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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

8 eerie, abandoned amusement parks


abandoned carousel horse in front of rusted rollercoaster rails
Photo: SteveSmash/Flickr

Take a ride ... or not

After tracking down a handful of the world’s most unusual theme parks, we got to thinking about defunct amusement parks, specifically ones that, although officially closed off to the public, are still receiving patrons in the form of urban explorers who risk injury, arrest, unsavory encounters and even radiation exposure for the chance to experience the ultimate in eerie, an abandoned amusement park, firsthand.
Like nightmarish scenes taken straight from Alan Weisman’s “The World Without Us,” these parks that filled so many visitors with happy memories (and motion sickness) have now been left to rot in various stages of deterioration after being ravaged by flood, nuclear disaster and poor ticket sales. And although there’s something inherently spooky about abandoned amusement parks, there’s also something beautiful and poetic about them, particularly in the curious way Mother Nature goes about reclaiming landscapes punctuated by idle roller coasters and collapsing funhouses. In some cases, neglected amusement parks have proven to be more photogenic in death than they were in life.
Here you’ll find eight decaying anti-Disneylands — all with fascinating, sometimes tragic stories to tell — captured in all of their haunting glory. (Text: Matt Hickman)

Prypiat Amusement Parkdecaying bumper cars in abandoned structure
Photo: gpjt/Flickr

Location: Prypiat, Ukraine
Years in operation: 1986
Creepy factor: 10

Although some stories differ, it’s commonly believed that Ukraine’s Prypiat Amusement Park closed on the very same day it opened: April 27, 1986, exactly one day after the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear disaster brought the world to a standstill. Due to the obvious, the entire city of Prypiat, with a population of around 50,000 at the time, was completely forsaken, not just its namesake amusement park. Radiation levels in parts of the park are still dangerously high, but that doesn’t discourage adventurous shutterbugs from entering this particularly chilling section of the Zone of Alienation to get a shot of Prypiat’s iconic abandoned Ferris wheel. Check out more photos here.

Jazzland/Six Flags New Orleans

giant clown head on ground
Photo: Keoni Cabral/Flickr

New Orleans, La.
Years in operation: 2000-2005
Creepy factor: 9

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, park operators at Six Flags New Orleans were in the planning stages of opening a water park. Well, they got one. Severely damaged by Katrina’s devastating floodwaters and forced to close, Six Flags New Orleans, which originally opened as Jazzland in 2000, remains in an arrested state of decay to this day and is perhaps more famous now — thanks in part to numerous camera-wielding urban explorers — than it was when in operation. Home to still-standing Cajun-themed attractions like the Zydeco Scream and the Muskrat Scrambler, the future of the property, now owned by the city of New Orleans, is unclear, although Southern Star Amusement is leading an effort to redevelop that park. Check out more photos here.

Okpo Land

carousel horse in front of rusty rollercoaster rails
Photo: SteveSmash/Flickr

Location: Okpo City, Geoje Island, South Korea
Years in operation: ?-1999
Creepy factor: 9
While we don’t know much about the history of Okpo Land, a seriously foreboding abandoned fun park perched atop a hill on South Korea’s tiny Geoje Island, we do know this: The park was shut down in 1999 after a number of fatal accidents, the last when a young girl tragically fell to her death from a ride. Immediately after that incident, the owner of the park disappeared and was never heard from again. Although Okpo Land has the dread-inducing looks and disturbing back-story seemingly plucked from a K-Horror film, that hasn’t stopped hordes of fearless urban explorers from making a pilgrimage (this guy even spent the night). Check out more photos here.

