Wednesday, 28 May 2014 14:17

WHEN ST. LOUIS WAS AMUSING

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Amusement parks are a special place; a magic place. A place where every experience is a happy one. No one ever seems to have a bad memory of an amusement park.

Children have fun in the fantasy world. The multitude of colors, the bright colors, sometimes the cartoon or storybook characters, and, of course, the rides, all help to make the amusement park a thrilling experience for everyone - from the youngest child to the oldest adult.

But, what happens to "the magic" when an amusement park closes? I've always held a wonderment for closed parks. These special places where the fantasy, the magic, used to excite children, young and old, and are now just ruins or maybe a mall or office building.

Some say there never was any magic; it's just "big business". I don't agree. Just look into the eyes of a child the first time he meets Mickey or Goofy or the Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. Listen to him scream with glee the first time on a carousel. Just "big business"?

Maybe you went there on your first date? Or enjoyed your first kiss in the Tunnel of Love? Just "big business" ?

No, it's not just "big business"! It's so much more than that!

It's Life! It's Fantasy! It truly IS Magic!

So, what happens to "the magic" when an amusement park closes? Is it gone? Forever?

No. I don't believe so. I believe it lives on - in the hearts of the children that once frequented the parks. Yes, amusement parks are a special place. Even if the only remnant left is in the heart of a child.

 
So let's look back at a landmark St. Louis amusement park, whose mystical kingdom of mirth and merriment you had to travel the magical bridge across Route 66 and the mighty Mississippi River to reach.
 
 
Fun For All and All For Fun!

The Chain of Rocks Amusement Park sat on top of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. The historic Route 66 ran right next to it and Chain of Rocks was a popular destination along the route. Chain of Rocks opened in 1927. Originally it was owned by Chris Hoffman. In the 1940's, it was bought by Carl Trippe of the Ideal Novelty Company. A group of investors headed by Bill Zimmerman purchased the park in 1958. Ken Thone was hired by them to manage the park and stayed with the park for 20 years.
 
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 Above: This incredible aerial view of Chain of Rocks shows the park in its heyday. The photo was a page from an amusement park trade booklet advertising several different parks and what they had to offer. The ad also had lots of fun info including phone numbers (Underhill7-5435), the exact street address (10733 Lookaway Dr.) and of course a ride list:The Scrambler, the Tilt-O-Whirl, The Whip, Baby Whip, Bumper Cars, Walking Spookhouse, Riding Spookhouse, Mad Mouse, The Rocket, the ski lift, the boats, the cars, the merry go round, the helicopters, the Rock-o-Planes, the Hammer, the little ferris wheel with cages, the swoop, the double ferris wheel, the Flying Bobs, the Super Himalaya, pony rides, Chair-O-Plane, Tubs-O-Fun, Space Ships, Moonrockets, Roller Rink, Comet, Penny Arcade, Shooting Gallery and Ghost Trail. The Comet formed the west border of the park. Along the edge of the bluff, 230 feet above the Mississippi, the dining hall, Whip, Moonrockets, Carousel and Dodgems formed the eastern border of the park.
 
 
THE COMET
 
Built in 1926, the Comet is a nice out and back coaster. It may start off slow but it ends up with a load of airtime. Unfortunately for me, I was a little too young to ride this coaster and it was dismantled in 1958 because the park had hired John Allen to build them a new coaster. Unfortunately, the financing fell through after the Comet had been destroyed.
 
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Chain of Rocks also had one of the most unique rides ever seen: an oblong ferris wheel named the Swooper. Situated between the Dodgem, Carousel and Moonrocket, the Swooper faced the Mississippi. As the ride started, riders were moved backwards swooping up, then forward...directly towards the Mississippi 250 feet below. The way the ride worked, riders felt as they just might end up taking a dip in the mighty river if one of the Swoopers' seats gave away. Fortunately, they never did.
 
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Oh My Gosh... it was a GREAT time and we had so much fun. Cotton candy, thrill rides, and lots of people. It was the early 60s.
 

Fundraising booster posters were sold and each school had their special day at Chain of Rocks. Bi-state buses were chartered, so your mom or dad didn’t have to drive there. I remember about 8-10 buses of them parked in front of the school on those days. We would leave around noon. Usually the four or six of us, Roman, Mark, Billy, Steve, and myself would wait at the corner of Kingshighway and Gravois, just in front of a corner grocery store, to board the bus.
 

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 Our 1st grade school picnic was held there and we would walk in a parade to the park, and spend the whole day there. We LIVED at Chain of Rocks Park.
 
