Imagineering an American Dreamscape, a Book Review

Imagineering an American Dreamscape by Barry R. Hill, a Book Review

The history of Disney Parks and larger regional amusement parks, like Cedar Point and Six Flags, have been well-documented. But what about the other theme parks? The ones that helped usher in the idea of themed entertainment or were part of the 1970s amusement/theme park revival? How does the growth of regional theme parks fit into the landscape of the history of theme and amusement parks? With Imagineering an American Dreamscape: Genesis, Evolution and Redemption of the Regional Theme Park, author Barry Hill shares a well-written and well-presented history of America’s theme parks. One that is sure to intrigue and take you on a wonderful stroll down memory lane of your favorite local park. Or parks.

Why Do You Need to Read This Book?

Contrary to popular belief, theme parks didn’t start with Disneyland in 1955. The term theme park was born with the opening of Walt’s nascent park, but the idea of theme parks had existed in a few parks prior to Walt’s creation. Barry wastes no time jumping into the history of parks by exploring pre-Disneyland, Walt’s influences, and, then, the major players, like Angus Wynne, Busch, Randall Duell, and so many others.

I’ve been a Disney park fan for most of my life and a self-styled Disney historian since the mid-1990s. After being on an award-winning podcast for years and writing weekly histories of Disney, I started to wonder how we got to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. What about other world-class parks like Universal and Busch Gardens Tampa? Where did they start and how did parks change over the years?

And why do so many people know so little about theme park history?

Look at that: almost 100 pages dedicated to an index, notes, a bibliography, and other important background information!

If you’ve ever visited a Six Flags park, Cedar Point, Kings Island, Holiday World, Great America, Hersheypark…or so many others, then this book is a treat. Barry takes the history of theme parks seriously and offers a condensed story of how the parks came to be, evolved, survived, and, in some cases, quietly slipped away.

If anything, this book will afford Disney fans the opportunity to broaden their perspectives and understand the larger tapestry of theme parks that exist outside of Disney and Universal. For most of the parks presented, Barry takes us back in time to wander the opening season of the park to look at the design and early attractions. It really is a stroll down memory lane.

What’s Inside Imagineering an American Dreamscape?

Barry ruminates on the successes and failures of so many parks and the forces behind the parks. When Barry talks about Carowinds (Charlotte, NC), he shares the inside story of E. Pat Hall, the Charlotte-area business man who planned to bring a Disneyland-style resort to the booming city. Massive plans included a short-lived monorail and hotels. The looming energy crisis changed everything, as it did with Taft, Marriott, and other regional parks. Some survived, some were bought out, and some just languished.

Obviously, Barry can’t cover every park, but he does share the ones that influenced the themed industry more than others. My only complaint about the book relates to the lack of maps and photographs to illustrate the work. Barry addresses this in the book by directing readers to his website: Rivershore Creative.

Randall Duell and the Duell Loop: the Ultimate Theme Park Designer

We also get an inside look at some of the most important people in the theme park industry. Barry spends pages discussing Randall Duell, the architect responsible for the modern theme park. Duell was able to take the successes of Disneyland and translate them into early Six Flags parks. He became the most in-demand designer and is responsible for being able to integrate thoughtful design, architecture, and theming.

After the main sections of the book, Barry introduces us to Mel McGowan and Rick Bastrup. Both are McGowan is Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Storyland Studios; Bastrup is President and Head Designer of R&R Creative Amusement Designs. Both offer salient chapters on Duell and other theme park design legends. McGowan and Bastrup share the stories as fans and industry insiders.

In all honesty, Imagineering an American Dreamscape is almost the story of Randall Duell. The warp and weft of the theme park industry is ingrained with so many of Duell’s deft touches and ideas. I’m so glad Barry presented the book in this way.

So, yes, you should grab this book. And, yes, you will enjoy it. Barry has written a work on a staggering subject and he has distilled it to the most important concepts and people. You will learn something from Barry’s work, regardless of your prior theme park experiences.

What is your favorite regional park? Mine is Kings Island.


FTC Disclosure: A copy was provided by the author for the purpose of this review. This post contains affiliate links, which means that ImagiNERDing receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site. Thank you for your support!

Monster at Kings Island

The Monster at Kings Island

The Monster at Kings Island is a treasured childhood memory. I wrote about The Flying Dutchman flat ride that now resides at Kentucky Kingdom; it was bittersweet to watch the Flying Dutchman and think about the times I rode it with my younger brother.

When I finally visited Kings Island after more than 30 years, I wasn’t prepared for the rush of emotions that hit me when I finally made my way back to the Coney Mall section.

