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Posts Tagged ‘theme park’

Photo: Vitor Fontes/Unsplash.
Abandoned amusement park in Berlin, Germany.

In June, I read an amusing mystery in which an abandoned theme park on an island off the Delaware coast played a major role. The silent structures made a nice, creepy setting for a complicated story. Abandoned parks are inherently mysterious.

Brigit Benestante at National Public Radio recently shared some thoughts on theme parks of yesteryear.

“There’s something romantic, a bit sad, and strangely enthralling about the failure of a theme park,” she says. “Growing up in Houston, the memory of the AstroWorld amusement park loomed like a ghost. The park officially shut its doors a day before my 10th birthday in 2005, and it was soon demolished to make way for a parking lot.

“Something about the sight of abandoned and dilapidated theme parks was fascinating — and apparently I wasn’t alone.

“As it turns out, there’s an entire community of people captivated with defunct, abandoned or retired theme parks and attractions around the world. This community is inextricably linked with the broader abandoned community — enthusiasts of deserted structures of all kinds, including closed malls, shuttered Blockbusters, and crumbling Gilded Age theaters.

“My first encounter with this community was in 2014 when I discovered the YouTube channel Bright Sun Films, run by Ontario documentarian Jake Williams. Williams’ content largely centers around abandoned or canceled businesses, concepts and, yes, theme parks. It was here that I first watched a video about Disney’s infamous abandoned water park, River Country.

“River Country opened at Disney World in the 1970s as the world’s first fully themed water park. After closing in 2001, the park sat abandoned for years.

Dried-up pools, slides to nowhere and themed attractions overtaken by the elements allured urban explorers.

“Although Disney tried its best to keep people out, explorers and photographers found creative ways to break in, sharing photos that looked post-apocalyptic. I was hooked.

“I started watching other YouTube channels dedicated to amusement park failures, most notably, Defunctland. Defunctland, created and hosted by Kevin Perjurer, has videos covering all aspects of defunct amusement: former rides, hotels, parks, concepts and ticketing systems.

“One of Perjurer’s most recent videos, Disney’s FastPass: A Complicated History, is more than 90 minutes long and is truthfully one of the most well-rounded and comprehensive investigations I’ve ever seen. …

“So what makes this content about abandoned structures so fascinating to so many people?

” ‘For some, it can represent the conclusion of their childhood, but for me, I think it’s the unprecedented and truly surreal sight of seeing something that had been enjoyed by so many people just decay away,’ said Williams of Bright Sun Films. ‘People will always have fond memories of these places, and the idea that in some tangible way they still exist — well, that’s a really powerful and poignant concept I love exploring.’ …

“The pedestrian bridge I remember crossing each time I visited AstroWorld is one of the few original structures that remains. I have vivid memories of crossing over the bridge that connected AstroWorld’s parking lot, situated on one side of Houston’s South Loop freeway, to the main attractions on the other side. I remember seeing the roller coasters and flags in the distance as my heart raced with anticipation.

“There’s something so fascinating about exploring the life and demise of theme parks — the familiar taste of nostalgia, the fact that everything has an end, the unforgiving churn of capitalism and the loss of beloved structures.

“I can’t say what draws me to these videos and discussions. I suspect that it’s a way to properly say goodbye to something that so many people once loved, as Williams said; a way to honor the things that once brought crowds joy in the form of delighted screams and deep-fried treats.”

More at NPR, here. Please share any special memories you have of theme parks, defunct or ongoing. I have always been afraid of the rides so my visits to such parks is more along the line of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, where I once bought a whisk broom I still use.

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Photo: Pieter Kuiper
Entrance of High Chaparral in Sweden. The Wild West theme park has been used to house Syrian refugees.

I knew that Italians were fascinated by cowboys in the Wild West. I knew they made “spaghetti westerns.” But it turns out that legends of the American frontier have intrigued people in many other countries as well.

In fact, in Sweden, Big Bengt was so fascinated that he built a Wild West theme park, calling it High Chaparral. It employees Syrian refugees, among others.

Reports On the Media (OTM) at WNYC radio, “In the middle of nowhere southern Sweden, there’s a popular Wild West theme park called High Chaparral, where Scandinavian tourists relive the action of the old American cowboy films. For over a year, the park served another function: a refugee camp for some 500 of the 163,000 migrants – many from Syria – who applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015.

“That Syrians would find refuge here actually jibes with High Chaparral’s interpretation of the Old West, which emphasizes the new life that the frontier offered to beleaguered pioneers, and the community that was required to survive there. …

“OTM producer Micah Loewinger traveled to High Chaparral last summer, where he met Abood Alghzzawi, a Syrian asylum-seeker, who embarked on an incredible journey to the Wild West of Sweden. …

“Special thanks to David Smith, author of the forthcoming book Cowboy Politics: Frontier Myth and the Twentieth Century Presidency from University of Oklahoma Press. For more about High Chaparral, check out two fantastic documentaries about the park from David Freid and MEL Films”: here and here. You can listen to the WNYC radio feature here.

I wanted to know more about the park’s founder, so I went to Wikipedia: “Big Bengt was born in 1922 in Brännehylte, Småland. His parents owned a forest farm and a wood mill. Big Bengt was involved in starting [many] companies. His interest in the Wild West was born from coming from a countryside where many had emigrated to America and from the stories they told. Bengt went to the United States himself in 1956 and in 4 months covered 4,000 km. He came back to Sweden with a lot of impressions. When the Swedish national phone company had to get rid of 200,000 telephone poles, Bengt took the opportunity and constructed a fort. When many people started to get curious about the place, he realized its possibilities.”

Photo: Micah Loewinger
Abood Alghzzawi, dressed as a cowboy, poses with other High Chaparral employees in southern Sweden.

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