austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Screen falling off the door

We were driving roughly north from Pittsburgh and trusted that we'd find somewhere to eat along the way. We didn't exactly but we did stop at a gas station for a bathroom break, and to pick up some kind of snack, and on an impulse I decided to fill up the tank. It struck me that while we had half a tank of gas left, it's not like I was likely to cry out in the middle of a tiny Pennsylvania town, ``darned it, if only I hadn't refilled the gas!'' While I was filling it up --- and bunny_hugger was checking the rest stop's recreation areas for pinball machines (they had none) --- a pretty heavy rain got started. This wasn't a long-lasting one, but it was a warning for the day ahead.

We were returning, if all went well, to Conneaut Lake Park. It's hard to picture things quite going well for Conneaut Lake Park, given its postapocalyptic shape and the way stuff that should kill small amusement parks keeps happening there. Since our short visit last July they'd had some renovations done for the pilot episode of a Travel Channel show, including the installation of a new ``Hostile Hostel'' attraction for their Halloween shows, and suffered a catastrophic fire at the beach house, and been scheduled by the county for a tax sale based on nearly a million dollars of unpaid property taxes. By sense, the park was dead. They'd opened this year, and got volunteers out to help spruce it up and paint it. That's the sort of park it is. (It's also, bunny_hugger would learn, near the Pymatuning Reservoir, referred to as the spot ``where the ducks walk on the fish'', because the habit of people feeding wildlife is so prominent and respected there that every fish in the world comes up to be fed, and every duck in the world follows them. Roadside America has pictures, and they're stunning.)

This was Thursday, scheduled to be their first operating Thursday of the year, although we were not positive they wouldn't call it off, particularly when the morning was so heavily rainy. When we got to the parking lot, what we thought was the main parking lot, about twenty minutes after the park's scheduled opening, we saw ... nothing. Not a soul. This was a bit unsettling. But after all it was a weekday afternoon, and it'd just been raining, and we heard the rattling of the Blue Streak roller coaster's lift chain so that was running at least. And someone else came up and parked some distance from our car, so the scene wasn't completely abandoned. We could've gone to where the ducks walked on fish instead. (Actually, our contingency plan in case the park were closed for the day was to continue north to Waldameer park, and take the day there, and return to Conneaut Lake on Friday.)

The first thing we saw besides emptiness was that the front of the park had been repainted. The admission gates had fresh colors to them, even if the admission gate interiors were still dusty and abandoned, wooden folding chairs in various states of foldedness sitting around. You get ride tickets from a booth inside the park anyway. Behind the entrance were some Christmas wreaths. (This isn't a uniquely Conneaut Lake thing, I should point out; in the ride queue at Kennywood for The Phantom's Revenge we noticed their holiday decorations, sitting underneath the elevated launch station platform.)

There's still a curious empty spot where some flat ride used to be --- we noticed a rusty old screw thread on the ground and chuckled about the souvenir (which we didn't take) --- but the fences and the rides up front, doing test runs, looked fresh-painted. Some of the benches were also clearly newly painted in nice, bright and cheery colors. The Tilt-A-Whirl was still nonfunctional, but, the Flying Scooters and the swing ride were in good order.

Along the path to the midway is a miniature golf course, by reputation a great one, and also a narrow-gauge railroad. The station was visible but the train wasn't running; our understanding was that the engine --- historic and old and renovated thanks to a fundraising drive around 2006, memorialized in the walkway up to the station by bricks with people's names on them --- was destroyed in the fire that ruined the beach house and their Fascination tables and their spare Blue Streak roller coaster train. But we later found the train, sitting in the open, parts taken out for what looked like maintenance. Apparently the report was mistaken, or the damage was repairable.

In short, while the park didn't look like a normal, functioning spot with a healthy attendance and more than four months to run until it was sold to pay back taxes, it looked better than it had last year. It turns out that last year the park was also looking better than it had in years. In short, as much of a disaster area as Conneaut Lake Park had looked to us last year, we were seeing it on an upswing, as the place pulled itself together.

Last year we'd visited the park only because we realized it was conveniently on the way to Waldameer, and it'd give us the chance to see an antique carousel and a classic roller coaster, and it kept fascinating us more and more. The result was we had only a partial day at this park, and only a partial day at Waldameer. This time we set aside full days for both parks, and if the rain held off, we'd have plenty of time to explore Conneaut Lake Park. But the abundant time came also with an awful knowledge: barring a truly bizarre turn of events this would be the last time we'd ever see this tiny, ancient, clinging-by-the-love-of-its-community park before it was sold off and almost certainly closed.

Trivia: In early 1943 Alfred Hitchcock planned to direct a movie starring comedian Fred Allen. Allen objected to a plot twist by scenarist Sally Benson and the project was shelved. Source: Fred Allen: His Life And Wit, Robert Taylor.

Currently Reading: Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind The Myth, Marion Meade.

Tags: amusement parks, conneaut lake park revisited, west pennsylvania parks tour
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