Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Old Chicago and My First Looping Coaster


Do you remember the first time you rode on a roller coaster? My youngest son recently took his first roller coaster ride. His choice for this monumental occasion was Disney World’s Space Mountain. This would not have been my choice for a first timer but he was determined to take the plunge. So with fast pass in hand we headed into the darkness of this indoor rollercoaster and to a reminder of one of my childhood firsts.
By Lyght at en.wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

While my first rollercoaster was at Six Flags St. Louis, my first looping coaster was the Chicago Loop, an indoor ride at Old Chicago Amusement Park. The park was the first of its kind, a completely enclosed amusement park complete with shopping area. Open in 1975, the idea was to provide a climate controlled fair grounds that would remain open year round. While the basic concept survives in parks such as Nickelodeon Universe in the Mall of America in Minnesota and Galaxyland in Canada’s West Edmonton Mall, construction cost overruns, a lack of compelling shopping outlets in the mall, and competition from Marriot’s Great America (now Six Flags Great America) which open in 1976 doomed Old Chicago from the start.

Prior to 1975 Chicago did not have any large amusement parks nearby. Having two open within a year of each other was a childhood dream come true. While I enjoyed visits to both parks, Old Chicago quickly became one of my childhood favorites. I still remember the large building in Bolingbrook Illinois, with its huge dome on top and twin lion statues guarding the front door. My family visited Old Chicago two or three times during its short life but it was during a school trip that I worked up the courage to ride the Chicago Loop.

The Chicago Loop was the country’s second twin corkscrew coaster following one that was built at Knott’s Berry Farm. While I had always enjoyed the speed of a good coaster, the thought of one turning me upside down was enough to keep me from ever entering the Loop’s queue. This was never a problem when my family visited the park. However, on a school trip there were always those “good” friends who would tease anyone who lacked the courage to ride a simple coaster. There was also that one girl in the class, before whom I did not want to be embarrassed. And so I rode the Chicago Loop…with my eyes shut.

In the darkness behind my eyelids I never saw or even felt the corkscrews on the Chicago Loop. In fact it seemed as if the ride was finished five seconds after the first drop. I understand my son kept his eyes open but in the dark of Space Mountain he saw nothing. It is ironic that we both were able to confront our fears while sitting on a roller coaster in the ‘dark.’ Hopefully as he goes forward my son will enjoy coasters as much as I have learned to love them. I look forward to sharing more coaster experiences with both of my sons.

By the way, I still got teased that day on the Chicago Loop. The student sitting next to me told everyone that my eyes were closed during the ride. Old Chicago closed in 1980, becoming a big empty decaying building before being turned into an auto dealership many years later. I understand the Chicago Loop is now the Canobie Corkscrew, located at Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire. One day I will have to go find and ride the coaster, this time with my eyes open. Until then I will always have fond memories of Old Chicago and of my first ride on a looping roller coaster.
By flatluigi (Canobie's "Corkscrew") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

For more on the Old Chicago Amusement park check out Negative-g.com, a coaster enthusiast web page with a section dedicated to the world’s first indoor amusement park.

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