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!

Best Ride Ever at Knott’s Berry Farm?

Best Ride Ever at Knott’s Berry Farm?

I just got back from an epic California trip that consisted of four parks in three days, 23 new roller coasters, a coaster convention and one of the best theme park rides I’ve ever experienced.

It had been more than five years since my first and only trip to Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California. During that trip, I only rode two of their coasters and the Timber Mountain Log Ride. Granted, the Timber Mountain Log Ride was pretty amazing and you could clearly see its influence. But I’ve been wanting to visit the theme park again, especially after visiting a number of historic amusement parks across the country.

One of the best rides ever at a theme park?

Check out my video to find out more!

Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more videos on Disney history, Universal, theme park books and more!

Ghost Town is amazing and very heartwarming to see the history of the park preserved this way. Of course, I had to try as much Boysenberry as I could…and everything was wonderful!

Have You Visited Knott’s Berry Farm? Leave me a comment!

Special thanks to Wes B.,  Aaron R. and Nicole S. for supporting me on Patreon.

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari: A Visit

A Visit to Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari is a theme park located in Santa Claus, Indiana. I’ve been aware of the park for a long time, mainly due to the fact that they are one of America’s first theme parks (Knott’s Berry Farm fights for the title). Yes, Disneyland is credited with helping to originate the nomenclature of theme park, but Holiday World fits the definition of theme park very well.

I was able to visit Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari for the first time during the first weekend of June (2016). It was part of a larger trip that included Kings Island, Kentucky Kingdom and Cedar Point. I’d been listening to  the fantastic Holiday World podcast (#HoWoPo) and I was very excited about visiting.

My visit was on a very rainy Saturday (who can predict the weather three months out) but Holiday World only closes during very bad weather or prolonged thunder storms. I knew it would be a different day, but I wasn’t sure what to expect, anyway! So, my photos do have some cloudy skies and wet pavement.

I love visiting a new-to-me theme park. It’s exciting and always offers a new spin on the idea of what a theme or amusement park is. Plus, there are four world-class roller coasters at this park, including a launched wing coaster!

I’m sharing a few photos of the park and some history to whet your appetite about a visit to Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.

Holiday World History

Holiday World is 135-acre park that originally opened in August of 1946 (albeit much smaller at the the time). It was originally called Santa Claus Land. Louis Koch, a retired businessman in Evansville, Indiana, visited the town of Santa Claus. Apparently, he felt that children that visited the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, should have a place to see and visit Santa. Thus, America’s first theme park was born.

Santa Claus Land opened with a toy shop, a restaurant, a few children’s rides (including the Freedom Train) and Santa. There was no admission fee until 1955, when adults were charged 50 cents. A lot of rides would be added in the 50s with a Christmas theme. The Koch family continued with ownership of the park when Louis’ son William “Bill” took over in the 50s.

Rounding out the 1950s included a doll museum and a deer farm! There was also the House of Famous Americans, which held lifelike wax figures of more than 50 Americans.

The Pleasureland section of the park, which had a lot of the original rides, is now called Rudolph’s Reindeer Ranch. Most of the attractions in this section of Holiday World were from the 1970s and 2000s. It’s a very adorable area.

Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to try the Udderly Blue Ice Cream, but I will on my next trip!

By 1984, more thrilling family attractions had been added and the Koch’s realized that they could celebrate other holidays as well. Two new sections of the park were added: Halloween and Fourth of July! Eventually, the name of Santa Claus Land was changed to Holiday World.

In the 1990s, Holiday World really saw a lot of changes, including Will Koch taking over management. Splashin’ Safari debuted in 1993. It was a full-fledged water park that has only grown in rides and accomplishments. The Raven, a wooden roller coaster was added in 1995. It quickly brought a new level of prominence to the park and Holiday World gained international attention for the award-winning coaster.

Holidog’s Funtown was the next major addition. The area sported rides for the younger set, including the Howler, a family coaster. In 2000, The Legend  debuted. It’s the park’s second wooden roller coaster and is based on the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. The Legend was ranked as the top fourth wooden coaster in the world in 2002 and is consistently ranked in the top 20 worldwide.

How can you not love this?

Holiday World was also the first park in the world to offer free soda to its guests (this is a pretty spectacular service). Seriously, all the soda is free at the park. They also offer free sunscreen!

In 2006, to help celebrate the park’s 60th anniversary, the Thanksgiving section was opened. This section contained two new signature rides: Gobbler Getaway and The Voyage.

