before giant theme parks and computer-controlled thrill rides,
this country had lots of charming and beautiful amusement parks
where families gathered for a cool escape on hot summer days. GREAT
PARKS, airing on WQED 13/WQEX 16 Wednesday, July 21, at 8:00 p.m., celebrates
some of the pre-Disney parks that are still thriving as well as a few of the
classic parks that are gone.
one-hour special, produced by WQED Pittsburgh, takes you on
old wooden roller coasters, vintage bumper cars and many other
cool classic rides. We look at some amusing history and discover
what's special about these amazing parks that bring people
together and keep them coming back.
GREAT OLD AMUSEMENT
PARKS visits places like Playland Park in Rye, N.Y., and Kennywood
Park in Pittsburgh, Pa. -- the only two parks in the country
recognized as National Historic Landmarks. At Northern California's
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, we hop on the Loeff carousel (circa
1911), where brave riders can still lean out and grab for the "brass
ring." We visit Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. -- a traditional
old "themed" amusement park, where sections of the park represent
different holidays: Christmas, Halloween and Fourth of July.
It's one place where you can talk to Santa in August.
the special, award-winning producer Rick Sebak mixes historical
footage, old postcards, vintage music and new video that was
shot from California to Connecticut, from Chattanooga to Altoona
to create his trademark "scrapbook documentary." Sebak takes
viewers across the country to check out the quirky joys of
some of these parks. We hop on fun old rides and find out how
these places have changed over the years and how they've remained
the same. We celebrate these wooden and mechanical old getaways
and the communities that support them.
"There have been a bunch
of recent TV shows about how technology makes faster, scarier
rides, but having grown up in Pittsburgh going to Kennywood,
I know there was more to an old amusement park than just thrills," said
Sebak. "There are ancient silly rides that rattle and shake.
There are flowers and trees and sometimes stunning neon. There's
an old-fashioned odor, too -- maybe it's oil-soaked lumber.
These are just some of the things that can make an old park
genuinely charming in a way that no theme park can imitate.
We have tried to capture some of the relaxing, creaking, reassuring
funkiness of these traditional parks. Throw in some history,
a dozen or so classic coasters, a crowd of fun-loving folks,
and you get the picture."
OLD AMUSEMENT PARKS includes a lot of pre-Disneyland parks
across the country that have somehow managed to survive and
are usually referred to as "traditional amusement parks" rather
than "theme parks."
"Traveling from Massachusetts
to California last summer, checking out these parks, we found
lots of surprises," said Sebak. "An old revolving fun-house
barrel at Whalom Park in Massachusetts. The neon beauties of
Lakeside in Denver. The funky old bumper cars at The Oaks in
Portland. The Derby ride that's like an adult merry-go-round
at Playland in Rye, New York. Classic wooden coasters everywhere.
But one of the best surprises was the simple low-tech charm
of Story Book Forest at Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa. How
lucky we are that something so innocent and simple is still
What gets people to
amusement parks on hot summer days? It may be the wind rushing
by on cool old spinning rides or those trusty old hydraulics
that make those great old coasters go -- or maybe it's the
"We walked around several
little amusement parks at Coney Island on the Fourth of July
with our camera." said Sebak. "It was astounding. The incredible
number and the amazing diversity of people, all squeezed into
a relatively small area. It made me think of old photos of
the huge crowds at Coney Island, reminding me how all of us
humans connect sometimes in unexpected ways. We all appreciate
a silly thrill, some laughs and good times. There may be no
better place to be human than at an amusement park on a holiday."
Sebak's recent PBS programs
have included the critically acclaimed A HOT DOG PROGRAM, a
snappy culinary cruise through hot-dogged America, the popular
SHORE THINGS, a look at America's love affair with the beach,
and AN ICE CREAM SHOW, a tribute to America's favorite frozen
GREAT OLD AMUSEMENT
PARKS is a production of WQED Pittsburgh. Funding for this
program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,
Public Broadcasting Service and public television viewers.
Local funding is provided by Kennywood Entertainment Company.
Producer/Writer/Narrator is Rick Sebak; Associate Producer
is Nancy Coates Greenwood; Editor is Dickran H. Manoogian;
Cameramen are Buck Brinson and Steve Willing; Executive Producer
is Deborah Acklin.