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A picture is worth a thousand rides

John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

Believe it or not, Kings Island owes its whole existence to a single photograph.

In spring of 1964, Cincinnati’s Coney Island (located on the bank of the Ohio River) was preparing for another busy season. After all, it was considered America’s finest amusement park at the time.

You see, it had actually begun its successful life as an apple orchard in the 1800’s where residents gathered to picnic and play during the summers. Over time, the apple trees gave way to a dance hall, bowling alley, and eventually a merry-go-round. Cincinnatians flocked to the grove. Recognizing the growing interest the park had among citizens, two Cincinnati steamboat captains purchased the grounds. They began chartering rides on their boats to what they called “The Coney Island of the Midwest.”

With time, the access to the park by steamboat prompted ever increasing crowds. To appease the crowds, the grove gave way to more and more amusements and attractions. However existing on the banks of great Ohio River, the park was routinely crippled by recurring spring floods. A significantly bad flood in 1913 nearly doomed the park. However, out of the turmoil, a recurrence of rebuilding the park became a positive side-effect. The floods forced the park to stay fresh and different from season to season. Out of the river’s flood waters rose change, growth and opportunity.

Coney hit its stride in the 1920s when the new owner, Cincinnati businessman George Schott, purchased the park and continually invested millions into upgrades to the midway. Adding amusement rides, rollercoasters, games, a large dance hall and a gigantic 3-million gallon swimming pool drew crowds by the thousands. Those visitors noted Coney Island as one of the best parks in the country. However with all of its success, the floods still came – most significantly in 1937. The park was devastated by the flood with virtually all of it submerged.  Rides floated away, coasters were compromised and buildings destroyed. Yet again, it was rebuilt, and yet again it found new life in change.

By the 1950’s, when most amusement parks and roller coasters deteriorated and became victim to urban sprawl, safety concerns and general disinterest, Coney Island flourished. Now under the guidance of Schott’s son-in-law Ralph Wachs, the park had such a positive reputation even Walt Disney consulted when building Disneyland. There was a downside though, Coney was becoming too successful for its own good.

In 1964, yet another devastating flood came. It submerged the park, resulting in the picture above. It was this picture of a flooded Coney Island that hung in the office of Mr. Gary Wachs, son of Coney Island’s President Ralph Wachs. Gary knew by looking at the picture, that in order to continue, the park had to change in the most radical way possible. 

It had to move.

 

 

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Kings Island Blog Contributor

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