Seeing the entrance to The Racer. The brick planters of the mall. The carnival-style game booths that seemed so strange as a child. But the two things that hit me the hardest were the small seating area with tables and The Monster.

See, The Monster was another ride that my brother and I rode over and over. W e looked forward to it every trip. We were allowed to stand in the queue by ourselves and it gave us a feeling of being on our own.

Other Memories of Kings Island

But before we get to The Monster, let’s talk about some of the other memories.

My mom loved The Racer. Actually, she never met a roller coaster she didn’t like. When we would visit Kings Island, my mom would go off to ride The Racer and we would sit with my dad (he wasn’t into many theme park rides).

I remember spending so much time in the Coney Island section of Kings Island. I think my parents really loved that it was reminiscent of the original Coney Island.

When I turned the corner into the Coney Island section, the seating area (pictured above) made me stop and take a moment. This is one of the places where we’d wait for my mom to meet us after riding The Racer. It seems like it was hours on end, and based on the popularity of The Racer, it might have been! It was also one of the places we’d meet my parents while my brother and I rode The Scrambler and The Monster.

The Flying Dutchman, Der Spinning Keggers, The Scrambler and The Monster were the go-to rides during my childhood days at Kings Island

The Monster at Kings Island

I do remember standing in the queue and waiting during the entire load process. Wondering if we were going to be lucky enough to make this ride or have to wait on the next. Everything about the ride felt the same, even after 30 years.

The Monster is an octopus ride that’s known as an Eyerly Monster. The Monster at Kings Island has six arms, with four cars on each arm. This makes it is a monster and not an octopus or a spider.

The cars spin independently, largely based on weight and position, while the arms move up and down. The entire ride spins in a slow circle. It takes a long time to load and unload since each car has to be touched by an employee. Basically, two arms at a time can be loaded, while the other four wait in the air. It’s a fun way to start the ride, because you feel like you get a few extra minutes while the other cars are loading.

I don’t remember the ride vehicles being so much smaller 30 years ago! Each vehicle is clam-style, and you climb into it. The employee then lifts it and secures it.

There are brief moments of weightlessness and a lot of spinning. I definitely liked it much more as a child.

The Monster at Kings Island: Eyerly Aircraft Company

Eyerly Aircraft Company manufactured this Monster and several others at other Cedar Fair parks and across the country. The Monster at Kings Island was originally installed at Coney Island from 1969 to 1971 before being moved for the 1972 opening of the amusement park. Eyerly Aircraft began in 1930 in Salem, Oregon. Eyerly created a ground-based flight simulator and a salesman convinced him to sell to amusement parks and fairs. The first one produced was the Loop-O-Plane. Many amusement park fans will recognize it from the salt and pepper shaker moniker it would hold.

The Loop-O-Plane by Eyerly Aircraft Company
It was quite amazing to see that The Monster at Kings Island was still up and running. I would assume that the small footprint and the fact that it’s bounded by The Racer and arcades makes it a safe fit. The Monster is one of the handful of opening-day attractions left at Kings Island.

The Monster at Kings Island Video

Visiting Kings Island was pretty amazing. So much has changed over 30 years, yet so much of the charm of the park is still there. Many friends have talked about how Kings Island is one of the prettier Cedar Fair parks, and they’re right.

Have you ridden The Monster at Kings Island? Do you have a favorite ride from childhood?

Kings Island Roller Coasters

Kings Island Roller Coasters

The Kings Island roller coasters were the original topic for this article. As I was writing it, I realized that Kings island meant so much more to me because of my history visiting as a child.

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and my family would visit Kings Island annually. We lived 30 minutes away, but still only visited the amusement park once or twice a season. We moved to North Carolina when I was twelve, just as I was starting to ride roller coasters. As far as I can remember, my first roller coaster was The Bat. I don’t think I ever rode The Racer and I know I didn’t ride The Beast. The Bat, a short-lived suspended coaster, debuted before The Big Bad Wolf at Kings Dominion. It’s not the same one in the park, right now.

My mother was a huge fan of roller coasters. I remember sitting at the midway at Kings Island and waiting with my dad, brother and aunt while she rode The Racer. It seemed to take forever and I imagined that The Racer was a 30 minute ride. She also rode The Beast with my younger brother, but at 10, I was still not ready for it.

After 30 years, I made the return trip to Kings Island. I was going to ride as many coasters and soak in as much of the park as I could.

Would things look different? What would I remember? How has it changed?

But we’re really here to talk about the Kings Island roller coasters!

