‘People Were Bleeding All Over’: America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park


Amusement parks are designed to ship thrills. They are locations for splashing and screaming and laughing, usually on rides that defy frequent sense, to not point out the legal guidelines of physics.

But a park in New Jersey routinely delivered so much worse — bloody noses, bruises, damaged enamel and bones, concussions and even demise. People who spent a day at Action Park in its prime, within the 1980s and 1990s, usually left with one thing to point out for it: scars.

“People were bleeding all over the place,” stated Susie McKeown, who’s now 52 and remembers going to Action Park after she graduated from highschool greater than 30 years in the past. “People had been strolling across the park with scraped elbows or knees.’’

She went residence together with her personal badge of honor, having damaged certainly one of her entrance enamel on a trip that ended with a 15- or 20-foot plunge into a cold pond. “You went so quick that in case your chin hit the water on the incorrect angle, you chipped your enamel,” she stated.

Action Park “was funny, it was weird, it was hysterical, but there was a darkness to it,” said Seth Porges, who made the documentary with Chris Charles Scott.

“People got hurt there. The hardest part of making this movie was: How do you portray that? A lot of people look back fondly on it as a coming-of-age experience. How do you reconcile the fun of it with the human toll?”

But there were deaths at Action Park: six between 1978, when it opened, and 1996, when it closed. (It reopened under different owners a few years later, only to close and reopen again.) Two deaths occurred within a single week in 1982. One victim was a 15-year-old boy who drowned in the notorious Tidal Wave Pool. The other was a 27-year-old man who was electrocuted on a ride called Kayak Experience.

“There was virtually no action taken against” Action Park, said Mr. Porges, the filmmaker. “Eventually it shut down, not because of some regulator who said ‘You’re through.’ But because it went bankrupt.” (The state Labor Department found no violations in the kayak case, but said that electric current from an underwater fan could have caused serious bodily injury.)

Mr. Porges, a former editor at Maxim and Popular Mechanics magazines who has a degree in journalism, saw Action Park as a good story. “I’m a journalist by trade,” he said. “I realized this is a great opportunity to apply my trade, so we began to dig. The true story of Action Park — it’s weirder and crazier than the legend.”

But it is the nostalgia-tinted legend that remains in people’s memories. Alison Becker, 42, an actress and writer best known for a recurring role on the sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” said the risks at Action Park were part of the appeal. She said she had gone to Six Flags Great Adventure, which is also in New Jersey, and nothing equaled the fear factor at Action Park.

“You know the scene in ‘Footloose’ where they’re playing a game of chicken with tractors and going at each other?” said Ms. Becker, who grew up about 30 miles from Action Park in Allamuchy Township. “Most people look at that and say, ‘What dumb kids.’ I look at it and say, ‘That’s like a day at Action Park. They could’ve charged an extra five for that, and we would have paid it.”

Action Park was so notorious that there are stories about a test dummy that was sent through a ride before it opened. The dummy came out missing something — its head, in some versions; a leg or an arm in others.

Andy Mulvihill, 56, the son of Action Park’s longtime owner, said the tale about the dummy’s head was true. He said he knows this because he was there. He was the first person to go on that ride, he said, after the dummy came out decapitated.

“I was wearing my hockey equipment when I did it,” he said. Speed was essential. “If you didn’t have enough speed,” Mr. Mulvihill said, “you’d fall and smash your face, and if you smashed hard enough, you could break your nose or knock out some teeth.”

He said that ride was open for only a few weeks at a time. “Generally, the rides were very tame,” he said. “But there were some where you controlled the speed and the action, and if you were reckless, you could get hurt.”

Action Park was created by Andy Mulvihill’s father Eugene, whom Mr. Porges described as a “showman-huckster businessman, a mixture of P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney, with a little bit of Trump.”

Andy Mulvihill called the deaths at Action Park “devastating to me.”

But he added, “three of those deaths were drownings. We pulled out thousands and thousands of people who were people who had no business in the water.’’

And yet, it was exhilarating. For some, the conversation in the car on the way there “was about who’s going to do this, who’s going to do that, who do you think is going to get hurt,” recalled Kris Brennan, who is now 45 and lives in Westfield. “It wasn’t ‘If someone gets hurt,’ it was ‘Who’s going to get hurt?’”

Mr. Brennan had “a chunk of skin taken out of my hip” on the 2,700-foot-long Alpine Slide.

“Class Action Park” will probably bring on a flood of memories. But Andy Mulvihill is looking to tell the story his way, and next summer Penguin Books will publish “Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park.”

He said it was “nonfiction for sure,” even if it read like fiction.

“When you do something as crazy, as cutting-edge” as Action Park, he said, “and you put it in the metro New York area, where New Yorkers are pretty much crazy anyway, you have stories.”



Source link Nytimes.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *