Fun

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Abandoned Theme Parks

Spooky, sad, and beautiful.

Have you ever seen my favorite Wikipedia page? I’ve clicked every link up in there, and have learned about some truly beautiful places from days gone by. Abandoned theme parks are eerie and beautiful for so many different reasons. What really gets me about them is thinking about how in the parks’ operational days, SO MANY PEOPLE must have crowded their streets and roller coasters and teacup rides, and now they’ve been quietly given back over to nature. Here, in no particular order (except that the first one is my all-time favorite), are some of the most incredible relics of family fun gone by, described by me and rendered beautifully in drawings by Leanna.

1. Nara Dreamland, Nara, Japan, 1961–2006

All illustrations by Leanna.

All illustrations by Leanna.

Nara Dreamland is an unsanctioned carbon copy of California’s Disneyland built in the Nara Prefecture, just outside Osaka. It is maybe the best preserved of all the abandoned parks I obsess over. It opened in 1961, and from the start it was obvious that it was a giant ripoff, not just because of the nearly identical pastel pink castle (which is allegedly even bigger than the one at the real Disneyland), but also the monorail, Main Street, and scads of rides, like the Jungle Cruise, that looked suspiciously familiar. It’s been vacant since 2006, when it was shut down because of almost nonexistent attendance, and has since somewhat ironically become one of the most popular abandoned theme parks in the world, attracting so many trespassers that it now requires constant surveillance. Gorgeous vines have overtaken the park’s roller coasters (one of which was actually modeled after a ride from a very different park, Coney Island’s famous Cyclone coaster), and every aspect of Dreamland is rad and surreal—like, AN ABANDONED JAPANESE FAKE-O DISNEYLAND ACTUALLY EXISTS IN THE WORLD, SERIOUSLY, HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE, I LOVE LIFE SO MUCH? It’s a dream and a nightmare rolled into one apocalyptically beautiful dream destination. I’ve spent hours upon hours gazing at pictures of it on the internet, unable to face the harsh reality that I don’t actually live inside it yet. ONE DAY. Fuck a house.

2. Six Flags New Orleans, 2000–2005

leanna_neworleans

Until recently, the tragedy that caused this park to close was announced on a huge sign that was easily visible from a nearby highway. The billboard, which had for years advertised special deals and attractions, was stuck on the last message the park put up there: CLOSED FOR STORM. That was right before Hurricane Katrina.

Relative to the loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods, Six Flags New Orleans was one of the least important things destroyed by that storm, but it still hurt. A lot of its rides are still standing, albeit corroded irreversibly by salt-water flooding and damaged beyond repair by colossal winds. It’s really something to see now, littered as it is by the skeletal, graffiti-covered husks of old rides.

The good news is that after years of neglect, the park was recently rented from the city for use as a movie set, and more filmmakers are following suit in the next year or so, which will bring some much-needed money into the city and let more people experience the ghostly beauty of this place.

3. Joyland Amusement Park, Wichita, Kansas, 1949–2004

leanna_joyland

Over its nearly 60-year lifespan as an active park, Joyland Amusement Park housed tons of classic (slash-ancient) attractions, like a one of the first carousels, carousel, a wooden roller coaster (the only one in North America built using 20th century technologies), and one of the two oldest Wurlitzer organs known to exist (Joyland’s was made around 1905). Sadly, the things that made Joyland so special are the very things that brought it down—rides that are older than your parents, while very beautiful, require constant, expensive repairs and refurbishings, and since they weren’t exactly built to accommodate modern thrill-seekers, people got bored with them, and attendance at the park dwindled to the point where spending all that money to keep the rides running just didn’t seem worth it anymore.

There’s an avid group of Kansans who remain devoted to restoring Joyland to its former glories. Calling themselves Restore Hope, their goal is to reopen the park within five years and re-establish it as a cultural institution in Wichita, which is probably the sweetest thing in the world, ever, and which someone (maybe you?) should definitely make an uplifting movie about.

4. Pripyat amusement park, Pripyat, Ukraine, April 27, 1986 (maybe)

leanna_pripyat

This amusement park was abandoned after being open only a few hours. That’s because the worst nuclear-power-plant disaster history had just occurred the day before in nearby Chernobyl, and the city had to be evacuated. Fallout from Chernobyl caused massive fires that released fatal levels of radiation throughout the atmosphere, surrounding the plant, leaving Chernobyl and Pripyat, home to this park, completely and irreversibly uninhabitable.

Pripyat wasn’t fully evacuated until a few days after the disaster, and some citizens allegedly sought distraction at the brand-new Pripyat Amusement Park for a few hours on April 27, although the park wasn’t officially slated to open until May 1. It’s unclear whether it did actually open for business the day following the explosion, as there’s seemingly no verifiable evidence of this anywhere, but it is confirmed that people did use the park at some point—there are photos of the ferris wheel, its feature attraction, in use, and of people lining up in front of other rides—and the predominant theory goes that city officials opened it the day after the explosion to distract residents as the government decided what action needed to be taken.

After the city was evacuated, the almost entirely unused amusement park was left behind for good, and became a symbol of the nuclear disaster. Although there’s evidence that there’s still some radiation in the park’s ruins, many brave souls have gone in to explore the overgrown, but otherwise largely undisturbed, facility.The ferris wheel remains the derelict city’s most iconic landmark, and visitors are known to leave stuffed animals in its cars in memorial tribute to Pripyat and its people. So spooky and fascinating and sad.

5. Jungle Habitat, West Milford, New Jersey, 1972–1976

leanna_junglehabitat

Whatever your ethical stance might be on zoos, I think we can probably agree that animals like rhinoceroses, zebras, and African lions totally don’t belong in a flimsy, easily escapable, “family friendly” amusement facility in suburban New Jersey. Warner Brothers learned this the hard way in the mid-1970s, when they decided to take part of the woods of West Milford and make it a drive-thru zoo park where lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) could run right up to your car and maul the heck out of you if you decided to open your window. SIGN ME UP, right?!

I say it was easy to escape from because West Milford residents reported sightings of kangaroos, emus, and baboons intown throughout the ’70s. That only two reported attacks took place at the park during its four years in business seems like a miracle.

Unfortunately, the animals at Jungle Habitat were in far more danger than the people: They lived in unsafe, neglectful, and abusive conditions, and when the park closed due to bad publicity in 1977, many of them were left there to die. Awful.

Nowadays, old cages, ticket booths, and other vestiges of Jungle Habitat are the only evidence of this park, which once served as the home for about 1,500 species of animals. The state bought the 800-acre property in 1988 and returned it to its former glory as a woods that’s very popular with hikers. The only animals living there now do so by choice. Jungle Habitat itself obviously deserves a big “fuck you man, seriously,” but I’m glad NJ kept the cages up to remind people how NOT to treat animals. ♦

33 Comments

  • thebrownette October 16th, 2013 11:27 PM

    YOU GUYS ARE FORGETTING THE BEST THING: you can use GOOGLE MAPS to look them up! Try Six Flags NOLA. Uber-weird.

  • thebrownette October 16th, 2013 11:27 PM

    Also, I have a reoccurring nightmare about an abandoned theme park.

  • risala247 October 16th, 2013 11:47 PM

    I looove abandoned theme parks. There’s one called Prehistoric Forest in Irish Hills, Michigan that’s really awesome too. Great list!

  • AngstyTheBrave October 16th, 2013 11:52 PM

    I really love these, but I also love abandoned/dead malls. There are about ten malls in my city, and most of them are small but still busy. But there’s one that has about 6 stores and 3 restaurants in the food court and no one’s ever there. There was also a mall that they tore down a while ago, but only recently replaced. I used to go to it all the time when I was a really young kid and at one point the only stores that were open were Sears and a dollar store (and that dollar store sold these great candies that they now only make in South Africa and that sucks). I don’t know man, abandoned stuff is cool to me, I guess.

    Theme parks in general are great too. They’re just so much fun! I really, really, really want to go to Disney World, and go back to Disneyland. We don’t have theme parks where I live, but we do have the world’s largest indoor amusement park, apparently.

    • Amy Rose October 18th, 2013 2:54 PM

      God, I am OBSESSED with dead malls, too! I want to see yours!!!

  • julalondon October 17th, 2013 3:31 AM

    Love this. Where i live we don’t have them (i think), but they seem so spooky and über-cool to me!!