Gobbler Getaway is a completely charming and captivating dark ride by the Sally Corporation. It’s similar to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (minus the spinning) except that you have to use your turkey callers to call the turkeys. It is a spectacular dark ride that was totally unexpected.

What an awesome name for a tilt-a-whirl!

The Voyage is a spectacular wooden roller coaster that is very reminiscent of The Beast at Kings Island. The Voyage offers 24.2 seconds of airtime and was the second longest wooden roller coaster in the world.  It really is spectacular.

Splashin’ Safari wouldn’t rest on its laurels, either. In 2010, Wildebeest opened. It’s one of two water coasters in the park and it was the first to use linear induction motors. It was the world’s longest water coaster until they beat their own record in 2012, with Mammoth, another water coaster. Mammoth now hold’s the record for the world’s longest water coaster. Trust me, you will get wet on Mammoth.

Sadly, in 2010, Will Koch, the president and CEO, passed away, His brother, Dan, served as president until 2012. At that point, the board of directors elected Matt Eckert as the new president and CEO. He’s the first non-family member to serve as president; the Koch family still owns the park and participates on a daily basis.

Seriously! Fee soda!

In 2015, Thunderbird opened. It’s the park’s first steel coaster and Thunderbird is the world’s first launched wing coaster. Of course, it’s a Bolliger & Mabillard Coaster, so you know it’s going to be pretty amazing.

And it is.

Will Power is a fitting tribute to Will Koch, the third-generation owner. It was his dream to bring a steel B&M coaster to the park.

Thunderbird is an amazing ride. It has a lot of unexpected moments and packs a lot of power with the launch. Like Raven, The Legend and The Voyage, it is a beautiful sight. Holiday World has four amazing roller coasters!

Overall, Holiday World is a fantastic family park that offers something for everyone. There are over 50 rides, 5 roller coasters and 29 water slides. Plus there’s unlimited free soda, sunscreen and wifi!

The park is more than charming, especially with the holiday-related theming. It’s not quite as extravagant as a Disney park, but it goes toe-to-toe with Dollywood and Busch Gardens Williamsburg for beauty and cleanliness. I do have to admit that all of the hosts were some of the friendliest that I’ve ever run across. They were always cheerful, knowledgeable and more than willing to spend time talking about the park or your visit. Kudos to the management for creating such a positive experience with the employees and the park.

Did I mention the amazing roller coasters?

With the roller coasters, various flat rides and water park, Holiday World offers something for every visitor. Most of the attractions are carnival-type flat rides that you’d see at an amusement park, but the holiday theming and overlays really add a lot to the experience. I can’t wait to see what Holiday World does next!

Have you had the chance to visit Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari?

Lagoon of Nations at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

Lagoon of Nations at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and EPCOT Center

The Lagoon of Nations at the 1939 New York World’s Fair is one of those items I love running across while researching topics. Especially topics that lead you in different directions. It’s easy to argue that every single World’s Fair or Exposition held in the United States influenced EPCOT Center in some fashion. The Fairs in New York (1939/1940 and 1964/1965) and the 1962 Seattle Fair offered ideas that WED and the Imagineers used to develop EPCOT Center.

I spoke with animation historian, Michael Barrier (his Walt biography is one of the best), about the possibility of Walt visiting the 1939/1940 New York World’s Fair. His response was that Walt had visited the New York area on April 9, 1940, but it was before the Fair opened. He did stop at Greenfield Village before returning to Los Angeles and was heavily into thoughts on what would become Disneyland. It’s also to be noted that Ben Sharpsteen (Disney director and producer) remembers seeing an early version of Cinerama (called Vitarama, at the time) at the Fair. So, there’s always the question of how much the fairs influenced Disney.

I finished the eye-opening book, 1939: The Lost World of the Fair by David Gelernter. It reminded me a lot of Vinyl Leaves because you’re presented with several walk-throughs of various pavilions and the grounds of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Most of the information presented comes from the diary of a young woman who visited the fair with her fiancee. She recorded a lot of the sights, sounds and smells of the fair and Gelernter provides a lot of insight and behind-the-scenes info.

One of the more interesting sections discusses the evening show at the Lagoon of Nations which was located between Constitution Mall and the Court of Peace. The Lagoon of Nations was ringed by buildings from France, Belgium, Italy and had views of the US Government building and the Trylon and the Perisphere.

The main controls for the Lagoon of Nations shows were in the U.S. Govt. building at the top of the image.

