Growing up, my family only ever went to the big amusement parks: Cedar Point, Busch Gardens, King’s Dominion, Disney, and of course my beloved Morey’s Piers in Wildwood. (And by “big,” I mean “bigger than Pittsburgh’s own Kennywood Park.”) So naturally, I always had a taste for the roller coaster juggernauts; I never went to any of the little dinky parks when they were in their heyday, and it wasn’t until I became an adult that I developed an appreciation for these little, half-abandoned slabs of amusement history.
Erie, PA seemed like the perfect birthday getaway because it’s really close to Pittsburgh and there are two small parks in the area: Conneaut Lake Park and Waldameer. Anytime I would tell people where we were going, most of them would nod knowingly at the mention of Waldameer, because even though it’s small, it’s thriving; but when I would throw Conneaut’s name into the mix, most people were like, “Why? There’s nothing there anymore.”
But I had to see it for myself.
Even the balloons were wilted.
We didn’t have to get very close to the park to see that it was pretty desolate and dejected. For as much as I love amusement parks, I am actually plagued by recurring nightmares where I’m in a flooding park at night, or I’m on a roller coaster with unfinished tracks, or there is actually nothing fatal occuring at all but the atmosphere is so decidedly sinister that I wake up feeling unsettled and scared.
I’ve never been to Conneaut but I’m pretty sure this was once the setting for one of those nightmares.
The Devil’s Den was one of the main reasons why I wanted to stop there, because I always see it listed on all of the dark ride enthusiast websites and it just seems fitting that some heathen hussy like myself should take a jaunt through the den of the devil. Sure, it was a small building filled with dangling K-Mart Halloween masks and a blaring horn, but it was charming and had that old, musty stench of The Way Things Were before all the roller coasters went steel and general park admission was eradicated. Hokey decorations or not, it made me feel like a kid again and Chooch deemed it his favorite ride.
Henry refused to buy a wristband so he didn’t get to relive his childhood by soiling himself. He did, however, purchase tickets to ride the lone coaster there, the Blue Streak. There’s some controversy over this old wooden coaster, which the ride attendant attempted to tell us about in a strange hillbilly telemarketer monotone. I guess it was shut down for a few years, and then some company that this guy worked for out in California came here to do some repairs on it, but then Conneaut ended up unable to pay, so this company seized the park* and that is how we got so lucky to have this state certified mechanic supervising our totally harrowing, white-knuckle journey on the world’s most rickety wooden tracks.
(*I wasn’t really paying attention.)
“That was awesome!” Chooch screamed afterward as Henry and I reached for our imaginary walkers.
“Yeah, that’s because you couldn’t SEE anything!” Henry muttered, rubbing his thick neck. Unlike Chooch, Henry and I were tall enough to see what sorts of certain death lay below each time we crested a hill.
From the road, the Blue Streak actually looks broken down and overtaken by weeds. So, you know—totally inviting.
I really want the entrance to Kiddieland to be the archway into my future house. I think it’s fantastic, but I’m sure there are a ton of people (and almost all of my friends) who might be a little unnerved by it. But I guess I wouldn’t want my house to start attracting Megan’s Law candidates.
This is what restrooms look like after a tango with arson.
I got so incredibly ill on this ride.
There was an organ rally going on that day, which made the experience even better. Everywhere we turned in that park, we saw broken windows, pot-holed asphalt, rusted rides and carnival games that were chintzier than the ones we had at our fifth grade fair, but all these maudlin images were offset by cheerful calliope music grinding out of box trucks set up at every juncture, like canned happiness.
It was one hell of a mind fuck.
Walking down the main stretch of the park, there were gaping lots from where rides once stood. I’m kind of glad that I never got to see it when it was flourishing, because I think I would have been too depressed to enjoy myself. But as it were, I was able to appreciate it for what remains.
You know an amusement park is dead when you’re the ONLY PERSON in the rest room. Not a single stall was occupied by a Croc-wearing mom screaming at her little unbathed ragamuffin.
(“WTF kind of Appalachian amusement parks are you going to, Erin??”)
Hotel Conneaut is right across from the park and is supposedly haunted, but when we walked through the lobby, I didn’t feel anything. And we all know I’m kind of an expert at ghost-detecting. It looks abandoned from the exterior, but it’s actually still up and running. It was probably fancier than our room at the Travel Lodge.
“Why can’t we just go to Disneyworld like normal families?”
Dreaming of dancehall days.
The midway had a boarded-up arcade and four sad games with really rad dollar store relics from the 80s to win. This was the first time in history that Chooch didn’t beg us for money to play games. Even he knew that the prizes weren’t worth the effort.
The rain did wonders for the cheerful and inviting ambiance.
I’ve got some more pictures to post tomorrow!