Cross-posted to WordPress, 2-16-2019, updated
In the summer of 1969, when I came out to Utah from New York, my first job was working at Lagoon, Utah’s No. 1 amusement park. As a child, I had visited Lagoon many times beginning in the 50s when I would come to Utah to visit my mother’s family there.
Still going strong, the park is small but homey, and although it gets more expensive every year, they do make improvements all the time, and it’s got some really fun rides. I had a season pass in 2011 before I moved back East so I could go with the my granddaughters as often as opportunity allowed.
A post on another forum about Coney Island got me going down memory lane, especially when I saw this picture of Coney Island’s “Human Roulette Wheel” from 1908.
I can’t count the number of times I got flung off of Lagoon’s Roulette Wheel, suffering skin burns along the way… and I don’t think anyone ever sued lagoon for so much as a broken arm – people knew what risks were in those days, and lawyers were fewer.
The Fun House and the Haunted Shack were, without question, my favorite locations. Both as a child, from the late 50’s onward, and then as an employee one summer in 1969.
In the Fun House, the first challenge was getting in. The entrance was a mystery room, with several doors. One held a witch – not especially frightening, unless you’re 7 – and I don’t recall what was in the others, but the one you wanted, of course, was the broom closet – and you had to push the false back wall to get out.
Once inside, you would walk into the challenge area, which included the rotating barrels; I was so thrilled when I was finally big enough to pin myself in the barrel like Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” and be carried all the way around. Other courses included boards that swung up and down like a wooden wave pattern… a meshed bridge… a set of boards that shimmied back and forth like a huge pair of skis, among others… and everywhere throughout the fun house were the air jets, operated by a human who sat in an observation booth above the front entrance, watching for cute girls in skirts to step over the airholes. Psshhhttt EEK!! A maze after these items would drop you off in the back of the fun house close to the giant slides.
There, you’d pick up your canvas slide, with a pocket in front for your feet, and climb the stairs to the launch platforms – there was one midway up, and one all the way at the top. You were admonished to sit with your legs straight, and off you’d go. There was never any limit to how long you could stay.
At the bottom of the slide, you’d find the Roulette Wheel – a big pink disk with a yellow center, which is where you wanted to be if you didn’t want to get flung off. I think there were more injuries from people rushing to get that center spot than ever happened while being ejected. People would sit on the wheel with their backs to the center, brace themselves with their feet, and wait for the ride to start. Invariably everyone was hurled off except one or two in the middle. The outside of the platter area was surrounded with a large, padded rim. (This was Lagoon’s version of the “Roulette Wheel” shown above).
Then there was the “whirlpool”. This was a large wooden drum – different from the washtub with the drop-out floor – that would effectively allow you to stand at about a 45-degree angle if you could fight the centripetal force. This ride was one of the first ones to go that I recall.
Interestingly enough, there were probably countless chipped teeth, friction burns, broken arms, split lips, and a dozen other injuries on a regular basis… and for decades nobody sued, and the fun just kept on happening. We can thank the zeal of the legal eagles, hungry for billable hours, for litigating us out of such wholesome entertaintment today.
[Edit: An article in the Deseret News of May 4, 1957, describes the attractions in the Fun House thus:
“Opening of a new fun house, the first to be build in the United States in 28 years, will be one of the main attractions at the pre-season opening of Lagoon this weekend. Built at a cost of more than $100,000 to meet the requests of thousands for a fun house to replace the one that burned in the 1953 fire at the resort, it was designed by Ranch S. Kimball, president and general manager of Lagoon. Fifty-foot-high slides are among features of the modern building. There are slides of lesser heights for the more cautious. Another device of special interest is the Whirlpool, a new circular device which revolves at a terrific speed. Other of the 40 features within the fun house include: a skating floor, shuffleboard, crash bumper, lily pads in a tank of water, Sahara Desert, a rolling log, twisters, teeter boards, electric air valves, a moving floor, a whistle trap, roller inclines, a dog-house crawl-through, a jail, revolving barrels, the roulette wheel, tilted room, ocean waves, the camel back, and a new cage maze, which is a maze to amaze anyone. An eight-piece animated monkey band perched above the entrance will greet customers. A balcony, featuring special seating for spectators, has been built to permit a general view of the entire fun house.]