The following is a page from the diary:

When it is almost nine we walk (just as everyone else is walking) towards the Lagoon of Nations & the display there is indescribable. The oval pool seems still larger in the dark. The fountains are lit in yellow-golden white, but a few minutes before the show proper they are turned off & their waters fall as if startled back into the pool & all is still, except (of course) for the crowds gathered everywhere. And then the show begins. The waters of the pool start to glow, brighter & brighter. Then a dense mysterious mist rises from the surface. Suddenly a Cloud of blue steam hisses round the edges-people are startled & step back. And then fountains rise in the center, & grow higher & higher a dense mist rises around them, changing colors, rose & amber & blue-& then huge pillars of flame rear up enormous (the crowd gasps) on either side of the fountain. It is all happening in time with the music, which seems to he coming from inside the Lagoon. As the music bumps up the fountains ride higher. Searchlights make a roof like an arch of swords overhead. More fire mist & colored steam, & then the fireworks start, reds blues & golds; they are almost noiseless. They glide up over the pool & because of their strange quiet, seem not to explode but rather to open like flowers. At the climax, everything is turned off at once, lights, fountains, flame & music-the waters crash back into the pool with the roar of a breaker driving into a cliff, & the sudden black is immense & a little frightening & incomparably dramatic. For a few moments no-one moves. The show is amazing. And it recalls many others things at this Fair in being simply unlike anything you have ever seen before. – page 334

A rare photograph of the Lagoon of Nations finale from Bill Cotter.

The Lagoon of Nations: A Spectacle of Fire and Light sounds pretty darn impressive. Most of the Expositions and World’s Fairs had a nighttime show on their lagoon or lake and they grew more impressive over the years. The technical process presented in the book is as jaw-dropping as the show must have been for the time.

How the Lagoon of Nations Shows Worked

Gelernter describes the behind-the-scenes of the Lagoon of Nations show:

The Lagoon show drew on a thousand water nozzles, capable of throwing twenty tons of water into the air at a time. There were 400 gas jets, 350 fireworks guns, 3 million watts of light. A band performed in a studio at a distance, and the music was broadcast—in stereo, no less!—from great speakers that poked up above the Lagoon’s surface. Three technicians masterminded each night’s performance from inside the United States building. They sat at a console something like an organ’s, facing a mass of switches and buttons that controlled the nozzles and gas jets. The “score” unscrolled before them under glass, like the roll of a player piano. It instructed them symbolically which switches to throw and buttons to push.

An electrical engineer named Bassett Jones had been lured out of retirement to design the show. He went in search of John Craig, who had staged a memorable fireworks display at Queen Victoria’s jubilee. Craig was traced to a Long Island potato field, where he was allegedly in the habit of fertilizing his crops with gunpowder. He developed noiseless fireworks for the Lagoon extravaganza. Joseph Jarrus was an expert gas engineer; at an abandoned gas plant in Brooklyn, ]arrus and Jones developed gas nozzles and colored flame displays.

The critics raved. Fountain displays like the ones at the Lagoon of Nations and San Francisco’s 1939 fair “deserve to be called examples of a new art,” wrote Talbot Hamlin. “The best of them are as emotionally compelling as they are visually exciting.” The show at the Lagoon gave the New York fair “its most unique and perhaps its most artistically memorable element.” “Dramatic and indescribable beauty” wrote Gardner Harding. – page 335

The nightly cost for the show was $1,000.00 which would amount to slightly over $17,000.00 today. There were four themes presented: The Spirit of George Washington; Fire Dance; Isle of Dreams; and Creation.

The following video ( has some fantastic color footage of the Fair, including a long segment on the Lagoon of Nations show. It should start at the 4:47 mark.

1939 New York World’s Fair – Part 2 – A Home Movie Spectacular

It’s pretty impressive to see the Lagoon of Nations display and realize it was 44 years before EPCOT Center would premiere Carnival de Lumiere and its successors leading up to Illuminations: Reflections of Earth,

Although there is no direct evidence of Walt or his staff visiting the Fair, it seems highly improbable that no one in the organization would have visited it. Regardless, the 1939 New York Word’s Fair was a touchstone, culturally, and was covered heavily in the nationwide media at the time. Also, with the theme Building the World of Tomorrow, you know that Walt Disney would have been interested in the Fair.

How influential do you think the 1939 World’s Fair was for EPCOT Center? Can you imagine how amazing the Lagoon of Nations shows were in 1939?