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What's in a name?

John Keeter

John M. Keeter first attended Kings Island 35 years ago when “The Bat” was originally taking flight.  The awe of that first visit and later rides on “The Beast” (Still his favorite Kings Island attraction) triggered his enduring love of the park.  A picture of a flooded Cincinnati’s Coney Island found in a grade school library book triggered his quest to learn all he could of Kings Island’s beginning.   An avid roller coaster enthusiast, he’s ridden over 400 different coasters.  He resides in Louisville, KY and maintains “Sit on It”, a Facebook Page dedicated to remembering the Kings Island of our past, as well as looking forward to the Kings Island of our future.  It can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/SitonItKI/

The location of the “New Coney Island” was chosen after a site survey proved the growing I-71 corridor would place the park within two hours of 12 million people. 

Taft Broadcasting purchased 1,200 acres of land along the Little Miami River near the town of Kings Mills Ohio, and 400 additional acres west of I-71 for $3.2 million. The land had operated as farmland and once held the Kings Explosives Powder Mill. By law, the park would adhere to the constraints of the Federal Conservation Bill that protected scenic rivers. They announced the acquisition Friday March 28, 1969.

The park was designed by Cincinnati architect Darrell W. Daniel, Dick Harsley of Coney Island and Bruce Bushman of Disneyland. The engineering was consulted from Vogt Ivers & Associates. Park construction was overseen by the Charles V. Maescher Company, who served as the general contractors. Over 400 different construction crews were hired for the build. Consultants to the new park also included Charles Thompson (Disneyland and the original Six Flags parks), the Artists at Hanna-Barbera Studios and even Roy Disney (who, with the death of his brother Walt, was busy overseeing construction of Walt Disney World).

On Monday June 15, 1970, Dudley Taft, Charles Mechem, Lawrence Rogers and William Hanna (of Taft Productions) Ralph and Gary Wachs (president and vice-president of Coney Island), Cincinnati Mayor Eugene Ruehlmann and a cast of Hanna-Barbera characters broke ground and construction began.

Taft had secured $20 million (that’s roughly $130 million today) in financing for the construction. A sizable portion of that would be spent simply to install the infrastructure necessary to operate. It required three water systems and an electrical substation with a 50,000 kilowatt capacity. Taft also financed over half of the $600k required to build Kings Mills Drive, a feeder road to service the park off I-71. Before vertical construction could begin, over 350k cubic yards of dirt had to be moved and graded. By the time the park opened, the total cost would escalate to $30 million.

But the biggest challenge had nothing to do with money, land or construction. 

Coney Island was thriving, and in 1970 the park set a new attendance record attracting 1.1 million guests. Cincinnati residents loved Coney, and it was ingrained into their hearts. Somehow, the new park owners had to convince the public to accept the loss of the beloved 85-year-old friend while embracing a new one. So, they decided to let the public name it.

A mail-in contest was held during the 1970 season and over 100,000 “Name the Park” entries poured in. Ideas ranged from “Kings Mills Park” to “Twin Oaks” to “Taft’s Coney.”  On Monday November 2, 1970, Coney Island President Ralph Wachs announced that an entry – formed from the blending of Kings Mills and Coney Island – had been chosen. He made a promise to those that loved the park so dearly, that the new park would be a Coney Island fit for a King. It was named “Kings Island.”

Throughout the 1971 Coney Island season, a countdown billboard was erected on Lake Como and a preview center was opened at the end of the mall displaying a full scale model of the new park. A large rendering of the Racer – a record-breaking roller coaster – was placed just outside Coney Island’s Shooting Star roller coaster. Newspapers from all over the country were welcomed to tour Kings Islands construction site. Taft’s famous Hanna-Barbera characters roamed the midway. Taft even produced a 10-minute “preview” movie that was shown before feature films at local movie theaters. The public was invited to say goodbye to Coney Island all season long.. Then at 11:00 p.m. on September 6, 1971 – Labor Day Monday – Cincinnati’s Coney Island as it was known, closed forever. The 85-year-old park said its farewell with a huge celebratory fireworks show. 

The very next morning, dismantling of Coney Island began. Preparation to remove the rides, scenery and attractions had actually begun long before Coney Island’s final day. The rides had been inspected and any challenges were addressed prior to the move. For instance, years of flooding had rusted nuts and bolts on many long standing rides, so the Coney Island Maintenance team replaced all of them in advance. The Ginkgo trees that lined the mall had an elaborate root system, so a year before the move, landscapers trenched under them to ball each tree’s roots. When the time came to move they were already to go.

The rides were first to be removed and shipped north to the awaiting construction site. The Log Flume, Skooters, Tumble Bug, Scrambler, Skyride, Cuddle-Up, Monster, Slide, Carousel, Galaxy coaster, Rotor, Cloud 9, Dodgem and children’s rides would be among those relocated to join a bevy of brand new attractions. The famed Shooting Star, Lost River Chute-the-Chutes, Whip, Train, Teddy Bear roller coaster and Haunted House would not make the transition and were eventually demolished.

Amazingly, by November 1, less than two months after closing day, James Figley (head of Kings Island’s maintenance) announced that all the transitioning rides had been installed at Kings Island. On December 8, Park President Ralph Wachs announced to the press that construction of the park was 85 percent complete and Kings Island would open its gates on April 29, 1972.   

 

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John Keeter

John M. Keeter first attended Kings Island 35 years ago when “The Bat” was originally taking flight.  The awe of that first visit and later rides on “The Beast” (Still his favorite Kings Island attraction) triggered his enduring love of the park.  A picture of a flooded Cincinnati’s Coney Island found in a grade school library book triggered his quest to learn all he could of Kings Island’s beginning.   An avid roller coaster enthusiast, he’s ridden over 400 different coasters.  He resides in Louisville, KY and maintains “Sit on It”, a Facebook Page dedicated to remembering the Kings Island of our past, as well as looking forward to the Kings Island of our future.  It can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/SitonItKI/

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