Television Reviews

DVD Review: Great Old Amusement Parks – A Trip Through Time

When you think about amusement parks, most of us think about the huge theme parks of today,  You know them; the Six Flags, Cedar Fair, Disney, etc.  However, there was a time when small theme parks were scattered across the country.  These were often smaller, family-owned parks that were beautiful and simple.  In 1919 there were almost 2,000 amusement parks in the United States.  Today there are only about 600.

In Great Old Amusement Parks, the focus is on traditional amusement parks, rather than the huge theme parks that have developed over the past twenty to thirty years.  These parks tend to be smaller and have rides that are more family-friendly than the bigger and wilder thrills the major parks offer.  These parks are generally filled with traditional rides, such as merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, wooden roller coasters, and more.  There are still parks like this in existence if you choose to seek them out and experience them for what they are.

The director of Great Old Amusement Parks, Rick Sebak, is an enthusiast himself and has managed to put together a terrific documentary that captures the nostalgia of a bygone era.  As people discuss their experiences at the parks, I could feel myself carried back to my childhood and riding Nunley’s carousel trying to reach the brass ring.

The first park that’s visited is Idlewild in Ligonier, PA.  My choice in this area would have been Knoebels, but they weren’t asking me.  The park developed as a destination park for a railroad company.  The classic rides are terrific to glimpse as they brought back memories from my childhood, such as the Caterpillar ride.  There’s a visit to Cedar Point, which I do consider a major theme park, despite the fact that it’s been in operation since 1870.  With their 13 coasters (at the time of this DVD) they are definitely a park with thrill rides.

There are old clips from parks such as Steeplechase and Luna Park in Coney Island.  Astroland is featured from Coney Island, which closed down just this past year, although the Cyclone is still in operation.  There’s a lot on the wooden roller coasters on the DVD; for the most part, that was the big draw these parks had to offer.  Sadly, some of the best ones have disappeared through the years.

I’ve heard a lot through the years about the great theme parks on the ocean out west.  Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is featured as a representative of the old Pacific Coast parks.  The carousel here still has the rings to grab as riders go around.  I can remember waiting to get big enough to reach the rings at a small park where I grew up, only to have it dismantled right about the time I was finally able to.

Lake Compounce in Connecticut claims to be the oldest theme park continually in operation in the United States.  It’s been open every year since 1846.  Kennywood is next and it’s a place I have long wanted to visit.  These parks have beautiful tree-lined walkways rather than hot, stagnant blacktop that make them so inviting on a summer day.

Playland in Rye, NY is a small park close to NYC I’ve visited.  Oaks Park in Oregon.  Holiday Park in Indiana.  All of these terrific smaller theme parks get their moment to shine in Great Old Amusement Parks.  Sebak shows a few rides from each, although if there’s a wooden coaster at the park he seems to focus on that with other rides secondary.  There are also sometimes discussions of the foods offered at the concessions.  For some of us, visiting the parks with the great selection of sweets and treats is almost as much fun as riding the rides.

I can’t find one single fault with Great Old Amusement Parks, unless it’s the fact that it’s only an hour in length and I could have easily watched another hour about more parks across the country.  There are some extras about other parks as well as the technology that enabled many of the rides to be developed.  It’s a great disc to view and own – I just wish it could have gone on longer.

2 replies »

  1. There was (it closed in the late 1990s) a park just outside Indianapolis that had a wooden roller coaster. I remember going there and while everyone rode the coaster and the scrambler and Tilt-o-whirl, I was riding the carousel – my goal was to ride every different animal! I didn’t manage but I road almost continually and the kid operating it let me since there were so few people lining up!!