Saying goodbye to Storytown

In an earlier post I expressed my disappointment upon realizing that when The Great Escape announced they were to bring back some of the old Storytown relics, they meant as roadside scenery to the fifteen minute train ride. Well, tonight I found a video clip of that ride, featuring the Storytown relics.

It has literally been decades since I have ridden that route on any Storytown train. During my last trip, the person I was with and I were all set to ride it, however, her ten year old son was about to ride solo on the Boomerang and I kept saying things like, “You’d never catch my ass on that thing”, “I wonder how often they do safety checks”, and “Have you ever visited that site where they report all the amusement park accidents and deaths?”. After that she pretty much yanked me out of the line because she was all concerned for her kid. I can’t imagine why.

What it is, to be exact, is a final farewell to the original park and it’s legacy. At least, that’s how I see it. First, Storytown USA, some of the fairytale monuments which used to reside where Timbertown now is. Then it’s Ghost Town, some scattered about wagon wheels and buggy parts and an old stage coach replica. Lastly, it’s Jungle Land.. which I have to say, pains me the most.

You might want to keep watch on the young girls who can be seen throughout the video sitting in front of the camera man. They look at the relics in wondrous curiosity, never to know where they truly came from or what they mean to people like myself. They will never have the pleasure of climbing on PoPo or standing in the mouth of a giant whale (who sadly is not seen on this train ride with his friends). They will never have to worry about Humpty Dumpty falling down or seeing mice run down the clock. They won’t be scared to walk through Jungle Land because there aren’t any animals there anymore. Ironically enough these previously animated and joyful creatures have been taken from their natural environment and reduced to depressing, motionless, silent statues. Just like the animals in the circus.

I had forgotten just how isolated the ride is from the actual park. It’s not only creepy but it also seems fitting considering the Storytown relics which have been sequestered there, like artifacts in a museum. Look but don’t touch and before you have a chance to really see them, they disappear before your very eyes. The only way to see them is to ride the train (or swan boats I imagine), like a time machine, taking us back, if only for fifteen minutes, reminding us that “nothing gold can stay”.

Perhaps I am too sentimental over things like this. But without sentiment, life would be somewhat unbearable. Maybe I should just be grateful these relics still have a place in the park, no matter how hidden away they are. Without them, The Great Escape would also be somewhat unbearable.


remembering Ghost Town

It’s funny how other people’s memories ignite my own. Park rides and attractions aside, my absolute favorite part of Storytown USA was Ghost Town. Even as a small child. I can only conclude it is because growing up my favorite television series was Little House on the Prairie, and Ghost Town reminds me of that. Looking back in retrospect, I should actually have an aversion to that section of the park.

the queue area for the Desperado Plunge, where my worst fears came true.

a vintage photo of the Desperado Plunge..look at the original sign!!!

another great vintage photo, featuring a shot of the Saloon in the background.

My first trips to Storytown were when I was quite young, and I could be wrong but I recall going every year for a period of ten years or so. Well, my most vivid memories of being there at such a young age happen to include my first legitimate childhood trauma, being forced to ride the Desperado Plunge. My very own mother forced me to ride the Desperado Plunge. But it wasn’t just the ride itself. Oh no. If you recall, the waiting period for that ride was at least thirty to forty minutes long. So imagine being forced to wait in a line that long for something that absolutely terrified you, by someone you were supposed to have trusted to protect your life. You would be screaming and crying the entire time too. And, to add insult to injury, they all fucking laughed at me, the entire time! Excuse my language. Some family I had. Anyway, by the time I was actually sitting in the log flume, I was fine. I don’t know what I was afraid of. Every year I had to ride the damn Desperado Plunge, yet every year I gave the queue stairs a much needed cleansing with my tears.

a close up of the queue and mill wheel. I’m telling you, it screams Little House on the Prairie. I can almost see Pa and Jonathan sitting next to the wheel and eating their lunch sandwiches.

