Haunts & Jaunts: Abandoned Amusement Park

Fun and games in an abandoned amusement park

The midway arcade in shambles. *Photos by Rick Hinton.

   With age comes wisdom—I think—and times of reflection on some of the more knuckle-headed things we did in our youth. One such was my second visit to Riverside Amusement Park. It was totally closed!

   The park opened in 1903, running for a long haul within the city limits. As far as amusement parks go, it was small in comparison: 30 acres across from Riverside City Park on West 30th Street, tucked  between the White River and the Central Canal. Folks remember the Double Eight roller coaster (later came The Thriller and The Flash), the Old Mill Ride (Tunnel of Love for some),  the wooden centrifugal force torture ride, the aerial circle swing, a large dancing pavilion, and a midway stretch of arcade games to rival any current county fair.

    After World War II, into the 1950s and 1960s, attendance was good. The future looked great! My first visit to Riverside was with my mother in the mid 1960s during Westinghouse’s employee picnic. Riverside did a lot of those. Just a few years earlier there’d  been a “whites only” policy, stretching back many years. That policy ended in 1962. How was I to know about such things at the tender age of 9? Prior, blacks could only attend one to two days in the season. Yet, even though policy changed, Riverside was slow to remove the “Whites Only” signs throughout the park.

   As the 1960s progressed, the amusement park spiraled into disrepair. And with the changing times, a loss of interest. It closed in 1971, sitting empty. The property was purchased in 1976 with hopes of restoring the glory days. That didn’t happen. It was put back up for sale in 1978.

No more smooth floors in the dance pavilion.

   In the mid 1970s a group of long haired, white suburban kids, decided to look for fun and games on an adventure into the depths of the inner city. Armed with baseball bats (and my camera) we squeezed through a hole in the fence on the canal side and stood transfixed. It was as if someone had simply turned the lights off and locked the gates. Everything was still there! Weather had accelerated decay, yet we quickly realized we were not the only ones who’d paid a visit: excessive vandalism was evident. We strolled through—afternoon into evening. Tall monoliths of coaster tracks rose into the sky. The arcade midway was beaten and battered. The Old Mill Ride’s final splash down was empty. The dancing pavilion’s wooden floor was buckled. The park’s office had papers scattered over the floor (I grabbed a few). There was a sense of unease. There’s nothing spookier than an abandoned amusement park at midnight.  Blue Oyster Cult’s “Screams,” off their first album, still reminds me of that night.

   The site was demolished in 1979. Today Rivers Edge subdivision has taken up residence. And, I have gotten wiser with age.