Tim's Turn | Editing My Lifestyle
How did your spring cleaning go this year? Mine was epic, and one I will never forget. It accomplished a great deal, but it was quite bittersweet for me.
Downsizing—that’s what some would call what I’ve been doing since the first of the year. I don’t like that word because it sounds so final, like I’m destined to move into a tiny retirement cottage. I prefer to call it “editing my lifestyle.”
Let me explain. My monthlong editing process preceded the donation of my amusement park archives to the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA). It was a big transfer. Large enough that my archives needed a U-Haul truck to take the stuff from my home office in Nashville, Tennessee, to NAPHA’s home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I began accumulating amusement park and theme park history in 1985 when I went to work at Amusement Business (AB). For the 18 years I worked at AB, I never threw away a press release, press kit, or story I wrote. Everything went into the files. Nary a negative was tossed from the photos I shot during that time. Once I left AB, I continued to clip, collect, create, and download further documentation.
All that is to say that in those 35-plus years, I built literally hundreds of individual files, one on nearly every park, manufacturing company, and industry leader in the world. Enough to pack into seven filing cabinets, each with four or five drawers. Negatives and photos filled up another five boxes. In another dozen boxes were bound volumes and files containing another 500 (give or take) old issues of Amusement Business. Additionally, there were video tapes of park announcements, copies of news broadcasts of major park news, and copies of countless documentaries and interviews that I appeared in over the years. All this now hopefully preserved for future generations to use.
It was a haul for sure. For years, I had been thinking about the time I would need to pass along the archives and wanted to make sure it went to the right organization. Too much of our industry’s history is going unclaimed in basements and recycling bins because the owners didn’t think anyone would want their “stuff.” Luckily, NAPHA wanted mine. I kiddingly asked if they were going to construct a building with an O’Brien Archives wing, and they laughed, so I guess that request will go unfilled for now.
Jim Futrell, the historian of NAPHA, led the charge to secure my treasures, and on an April weekend, he showed up at my door with a truck and three longtime NAPHA members: Joshua Litvik, Mike Costello, and Garrett Sauers. They did most of the grunt work—I supervised—and my wife Kathleen made them feel at home by making some great amusement park-quality funnel cakes. What a day.
I can’t say it didn’t hurt seeing my life’s major work go out the front door. But I have convinced myself that it was a smart decision. While I don’t have any more industry files, I still have the friendships and a bucket full of memories, and when it all comes down to it, isn’t that what life’s all about?
I urge everyone and anyone to think strongly about donating before destroying their archives, be they large or small. This is important stuff, people, so please think of future generations of eager park fans, historians, and journalists who could garner great information about your life’s work. Think of it as your legacy.
Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.