The Art of Attractions - July 2018


Still Wild After All These Years

by Arthur Levine

One of the many things I love about this industry is its simultaneous embrace of the old and the new. 

From the very beginning, our industry has showcased innovations such as the Ferris wheel that reflected the Industrial Age at the World’s Columbian Exposition and the dazzling electric lights that illuminated early 20th-century trolley parks. With virtual reality, drone shows, and other razzle-dazzle, parks continue to serve as proving grounds for of-the-moment technology.

As IAAPA marks its 100th anniversary, it’s worth noting that many of today’s parks also draw on their long histories and cherish the past. Guests enjoy visiting Disneyland as much for the simple joy of going airborne with “Dumbo the Flying Elephant” as they do exploring hyperspace aboard “Star Tours.” Classic attractions such as “Dumbo” offer reassurance and transport older guests back to their childhoods. They also help connect families by fostering and melding memories that have spanned generations.

COURTESY OF B. DEREK SHAWClassic attractions are not necessarily treasured for their storied histories alone. Take “The Wild One” at Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, for example. Sure, by their very nature, wooden coasters can invoke the past. But a ride on “The Wild One” remains as vital today as it did when it opened—101 years ago.

It is still a rite of passage for budding coaster fans to tackle a major thrill machine. Zipping along at 53 mph and enduring the G-forces of its, well, wild elements, “The Wild One’s” passengers aren’t merely reminiscing in a haze of nostalgia. They are in the moment and likely screaming with delight.

One year older than IAAPA, the historic “Wild One” has a unique history. It debuted in 1917 at Paragon Park in Hull, Massachusetts. “The Giant Coaster,” as it was first named, was the featured attraction until the beachfront park closed in 1984. Wild World, later rebranded as Adventure World, the Maryland park now known as Six Flags America, resurrected the John Miller-designed ride and reopened it in 1986. It remains a highlight to this day.

There are many other examples of antique attractions that still bring great joy, including vintage carousels (especially ones with ring machines, such as “Flying Horses” on Martha’s Vineyard), midcentury bumper cars like the ones at Knoebels, and classic dark rides such as the “Whacky Shack” at Waldameer. While Paragon Park and far too many other seaside parks have shuttered, there are still places like Brooklyn’s Coney Island and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk where visitors can revel in the past and have contemporary fun.

It is an axiom in this business that parks need to reinvest and reinvent themselves to stay fresh and keep the turnstiles clicking. It’s true. However, it’s equally true that parks should preserve and celebrate their histories.

I’ll see you at the parks. I’ll be the one taking a spin on the carousel—and hopefully grabbing the brass ring.

A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at (formerly since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.