Ever imagined if Chuck Jones and Tex Avery murdered Walt Disney and created their own playground?
First of all, I wanted to pay respects to George Lopez, Gregory Grandchamps, and George Larsson Jr.
What a way to start off a piece, right?
Growing up in NJ, there was the ocean. It is still majestic, with its azure waters and seaside culture. I remember childhood memories of going to Long Beach Island, frequenting the Boardwalk, playing games, going on rides, and then going for a dip in the Atlantic (there’s still the requisite badge for that.)
New Jersey never changed and as much shit is sprayed in its face from other states, it still remains one of the most unique and majestic places I’ve been. It’s because we as residents have the same thick skin and derring-do attitude- as our Garden State should be proud of.
There is a frequency to how much I travel and Jersey is always on the map in my heart. Whether for bad or good, people are fascinated with what some of us call home. From pizza to attitude, we never disappoint and are always on point.
There are many things I’m proud of from this oft looked over the piece of the United States, but one stands out. No, it’s not one of us existing in the 13 Colonies. I accept us having truly haunted places, but I reject your thinking that we’re just the sister of NYC (by the way, the Statue of Liberty is ours! Kick fucking rocks!)
It’s that we’ve tried to outdo the traditional and we did… at a legendary cost. It was called Action Park. It was revolutionary, but it was dangerous, but as the “armpit of America” as you other states scoff at it and call it, we had one-upped you, PUSSIES!
The documentary of Class Action Park (HBO Max) was a true citing of what you may all wanted in a Disney Park, but could NEVER HAVE, being like a Westworld of sorts. It was a Willy Wonka level of fun…there’s always one catch though… like the movie.
What you want as a kid or as a youth may have consequences and some bandages can’t even begin to staunch the blood flow.
Eugine Mulvihill in Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski resort wanted something for families and the kids (gotta do it for the kids) in the summertime and what better way to expand your successful business in the summertime? Right? The time of fireflies and swimming had him add an Alpine slide, which was a concrete luge that the basic kid or adult could measure their own speed. Sounds perfect? Well, it was!
The Alpine slide was like a huge ride without the snow that you could control… Think toboggans, but in summer. You were the victor if completing it but the bigger victor if you broke a bone on a combo of concrete, fiberglass, and asbestos, with the chairlift riding above you and spitting on you while spitting insult.
Your reward from injury would be a spray that would be a concoction that would make the successful want to die… and one did after sliding off and banking his head on a rock. George Larsson Jr. had died of his injuries of being in a coma, but the park blamed it as him as a teen employee that should have known the risks. NOT ACCEPTABLE. In fact, flagrant!
There was also a skateboard park that had not been designed well and reported many injuries. They just kind of went wild with this, which was completely negligent.
There was the Super Go-Karts. That sounds fun, right? This was unfettered around the track which could go 20 mph, however, the park employees could hack the governors devices that would restrict the speed limit with tennis balls, so they could go up to 50mph, frequently going into bumper car mode being dicks and causing head injuries. Notwithstanding, they would take the beer into the brewery that they would set up in-park, and drive drunk onto the overlapping freeway on Route 94.
The Lola cars section would not be any different, as they used the same hack and do the same.
However, the coolest concept to me was the battle tanks option. Encumbered in a chainlink fence, one could enter something that looked like a tank and shoot tennis balls at your opponent’s sensor. If you hit their target, they were down for 15 seconds or on the outside people could shoot cannons to do the same. Sounds innocent enough, but we’re are talking about teenagers, so those entering a tank could be pelting or, in the instance of a few people knowing mayhem, you could soak tennis balls in gasoline and launch flaming grenades at your enemy or basically any unsuspecting victim.
Water existed too, in this realm of anarchy and drunken madness. First, there were the super speed boats based in a pond. In New Jersey, we know the ocean, we know the bay for such things… a pond makes not for them. Nevertheless, things that would go the speed of cigarette boats did harm. In the documentary, one trying to dock went over another one, trapping another rider.
Imagine going to an amusement park and being trapped under an actual speedboat by the end of your day. No? Me either.
The bumper boats were supposed to alleviate that problem, but one leak leads to another, as the lack of overseeing from teenage kids led to frequent leaks of gasoline. This park was made for kids and young adults… but isn’t the happiest place on earth.
I leave the last for the most notorious. This was something that should have had no existence. Mulvill wanted to create something nobody had created before, but the negligence was not opaque. Most people knew things like this, though super exciting should have never been in the hands of someone that wanted to do the opposite of Disney.
I believe Sesame Place did it better. Jim Henson wanted an anti-Disney park in that the fun came from your body achieving it. How fun is it completing a walk up a rope climb as a kid? How fun would it have been to experience (which Disney did) a white water rafting experience? Nope, defenestrate. Bill Mulvihill wanted to create a natural experience.
Though our land is beautiful, there is creating something upon the beautiful land we have and creating something from it. I liked where his head was at, but I hate that he wrote off on most of this.
That being said, we’ll go one some of the more ‘pedestrian rides’ now.