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Below: St. Ambrose grade school marches into the Fun Fair Park (May, 1974)

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Our folks would either be at the inside pavilion or the open air pavilion (pictured below) right outside the entry to the pool. Summer of '63 my Dad gave me a roll of nickels and sent me off to the park. What a great guy he was!!!! I remember spending a mountain full of those nickels in the arcade and winning such great prizes as the old chinese handcuffs. In those days it was Fun Fair Park & The 3 Stooges.
 
 
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Above: The Fun Fair Park Pavilion section of the Chain of Rocks Amusement Park - 1967
 
Below: Park Benches at the Fun Fair Pavilion Park
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There was also a Hall of Mirrors along the east side of the park that was quite confusing and much fun where you’d end up in a room with three doors to pick from (one labeled “To The Trial") and two of them would lead to dead-ends. There was a mummified giant with his private area covered modestly and of course everyone wanted to know what was under that covered area and laughed about it. Do any of you remember that gypsy in the glass cage above the arcade? It was creepy.
 
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The glass-encased booth of the creepy Gypsy woman who would elecit your fortune.
 
Chain of Rocks always had a reputation as being seedier than the Forest Park Highlands (with Westlake Park regarded as even seedier) but it wasn’t true. Chain of Rocks was just as much fun and just as safe as the Highlands and had great food too. And the view out over the Mississippi River was spectacular, especially when viewed from the Sky-Lift ride.
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Get Your Kicks (Route 66 style) On The Chain Of Rocks Bridge
 

On to my favorite point of interest when attending the Chain of Rocks Amusement Park: the hulking Chain of Rocks Bridge, a site certainly worth visiting. One of the more interesting bridges in America; it’s hard to forget a 30-degree turn midway across a mile-long bridge more than 60 feet above the mighty Mississippi. For more than three decades, the bridge was a significant landmark for travelers driving Route 66. The bridge was privately built in 1929 as a toll bridge. It became part of Route 66 in 1936 and was used until 1968. The ultimate demise of the bridge was the construction of the free I-270 bridge just north of the Chain of Rocks bridge in 1966. The bridge was slated for demolition in 1975, but the low price of scrap metal at the time made it unprofitable. Whew! In 1998 the bridge was leased out to Trailnet and is now a pedestrian/cyclist bridge and monument to Route 66. It was used in the filming of the 1981 film Escape From New York. The bridge is actually owned by the city of Madison, Illinois. Bear with me while I reminisce of my childhood erector set dreams and the feats of man:
 
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 Many a night I've spent parting at this very spot....
 
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The two water intake towers built in 1894 (West) and 1915 (East) are amazing:
 
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The towers were recently made the cover image of American City: St. Louis Architecture: Three Centuries of Classic Design:
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Here’s a view of the intake towers with the water treatment facility in the background (there’s a 7 foot pipe that channeled water to the facility):
 
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What the? Is that a… Yes, the bridge has a 22-degree bend in the middle, which was the site of many car crashes:

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Today the steel is weathered and cool looking and the deck has some great/sad/hilarious grafitti.

My name is spray painted underneath somewhere around the middle. God we were brave back then, there is no way I would climb under that bridge now!
 
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I too am content Ms. Gay.
 
Here’s my personal take on the beauty of aging and oxidation:
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The toll building on the St. Louis side has been demolished. Here’s what it looked like back in the day:
 
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Since the bridge was unused for 30 years in the hard rocking days of the late 60’s and 70’s, I surmise that many shaggy, mullet-having real rockers would party on the bridge and listen to the then-powerful and amazingly influential K-SHE 95. I can hear Moxy songs in the back of my mind. Here’s some evidence of the real-rockers' presence:

 

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Trailnet has taken to plaques and other momentos as fundraisers including these plaques that adorn the side rails of the bridge. Many of them are quite touching and inspirational:

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This bridge (along with the Eads bridge) provides amazing views of downtown about 11 miles south:

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The bridge is all about the Mighty Miss. It’s power is stunning. The swirling, massive current is a testament to the strength and determination of the city, the bridges, the water intakes and shorelines of the biggest river in North America.

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It's A Family Affair

Going to Chain of Rocks Amusement Park was always a a yearly summer sojourn for my family, which also included my relatives and best friends sometimes tagging along as well. Here is a brief photolog of some of those great memories.