Kings Island boasts 14 roller coasters. Sadly, I only go to experience five. A couple were similar to other coasters and a few were last on my list, so-to-speak, and I just ran out of time for some of them.

Kings Island Roller Coasters: The Beast

Missing The Beast had always been a big regret. I was too afraid to ride it when I was around eleven and I didn’t really understand wooden coasters until recently. Plus, when you speak with someone in ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts), their eyes sort of glaze over when they talk about The Beast. Until they find out that you haven’t ridden it, and then they just urge you to do it.

Designated as the world’s tallest, fastest and longest wooden roller coaster in 1979, it thrilled riders worldwide. It’s still the world’s longest wooden coaster. Kings Island designed and constructed most of the Beast in-house.

The Beast grabs you and never lets go. I’d heard it was pretty powerful, but I wasn’t sure what to expect.

My favorite wooden coasters were Thunder Head (Dollywood) and White Lightnin’ (Fun Spot) until I rode The Beast.  Thunderhead and White Lightnon’ were built by Great Coasters International (GCI). GCI, a spinoff from Custom Coasters International, was a company created by the lead designer of The Beast.

The Beast queue building with The Vortex in the background.

I rode The Beast three times in the evening, including a night ride just after the fireworks. I rode near the front, as I do on most coasters, and it was incredible. Easily, The Beast is my favorite wooden coaster and is in my top five coasters. It actually feels like you’re riding two different coasters. There were moments that The Beast did things that didn’t seem possible for a wooden roller coaster.

The Beast is an ACE Roller Coaster Landmark!

Kings Island Coasters: Diamondback

Diamondback is a Bolliger & Mabillard hyper coaster (meaning its taller than 200 feet and there are no loops). It debuted in 2009 and was the first coaster to have a splashdown.

Diamondback surprised me because it is gentler than Intimidator (at Carowinds) and has some great airtime. I rode Diamondback for the first time in the evening, and talk about bugs hitting your face! But I survived. Diamondback is also pretty surprising in that it’s a much longer coaster than you expect or see. A lot of Diamondback is hidden, a rarity for a modern steel coaster. It also adds to the surprise.

Bolliger & Mabillard coasters are true works of art. Diamondback has some beautiful curves.

Diamondback is still a great coaster. It has all of the signature B&M moments and sits firmly between Apollo’s Chariot and Intimidator. This was a coaster I was able to enjoy a second time. There is a lot of airtime on this fantastic coaster.

Kings Island Roller Coasters: Banshee

I’m a huge Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M) fan. They are building the most impressive coasters and they continue to innovate and push the limits. Inverted coasters have always caused me to feel a little dizzy after. Alpengeist at Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a great suspended coaster, but it still left my brain spinning for a few minutes. Afterburn (at Carowinds) is an easier suspended coaster. It’s got a very small footprint, which makes it almost too tight. But, we’re here to talk about Banshee.

Banshee opened in 2014 as the world’s longest inverted coaster at 4,124 feet. The level of theming around and throughout the queue surprised me. You don’t see theming in thrill parks very often. Make sure to notice the scream of the Banshee from the queue and while the car climbs the first lift hill. The coaster had a level of intensity, but it also played out its strengths throughout the entire ride.

Banshee includes so many great features that have become hallmarks, including: a dive loop, a pretzel roll, an inline twist and a few more. It’s a great experience and is my second favorite coaster at Kings Island. It’s also my favorite inverted coaster.

Kings Island Roller Coasters: The Bat

So, I did ride the original Bat in 1983. It was the world’s first suspended roller coaster and preceded the Big Bad Wolf (Busch Gardens Williamsburg). The Bat closed at the end of the 1983 season due to mechanical difficulties and track stress. The current coaster opened in 1993.

Arrow Dynamics built The Bat; it was Kings Island’s second suspended coaster. Originally known as Top Gun, it was renamed Flight Deck in 2008 (when Cedar Fair bought Kings Island from Paramount). The station was originally designed to emulate an aircraft carrier to go along with the film. It does have an interesting feel to it and felt like it was in the middle of nowhere.

It is an Arrow Coaster, which means it’s a fairly rough ride, especially if you’re taller than 5′ 8″ or so. It was a fairly jerky ride and flies through a heavily wooded area. The environment was gorgeous and it was pretty cool to fly through the trees. But, I had to keep my head against the headrest to keep from banging my ears.

This might come across as a weird statement, but I really enjoyed the queue much more than the actual ride. The overgrowth of the trees and plants made me feel like I was heading out of a thrill park and into something different. It was a very long queue but the shade was very welcome. Everyone should experience a suspended coaster at least once, but I’ll skip it on my next visit.