I guess I found a lot of scares and creepiness in things that simply were not scary or creepy to the average person. It’s my nature. The line to the Plunge was almost like the ride itself. The fear came from dread because once you were on the actual ride, you knew what lay ahead and you knew there was no turning back. The ride itself was short, which somehow made the climax worse. Once we reached the peak of the plunge, just before entering the covered area before the main drop, looking to the left gave us a pretty darn good view of what we were now facing, the final drop. Once inside the vestibule, we could see those creepy statues working on whatever creepy shit they had going on inside of there, and I knew what was coming next. With a swift left handed turn, right before the rocking boat tipped over the edge of the massive slide, we plunged head first into a pool of dark murky water. Don’t you know? That’s where the animatronics from Jungle Land were waiting to get me. Just thinking about it gives me the chills. So funny how the mind works.

…before plummeting into the dark murky waters..

Ahh, but nothing, I mean nothing could beat the train ride through Ghost Town. Nothing! I remember this fondly and I often think about it as being the most pleasurable experience for me as a youngin’, as far as rides are concerned. It was great. I heard that bell clinking and clanging and I knew it was time for those people to get off and for me to get on. Because back then that train ran it’s track around the Plunge and through a replica ghost town complete with horses and wagons and dilapidated buildings. But that’s not all! The train also ran through some caves which surrounded the Plunge, and quite possibly caves that the Plunge was built over? I am not sure, it was a long time ago. But they were great. Neon dayglo and cowboy lookin’ men worked hard in those caves. It was dark, quiet, and cool. A nice relaxing ride through the old west. I always got the urge to jump out of the train car and into Walnut Grove.

the original, the best, Storytown train..

the marvelous ore train riding through Ghost Town..

behind the plunge, what was left of the Ghost Town in the late eighties?

some remnants of Ghost Town scattered around the Steamin’ Demon

One thing I do regret about being so young at that time is that I was not old enough to enjoy the saloon. Not really. The last time I sat in the saloon was in 2005, my last trip to the park. Although I was an adult, I didn’t buy any beer. It was rather desolate and dark. But as they say, the show must go on and go on it did. I don’t remember the performance.

I love the idea of time travel and I feel sitting in the saloon in Ghost Town was as close to time travel as I’ll ever get. I wish I could go back when it was really alive and enjoy it.

inside the saloon

In 1967 Storytown acquired a dark ride called Tornado, which you can read about here. Fortunately I did take advantage of this ride before it’s removal in 2003. It fit perfectly with the old west themed area and it’s a shame they removed it for the Canyon Blaster.

In 2003 the train and tornado were removed to make room for the Canyon Blaster. See press release:

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y., February 4, 2003 – A visit to The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom in 2003 will be quite a blast as the Lake George based theme park announced plans Tuesday for its newest ride, a mine train roller coaster called the Canyon Blaster. The Canyon Blaster is the park’s sixth roller coaster, catapulting it into a whole new stratum of excitement and entertainment.

At a news conference in Albany, N.Y., vice president and general manager John Collins announced that the Canyon Blaster will be located in the Ghost Town section of the park, just east of another roller coaster, an indoor ride called the Nightmare at Crack Axle Canyon. Both the Tornado and the Ghost Town train will be removed to make way for the Canyon Blaster, which spans nearly half a mile (more than 2,000 feet) and rises to a height of 56 feet.

“The Canyon Blaster is an outstanding family ride, which dovetails nicely with our reputation as one of the best family theme parks in the Northeast,” said Collins. “With two lift hills, a speed of 45 miles per hour, a run time of more than two and half minutes, and a thrilling double helix to end the ride, the Canyon Blaster will be both challenging and welcoming for many of our guests.”

The Canyon Blaster is just the latest in a string of improvements and innovative new rides that have been added at The Great Escape since Six Flags, Inc. purchased the theme park seven years ago. Among the additions are three roller coasters – the Nightmare at Crack Axle Canyon, Alpine Bobsled, and Boomerang Coast-to-Coaster – as well as the Skycoaster, Lumberjack Splash wave pool, Paul Bunyan’s Bucket Brigade, and an Olympiad style grand prix go-cart track.

When the Canyon Blaster opens at The Great Escape in the summer of 2003, it will mark the rebirth of this steel mine train coaster which was originally manufactured and designed by Arrow Dynamics Inc. more than thirty years ago. (The term mine train is typically reserved for a coaster designed to simulate the movements of a runaway mine train – aligned closely with the terrain, distinguished by small, quick drops and turns). Arrow was commissioned to build the Canyon Blaster for the 1972 grand opening of the Opryland USA theme park in Nashville, TN. For more than a quarter of a century, the Canyon Blaster operated as the Rock n’ Roller coaster at Opryland, providing thrills for millions of fans.