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 Above: My next door neighbors: The Jansen family - at the Chain Of Rocks Amusment Park. L-R: Billy Jansen, Mrs. Margaret Jansen, Terry Jansen, Jacob Jansen (grandfather), Warren Jansen and Mr. Daniel Jansen (1963)

 

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 My Uncle Marvin, Aunt Gladys and Uncle Don at Chain Of Rocks picnic area (1942)

 

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Chain Of Rocks Mother's Day Promotional Ad (1958)

 

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That's my mom in the middle (1944)
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Above: L-R: Our next door neighbor Mrs. Dorthy Morris and my mom (holding my two-year old sister Chris) taking a break while my good friend Jimmy Morris and I are probably riding the Mad Mouse Roller Coaster (1962)
 

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 Mrs. Janet Miller and her friend Phyllis at the Highland Elementary School Picnic at Chain-of-Rocks Funfair Amusement Park. This shot is near the back of the park, east of the penny arcade buidling - June 1959. (Thanks to my old neighborhood friend Julie for use of this photo of her mom and her best friend).

 

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This is a postcard of the Sky Garden.. it was the only restaurant/ club in the park. My dad had more than a few coctails there ... while we kids went on the rides. we didn't care...we were having fun!
 

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These concrete tables outside the park at night turned into our favorite teenage hang-out to meet our friends. They were responsible for an untold number of romances. Lot's of fun times.
 
 
My favorite rides to were the Tilt-O-Whirl, the Scrambler, the Rock-O-Plane and especially the Mad Mouse coaster. I also remember the feeling that you could grab the tree limbs on that roller coaster; it made the entire ride that much more realistic and fun. In my high school years, they added the Super Himalaya. This ride had a line a mile long, and I think it was only there a year or two. It went backwards and played songs like "Joy to the World" and "Free Ride" REALLY loudly, perfect for young long-haired kids like us. The only couple I can add from the era of the early 70's are the Round Up, which may have been the predecessor to Tom's Twister at Six Flags, and Saturn IX, which was only there one year I think because too many kids got sick from riding it.
 
 
Beatle Bob's Top Three Most Vivid Memories of the Chain Of Rocks Amusment Park:

1.The smell of oil and grease when you stood in line to ride "The Whip".
2. My 1st grade classmate Tom Licosa losing his school picnic badge after getting caught spitting off of the sky lift.
3. Wondering how the Mad Mouse car stayed on the tracks when it ALWAYS felt like half of the car was over the edge when you made a turn. I'd take it back over Six Flags any day.

 
Beatle Bob's Chain Of Rocks Park Rides
(in reverse order)
 
10. The Merry-Go-Round
The Merry Go Round held a special place in my heart. I can still feel the wind going through my hair as I rode on this magnificent merry-go-round. I felt totally grown up when I graduated from a stationary horse to one that went up and down. My dad would stand with his arms crossed and a big smile each time I circled past! Riding a horse with the wind blowing through my hair, fantasizing I was riding a real horse on the Ponderosa. What else is there? The horses were all hand carved and kept up by a man named Pete. He was a Jewish Holocaust survivor and poured his heart and soul into the upkeep of that beautiful ride.
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 9. The Haunted Cave
Us little kids who couldn't read called the Haunted Cave the "Riding Spook House" in contrast to the "Walking Spook House" which, by the way, stood to the right of this picture right out of view. The kids standing on the ramp to the right of the orange trash can were in line for the "Mad Mouse" roller coster. The Walking Spook House included a hall of mirrors with dead ends and doors you had choose from, one reading, "To The Trial."
 

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8. The Whip

This ride consists of two circular, wheel-like turn-table platforms on opposing sides of a rectangular base. Motors turn a cable that leads a number of 2–3 person seater cars that are attached around a laminated wooden track. The ride follows the track while the cable turns. When the car reaches one of the turn-table platforms, the speed picks up, forcing riders to one side as the car whips around the corner.

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7. The Twister

Twister will make your stomach flip-flop as you rotate forward, backward, spin and turn over to find out just what it felt like to ride in Dorothy’s house in the middle of a tornado. It has all the exhilaration of a coaster in a whirlwind of thrills. When the ride would stop, the cars would keep spinning until the lap bar was pulled up. (the bar was the "brake") Most people would try and keep them going in circles or back and forth as long as they could by leaning to one side. The operators would have to jump on the car and pull up on the bar. They got a ride, too!

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6. The Tilt-O-Whirl

Tilt-O-Whirls are a true classic of the spinning ride genre and they remain my favorite spinning ride, if for nothing more than the fact that they are an interactive spinning ride that always bring friends and family together in coordinated style. Once the brakes are released and the ride begins, it’s a team effort to have everyone shift their weight and time it just right so as to spin until it gets out of control and the G-forces pin you into the back of the car. If you have never gotten a chance to ride a Tilt-a-Whirl, you really are missing out on loads of cheesy fun, and if you have ridden one, you know exactly what I mean by “Tilt-a-Hurl”…but you can’t help but love it!

