Ever since I got nailed in the head by the turnstile at Pirates of the Caribbean at the age of five, I’ve been fascinated with what can go wrong at theme parks. A few birthdays ago, my parents gave me a book called “Death in the Tragic Kingdom: an Unauthorized Walking Tour Through the Haunted and Fatal History of Disney Parks” by Keaton Moll, which details all of the hauntings, deaths, and mysterious happenings at all of the Disney parks around the world. Needless to say, it is one of my favorites. On my first date with A, I told her about the little boy in ‘70s clothing who haunts the Contemporary Resort and likes to startle people by appearing at the Monorail window right as it’s launching out of the station. The cast members call him Robert.
So naturally, I have to share with you a vintage theme park accident that my dad has told me about my entire life:
My dad used to be a police officer in a town on the Jersey Shore called Wildwood. It’s …not as nice as Disney World. One night, my dad struck up a conversation with Mr. Hunt, the elderly owner of the amusement pier that had all the rides and midway games on the boardwalk. Mr. Hunt told him what things were like in Wildwood during World War 2, and how as the war neared its end, the blackout restrictions were eased and he could finally reopen the pier and the rides at night. The whole pier had burned down in 1943, so he was eager to get things going again.
At the far end of the pier, there was a ride called the Whip, where you rode in little race cars that took sharp 180 degree banks around a track, and then at one point the track SWUNG OUT OVER THE OCEAN, which was a good two or three stories below the ride.
Are you worried yet?
So one night near the end of the war, two sailors on shore leave took a ride on the Whip, and as their car swung out over the ocean, the car somehow snapped off the track and the sailors were flung out into the pitch black ocean water. People crowded the boardwalk, trying to spot the sailors or the ride car, but there was no sign of them.
The fire department arrived at the beach and scanned the ocean with those giant five mile spotlights, and the beach patrol searched with every boat they had, but it all turned up nothing. Mr. Hunt, of course, was on the beach, freaking out that he’d killed two servicemen who were just trying to make the most of their shore leave.
All of a sudden, a group of firemen came towards him – with the missing sailors! They were alive but soaked, their uniforms were ripped up and covered in seaweed and sand, but they didn’t seem any worse for wear – in fact, they were laughing, and super super drunk. The firemen said “This is Mr. Hunt, he owns the amusement pier,” and the sailors shook Mr. Hunt’s hand and said “Boy!! What a ride!!”
Mr. Hunt asked the sailors if there was anything he could do for them, and they kind of hemmed and hawed, because they were drunk and probably had concussions, so he said, “How would you like special passes to ride all the rides for free?” and the sailors were so excited that they hugged him!!
No investigation, no lawsuits, just free ride passes and a group hug. That’s the way of the Jersey Shore.
Wouldn’t you love to be hugged by a couple of drunk guys who have just crawled out of the ocean covered in seaweed?
Suffice it to say that amusement park safety standards in the ‘40s left something to be desired. I bet you any money that the ride was back in operation the next day with one car still lost in the ocean.
You can ride an updated version of the Whip ride at Wildwood today, although I wouldn’t. And don’t go under the boardwalk. That’s another story.