Kings Island Roller Coasters: The Racer

Memories flooded pretty quickly when I first entered the Coney Island area; it was a direct memory from my childhood. The sounds and sights triggered fond memories and I remembered spending time here enjoying The Monster and Shake, Rattle and Roll while waiting for my mom. Sometimes we just sat with my dad and watched people as we waited. Seeing the queue structure was one of those moments.

The Racer is one of the coasters that kicked of the roller coaster revolution of the 1970s. ACE designated The Racer an ACE Landmark. Due to my mom’s love of The Racer, it holds a special place in my heart. The Racer’s debut in 1972 caused a fever across the world and many parks would build wood and steel creations. I’d ridden Thunder Road (Carowinds) and Rebel Yell (Kings Dominion), so I’ve experienced the triumvirate of 1970s wooden coasters. All three are very similar, but they each have their strengths and foibles.

The Racer looked like it needed a little work as I approached. Rebel Yell looked like it was in better shape, but The Racer was a much better ride. I never enjoyed the older wooden coasters because they shook so much that the ride wasn’t enjoyable. Grizzly (Kings Dominion) and The Hurler (Carowinds and Kings Dominion) need a lot of attention. The Racer still had a lot of excitement and it was obvious that it’s been maintained over the years.

Experiencing this classic wooden coaster is a must!

Kings Island Roller Coasters

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t get a chance to experience the other coasters of Kings Island, but I wanted to mention them. Many of the coasters would be painful, which is reason to skip it. I’ve also ridden a version at another park. To me, experiencing coasters I did, along with enjoying the park, was more important than getting all of the coasters done.

Kings Island Roller Coasters: Woodstock Express

I’ve ridden the Woodstock Express at Carowinds and it’s a similar figure-eight wooden coaster. Most grownups will need to sit by themselves, though. Designed by the famous John C. Allen in 1972, the Woodstock Express is a must-do!

Kings Island Roller Coasters: Flight of Fear and Firehawk

I simply ran out of time for these two coasters, although I’ve ridden Nighthawk at Carowinds, which is similar to Firehawk. You actually pass through The Racer, which offers a great experience.

Flight of Fear is a Premier Rides steel coaster and was one of the first to offer a linear induction motor launch. Flight of Fear is an enclosed coaster, like Space Mountain and Rock and Roller Coaster.

Firehawk opened in 2007 at Kings Island. Previously, it was X-Flight at Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. It is a steel flying coaster built by Vekoma. Firehawk does have a dual-load station, which is better than the single load at Carowinds. Based on time, and experience with Nighthawk, this coaster was also not that important to do. I’ve done a flying coaster by B&M and it was so much better.

Kings Island Roller Coasters: Flying Ace Aerial Chase

Flying Ace Aerial Chase is a suspended family roller coaster by Vekoma. An identical one was built at Carowinds. It opened at Kings Island in 2001 (as Rugrats Runaway Reptar). It’s a short ride at 1:30 and is often a kid’s first experience with a steel coaster. Being a Vekoma, it’s pretty painful, especially if you’re over 5′ 8″. You can see most of the ride from the Planet Snoopy area, so kids can get a good look at it.

Kings Island Roller Coasters: Vortex

The Vortex opened  in 1987. It’s an Arrow Dynamics looping coaster with six inversions. The coolest thing about the ride is that it uses the same queue and ride station as The Bat (1982-1984).

The Vortex does offer some great coaster watching spots along the pathway out of the Coney Mall section towards Riverton. It had to be an impressive view back in the late 1980s. Still, with all of my experiences on Arrow looping coasters, I wasn’t up to the back-breaking coaster. Maybe next time.

Kings Island Roller Coasters: Invertigo, Backlot Stunt Coaster and Adventure Express

For some strange reason, I never even got close enough to Invertigo to get a photo of the Vekoma shuttle-style coaster. This version is inverted (Carolina Cobra at Carowinds has traditional seating) and the riders sit face-to-face. Based on my experiences with Carolina Cobra and other Vekoma coasters, it was last on my list. Invertigo opened in 1999.

I rode the Backlot Stunt Coaster at Kings Dominion, so this coaster was low on my list. Backlot Stunt Coaster is a steel-launched coaster built by Premier Rides. It debuted in 2005. It’s a fun little coaster with a few surprises. Definitely worth checking out, here or at Kings Dominion or Canada’s Wonderland.

