As always, the last turn on the winding country road as the top of the old, wooden roller coaster peeks out from the trees, gives my stomach a jolt of excitement. I'll never forget when I was a little girl, how the sight of that coaster, the sound of it whooshing and whomping along the track, and the laughter and thrill screams from countless people who rode it, alerted me to the fact that our family had just arrived at Conneaut Lake Park. And just as it had many times before, the coaster didn't fail to disappoint.
My son and I put our heads together this year for a Mother's Day jaunt. Not the usual type of mother/son duo, we enjoy things of a more eclectic nature. Last year Matt took me to haunted Hillview Manor for a daytime ghost tour. It was a wonderful old building with incredible architecture and the feel of ghostly happenings in many of its crumbling corners. How could we top a trip of that nature?
We arrived at Conneaut Park yesterday as the rain began clearing. Though the park hasn't opened for the season just yet, we were permitted to walk along its paths, reliving the feel of a bygone era and our own youth. We parked at Hotel Conneaut since we had reservations a little later for the Mother's Day brunch.
With both of our camera's in hand, we headed off into the heart of the park. I had been watching several of the Facebook pages that had to do with this incredible place. The Devil's Den, a favorite dark ride of ours, seemed to have a wonderful guy as its operator/caregiver. For you see, if you have a true love of all things historical to do with an amusement park, you become its caregiver of a sort.
"Devil's Den Tom" is appropriately named. A fun, approachable fellow, whose knowledge of his ride and history of many of the others is above what we expected.
Matt and I settled in for many tales that Tom told us of his years of upkeep on the Den. He also is a certified ride inspector, so he is aware of safety issues and history of many of the rides throughout the park. We received one of the most awesome gifts from Tom, as he toured us through the Devil's Den in walk-through fashion. Never before had either Matt or I had the chance to go through a ride with a true first eye view of what goes on behind the scenes. It was a dream come true for both of us--and a way to feel more connected to a beloved place that has been a part of our family for many years.
Just standing outside the old dark ride, the scent of motor grease and old wood rises on the slight breeze. If you close your eyes, it takes you back to childhood, to school picnics, to simpler times. You remember your parents and their love; you remember the sense of belonging. You remember small vacation trips that were some of the best of your life. You picture the clack, clack, clack of the cars as they begin the journey through the doors of the old spook house, awaiting whatever ghouls and ghosties are ready to dole out at any moment. If you rode with a parent when you were young, chances are that they held onto you tightly showing you that there was nothing to fear. It was all good clean fun.
A little later, after a sumptuous meal, Matt and I strolled through the remainder of the park at our leisure. The silence in Kiddie Land seems alive with what awaits in the new season. Upon searching in nearby woods, I found the beginning and ending of an old jungle cruise ride--one I hadn't seen in years. A rickety bridge stretched over mossy water; the now defunct station where we once stood to board the pontoon boat that would take you around scores of natives and wild animals was abandoned and off-limits.
The carousel stood boarded up nearby. No way to see the lovely stallions, stately lions, tigers and bears! (Oh my!) But when we walked around the back of the building, a small loose board stood slightly ajar. I peered into the darkness and called Matt over. Like something out of "Mr. Dark's carnival," we could see the ghostly outlines of the carousel beasts. No music, not the stir of a breeze or dried leaf. But the feeling of observing this was something magical. For it felt as if we stumbled upon a secret--one only we were privy to at this moment.
Other parts of the park lie in wait for the amazing volunteers that will sweep through as they finish getting it ready for another season. Though I know we will return once it's opened, I found that this day of reliving precious memories and moments with nobody else present, helped me to truly treasure a unique place that my parents loved, my brother loved, I loved, and my son loved.
Here's to you Conneaut Lake Park to many more years for new families and old to walk through your midway, to enjoy the treasure of family time and make memories of their own.
Park sign near the hotel. All painted and ready for a new season.
I've never seen this little treasure. The original bridge to the Jungle Cruise ride. Oh how our family loved this one back in the day!
Part of the park near miniature golf.
Thank you, son, for one of the most memorable Mother's Days ever!
Devil's Den Facebook page: /https://www.facebook.com/CLPDevilsDen/
The park's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SaveConneautLakePark/