However, on January 1, 1998, Opryland shut down and the Rock n’ Roller coaster was silenced. Six Flags purchased it and shipped it to the Adirondacks to begin life anew at The Great Escape.

The Canyon Blaster, thus, has something very much in common with The Comet, the wooden coaster that many consider the signature ride at The Great Escape. Just like the Canyon Blaster, The Great Escape rescued The Comet from possible extinction when it purchased the coaster following the demise of Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Ridgeway, Ontario, in the late 1980’s. The Comet was trucked across New York state – piece by piece – and reassembled at the Great Escape where it reopened to an adoring public in 1994.

While site preparation for the Canyon Blaster is underway, The Great Escape on Tuesday unveiled one of the cars that will make up the 3-car Canyon Blaster train. Each of the cars will have a distinct color combination: red with yellow and gold trim, yellow with beige trim, and blue with silver and gray trim. Up to two trains will run continuously along a cherry tomato track supported by columns outlined in smoky topaz.

Sporting an aesthetically pleasing and unique design, the Canyon Blaster will be able to accommodate as many as 30 riders at any one time. The minimum height requirement is 42 inches.

The Canyon Blaster is scheduled to open during what will mark The Great Escape’s 49th season. The park originally opened in 1954 as Storytown USA, then a five-acre theme park commemorating Mother Goose. Today, The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom are two parks in one, spanning more than 140 acres of land, featuring more than 125 rides, shows and attractions.

The Canyon Blaster will join The Great Escape’s five other roller coasters which include: the Nightmare indoor coaster; the Alpine Bobsled; the Boomerang Coast-to-Coaster; the Steamin’ Demon, and of course, the legendary Comet which dates back to 1948 and has repeatedly been selected as one of the world’s top ten wooden coasters.

The Great Escape is owned by Six Flags, Inc., the world’s largest regional theme park company with a total of 39 parks in North America, Europe and Latin America. Six Flags parks serve 35 of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Six Flags is a publicly held corporation with corporate offices in New York City and Oklahoma City. The Company’s stock trades on the NYSE under the symbol: PKS. American Online keyword: Six Flags.

In 2003 Ghost Town lost it’s charm and it’s magic. I remember it fondly and grieve for it’s passing.

“The Call of the Carnival”

I have the chills reading this excellent piece on why we are drawn to amusement parks and carnivals despite their creepiness and the undeniable fact that they can be complete danger zones.

I myself cannot tolerate height and movement. I also suffer from anxiety disorder. Needless to say I am unable to enjoy “rides” unless they are safely rooted to the ground I stand on or unless I can walk through them free from the worry that I might succumb to their ominous death grips. You will never see my ass on a roller coaster or on a ferris wheel or on anything moving at high speeds as it spins around like ice cubes in a blender. I want no part of it.
Especially given all the amusement ride casualties, one of which is mentioned in Kristi’s article.

But since an early age, I have always been drawn to amusement parks, even though I’ve only been to two my entire life. I love watching eighties documentaries on amusement parks. I love looking at websites devoted to dark rides, flat rides, and fairytale theme parks. I tend to think about these places as possible warp zones right here on earth, and part of me believes that these parks have some way of swallowing us into their permanent world where we ourselves become the statues, part of the fairytale exhibits forever.

I enjoy the atmosphere, the landscapes, the feeling as though I have wandered into another world, one where reality has no place. I draw these feelings from my experiences at Storytown USA. I found the monuments to childhood creepy, even as a child. I found the forestry enveloping and very much alive. The more the park expanded the more afraid I became. The loud drones of the steel coaster wheels meeting the track, the high pitched screams of people reaching the climax of the swinging sea dragon (me included, one year only).

The last time I went to The Great Escape I took special interest in the warning signs in front of each “thrill” ride, imposing danger to anyone who suffers from heart problems, high blood pressure, anxiety, etc. “That’s me,” I said. “I can’t go on this even if I wanted to.” I always stood in the sidelines observing, much as I have done in life.

