Friday, February 18, 2022

A Mansfield Roller Coaster Would Have Changed My Life


The figure-8 roller coaster at Luna Park, Mansfield, Ohio (c. 1915).
I enjoy history and especially the history of places I've visited or lived. I grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, a small city midway between Cleveland and Columbus. It's a place like any other, and therefore unique, but special to me. Regular visitors to this space know all this. An example of past Mansfield musings is here.

Mansfield has a nice system of four connected parks on its west side. I spent much of my youth up to something in one or the other of them. Maple Lake Park was the closest, followed by South Park, Middle Park, and North Lake Park. There was a lake at Maple Lake Park once, but by my era it was a ball field, some tennis courts, and a playground. 

North Lake Park still has its lake. We ice-skated there in winter. It was the most developed of the four parks. It had a roller rink and swimming pool. 

Sometimes when I learn about Mansfield's history, I fantasize about living there in an earlier time, before I was born. More than anything, I want to ride the electric streetcar out Fourth Street to Luna Park, which is what North Lake Park was called in its glory days. (Click here for an excellent 13-minute video about it.

I am gobsmacked that, once upon a time, North Lake Park had a roller coaster. 

While the electric streetcar would have been nice, I didn't need it. One of the best things about growing up in Mansfield is that the city is so small, just about everything is accessible to a kid on a bicycle. I could and did ride my bike everywhere. I certainly rode it to North Lake Park. If I could have ridden my bike to a roller coaster at North Lake Park, every day if I wanted to, I believe that would have changed my life.

I like roller coasters. I am not one of those people who spend every holiday visiting amusement parks to ride as many different roller coasters as possible. I don't have a roller coaster scrapbook or anything like that. But I do like roller coasters.

As an adult, just about everywhere I've lived or traveled in the world, if there was a roller coaster there, I probably rode it. 

Growing up, we went to several different amusement parks in and around Cleveland: Chippewa Lake, Euclid Beach, Meyer’s Lake. They all had coasters. Only one, Cedar Point in Sandusky, is still in business. All of them were about an hour away, so going there was a special event, a family outing. We might hit two or three a year. 

So the prospect of growing up with a roller coaster in town, a mere bike ride away, blows my mind. When I found out my parents had owned a boat before I was born, that hurt. This cuts even deeper. 

I can picture it, riding my bike through the four connected parks. Even though that wasn't the quickest route, it was the most fun. I would buy a ticket, or maybe a whole string. I might just ride once, or all afternoon, depending on my mood and what else I had to do. I could go with friends or by myself. A roller coaster could have been part of my everyday life through junior high and high school if only I had lived a couple generations sooner.

I imagine a daily roller coaster ride as a tonic, a pick-me-up. I could do it on the way home from school. Not exactly on the way, but I could make it work. Maybe get the whole family to go after church on Sunday. It's healthier than ice cream. I imagine mom, when she got fed up with me for some reason, saying, "go ride your roller coaster." And I would.

I had a happy childhood. I have no complaints. But when I imagine everything exactly the same, plus a roller coaster ride a couple times a week, I can't help thinking that would have been so much better.

On the other hand, I know how these things work. If I had had an easily-accessible roller coaster I would have taken it for granted, probably, just like I did all of the wonderful things I did have growing up. 

But a Mansfield roller coaster sure would have been nice.


Cary Dice said...

Near my hometown of Zanesville was Buckeye Lake amusement park. There was a large wooden rollercoaster there called "The Dips". It ran out over the lake. I never got to ride it because I was too young when it closed due to an accident in 1958. But it was always still there, it's thousands of board feet looming in silence over the midway, the loading station gate locked with a chain and padlock. I wanted to ride that thing more than anything else at the park.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I feel your pain.

Sam Komlenic said...

I once rode the Mad Mouse at Euclid Beach, and it was at once a particularly terrifying and compelling experience. I was fortunate enough to live near Altoona, Pennsylvania when they refurbished Leap the Dips at Lakemont Park, the oldest coaster in the world. Though it's a pretty tame ride now, it's a nostalgic enough experience to make you do that fantasy thing where you wonder what that same experience was like for the people of another era.

The best thing about Leap the Dips is that there are no tracks, just wooden planks that the wheels ride on. There are also small wheels on the sides of the car that bounce against wooden side rails on the structure itself that keep you from flying off. The thought of what could happen is kind of exhilarating in itself.