There was the Aqua Skoot that basically was on your on a water slide as a skipping rock. This you apparently had to be a pro at or you would end up with a bloody nose or smashing. If you could do it, like most things, you could brag to your friends about it.
There was the Roaring Rapids (think Disney) but in a possible four-person fitted raft down our great state’s actual rapids. This made for jagged rocks and broken bones. It was supposed to replicate a level 4.5 ride, which is actually tough for the experienced.
There was the tamer Kayak Experience, meant to mimic rolling water with underwater tides electrically until someone capsized and was electrocuted to death with a miswiring.
However, now we come to the two most dangerous places in the park: the Tarzan Swing and the Tidal Wave Pool.
Now a Tarzan swing is infamous but for good reason. I’ve never done one, but the concept is simple- fucking swing into a pool! Seems easy enough, right? The Tarzan swing is infamous for being the test of Action Park. According to patrons, it never looked that bad, but going off a deep enough swinging was contingent on your body weight, your mettle, and your skill.
Most failed, just dropped into the water like a released fish. However, if you were the stuff of legend, you’d expose yourself or do a flip or do both. I’m sure alcohol helped. The thing with the attraction itself is it was a natural pond, which meant it wasn’t water controlled.
Most would be shocked, even during the summer at its cold nature, and one person died of a heart attack at the shock of it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but most people didn’t know that. It was a test of mettle to you as a person, but at what cost?
Still, it was a mainstay. Girls would pull up their tops, guys would show their cocks before jumping it. Good old fashioned chicanery… but it’s not good.
The Tidal Wave Pool I’m only putting second because the last encapsulates how Action Park worked.
In any event, we’re all familiar with the tidal pools. We’ve seen them on cruises (which actually work better) and we’ve seen them in parks. Their sole intent is to mimic an ocean. The thing is that having been to the ocean myriad times, they don’t mimic it like you want to.
They are febrile and dangerous, like heavy breaking waves. Low tides are a misnomer. You would think high tide? Nope. They are most active at low. Now, if controlled, a case for gaining lawsuits, they temper it. NOT WITH ACTION PARK. With their tide pool, they could house from 500-1,000 people.
Not only are there lifeguards possibly boozed up, but also are watching over a family of like 10 in the tide. I believe, in the documentary, one said at least an hour, if you didn’t save 30 people, you were not doing your job. This will come down to my final point. In fact, I believe someone said not even a professional swimmer could body that type of current. That includes three motherfucking drownings! Makes ya wonder why a thing like this existed at all.
This leaves me with their coup de grace, The Cannonball Loop.
Before I get on any an all screeds, this, if I were drunk enough would have gone on. This is also something that should never have existed, but it did for a time.
To give a little bit of backstory, this is a waterslide loop that was literally drawn up on a napkin that Bill should have never greenlit. It’s an abomination of all things that are holy and it may be a testament to why did was as much of a madman as it was.
The Cannonball Loop was a huge descent to what would amount to a small loop to shoot you out. Think of an Alphorn (those Ricola commercials) but with a smaller loop. That would chatter your teeth, wouldn’t it?
Well, no need to worry, because ostensibly so many people were breaking their noses and faces on that rocket descent, they created a teeth catcher at the top. I’m sure the tooth fairy would have even been casting aspersions on that asshole for doing something and making engineers create that.
In fact, he’d pay any willing teen 100 bones for just experimenting with it for free. They would get paid, but at what cost?
The directors Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III do a bang-up (and I do mean that literally for all those that have endured the mayhem in person) job of showing the truth of what a maniacal and magical idea can spark into a forest fire.
This was a park that wanted teens to rule their own when society said otherwise. That was a beautiful mistake. The creator was a person involved with naught but getting asses in his seats of the park at no expense. He had overseas investments to funnel money. This was a person that thought he had nothing to lose. Through various business holding being an Investor/Innovator, in what he thought was the next level, in a way, he was. He was on the right track but in the wrong car… going too fast, tennis ball shoved into the tail pipe.
That being said, this is a park I think that should have never existed, but in some ways, I’m glad that it did. I had a wanton display to go there if I could growing up, but my mother knew better. This documentary had Alice In Chains at it and they had a great time. I personally think with the employ of the actual ride designers could have been a beautiful thing that would have lasted. The rub is they made it a once in a lifetime experience that can never (hopefully NEVER) be replicated. It was at the vanguard and in the zeitgeist of the 80s and 90s.
The accounts of actors, creators, workers, designers, and fans alike cannot hold a candle to what it was truly like. Shout outs to John Hodgman for narrating this lovely nightmarish trip through fun as well as comedians Chris Gethard and Alison Becker.
My whole ethos is to make a change in the world, leave it better than you found it. This made their whole worlds both better and worse. We cannot call it even, because the blood of both the living and the deceased are on their hands.
This was if Satan had clay to play with and sculpt a park for those willing to LIVE LIFE and those unfortunate to die for that same thing.
The Devil resides in Jersey for a reason.