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 5. The Octopus
 
The ride is about the eight giant moving arms of an octopus, with cars attached at its ends. The ride keeps on spiraling in the center, exposing you to clockwise and counterclockwise spins at high speed. You are lifted and tilted high in the air, filling you with a sense of great exhilaration. 

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 4. The Rock-O-Planes

 Nicknamed "the cages," the Roll-O-Planes shape is similar to that of a Ferris wheel, but with seats that are enclosed that rock and roll as the ride turns. If you were rocking, the seats will flip upside-down and end-over-end. There was a wheel inside that made it more intense by locking the seats at crucial points in the ride's revolution, causing the seats to flip upside down and spin erratically.

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 3. The Scrambler

Suspended riders spinning in cars made you feel that you would crash into other suspended, spinning cars. Four outstretched arms spinning about a central axis contain four cars each, spinning around at the end of each arm…that’s a whole lot of spinning. This is another ride where the larger guest should take the outside seat to avoid smashing the smaller guest into a tube of toothpaste. One of the most basic and simple spinning rides, Scramblers were great as a kid for getting some friendly revenge against your parents, pulling yourself to one side of the car only to let go and slide into them on the other! You can’t help but smile as you spin around smashing your friend next to you, or being squished by them (depending on your seating).

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#2. The Roll-O-Planes
Commonly nicknamed the "Salt and Pepper Shakers," The Roll-O-Planes had two cars (one at the top and one at the bottom, with each car holding four riders seated in pairs facing in oppisite directions. When in motion, the arm swings until it makes a complete loop with the cars being free to rotate horizontally or "roll" while the ride is in motion.That ride still holds a scary memory for me. I rode it with my older cousin, he was much bigger than I was, and the bar that held us in was set for him. I slipped out of it and spent the ride hurling around in the capsule. Ouch!!!

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1. The Mad Mouse
 
The Mad Mouse looked so tiny compared to the other roller coasters. I thought it was built for my age of 6 or 8. OMG! The twists and turns scared me, but I was in love with the ride by the end of it. The Mad Mouse was unique. It wasn't about the size. It was the small cars and the way they where built where the front end hung out over the tracks and made it look like you where going overboard at every turn. Also the quick twists and turns just made it more exciting. Not to mention the brilliant placement of the ride that made you feel like you were going to het hurled over the cliff! There wasn't much cushion on the seat either, it was just a board with some vinyl stretched over it and you straddled it and sat down. The roller looking thing in the front that is red was cushioned in case your head hit it. LOL... such precautions they took!
 
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The Kiddie Rides
 
For us small toddlers, or parents who who had small fry, Chain Of Rocks had a battalion of kiddie rides to keep the young tykes enthralled. Here were some of the best:
 
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 Kids could ride real ponys at the Chain Of Rocks Amusement Park as well.
 
 
 
C'Mon Everybody, Let's Do The Swim!
 
Creative marketing in tune with the times ensured the park would remain profitable throughout the 1960s. Among the lucrative promotions, Splash Parties used the park's Olympic-sized swimming pool during the summer months, coinciding with performances by great bands and national acts like Paul Revere and the Raiders, Tommy James and the Shondells and Ike & Tina Turner.
 
Chain of Rocks was also a great place to swim, as well as North Shore, which I think may have been at the bottom of the hill on the other side of Riverview. It was awesome. I also took swimming lessons from Mochie Delsing (what a babe she was!) at the park. Those were the fun days!!! Now I am starting to sound like my parents... Oh the Good Ole Days!!!!!
 
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1960 Postcard of the Pool area of the Chain Of Rocks Amusement Park

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 The "Wet and Wild" pool party at the Chain of Rocks Park in St. Louis always had some of the coolest rock & roll and soul music acts perform along poolside. Here's a pic of St. Louis' Bob Kuban & The In-Men taken at Chain Of Rocks Park just before a performance. (1966)

 
Fun For No One: The Plug Is Pulled On The Chain Of Rocks

Several occurrences led to the park's demise. Combined with a drop in school enrollment, which affected the school picnics (a big part of Chain of Rocks business), two major fires in four years, a rise in rowdiness, and with the opening of Six Flags in Eureka in 1971, the Chain of Rocks park had to close. A secondary blow occured in 1973 when a fire destroyed the Sky Garden Bar and Restauraunt.
 