I was tickled that my memory of the Whirlpool was not faulty, and this article reminded me of a number of features that I had forgotten about – the rolling log, the roller incline, the twister floor, the lily pads, and several others.
The “Haunted Shack” has been described in other places, but I loved it. A walk-through “dark ride”, it sat above a cotton candy shop, and the year I worked there, a buddy of mine who was responsible for that attraction took me up into the attic where you could watch the people go through the mazes. The haunted shack included a mirror maze, which, when it was kept clean, was pretty challenging to get out of.
The Haunted Shack was featured at the Lagoon History Project. It was one of my favorite attractions, and I was sad when it was finally removed to make room for the Carousel and other attractions.
The year I worked at lagoon, what was formerly the Penny Arcade had been converted into a skating rink. That’s where I spent most of my break time and free time if I ever came back on a day off. It didn’t last long, but it was a great place. I do recall seeing the first Pong game there. At that time, the rides were ticket-based… I recall you could get into the Lagoon Opera House for only two tickets, and watch silent movies in an air-conditioned environment. They were always making announcements over the PA system in this deep, growly voice that told people about the attractions they were trying to promote. That was also a popular place to take breaks on hot days.
At that time, the employee kitchen was this dingy little place on the back of the East side of the midway, but hey, that’s where we could get lunch, and it seemed fine.
I worked the games. I was most often stationed in the Shooting Gallery (machine guns with bb’s, and you had to shoot a red star completely out of a sheet of paper to win a prize). It was much, much harder than it looked – even the tiniest scrap of red would disqualify you from winning a prize – but again, not impossible. Located just south of the Fun House, that’s where I was stationed when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon – people were taking rotating shifts that day to watch the landing and EVA’s, and there were TV’s set up all over the park. I recall running to the Fascination room to watch the event during a break.
Parenthetically, Fascination was where I always spent the most time (and money) when I went to the park as a kid – when I wasn’t on the rides, that is.
Basically a bingo game with rubber balls, the attraction for me was the fact that when you won, you’d get these coupons that were worth multiple tickets at the prize redemption center. And if the traveling red light lit up on your machine when you won, the prizes were doubled, I think. I recall winning quite often, and it was exciting to play. Oh, the thrill of winning with five reds…
Tip-em-over, where the point was to get 5 lead milk bottles completely tipped over, and yes, some of them were much heavier than others – we’d put a weighted one or two on the bottom if we were facing some Lou Ferrigno type, or put a heavy one on top if it was a cute girl that we wanted to win. You could say that that particular game was gaffed, but never in such a way that it made it impossible to win. We were instructed to keep our “payout” hovering at about 30% of what we took in, which are a lot better odds than you bet in Vegas or at your average traveling carny. Flukey ball – where you had to bounce a whiffle ball off a character’s nose and into a bucket – was straightforward and just difficult to do, but not impossible – there were no gimmicks there – and the water pistol shooting gallery was a great attraction on hot days.
I recall we’d send annoying kids down to the other end of the park for a “sky hook” or a “counter stretcher”. Everyone knew the gag, so the poor wights would be sent from one end of the park to the other until they got tired.
The redemption center was fun for kids. You pretty much had to have a zillion tickets to get anything worthwhile, but there was always something that you could get with just a few. And there were some very tempting things there, tempting enough to keep the kids playing Skee-Ball or Fascination until their (or their parents’) money ran out.
The Terroride has always been a central attraction at Lagoon, it was located right next to the original Fun House (I have written about that ride elsewhere.)
Lagoon was a marvelous place to visit, and a good place to work, for a teenager. After that summer I moved on to bigger and better things, but I won’t forget my experiences there. Robert E. Freed and my mom went to school together, and I knew his family well – it was a tragic loss when he passed away far too early.
The Old Wolf has spoken.