improvements made by the show's swirling of activity. I have to expect Travel Channel to pick up, if not the series, at the very least this particular episode, because of the astounding feat of taking the park as it was, and summoning its reserves of volunteers to do something incredible, and their installing the new attraction.

Oh, and also because of the major and catastrophic fire. There's more to say about that.

Trivia: George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park had the ``Blow-hole Theater'', in which a lecherous dwarf would tease and direct women into a room where still jets of air shot up from the floor, exposing their legs and undergarments. Source: The Kid Of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements, Woody Register. (Register notes this ``verged on the indecent end'' of middle-class behavior.

Currently Reading: The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2013, Editor Gordon van Geller.

Tags: conneaut lake park, pennsylvania parks trip, trip report
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