  • elliecp October 17th, 2013 7:17 AM

    this is so cool! I went to a really quiet, empty funfair in the summer and it was so awesome. kind of melancholy and foreboding <3

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • soviet_kitsch October 17th, 2013 10:25 AM

    “Fuck a house.”

    amy rose i love your articles forever

  • Erin. October 17th, 2013 11:07 AM

    Totally forgot that Ontario Place (mentioned on the wiki page) is considered an abandoned amusement park. I used to love going there as a kid, especially with all the jungle-gym type stuff they had. A vast playground with all different types of stuff. That was the best part. Anyone remember what I’m talking about?

    The thing with stuff like this in Canada is that it very quickly gets torn down and usually replaced by something exclusive, like a condo or a club for rich people. People are stupidly captialistic here.

    • soviet_kitsch October 17th, 2013 11:56 AM

      i LOVED ontario place! and yeah, anything 5+ years older in toronto will be torn down to put up a condo. it’s so terrible and wasteful.

    • whiskeytangofoxtrot October 17th, 2013 3:14 PM

      I stepped barefoot on some jackwagon’s abandoned LIT cigarette at Ontario Place when I was a kid, inducing a lifelong fear of stepping on lit cigaretts, hence developing a habit wearing giant combat boots even in +35 degree celsius weather. It was really fun there, though!

    • GlitterKitty October 17th, 2013 3:44 PM

      Oh my gosh yes! I used to go there all the time when I was little. Those playground things were my favourite too (and the waterpark). They’ve ripped out almost everything in front of the water slides and turned it into an outdoor concert venue (Echo Beach). I saw a concert there and it was pretty weird to turn around and see water slides!

  • Amal October 17th, 2013 11:07 AM

    These stories are so beautiful, I would love to go to an abandoned amusement park, it’s all just so spooky

    http://www.tutusaresweeter.com

  • iximox October 17th, 2013 12:42 PM

    Joyland!!!! I grew up in Wichita and some of my best childhood memories are of going to Joyland. I remember getting off the roller coaster and getting straight back in line to ride it again and again and again. The whole park had a kinda creepy but thrilling run-down vibe that I loooooooved.

  • flocha October 17th, 2013 1:10 PM

    Wow, abandoned places are pretty much my favourite thing ever, in a weird way. Thank you so much for this post!

    whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica October 17th, 2013 1:17 PM

    I think I like abandoned theme parks more than I like non-abandoned theme parks. (Which is saying something.)

  • flocha October 17th, 2013 1:28 PM

    Also, the abandoned mr blobby amusement park in Somerset. Look it up.

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot October 17th, 2013 3:16 PM

    @amy rose, I was in Nara this past spring, but we sadly ran out of time to investigate Dreamland. We did go to the old Expo 70 grounds in Osaka, though, which, while not abandoned, were AMAZING!

  • ghostgrrl October 17th, 2013 3:30 PM

    Oh my gosh good idea I’m finding the closest creepy old amusement park and putting together a girl gang to go take photos! Also Amy Rose, you are the coolest cat so sweet and I love your makeup vids even though I’m v good at makeup. I tell all my makeup-challenged friends to check out your vids bc they are so helpful and super rad!

    ghostgrrlfriend.tumblr.com

  • hollyshould October 17th, 2013 4:33 PM

    I have a fascination with ‘purpose-built’ structures. Old petrol stations, fire stations, car washes (the car wash in Breaking Bad; oh my it was beautiful), hospitals, schools. The older and more defunct they are, the better.

  • marisa7 October 17th, 2013 5:01 PM

    I’ve always had a great fascination for abandoned places – especially amusement parks. So naturally this article got me excited.

    I want to share one of my personal favorite abandoned places. It happens to be an amusement park called Boblo Island. Boblo Island is located between southern Ontario and northern Michigan. The island is part of a small Canadian town called Amherstburg. The park was opened in 1898 and closed in 1993. People from all over would take a boat from the main land Amherstburg to the island. My parents went all the time. Many people from the community worked there too. In 1994, most of the rides were sold but some still remain. There is a large dance hall in the middle of the island, a tall drop tower, bumper car area, and a few old deteriorated buildings.

    Now, the island is home to few residents. Large homes have been built on the west side of the island. There is a restaurant and a pool for visitors. Theres also a nice beach I spent an afternoon at with my friends.