In 1975, with closure of another classic St. Louis amusement park, Holiday Hill, because of the Lambert Airport expansion, a number of the rides from that park were relocated to the Chain of Rocks Fun Fair Park, but this failed to stop the slide in attendance. Imposistion of a 5% percent amusement tax in addition to the 4.5% in sales tax in 1976 furthered restricted attendance. In June 1977, another fire destroyed several of the older rides, including the ornate carousel. The park was closed on Labor Day of 1977, and the rides and other components of the park were sold at auction in June 1978.
 
Everything from the Amusement Park has been torn down and replaced with what I think is low income housing. I don't think I've been up there since I took these pictures below, but my understanding is that it's not a safe area anymore.

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Decaying remnants of the once glorious Chain Of Rocks Amusement Park

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done5These are the stairs that once led from Riverview to lookaway at the top of Chain Of Rocks Park. Snowfall on 15 blue-and clear glass sculptures illustrates one aspect of the definition of a watershed: the land where all the water flows to a common lake, stream, or river.

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On June 26 1981, the John Carpenter film Escape From New York opened. The movie was largely filmed in St. Louis. The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge (above), Union Station and other sites filled in for a futuristic Manhattan Island that had been turned into an armed maximum-security prison camp. On opening day, co-star Isaac Hayes appeared at several St. Louis area cinemas.

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Above: This was the original location of the entrance to the park. Many will remember the ice cream stand that stood on what is now an unkept area of weeds. This area is called tear drop.

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Google Street View now lets you virtually walk around the teardrop, Lookaway Drive, outside the old Fun Fair park site. You can't yet venture onto Lookaway Court, the street that extends onto the old amusement park ground.

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Parkhenge Street. Original cement posts lining the entry road to the Chain Of Rocks Amusement Park
 

About 10 years ago, at the now extinct Bellefontaine Neighbors family fun fest, I rode the rock-o-planes.  After exiting the ride, I spoke with the operator and commented that it brought back memories of riding one as a kid at Chain of Rocks.  Imagine my shock when he said this is the same ride from that park!  I stood speachless for about 10 seconds.  Then smiled.  After so long, without expecting it, a piece of the old amusement park found and lured me in for one more ride.

Then in the summer of 2012, I was scootering around town and a church on Manchester Road was having a carnival  and they had a Rock-O-Plane and several other rides that were at the old COR Fun Fair park.. And I had to ride them. I just had to. And I did!!!

Some of my best memories of my youth were at that amusement park. People are willing to stand in those forever lines at Six Flags and Disney. They hold nothing for me. I am a COR kid to the core! And I would give anything to be able to step back into those pictures above and walk through that park again to go on those rides! Those were the best years i ever had, what these kids nowadays are missing out on, I feel for them! Here's to the fondest memories in my life, cheers to Chain Of Rocks Park!!!!!!!

 *** And to honor the Memorial Day weekend (and Chain Of Rocks Park), at a time when amusement parks all across the U.S. are opening, hit the video screen below to to hear a song that captures the thrills and excitement of spending a day at an amusement park: "Amusement Parks U.S.A." by The Beach Boys. The song is a track from Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), the ninth studio album by The Beach Boys, released on July 5, 1965 on Capitol. The release was their second in 1965. Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) peaked at #2 in the US during a chart stay of 33 weeksHigh scores for Youtube user, metrofurs, who posted some great amusment ride photos that coincide perfectly with the song's lyrics.

 

 

Let's take your car and do amusement parks USA

At Palisades in Salisbury Parks the rolly coasters are flyin
At Euclid beach on the flying turns I'll bet you can't keep her smilin'
Buy your girl a cotton candy while you're down on the ground
Then take her on the twirl-a-way and spin her around
Let's take your car and mess around at the park all day

The parachutes at Riverview Park will shake us up all day
And Disneyland and p.o.p. is worth a trip to L.A.
Watchin' girls in the air can really get you bad
And I'll bet the laughin' lady makes you laugh like mad

Let's pick up our friends and do amusement parks USA

[spoken, supposedly by Beach Boys session drummer Hal Blaine]
Hurry, hurry, hurry folks step right up to the Beach Boy Circus.
The best little show in town.
Hurry, hurry, hurry, it's only a dime folks, one thin dime, just one tenth of a dollar.
Come on in and see Stella the snake dancer (is it real? )
She walks, she talks, she wiggles on her belly like a snake.
(she looks like a fake to me) (let's go see her) (it costs too much)
Hurry, hurry, hurry folks, come on and see Stella.
She shimmies, she shakes....

You'll crash and burn in the bumper cars at Jersey's Steel Pier
You'll crack 'em up when you stand in front of all the crazy mirrors
At first you'll be a chicken at the jackhammer ride
But you'll do it with a girl sittin' right by your side
Let's take your car and mess around at the park all day 

 

 

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