austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

This house is falling apart

Conneaut Lake Park: You've read about the grounds. And about what the rides are like. And, I hope, what the gift shop is like, as well as what the volunteers supporting the park are like.

So, the major and catastrophic fire. That broke out a couple days after we visited, and after the TV show-based renovation and repairing was under way, and before the Hostile Hostel attraction was opened. Its cause, at least as of now, hasn't been identified. But it burned down the Beach Club and Dockside, destroying with it one of the Blue Streak's trains --- how many spares can they have left, considering particularly how old the cars they run are? --- and the Fascination machines the park had, presumably, been keeping in the hopes of someday reopening the parlor. It also destroyed the venue where the Journey/John Mellencamp cover band had performed, the spot where bikers from western Pennsylvania gathered each Sunday to be at the park. Their band for the following Sunda --- a Bon Jovi tribute group --- took to Facebook immediately to promise that they would so perform, and they apparently did, and bands have been playing since then where they're able to find space. Also a wedding got relocated at the last minute. Imagine getting married at an amusement park; then imagine having the wedding venue go in flames in the stress-filled days immediately before. Seaside Heights and Seaside Park sell T-shirts about being ``Jersey Strong'' in the face of superstorm and fire; Conneaut Lake Park, apparently, just accepts it as part of life, and carries on without much comment.

When I first heard about the fire I thought, ``that's it. They're done'', which is probably a thought many people had. They probably had that thought too in February 2008, when the Dreamland Ballroom was destroyed in a major fire (this after a season when the park's rides closed in early August, and a year when they didn't reopen). That, if I haven't mixed up disasters, was arson, and was discovered by someone who lived in a house on the park's property. The park has city streets that run through it, just blockaded off, and we thought that was a legacy of the park's old integration with the city. The park was integrated into the city until much more recently than we imagined, only in 1990 attempting to put up a gate and close off access from these side roads. It's still not very separated.

Probably many people also thought, ``that's it. They're done'' in April of 2008, when the former bowling alley --- the structure I had thought might have been an abandoned entryway, one with a big facade and ruin behind it and in the distance a truck trailer and past that people's homes --- collapsed. (Maybe it was purely aesthetic: two days after the bowling alley collapsed the people making The Road started filming scenes at the park. I said it had a postapocalyptic look, didn't I? If Wikipedia's to be believed (I haven't seen the movie) the film includes rubble from the ballroom and bowling alley, the then-closed Hotel Conneaut, and the boardwalk. (And yet it's odd the park would be featured in a pretty high-profile mainstream movie; it feels more like the setting for something indie, or maybe a weird lightly satiric thing, or a single-camera sitcom.)

Likely they also thought ``that's it. They're done'' when a fire --- I think this one also arson, possibly the same arsonist behind the destruction of the ballroom --- destroyed the bathrooms that had been in the Kiddieland portion of the park. We didn't know when we were there that there had been bathrooms there; there was just the one set of bathrooms which, for the park's size, seemed about adequate. But it makes sense there should have been such there, and looking back I ... can't think of where they might have been. Perhaps the building was cleaned away; perhaps it just faded into the background considering there was so much that needed repair. I don't know. My empathy fails me in thinking about most arsonists, but, to set the children's bathroom on fire?

But this year's fire seems particularly crushing: it destroyed a restaurant, two bars, and the concert space, which all seem like essential parts of drawing enough paying customers to keep the park going. How could they possibly carry on without them, even if the Bon Jovi tribute band is happy to play on the lawn and the Hotel Conneaut will cover for wedding reservations?

Well, there's the power of volunteers, of course. The park has defied all these death-blows --- and many more --- through the power of its volunteers. Its charmingly disorganized web site, which wants for only that animated ``under construction'' gif to be perfectly of its time lists four distinct volunteer projects, although some of them look like they might be out of date. No matter; they probably still need the help in keeping Blue Streak restored.

So the mystery then becomes: why did the park's trustees post a notice that while it was ``wonderful'' that so many people were volunteering time and effort and money to the rebuilding fundraisers, they had grave reservations about all of this, in a notice vaguely warning that the fundraising was initiated without their involvement and that there weren't any details then, or likely to come out soon, about how the funds would be distributed, for what, to whom? The fire was an obvious problem; but how would people coming together to save the park be a new source of imminent disaster?

Trivia: Luna Park's ``Fire and Sword'' spectacle recreated the fall of Adrianople in the First Balkan War (1912-13). Source: The Kid Of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements, Woody Register.

Currently Reading: Artery of Fire, Thomas N Scortia.

PS: Reading the Comics, September 21, 2013, a fresh round of mathematics-themed comic strips.

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

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