Anyway, enjoy these photos, and be sure to read Kristi’s nod to amusement parks and carnivals entitled, “The Call of the Carnival”.


Summer Memories: Storytown USA

It’s always nice to get a different perspective on childhood memories of Storytown. More as I find them. Click below to read such memories from A Celebration of Vintage Pop Culture

Summer Memories: Storytown USA

Growing up in Upstate New York was a fun time because of all the great theme parks and other attractions that surround the area. I have written before about these places on this very web site, such as The Enchanted Forest, The Baseball Hall of Fame, and The Sylvan Beach Amusement Park. Here’s yet another fun park that I grew up with and it grew up with me as well. This place was once called Storytown USA, which was a children’s theme park that featured nursery rhyme characters and kiddy rides (just liked Enchanted Forrest, but a little bit bigger). In the early to mid-80’s the park changed its name to The Great Escape and added rides geared to teens and adults, which were mostly thrill riding roller coasters. Even though the name and the focused changed, the magic of Storytown USA was still there.

Storytown USA first opened in 1954 in Queensbury, New York (the park is advertised being located in Lake George, which is next to the small town of Queensbury) and was started by Charles Wood. The place started with a nursery rhyme theme with many different displays of your favorite characters throughout the park, which were painted statues of the characters. They were also plenty of children’s rides all around the theme park. In 1957, Storytown opened its Ghosttown section, which was a replica of an old western town. Three years after that in 1960, they built a Jungleland section and years after that in 1967 they created an Alice in Wonderland walk through adventure area. Storytown was one of the many bright spots to a kid in the New York area.

Some of the nursery rhyme displays at the park. On the left; The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. On the right; Moby Dick.

Some of the nursery rhyme displays at the park. On the left; The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. On the right; Moby Dick.

My first memories of Storytown go back to the 1970’s. Lake George was about close to two hours away from where I lived, so trips to the park weren’t as frequent as other places like Enchanted Forest, which was just an hour north of me. I believe I use to go there every other summer, where my Enchanted Forrest trips were every year. I have always favored Enchanted Forest over the other parks, but Storytown was my second favorite. The park was pretty much like Enchanted Forest, with nursery rhyme characters and kiddy rides, but Storytown was much bigger and instead of the characters being displayed throughout the woods like they were at Enchanted Forest, they were displayed on the main streets of the park, kind of like Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The place was amazing and I always looked forward to going to the park.

Paying a visit to Storytown was a big deal growing up, since I didn’t go their every summer, when I went there it was very special. Lake George was also a beautiful part of the state. It had the same vibe as Old Forge, which is the town where Enchanted Forest is located. Lake George was nothing but, lakes, forests, great little shops for tourist along the main street, and great attractions. As a kid, it was great going through the park and looking at all the characters. Pretty much, what nursery rhyme characters Enchanted Forest didn’t have, Storytown did. The place had some memorable characters and ones that stood out to me were Jack and the Beanstalk, which was a very high beanstalk that had Jack climbing down and at the very top was the giant and you could just see his head and his big hands coming from the top of the beanstalk. Others were Little Miss Muffet, Three Men in a Tub, and Moby Dick, which was the huge whale sitting out of a small pond and you could walk inside his mouth and see Ahab inside of him.

Another favorite character, Jack and the Beanstalk.

Another favorite character, Jack and the Beanstalk.

Another character that stood out was The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. The display for that was this big yellow boot with a roof on top of it made to look like a house. The yellow boot house was actually the park’s trademark. Every time the place was advertised or merchandise was being sold the boot was used as their logo, just as Enchanted Forest used Paul Bunyan for theirs. The boot became the main staple for the park. Also the rides they had there for the kids were great, like the boat ride and the dragon train were big standouts.

My favorite parts of the park were Ghosttown and Jungleland, which were both scary at times as a kid. I remember the entrance to Jungleland was a big hut with huge gorilla on top of it. When you entered you had to follow this trail through the jungle. Right towards the beginning they would be this wooden native that would pop up from behind the brushes and would shout out something. That use to scare me when I first saw it. Walking through they would be fake lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, tigers, and other jungle animals. There was also a point where you walked across a bamboo bridge. Years later when I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the scene when they’re all walking across that long bridge at the end of the film reminding me of that bamboo bridge. Also, they use to play this jungle music with jungle sounds in the background when you walked through it. When I saw Dawn of the Dead for the first time in the late 80’s, the music that is played when Peter and Steven are in the gun shop in the mall reminded me of the music in Jungleland. Then towards the end of Jungleland, there was another big gorilla that seemed just as big as King Kong at the time. It would roar at you as you passed by it, which scared the hell out of me.