I went by Adventure Express twice to ride it and it was down both times. It’s an Arrow Dynamics mine train coaster built in 1991. It was themed heavily to Raiders of the Lost Ark and is one of the few Arrow coasters to have a heavily-themed area. And there were no loops, so I expected an update of Carolina Goldrusher (at Carowinds) and Dahlonega Mine Train (at Six Flags over Georgia). Next time, Kings island!

Kings Island Roller Coasters: Final Thoughts

So, even thought I missed more than half of the coasters at Kings Island, I was still able to hit the very best ones and still enjoy the park. I made sure to ride The Monster and the train. I also ate Skyline Chili in the park and had the blue ice cream. But, I rode Diamondback twice and The Beast four times. The Beast is such a spectacular wooden roller coaster that I was eager to pay it more attention than many of the other coasters.

Oh, and Dinosaurs Alive at Kings Island is better than all the others!

What’s Your favorite of the Kings Island Roller Coasters?

The Flying Dutchman at Kentucky Kingdom

The Flying Dutchman at Kentucky Kingdom

You’ll have to indulge me a bit in this post as I discuss a ride from my childhood that would have a much more profound effect on me than I thought it would.

Growing up, you think about the experiences that you cut your teeth on. I remember a trip to Canada that we took when I was a child; it was part of a business trip for my dad. I remember seeing the Olympic Stadium, staying in a high-rise hotel, and, I’m pretty sure, Niagara Falls. It was the biggest trip I ever took with my family.

Living in Cincinnati, Ohio, during my formative years, I was able to visit the Kings Island amusement park in Mason Ohio at least once a year until I was 12 years old. Little did I know that this would influence my thoughts about amusement and theme parks for the rest of my life.

I was born a year before Kings Island’s debut, so we kind of grew up together. My aunt actually worked for Taft Broadcasting and we would get free tickets on occasion. I can remember doing my best to spot the Eiffel tower before anyone else on our drive. I went from the Land of Hanna-Barberra to The Bat (1983 version).

My parents grew up going to Coney Island outside of Cincinnati and they were always big fans of Kings Island as well. My mom loved The Racer and eventually would love The Beast. Sadly I never got to experience either of those coasters until recently.

So, when I undertook my big coaster trip of 2016, I started to look at the various theme parks and the rides that had come and gone. There were a few from Kings Island I was excited about seeing again and there were a few that I knew would be gone forever.

As Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again.” And he’s partially correct. Walking into Kings Island was amazing and everything seemed much smaller than I remembered. Things were also in different places. Or so they seemed. I think I was getting Kings Island, Carowinds and Kings Dominion a little mixed up.

As I mentioned, there were a few things I was excited about. I got to ride The Beast and The Racer which were coasters that I was a little too nervous about riding when I was 12. But I was also interested in seeing what was left over from my youth and I was glad to see if a ride stuck around.

Although one of my favorite rides was missing from the park, it had been relocated.

The Flying Dutchman

When my family would visit the park, my parents would often sit at the Biergarten and let me and my brother ride on Der Spinnen Keggers and The Flying Dutchman. Both rides were close enough to make us feel like we were exploring on our own. They would let us do it over and over and over again until they were ready to do something else.

I can remember walking to the two different ides in the Oktoberfest section with my brother and having the best time with just the two of us riding those attractions repeatedly. We’d wait in the very short queue and enjoy one of the carnival-style flat rides.

The Flying Dutchman opened at Kings Island in 1973 and ran until 1990. It was a HUSS ride. HUSS was popular in the 1960s and 1970s for their flat rides and midway spinners. If you visited an amusement park in the past 30 years, then you’ve probably ridden a HUSS.

It was hard to imagine that this was the same building, but it felt right. I assume that Kentucky Kingdom bought the entire ride, including the queue and signage.

It was heart warming to see the ride in operation at Kentucky Kingdom. If you’ve never visited Kentucky Kingdom, it’s an easy trip from Kings Island or Holiday World (in Indiana). There’s a large water park, a lot of kid’s rides and three amazing roller coasters. It’s definitely worth checking out!

Flying Dutchman Videos

The first video is one I took while at Kentucky Kingdom in June, 2016. The second video is from an amazing Youtube channel with a lot of vintage videos from Kings Island and Walt Disney World. Obviously, the shoes were re-painted at some point, but I remember the yellow and orange paint scheme vividly.

https://www.youtube.com/user/VideofromGeorge/videos
 

The Flying Dutchman, along with the Enchanted Voyage, The Tumble Bug, The Wheel of Fortune, The Monster and Winnie Witches Cauldron would be rides that stick with me to this day. The feeling of waiting in the queue and the anticipation of the ride starting are still a few of my favorite theme park moments.

Do you have a ride that you remember from your childhood?