The demise of a theme park has a beautiful, slightly depressing, and yet alluring quality.
The AstroWorld amusement park haunted my childhood memories of Houston like a ghost. In 2005, the day before my 10th birthday, the park formally closed, and soon after, it was destroyed to make place for a parking lot.
NPR’s internal communications manager is Brigit Benestante.
Benestante, Brigit I wasn’t the only one who found the sight of abandoned and decaying theme parks fascinating.
It turns out that there is a sizable population who find the world’s retired, closed, or abandoned theme parks and attractions to be enthralling. This neighborhood is intrinsically tied to the larger abandoned community, which includes admirers of abandoned buildings of all kinds, such as desolate malls, defunct Blockbuster stores, and deteriorating Gilded Age theaters.
I first came into contact with this group of people in 2014 when I found Ontario documentarian Jake Williams’ YouTube channel Bright Sun Films . Williams’ writing focuses primarily on concepts, companies, and yes, theme parks that have been abandoned or discarded. I first saw a video of Disney’s infamously deserted water park, River Country , here.
The first completely themed water park in the world, River Country debuted at Walt Disney World in the 1970s. The park was closed in 2001 and remained vacant for several years. Urban explorers were drawn in by dried-up pools, slides that went nowhere, and amusement parks that had been overrun by the elements.
Despite Disney’s best efforts to keep visitors away, explorers and photographers discovered inventive ways to get inside and shared images that appeared post-apocalyptic.
I was addicted.
The abandoned River Country Water Park’s slides.
via Wikimedia Commons, Coreyjune12 I began to watch other YouTube channels on failed theme parks, most notably Defunctland . Kevin Perjurer is the creator and host of Defunctland, which features videos on many facets of defunct amusement, including previous rides, hotels, parks, concepts, and ticketing systems.
Disney’s FastPass: A Complicated History , one of Perjurer’s newest videos, is almost 90 minutes long and, in my opinion, one of the most thorough and all-encompassing investigations I’ve ever seen. In fact, I made a friend watch it once again with me.
Perjurer’s account of the rise and fall of the Nickelodeon hotel in Orlando , the history of SeaWorld’s worst ride ever , and the demolition of Six Flags AstroWorld is another classic from Defunctland.
What therefore makes this information on deserted buildings so fascinating to so many people?
Williams of Bright Sun Films stated, “For some, it can be the end of their childhood, but for me, I think it’s the unusual and absolutely strange sight of witnessing something that had been cherished by so many people suddenly rot away. “People will always have happy memories of these locations, and the idea that they still exist in some actual form is a really compelling and poignant idea that I enjoy exploring. One of the greatest emotions is nostalgia, even if it is for something we haven’t even personally experienced.”
These analyses of former parks make me think of a contemporary form of archaeology. Some of these parks leave behind large buildings that serve as tangible memories of the past. Others have virtually vanished. One of the few original buildings that is still standing is the pedestrian bridge that I had fond memories of crossing every time I went to AstroWorld.
I clearly recall going across the bridge that connected the parking lot for AstroWorld, which was located on one side of Houston’s South Loop freeway, to the main attractions, which were located on the opposite side. My heart was pounding with eagerness as I recalled seeing the roller coasters and flags off in the distance.
The familiar taste of nostalgia, the understanding that everything has an end, the merciless churn of capitalism, and the loss of cherished structures are just a few of the things that make researching the life and death of theme parks so fascinating.
I’m not sure why I keep coming back to these debates and films. I believe it’s a chance, as Williams mentioned, to properly say goodbye to something that so many people previously enjoyed; a way to pay tribute to the things that formerly made crowds happy through joyful screams and deep-fried delicacies.