    I’ve been to Boblo Island twice. Both times it was a rainy day. It is the only place I’ve ever truly gotten eery vibes. I couldn’t help but to be drawn to the abandoned buildings. The place was opened in 1898, these buildings have been here and were enjoyed by a century of different people!

    I’d recommend you all to a Google search of the island. In the future I plan to return there and take photos of such an amazing place.

  • JiggyJools October 17th, 2013 5:33 PM

    weird and lovely and weird once more…<3

  • taste test October 17th, 2013 5:53 PM

    it makes me really happy to see all these rookie readers who love abandonment :’) I adore it. dead malls, haikyo, abandoned mental hospitals, abandoned houses, abandoned schools- love it all. but theme parks are a special kind of awesome. thanks for introducing me to Nara Dreamland, it’s amazing.

    http://xyzzyzzyzx.blogspot.com

  • AriaZia October 17th, 2013 6:08 PM

    I LOOOOVE abandoned buildings but there aren’t many where I live. I have spent many an afternoon looking at picture after picture of abandoned buildings in (for example,) Detroit. Abandoned theme parks are even better. Thank you so much for posting an article about them so that more people can appreciate!

  • rockslita October 17th, 2013 9:16 PM

    Creepy, but fascinating… Loved the article!

  • irismonster October 17th, 2013 10:07 PM

    I’m going to Kyoto as an exchange in May and it is now officially my #1 priority to get to Nara Dreamland.

  • daydream October 18th, 2013 7:50 AM

    I live in Japan as an expat, and sneaking in to Nara Dreamland has been on my to-do list since ages! there are lots of other abandoned amusement parks and haikyo in Japan: http://www.haikyo.org/

  • oldelectricity October 18th, 2013 11:25 AM

    this is beautiful!!! guys, you should check out amazing sound artist jacob kierkegaard’s “4 rooms project” — he visited four abandoned (you guessed it!) rooms in chernobyl, and used looped playbacks of each roomtone to “give voice” to these spooky spaces!

    the piece is haunting, and complicates our notion of the “silence” of spaces left behind after trauma/atrocity. and, best yet, for all of you rookies in nyc, the piece is playing (with exquistiely haunting video footage of each room) at the MOMA right now, as a part of the “soundings: a contemporary score” sound art exhibition. go go go! i just wanted to sit & watch the creepy swimming pool fade to white foreeeeever.

    wonderful piece, amy! i think the allure of places like these — or things like detroit ruinporn, ghost towns, these, this place — is so fascinating: are abandoned spaces the best kind of museums? ghostyspaces somehow seem, to me, to call for something else, too — memorial, art, reenagement. maybe just ’cause it’s so sad to leave them alone :(

    <3<3<3

  • Ariella95 October 18th, 2013 1:12 PM

    I love this! But it made me so sad to remember the amusement park of my childhood that got torn down and turned into a Costco… RIP Kiddieland

  • Am. October 18th, 2013 1:23 PM

    This is a really fascinating and lovely article! Also a bit creepy and scary. You made me very curious about some of the parks. I wish I could visit some.

  • nikkiduck October 20th, 2013 5:56 PM

    I love this! I am obsessed with abandoned amusement/theme parks, and I hope one day someone will pay me to take photos of them. A girl can dream, right?

    Here in Orlando we actually do have an abandoned park–Forbidden China–but because so many people have broken in there to explore, it’s nearly impossible to get in anymore! There’s actually an abandoned Disney World park too, River Country! There was a thread somewhere I stumbled across once where a photographer got to go in and take pictures and it was beautiful how nature had reclaimed the park. Definitely worth looking up :)

  • Karebear October 20th, 2013 7:17 PM

    I used to go to this amusement park called Bushkill Park in pennsylvania. When I was younger, I had roller skating birthday parties there in the old wooden rink that was built in (i think the 20s?). Also this really spooky funhouse which is apparently one of the oldest in the nation. I remember being frightened in the funhouse before the park was flooded, so I can only imagine it now.

    I spent a while watching random family’s videos of time spent at the park in the past….which is also kind of creepy.
    check it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvU6DhCSE0I

  • TinyWarrior October 20th, 2013 7:25 PM

    Because of John Green’s book Paper Towns, I’m obsessed with dead malls, and because of this article I’m now obsessed with abandoned theme parks as well! They’re so creepily beautiful.