austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Right there at the start

[ Sorry to be late. Pinball league ran very, very long, because the machines kept breaking out from under us. I only broke the first machine, but was in the group playing when the second broke. I was nowhere near the third when it broke. ]

Beside the Stein and Goldstein Carousel is the Ole Smokey Railroad, a narrow-gauge railway that putters along one edge of the park, the edge that's pretty well shaded by trees but also can see the main entrance road. There's another on the opposite side which we haven't been on yet. The ride also took us past the kiddieland and its many little rides, and we had the lovely moment of seeing the boats in a canal ride and the Kozmo's Kurves of the kids' railroad passing us in the other direction.

We wandered back over toward the kiddieland, noticing among other things what's got to be the coolest kiddie merry-go-round on hand, at least by some definitions of merry-go-round. It's a large flat ride, with the riders going in circles, but the mounts are --- well, some are animals, like elephants or lions or hippopotamuses; but others are cars or trucks or tanks; and some are 50s-style spaceships. The vehicles have steering wheels, mostly, but none of the animals or vehicles go up and down. There's a traffic light hanging above the center. Is it a merry-go-round? It seems close, but it's also so near one of those kiddieland rides where you sit in a spaceship and play at steering while going in an endless circle.

After going past an open-air stage with a group playing 50s and 60s songs I thought I saw the arcade where we'd played pinball the previous night. It was an arcade, but a second and new one, with a mere pair of pinball machines. We played a couple rounds of Theater of Magic, the official pinball of devilbunnies. A kid beside us was playing Pirates of the Caribbean despite not understanding some of how the machine worked --- I had to explain how to launch the ball --- and had a fairly good game despite a sibling coming up and screwing around with a flipper, and her father (?) dragging her off because they had other stuff to go to. We felt the injustice of all that.

We also went past one of the kid theatrical shows, this one a story that gives average parkgoing kids the chance to dress up in costume and move, embarrassed, around the stage as part of some kind of story. I'm not sure what was going on when we visited but there were a half-dozen kids dressed in red tunics and holding sword and shield going up to a princess. I really like most everything about Knoebels, but the variety of activities is definitely an important part of what makes it great; this is at least three shows we passed without really aiming for them and I'm sure at least the puppet show and this would keep a kid usefully entertained, and pretty cheaply considering there's neither a charge for parking or for entering the park.

We took another ride on the Black Diamond Mining Company dark ride, still great and worth it, and then popped in on the Knoebels Museum that's next to it. On previous trips in I'd thought that looked interesting and maybe we'd get to it sometime; today, particularly given that it was a crowded day, why not take the time? The front is a gift shop, which is normal enough, with the kinds of mining-attraction feature that parks get in their Old West section. Around the partial walls, though, there's the first of the museums, introduced by a Tyrannosaurus rex.

This first part of the amusement park's museum is about the coal industry: where coal comes from (thus the dinosaur, part of a setting of Life on Earth Long Ago) and going into what coal mining was like, which was horrible. They're pretty straightforward about this; besides the exhibits showing the tools used in the mining and railroad trades there's equally big exhibits about accidents and accident records, including a computer with which one can look up people whose names you happen to know, and some accounts of daring cave-in rescues and the equipment used for that.

It's past another partition and door, beyond the coal mining museum, that you get to the park's museum. The door into it asks ``Why has Knoebels Succeeded While Other Local Amusement Parks Have Failed'' and offers as one reason that they never throw things away --- listing, for example, the history of an aluminum umbrella bought in 1950 for a shed wrecked in the Flood of 1972 (a particularly high one; the high-water mark's noted in park signs with pictures of Kozmo under water up to his nose) and sold for scrap in 1980 (which seems to defy the door's thesis) and then used to cover the center of the roof over the Italian Trapeze ``until summer 2001'', leaving its fate since then unmentioned. The door also lists some closed local (with 35 miles) parks, some of them pretty generic --- Lakeside Park, Lakewood Park, Pleasure Park --- and some intriguingly named --- Rolling Green, Angela Park, Doodle Bug Park.

Inside it properly is a neat collection of bits of removed rides and attractions, such as from the high-diving board formerly above the swimming pool (explained that it was only twenty feet high, or whatever, and didn't it seem taller?) or the Country Bear Jubilee (``A Roaring Visit To The Rockin' 50's''), or the sign clock used at the roller skating rink (``We Believe This Dial Was Used To Tell Skaters What The Next program Would Be'', and I'm delighted that they're not sure about that), or the full-scale model of Explorer 1 used as a prop beside the Space Ship Ride. They've also got the ``Old Lady'', a fortune-telling machine introduced to the park in 1950; it was, according to the sign, in service until 1985 when the supply of horoscopes from the long-gone supplier finally gave out. They also have one of the earliest deeds for the land on which the park would be built, and a timeline listing historic dates of the park, which goes back the hundreds of millions of years to when the coal fields began to form. (It skips a couple dates.) The timeline also mentions for 1941, ``Purchased Grand Carousel \\ 10 Days Later WWII Begins'', which I think gives an unwanted implication regarding United States involvement in the war.

The timeline doesn't explain everything, unfortunately (``1978: Billy Penn Became Official Mascot'', raising questions among which are ``so what's with Kozmo, then?'') and it seems like they've got only a couple years left before they run out of wall space. I suppose they'll work something out.

It's a pity we don't get to Knoebels more because it's just full of this sort of side attraction: no kind of big-ticket attraction but endlessly fascinating to people like us. If it were a day trip away we'd probably easily spend weekends just being there.

Trivia: Ty Cobb skipped out on five Detroit Tigers games in August of 1908 to get married. The Tigers won four of the games he missed. Source: Crazy `08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, Cait Murphy.

Currently Reading: Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America, Peter Andreas.

Tags: amusement parks, casino pier farewell tour, knoebels

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