Monday, July 03, 2006

Weird NJ Magazine/ Action Park

While I was at the beach last week, I found a bunch of issues of an interesting magazine that had been on my radar for awhile. It's called Weird NJ (their website) , and it's a compendium of strange hauntings, odd architectural spaces, crazy eccentrics and general peculiarity. The periodical jigsaws nicely with my interests in offbeat travel and unexplainable phenomena. Of course, since the bulk of the stories are reader-submitted, much of it is no doubt apocryphal. But urban legends are another topic of diversion, so I'm no worse off by getting my head filled with this stuff.

Issue # 25 had an article of particular interest. When I was a mere lad I was bombarded with commercials for an exciting amusement park in Vernon, NJ called Action Park. This establishment lasted twenty years- between 1978-1998. Of course the images of kids hurtling through the air in speed boats, souped-up go-karts and low-rent ATVs captured my adolescent attention, and so for my 16th birthday I asked for a visit. I had my license, my sleeveless T, and my Jamz, and I felt the Need for Speed.

It wasn't long into my day at the park that I learned why it was nicknamed "Traction Park". Have you ever rode on (or seen) an alpine slide? You get on a little plastic cart and pilot your exposed body down a half-pipe made of fiberglass. It's kinda like a low-rent version of the luge from the Winter Olympics. There are beginner and advanced routes, but the warning signs at the entrance of the ride tell the real story. Had I paid closer attention, I may not have been as reckless as I was. I got on and depressed the plastic speed lever as much as I could, ignoring the design of the slide. Going around a tight turn, the wheels on one side slipped over the lip of the track, and I flipped the thing. Several layers of skin on my arm and leg were sheered from my body. For the rest of the day I walked around with my trophy bruises- a bloody, pus-filled mess. In a communal spirit, I did share the product of my wounds with the other revelers- I wasn't going to miss my chance at the water slides. One of these was called the cannonball, and included a narrow enclosed tube of hard plastic, that made sharp turns underground and deposited the rider into a freefall into a freezing cold man-made pond. I loved it. Thank god I wasn't a portly kid at that age. There were numerous stories of kids getting stuck, and twisting themselves into painful contortions. Of course, with these kinds of attractions there were many injuries, and some deaths. In fact the giant state-of-the-art pool was given the clever name, "Grave Pool". I'm sure that when attendance fell, and the numerous alcohol stations were opened, it got much worse. The stoner kids that staffed the park were certainly no help. They pretty much left you to your own devices. Anyway, I'm not looking to reiterate the whole article. If you are interested, they will ship back issues to you.

It's a bit of a shame that litigation ended the operation of the nation's most dangerous amusement park. Now at most places they won't even let you poop without fussing with toilet seat liners. Where are the thrills of my childhood? Gone, gone.

Anyway, the magazine is so fun it makes me a bit jealous that we don't have a similar rag for Pennsylvania (as far as I know). I did however learn that this exists. It's a book, so the information is not as current as I would like. But I'll probably still be shelling out a couple of ten-spots for it.


Anonymous Chris said...

Great post, and the first one on your blog that I've read. I remember having a great time at Action Park - do you recall that there was another ride that also dumped bodies into the "Grave Pool"? I think it was like a Tom Sawyer rope swing. That place had the slides as well; the ones that you'd fly down on a burlap sack. The steeper runs were on one side, and could hurl one airborne on certain of the jumps.

Good times...good times.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I do remember that swing. There seemed to be a lot that could go wrong on that particular attraction. What I don't recall is whether or not I actually rook the plunge myself. I want to say I did, but that could be "just how I remember it". (ha-ha)

1:31 PM  
Anonymous jefg said...

Have you seen that Sceurman and Moran are now doing segments on Weird USA on the History Channel. I caught one while channel-surfing my favorite channels (Travel, History, Food Network, Bravo and ESPN...analyze that if you will), and found it quite interesting. Among other things, they did a piece on a government sponsored program of psychics that lasted from 1971 through 1995. Run at a cost of $20 million, the intent was to use a collection of psychics to do remote spying. They interviewed the curator of the Spy Museum in DC, as well as an ex-military who was part of the program. The latter described (and provided alleged actual drawings) from one project to determine what was contained in a large Russian warehouse (turned out to be a nuclear sub). Then the hosts got involved in an ESP experiment with one going to a remote location while the other tried to get some vibes. Interesting piece, interesting show, one that I will be adding to my list of must-see TV.

8:41 AM  

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