Heritage USA

boarded-up king's castle
Photo: anotherkindofdrew/Flickr

Location: Fort Mill, N.C.
Years in operation: 1978-1989
Creepy factor: 8
This is the amusement park that Our Lady of the Tattooed Eyebrows built. At its height in the mid-1980s, Heritage USA, a Jesus-y theme and water park built by fiery PTL televangelist Jim Bakker and his then-wife, the late Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, was a top American vacation destination on par with Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Then the attendance-damaging trifecta of Jessica Hahn, the IRS and 1989’s Hurricane Hugo hit and not even the Lord himself (or Jerry Falwell) could save the park from closure. Since then, some of the park’s 2,300 acres have been repurposed and redeveloped, but the creepiest castle in all the land, once home to a Christian arcade and go-kart track, remains standing. Check out more photos here.


carousel horse on abandoned track
Photo: extranoise/Flickr

Location: Berlin, Germany
Years in operation: 1969-2002
Creepy factor: 8
One of the world’s more photogenic derelict fun-zones, this district of toppled dinosaurs, rusted Ferris wheels and vandalized swan boats operated for 20 years as Kulturpark Plänterwald in the former East Berlin before becoming Spreepark in the wall-toppling year of 1989. Although the reason the park was shuttered isn’t exactly scandalous — good, old-fashioned insolvency — what happened to its former owner, Norbert Witte, is. In early 2002, a bankrupt Witte fled from Germany to Lima, Peru, taking his family and several of the park’s attractions with him. There, Witte tried to open another amusement park but that didn’t work out apparently — in May 2004 he was sentenced to seven years jail time for attempting to smuggle 400 pounds of cocaine back into Germany, hidden in the masts of a “flying carpet” ride. Witte, understandably quite the tabloid fixture in Germany, was the subject of a 2009 documentary film, “Achterbahn,” and is said to live in a trailer parked on the grounds of his failed amusement park. Check out more photos here.

Gulliver’s Kingdom

people on giant statue of Gulliver in front of Mount Fuji
Photo: mutantMandias/Flickr

Location: Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
Years in operation: 1997-2001
Creepy factor: 8
Although Japan has its fair share of uncanny abandoned amusement parks, we think that Gulliver’s Kingdom, a failed theme park based on Jonathan Swift’s classic tale, takes the proverbial cake. Although demolished in 2007, the several-year span when the Lilliputian theme park sat disused and neglected was a high point for the many intrepid urban explorers looking to crawl all over Lemuel Gulliver’s lanky, 147.5-foot-long concrete frame. The park’s closing, the result of poor ticket sales, probably had something to do with its rather unfortunate locale: although located at the foot of Mount Fuji, the park was adjacent to Aokigarah, Japan’s infamous “Suicide Forest,” and in the same village where the Aum Shinriyko doomsday cult, the group behind 1995’s Sarin gas attacks in Tokyo, was headquartered. Check out more photos here.

Dogpatch USA

decaying building
Photo: Clinton Steeds/Flickr

Location: Marble Falls, Ark.
Years in operation: 1968-1993
Creepy factor: 7
When Dogpatch USA, a “rustic” theme park based on Al Capp’s Appalachia-stereotyping “L’il Abner” comic strip, finally closed its gates for good in 1993, the park itself must have breathed a giant sigh of relief. During its 25-year run, Dogpatch USA experienced numerous owners, heat waves, lawsuits, legal battles, bankruptcy, fierce competition (curse you, Silver Dollar City!), the fall of hillbilly pop culture and a generation of young patrons who had no clue what “L’il Abner” even was — a lot for an Ozarkian amusement park where the top attractions included Earthquake McGoon’s Brain Rattler. Although some efforts to clean up the heavily vandalized rural property have been made over the years, the park, under interesting new ownership, remains in a state of disrepair. Check out more photos here.


Photo: atsf106/Flickr

Location: Wichita, Kan.
Years in operation: 1949-2004
Creepy factor: 7
Decidedly more sad than spooky (save for Louie, the Wurlitzer-playing robo-clown), Wichita’s Joyland, a traditional, family-owned amusement park, became the target of rampant vandalism and destruction after closing in 2004. Margaret Russell, who ran the park with her late husband Stanley since the late 1960s, told the Wichita Eagle: “We're sick. Our hearts are just sick. It's not easy, not easy.” Although Joyland may be gone, leaving behind a heartbroken owner, this Heartland institution has certainly not been forgotten thanks to a haunting short film called “No Joy” from Vimeo user Mike Petty and an entire initiative dedicated to bringing back Joyland to its former glory while adding new attractions. Check out more photos here.