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Embedded in our minds are memories which we gather and weave together throughout our lives. One significant memory that I recall in detail was the first time I experienced Kings Island’s star attraction, The Beast, now celebrating its 40th anniversary season.
I was well aware of The Beast before I ever even visited Kings Island. As a matter of fact, I distinctly recall when it opened in 1979. It was a BIG deal. I can remember it making headlines in newspapers across the country and getting mentions on all three major television news programs.
However, my first vivid Beast memory was watching a segment on a weekly pop culture TV program called “Real People.” During one particular episode, host Byron Allen emceed a segment dedicated to his riding the world’s largest wooden coaster in Cincinnati, Ohio. I only saw the TV segment once – the night it aired nearly 40 years ago - but I still recall nearly every second of it. It made quite an impression on me at the ripe age of seven. The quick shots of the train leaving the station, climbing the lift, the first drop, roaring through the curves and even navigating the second and third tunnels (which then had yet to be connected!) fascinated me. I vividly remember Mr. Allen saying “Be sure to wear two pairs of pants, because The Beast at Kings Island will scare one pair off of you!”
Now, I was not one of those fortunate enough to ride The Beast it in it’s first… or second… or third year of operation
Fact is, although I visited the park prior, I didn’t ride until 1985. You see, I grew up hundreds of miles away (close to Kings Island’s younger sister park, Kings Dominion). My first time visiting KI was 1981 when The Bat was new. I was still a nine-year-old wimp at the time, and I wouldn’t brave the “big coasters” that day. But ironically, it was that first visit to Kings Island that sparked my life-long interest in riding roller-coasters.
During that trip that my Mother purchased a souvenir photo booklet from one of the park’s gift shops. Featured in the booklet were vivid photos of The Beast. I must have looked at it 1,000 times over the weeks, months, years that followed that first visit to Kings Island. Mostly, I was baffled as to how the layout worked. For a novice, seeing the famous picture of the trains cresting the first lift hill is confusing. It makes it appear that the first drop leads into a large series of turns. But those who have experienced The Beast know that just isn’t how it goes… and there’s way more than meets the eye.
Thanks to that booklet, and those pictures, by that very summer’s end I was obsessed and riding every coaster I could. Unfortunately, I had missed my chance at riding the “biggies” at KI that year. And my next opportunity to ride would not come for another four years!
When I did finally re-visit Kings Island in 1985, it was during another summertime trip with my older sister Melanie, her husband and their small kids. My brother-in-law Ken was a coaster lover, and had ridden The Beast prior. He knew exactly what we were getting into, and he found in me a willing victim… ummm… participant. Well, at least I WAS willing UNTIL we got in line. Let’s just say all the years of anticipation got to me.
It was a long wait that day. And that lengthy time in line allowed me the opportunity to question my sanity and my overall reason for living. Of course my brother-in-law did his best to build upon my trepidation. I distinctly recall him making comments like “I wonder how many people don’t survive this ride?” or “I wonder what would happen if the cars came loose?” (All false, leading statements, of course.) The seeds of fear were planted, and I recall standing on the queue bridge trying to take my mind off the impending doom by counting the pennies, dimes and nickels had been tossed into the lake below the queue and in the flowing water trough built into the side of the station. (In early years of the ride, there was water under its queue house!)
Have you ever dreamed or imagined something over and over, but when the time finally arrives it seems like an out of body experience? Or have you ever had that odd feeling where reality does not at all match your preconceived idea? Well, that is exactly what my 14 year-old mind felt that hot summer day. When it came time to ride, it was a culmination of years of imagining an experience I had only seen in pictures. I knew when I boarded the train that all my burning questions were about to be answered in a matter of terrifying moments – that is, IF I survived.
I don’t recall where I sat in the train. I do recall odd things like there was a HUGE rotating fan built into the far wall of the station designed to keep those waiting cool. I also recall the “double” loading gates (which are no longer there.) I remember looking up as the train was released and seeing the tongue-in-cheek “Sit on It” sign that used to hang above the track as it exited the station. I remember that distinct smell of hot grease and lumber as the train approached the lift. And I recall that long clickety-clack climb to the top of the lift – it seemed to go on forever.
Once we dropped over that first hill, what followed was a blur of terror, shock, amazement, confusion, relief and utter thrill.
Imagine my terror when its first drop fell into a “head chopping” tunnel. Imagine my shock when the coaster did NOT go the direction I had imagined. Imagine my amazement when the ride went on, and on for four-plus minutes. Imagine my confusion as we climbed the second lift and I realized that the ride was only half-way over! Imagine the relief I felt when we reached the final brake run. Finally, imagine the utter thrill I felt when I realized I had survived The Beast.
To say it made an impression that day is an understatement. Fact is, that first ride terrified me… mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. You know the old saying “The first impression is the most lasting?” Well, that’s definitely the case with my first trek through the woods on the world’s most mammoth wooden roller coaster. After I survived my harrowing journey, I relayed my terror to my sister (who refused to ride) and swore I’d never get back on. I truly felt lucky to have made it off alive. However, what we both knew was my obsession with The Beast wasn’t over. It was just beginning.
Subsequent visits to Kings Island became nearly a yearly expedition. Eventually when I reached adulthood, I moved to Ohio (in part) to be close to the park. I’ve ridden The Beast countless times since that first experience in 1985. To this very day, no visit to Kings Island seems complete unless I take a ride on it. It is, what I consider to be, THE ride at the park. There’s no other like it in the world, never will be. It is one of the most revered, beloved, memorable and talked about coasters ever built. It is an icon.
My childhood fascination didn’t end with simply riding The Beast. Eventually the intrigue developed into my quest to learn as much as I could about how it was built as well as who designed it. I even wanted to have the chance to sit in the driver’s booth and operate it. It took a few years, but eventually I would see those goals to fruition. In 1999, I was privileged to become a member of the 20th anniversary crew. What an experience that was! But that’s a story for another time, and it’s a doozy to tell…
But I digress because like the MILLIONS of people across the world who have visited Kings Island over the past 40 years and braved it, my first ride on The Beast will always be my favorite. Once The Beast gets its paws around you – you never forget.
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