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Weeeee.... are moderately.... amUUUUsed! - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Weeeee.... are moderately.... amUUUUsed!
It's been a summer tradition at my office in Rochester to close for a summertime day and take everyone, kids in tow, to the local amusement park. For years, I stayed home from it- whether because of incompatible schedules, inclement weather or indifference generally- and this year's first go at it wound up being postponed because it was a partly cloudy 60F day in the middle of July. But this time- despite the  rescheduled date being a partly cloudy 60F day on the first of September- I decided to go. It brought back never-had memories of this particular place, but also rekindled some very much like it that I've had throughout my life.

When and where I was growing up, "theme parks" were far away, if not far into the future. Disneyland was on the other side of the country, and there was nothing like it in this time zone until the 70s. We did get a brief taste of it when New York City hosted a World's Fair That Really Wasn't One when I was four and five years old.  Despite many nations begging out altogether or sending just token pavilions, one of the exhibitors had sacred Vatican artifacts, another introduced us to Belgian waffles, plus we got temporary installations of Disney attractions that continue to earworm kids on multiple continents 50-plus years later.

But these were my first memories of anything approaching a "thrill ride."  After the fair left town in 1965, nothing of its magnitude ever appeared on our side of the Hudson. Yes, there was Coney Island, but it was considered too worn-down and honky-tonk for school trips, much less anything my parents would pay for. And parks in New Jersey beckoned- to "Come on Over!" or "Have a Great Adventure!" (Jerry Lewis even sang the jingle in one of those, now embargoed along with his Nazi clown movie until 2024.)  But that would have involved two bridges and two tolls, plus a shitload of dimes to pay for all the rides.

Us? We had an amusement park closer by, with a name that really wasn't one.


We called it Jolly Roger(s), but that was the name of the restaurant adjacent to it and closest to Hempstead Turnpike. 

Officially, it was Happyland- the final effort of a legend of amusement I knew nothing of at the time, named Nunley:

Happyland was established by William Nunley, a third-generation amusement park entrepreneur, who already operated facilities in Baldwin, in Queens (in Broad Channel and Rockaway Beach), and in Westchester County (in Yonkers), N.Y. The new park would be larger than Nunley's other locations and, unlike its predecessors, was designed from the start for year-round operation, with a heated indoor ride area. Two walls of the pavilion were designed with large movable glass panels which could be opened in warm weather or closed when it was cold. (The glass doors used were salvaged from the French pavilion at the 1939-40 World's Fair.)

Others on Long Island remember "Nunley's" as the Baldwin one, which I remember nothing of; it opened earlier, lasted longer, and had some of its attractions preserved on Nausea County's "Museum Row" of abandoned airplane hangars.  This one was perhaps a couple miles closer to East Meadow, and so that is where we would go for the closest thrills we were going to get:

When Happyland opened in 1951, it had a mix of outdoor and indoor rides. Outdoors were a Schiff Ferris wheel, Schiff roller coaster, Hodges hand cars, and a miniature train. Inside were a Herschel "Sky Fighter," Pinto fire engine, Schiff boat ride, Pinto pony ride, and a 48-horse carousel. (This carousel should not be confused with the one from Nunley's Baldwin facility, which is preserved at Nassau County's "Museum Row.") Along the walls were more than one hundred items of arcade equipment: small coin-operated rides, pinball machines, skee-ball games, and hand-cranked mutoscope-style movie viewers.

This low-rent carny motif is pretty much what I walked into on Friday, preserved in Rochester as in very few other places. All you need to know about the original of my youth comes from the last sentence of the main Wikipedia entry:

The site is now occupied by a strip mall.


By the time I left Long Island for good 40 Augusts ago, Happylands weren't going to cut it for kids who'd already been to Disney World and the soon-to-be-Six-Flagged Great Adventure across the rivers.  When I was at Cornell, Syracuse and Binghamton TV stations began running ads for the new one of that ilk nearest to us: Darien Lake Fun Country.  Developed originally in the middle of the then-716 footprint by Buffalo entrepreneur Paul Snyder (better known for creating hotels and disk jockeys), it started with an emphasis on the "country" part, ending those endless commercials with "....we're a country smile away!"  It went through wheel after wheel of corporate ownership, being Six-Flagged (and Warner Brothers-DC Comic-charactered to death) for much of that time, before now being likely owned by a hedge fund devoted to cutting back on safety measures.  This is the kind of park that goes on "bigger is better and more expensive" as its mantra.  Biggest is the Ride of Steel, formerly named for Supe but now just the tallest coaster in the whole state. I tried it the one time I went with Emily in probably the early oughts; I think my glasses were finally found in an onion field in Orleans County.

For most of Kids These Days who get out at all from staring at their phones or xBoxes, this is likely what they need to go to if they're going to get even the semblance of a thrill.  Except in sleepy Western New York, where amazingly, two proper descendants of the Happyland era still carry on.

One is closer to home here, on Grand Island.  Known in various forms in its history as Fantasy Island (save an unfortunate era as Two Flags Over Niagara), it has all the hallmarks of a park preserved in amber: the historic carousel, the almost-as-historic coaster, the tacky live show (Wild West on the east coast of Canada, yo!), and a ton of other rides which likely haven't been repaired since people my age were first riding on them.  And keeping with the wrong-name theme, ask any Western New Yorker to describe this park in only two words, they will invariably cite an advertising slogan that hasn't been used in most of their lifetimes:


The other is where I spent the afternoon on Friday. Seabreeze is literally at the end of the line- originally of Rochester's trolley cars, now at the northeast end of its Outer Loop interstate. If I'd ever gone there before, I don't remember; it's so interchangeable with Fantasy Island I may be mistaking one of those visits for having been there.  But it has the same boatload of memories for anyone who grew up in that area. Its historic coaster, the Jack Rabbit, is the oldest continuously operating one in the country.  My lawyer colleague who booked this trip remains scared shitless of it from when he was a kid and still won't go on it.  (We settled for the Bobsled, which only flings your glasses to the adjacent town if you don't put them in your pocket).   It lost its historic carousel in a 1994 fire, but the family which still owns the place rebuilt it.  Their version of the tacky live show is what can only be described as "Cheap de Soleil."


We did two other rides, both tied to legendary park attractions: the Music Express, a centifugal-force-on-your-lunch machine playing amped-up dance music, which took the place of an earlier stomach-cruncher called the Gyrosphere, which apparently every Rochesterian associates with its playing of "Fire On High" by the Electric Light Orchestra; and the bumper cars.

This one brought us the most fun and alleviation of feelings about clients as we all rammed into each others' sides (no head-on collisions, sorry:P), but the building itself even predates the ancient Porsches we were driving. It was the original line-up building for an even earlier coaster known as the Greyhound, which dated to 1916 and which the Bobsled more or less resembles.

They've also added massive water park attractions, but given the 60F day none of us, and hardly anybody else, was spotted in or near them.  But as I headed out at the end of the afternoon (after finally realizing the place has TWO major parking areas and the PARK EXIT isn't the one I was close to), I got one final shot of perhaps the biggest attraction of all. Six Flags may bring you a Great Adventure, but only Seabreeze is gonna give you a Great Lake:

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