Sunday, August 12, 2007


When I was a child, Kennywood seemed like a magical sort of place. It was a place I could never get tired, and it seemed as if I could stay awake all night. In fact, as the day went on, the excitement would build as the lines grew shorter and shorter.

I went back to Kennywood Saturday for the first time in ten years, and in some ways it was like coming home again after a long journey. I felt like I was living an episode of the Twilight Zone, and had walked all the way back to my childhood, as an adult. The magic of Kennywood is stronger even than Disney World, however much it may have changed in the last decade.

The most significant of those changes, perhaps, is Kennywood’s designation as a national historical site. It doesn’t have much impact on the average park-goer, aside from relocating a few rides, retrofitting them to their classic designs, and posting signs here and there about the historical significance of one ride or another. (The Kangaroo and the Autoracer rides, for example, are the last of their kind in the nation.)

There were other, more obvious changes. The first (and worst) thing I noticed is what they did to the Haunted Hideaway, Kennywood’s longtime Tunnel of Love. The last time I went there, it was back to being called the Old Mill, the name it debuted whenever it was they first installed the ride. Apparently that was only temporary, as it’s been rechristened “Garfield’s Nightmare.” The ride’s essentially the same as before, but instead of the corny haunted house displays, it was filled with oversize Garfield sequences. The ride featured large Garfield comic strips featuring typical blaise Jim Davis humor, followed by 3-D tableaus that featured the comic gone wrong; i.e., if the strip showed Garfield lying in wait for the mail carrier, then the tableau showed the mailman getting the drop on Garfield. Thus we saw Garfield eaten by mice, turned into pizza, attacked by a reanimated hot dog Frankenstein-style, and so on.

The Turnpike also had changed, but with electric cars that were affixed to the track, instead of the old-style cars with lawnmower engines that my brother discovered one year could be driven off the track if you tried hard enough on a corner. Given the current climate of gas prices, I was amused to find that the gas station at the start of the ride no longer listed a per-gallon price for the different grades of gas like it used to. I’m guessing Kennywood management decided it just isn’t as funny as it used to be.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to go on the Thunderbolt this year ― the girls were too short, and none of the other adults would go on it with me ― but luckily we did get to take a ride on Noah’s Ark. It had changed drastically from what I remember years ago. While it once had a Noah’s Ark theme, with one fiberglass wild animal or another on display in each cage, this time there was nothing even remotely biblical or zoological about it all. The ride had been turned into an old-fashioned funhouse, with crazy mirrors, an elevator at the start of the ride that reminded me of the elevator at Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The rest of the attraction involved walking around in dimly lit corridors over mines with skeletons, down a tilting and sliding staircase, and over vibrating floors that were about the only feature I remember from my childhood.

The girls (of course) loved the park. They had fun speculating about which part of the Logjammer ride would get them wettest, and they had a blast riding the Jackrabbit. Evangeline loved it so much that she went on it three times with me. She would have gone on it a fourth time, but it was about 10:45 p.m. by that point, and her mother said we had to leave. She also enjoyed the bumper cars on the Grand Prix, which her sister to my amazement was too young to ride at all. (She opted to go on Garfield’s Nightmare again with her mother.)

The magic of Kennywood was as strong as ever, and on Saturday, I got to watch the magic spread and set alight the eyes and spirits of my children.

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