I posted earlier this month about my hometown, vampyres, and how both are related to one of my current writing projects. Well, in my online rambles connected with this I've come across a few more links and thoughts I'd like to share that seem fitting for the Halloween season.
If I had heard the news before, I didn't really take it in, but now I realize at last that Bell's Amusement Park has closed after fifty-five years in Tulsa. This place was the setting of many of my father's company picnics, my friends' birthday parties, and spillover fun from the state fair. Being both introverted and acrophobic, I'm not the first person you might think of as an amusement park type of gal, but nonetheless I have many very fond memories of Bell's. Fortunately, it sounds like the owners are planning to relocate in the area and rebuild. Here's the latest news.
I feel tremendous gratitude and affection for the times I had at Bell's. And I realize it all comes down to my favorite ride there, a place that's taken on near-mythic proportions in my memory.
I'm referring to the Phantasmagoria:
When other children begged to go on the rollercoaster or the water slides, I was lining up for the Phantasmagoria. Over and over again. (On a similar note, when my elementary school would host its yearly fair, we students would get tickets to use at the dunking booth, fishing pool, etc. I used up all of mine going through the "Haunted House" -- really, our library decorated as such -- repeatedly, until the good-natured mothers with their bowls full of "eyeballs and organs" and the kind fathers dressed up as axe murderers went wildy "off script" just to see if they could really spook me on my fifth trip through. Good times.) Ah yes, it explains so much, doesn't it? *grins*
Born only two years after I was, the ride (designed by the legendary Bill Tracy) was meant to disorient and then, of course, to terrify. One of my favorite parts included descending slowly down what seemed like a mine shaft with only ghostly pale wooden beams visible bracing the walls. As you neared the bottom, one of the beams appeared to crack above your head and then collapse, threatening to bury you alive. In another section, you rode on in absolute darkness until, suddenly, an oncoming bus appeared a mere arm's length away, blaring its headlights blindingly and blaring its shrill horn. Of course, giant skulls, lunging mummies, and large rats played their roles, as well. The key to the ride was the fact you caught only glimpses of things (except that bus); everything around you was pitch black. Just about the time your eyes began to adjust, the car wheeled you out into the daylight for a few seconds, only to plunge you back into the blackness. When you're five years old (okay, or fifteen, or fifty), that's awesome.
The last time I rode the Phantasmagoria was on a trip back to Tulsa when I was in college. I went with a high school pal of mine, and as I recall, we made it our first stop and then rode it several times in a row. At that point it had been a constant in my life, visited several times a year, for at least fifteen years. It was like seeing an old, dear friend... you know, complete with a few screaming skeletons.
Today I'm remembering it, not saying goodbye. Thanks for helping me.
Here's a picture of the Phantasmagoria's debut in 1973 from the Tulsa Tribune:
Related Links Well Worth Visiting
- Laff in the Dark has a special feature on the Phantasmagoria here, written before its dismantling. While it doesn't capture the darkened "feel" of the ride, because the pictures were taken with a flash, the tribute is still a terrific gift to those of us who remember and loved the ride.
- Secret Fun Blog has an excellent post here with more photos and some fascinating behind-the-scenes information: "Secrets of the Phantasmagoria." See also the related article "Phantasmagoria Remembered."
- Here's a post on the ride's layout: "I rode the Phantasmagoria."
- This site is a tribute to Bill Tracy, the ride's creator, "the greatest designer and builder of dark attractions the amusement industry has ever seen."
- Videos can't hope to capture the "feel" of the ride, but at least two individuals have done their best to record the experience anyway. There are YouTube videos of the Phantasmagoria here and here.
- For many poignant posts, including a tribute to the dismantled Bell's Amusement Park, read the Lost Tulsa blog.
- Open the first PDF file on this page to view Abandoned Tulsa, the book.
Text of the Day: Today's text is a Halloween favorite of mine, "Oil and Blood" by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).
In tombs of gold and lapis lazuli
Bodies of holy men and women exude
Miraculous oil, odour of violet.
But under heavy loads of trampled clay
Lie bodies of the vampires full of blood;
Their shrouds are bloody and their lips are wet.