They take rides through time
NAPHA to celebrate 125 years of Kennywood and Midway State Park
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There is a sweet and palpable sense of the past echoing amid riders’ screams at amusement parks that have stood the test of time. Places such as Kennywood in Pennsylvania and Midway State Park in New York, which are both celebrating an impressive 125 seasons this year, continue to do what they have done for generations: bring people together and deliver joy. These living pieces of Americana are what the National Amusement Park Historical Association is all about.
It only makes sense, therefore, that NAPHA members would pay homage to the two places during their special anniversaries as part of ParkHop23, the organization’s annual pilgrimage. The four-day event kicks off today (July 27) with a visit to Kennywood.
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Not only is the delightful, beloved park near Pittsburgh part of an exclusive roster of classic parks that have reached the 125-year milestone, but it is also one of the country’s few remaining trolley parks. Kennywood’s legions of fiercely loyal fans enjoy its modern-day rides such as Phantom’s Revenge and Steel Curtain, but especially adore its well-maintained legacy attractions, including its three wooden coasters that date back to the 1920s. Then there is Old Mill, a boat-propelled dark ride that first set sail in 1901.
“As part of its mission, NAPHA advocates, celebrates, and promotes the history of the amusement park industry,” says Jim Futrell, the organization’s historian. “We also honor parks that preserve the heritage and traditions of the industry.”
To that end, Futrell will recognize Kennywood by presenting a commemorative plaque to park management during the ParkHop event. He says he always enjoys the ceremony because it gives him a chance to tell a park’s story and the importance of recognizing its efforts.
Futrell will also be presenting a plaque to Midway State Park. Founded by the Jamestown and Lake Erie Railway (thereby making it, too, a trolley park) and then passed on to a succession of owners, the State of New York took control of the historic park in 2006. It boasts an impressive collection of vintage kiddie rides from the defunct Allan Herschell Company, which at one time was the world’s largest manufacturer of amusement rides.
ParkHop participants will also be visiting Waldameer Park in Pennsylvania, which dates back to 1896 and is yet another trolley park. Niagara Amusement Park in New York is on the itinerary as well. Formerly known as Fantasy Island, the park closed in 2020 and may have remain shuttered were it not for the vision and perseverance of Gene Staples. The entrepreneur rescued three struggling parks (including Clementon Park in New Jersey and Indiana Beach) over a two-year period and was recognized by NAPHA with a Champion of Preservation award at last year’s ParkHop.
Rounding out the 2023 event will be visits to the sites of defunct amusement parks as well as museums devoted to carousels and antique mechanical musical instruments, including band organs used at parks and fairs.
“We like to consider ourselves students of the industry,” Futrell says, explaining the raison d’être for the event. In addition to the museums and tours of former parks, participants will enjoy behind-the-scenes peeks and historic talks at the amusement parks.
Organizers are expecting about 50 participants for the ParkHop. Founded by “a bunch of nostalgic baby boomers,” Futrell says NAPHA has seen a wave of much younger members join the organization over the past few years, some of whom will be along for the ride at the event.
“Many of them work or have worked in the industry. They really love amusement parks and are fascinated by their history,” he notes adding that their interest and participation is heartening.
Do you enjoy visiting classic parks? Have you been to Kennywood or more under-the-radar places such as Midway State Park? Are you interested in the history of the industry?