The Dragon Train at Storytown USA.

The Dragon Train at Storytown USA.

The Ghosttown was a very cool frontier village, which was basically a bigger version to what Enchanted Forest had in their park. It was set up with a saloon, jail, and other different buildings from the Wild West. They even use to put on a show where actors would go around shooting each other. One ride that I always remember is the train ride in Ghosttown. It was a great ride that would pass through a western setting with fake cactuses, mountains, and it had a scary cave that we went through they would have skeletons inside of it. That was the best part of the ride, even though it use to scare me when I was a kid, but every time I was there I had to ride it. Another ride they had was The Desperado Plunge, which was a water flume ride where you rode boats in the shape of logs and at the end you would plunge down a slope, like on a roller coaster, but when you get down the slope the boat would splash into water. The ride opened in the late 70’s and once I was old enough to ride it, that was another must go on when I attended the park.

By the 80’s the park would change its name and direction. In 1983, Storytown USA became The Great Escape Fun Park. Just as I was growing up, so was the park, which shifted its focus to young adults and families, instead of just kids. The park started to add more rides that adults would enjoy and they started off with a roller coaster called The Steamin’ Demon. Rides like these would pop up throughout the 80’s and 90’s as the park expanded. Although they did keep their nursery rhythm village, (which was called International Village and Storytown) Ghosttown, and Jungleland, so the park still had something for the kids, it just added things for the adults. The same thing happened with Enchanted Forest a few years after Storytown changed. They became a water park but still kept their name and just modified it to Enchanted Forest Water Safari. They also kept their nursery rhyme characters throughout the forest.

Through the rest of the 80’s and into the 90’s, I only went to the park a few times since it changed. I wasn’t big into roller coaster rides and preferred the water rides at Enchanted Forest, so I spent most of my time there as a teenager. In the beginning of the 90’s, I started to get brave and wanted to try out all these coasters. I went back to The Great Escape and finally went on The Steamin’ Demon and other wild rides they had there at the time. It was great and I had an awesome time on those rides. It was also fun to still check out the old Ghosttown and Jungleland and to stroll through the Storytown section of the park.

On the left; Jungleland. On the right; Ghosttown train.

Great Escape is not the only attraction that Lake George had. Along with boating, camping,

On the left; Jungleland. On the right; Ghosttown train.

and other summer activities, Lake George had a number of fun places to go to. Gaslight Village was Vaudeville themed amusement park, which open in 1959 by the same owner of Storytown. The park featured many different Vaudeville type shows and also included standard amusement park rides. I believe I went there once with my family, but I don’t remember much of it. It was very close to Storytown and it was a park geared for adults just as Storytown was geared towards kids, so I guess it was a great place for parents to go to after a day with their kids at Storytown. Gaslight Village closed in 1989. Other places around Lake George were a wax museum that featured many classic movie stars. I remember a display of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolf Man that they had at the museum and like the big gorilla in Jungleland and the cave during the Ghosttown train ride it scared the hell out of me as well. I’m not sure if the museum is still around, but I hope it still is. Also, there was Fort William Henry, which was an 18th century British fort that is best known as the site of the a great battle between the Indians against British troops following a successful French siege, an event which is the focus of the novel and motion picture, The Last of the Mohicans. The fort I’ve been to a few times during my visits there and it’s a great sight to see.

Throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s, Great Escape grew bigger and bigger. In 1995 they added a water park called Splashwater Kingdom. They also became a part of Six Flags and are now known as The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom: A Six Flags Theme Park. The park continued to open more rides and attractions like, Looney Tunes National Park and The Wiggles World. It’s good to see the park growing after all these years and I’m also very happy to see it kept its classic attractions instead of shutting them down. It’s been almost twenty years since I’ve been to the park, but hopefully one of these days I’ll have to pay the wonderful Storytown USA a visit once again.