Doomsday at the Park

Doomsday at the Park

Photo/Courtesy of the National Park Service
Bumper cars at Glen Echo Amusement Park.
Image

“Let me hold your ride tickets”, the boy stood directly in front of me blocking my way. “Huh, what…?” I didn’t understand what he meant. He said it again, slowly this time, “Let-me-hold-your-tickets, gim’me your tickets”, he held out his hand, waiting as if he knew I had no choice. I clutched my ride tickets in my hand, “I ain’t giving you my tickets”, he was a lot smaller than me, so I wasn’t afraid of him, even though he looked a couple of years older. As many fights as I’d gotten into with Donnie Carter, I knew he would be no problem for me to handle. “You saying no to my man?”, he gestured as though there were someone standing there with him. I looked around but didn’t see anybody. “What are you talking about?”, I asked puzzled. He spread his arms open wide like a bird about to take flight, then he repeated, “You saying NO to my man?!” He said it sternly, but not loudly, we were standing in the middle of the park. Yes, we were standing right smack dab in the middle of Glen Echo Amusement Park, in Glen Echo, MD, just outside of Washington, D.C. I was there with my church, Providence Baptist and as far as I was concerned, Glen Echo was “The Greatest Place On Earth” bar none. The church sponsored a Sunday School trip each year. At first we’d take cars to nearby beaches or parks, then as more money was raised through bake sales and the like, we were able to hire tour buses to travel further away from home. I had just gotten off the “Jungleland” it’s referred to as a “Dark Ride”. It’s one of those old ride-through dimly lit, haunted attractions based on a mixture of painted African savages, jungle beasts, ghosts and ghouls. Jungleland was my favorite ride, second only to “The Whip” and this guy was taking away from my ability to savor the moment. I wanted to enjoy that ‘I just got off a great ride’ feeling. “I don’t see no man”, I said as I looked around, he’d have to more than this if he wanted these hard-earned tickets. Just then, from around the corner of the building came this gigantic hulk of a boy, he must have been at least fifteen years old, six feet tall, two hundred pounds. I was only ten years old at the time. The big guy just stood back and never said a word. He just kept tapping his hip, kept tapping his hip, drawing my attention to it. That’s when I noticed that strapped to his hip was a hawk-billed knife. All the tickets I had were in my hand, I looked back at the smaller boy as he held out his hand knowing I had run out of options. I gave all my ride tickets to him and watched as they turned away laughing, heading for the JungleLand.

We’ll get back to those guys in a minute, now jump forward two years. My class was taking the annual seventh grade field trip and we had decided to visit Washington, D.C. and Glen Echo. While in Washington, we went into the Washington Monument, visited the Smithsonian Institute and also got in a few hours at Glen Echo. That day, when I arrived at the park the first thing I wanted to do was ride the “Whip”. I had been coming to the park since I was nine years old with the church and had been on this ride so many times by then that I had to show off for my classmates who were visiting the park for the first time. I had already been on “Jungleland” with Carolyn Washington, my supposed girlfriend at the time. In between screams I sneaked in a kiss or two and I was sitting on top of the world. So when it was time to ride the Whip I got in a car alone, the cars could sit three people, but I got in by myself. I propped my feet up on top of the front rail and leaned back in a relaxed pose. The safety bar was supposed to latch (the sign read, “Keep the Safety Bar Latched at all Times”, I pulled it to me but I didn’t lock it. The ride operator didn’t seem to mind so away we went. I was as cool as cool could be, known to my classmates as “The Walking-Talking Dictionary”, “Mr. Dictionary” and then by the infamous name, “Pete-The-Pimp”. I remember when they nick-named me that. We, being country bumpkins that we were, decided that if we were going to take a trip into Washington, DC, we needed nicknames so we’d appear cool to the city folk once we got there, so we all picked names for ourselves. I was given the name “Pete-The Pimp”. When I went home that day and told my mother what my new nickname was, she kept prodding me as to how I acquired such a title, then she asked me, “Do you know what a pimp is?”. I said “sure, it’s a guy who walks cool and talks cool and walks around like he he’s bad”. My mother said “That’s not what pimp means, maybe you’d better find another nickname”. I didn’t understand her concern so I kept the name, at least for the duration of our bus trip.

So there I was sitting on the whip, laid back relaxed, ready to show everyone how nonchalant I was about the whole thing. Everyone else was holding on for dear life, but I was way too smooth for that, I leaned back with my arms stretched out, as though I were relaxing on a park bench. As the cars began picking up speed and began being whipped around the grease caked, stainless steel floor, (the grease kept the wheels cool and made the whipping action even more jerky and rough), the ride operator began pointing down to the bottom of my car each time I made a revolution past him, trying to get my attention. He would cup his hands and yell something to me. I sat up erect trying to hear better each time… “Your wheel’s coming off!”… What? I panicked, “What?”, as I passed again… “Your wheel’s coming off!”, he was pointing frantically to the car’s wheels. I threw back the safety bar and a split second before the next whip of the car came I jumped off the ride and slide the entire length of the steel floor with my arms outstretched like a high wire walker trying to keep my balance as I slid through the thick grease. I rammed full force up against the guard rail, gathered my bearings and turned around to see the ride operator bent over laughing at how gullible I was… “You idiot, if the wheel was coming off, I would have stopped the ride!”. He laughed even harder. Unaware of how close I’d come to being injured or killed, I limped off the ride, still in shock and found some grass to clean off my greasy shoes. I felt a lot less cool after that incident. But that happened in the seventh grade; now let’s back up to the fifth grade and the problem with having had my tickets stolen right of my hands.

Photo/Courtesy National Park Service
Glen Echo Park Main Gate.
 Image

I found my mother and didn’t bother telling her what had just happened to me. She asked how I could have used up all my tickets so quickly, but forked over more money without waiting for an answer. I bought more tickets, jumped on the whip and was coming off the ride when the two boys approached me again. They blocked my way. “Let me hold your tickets”, oh no, not again, I thought. I looked first at the little guy then over at his big body guard, I handed over my tickets without saying a word. By now, you’d have thought I would be walking around without the tickets visible to the world, but no, I wasn’t that smart, I had them out for all to see. I decided that this had to stop, so I ran to the park entrance and found two security guards sitting at the gate, one was munching on a banana, the other looked like he was sleeping. “Hey, two boys just stole my tickets!” they just sat there and looked at me, “Two boys a big one and a small one just stole all my tickets”. The guard who was eating the banana was holding onto the gate with one hand and looked up and asked, “Do you see them now?” He waved his hand out across the park and I turned and sure enough, you could just about see the entire park from where we were standing. “No Sir, I don’t see them”, I answered. “Well if you see them again, come and get us and we’ll kick’em out of the park”. All of a sudden I felt lost and alone. Since we were at the park with the church group, I started looking around for one of the older boys. I saw Frank Banks walking toward the Whip. I ran up to him and told him about my being robbed twice today. He confidently said, “Give me your tickets and stick with me, they won’t bother you no more.” All of a sudden I felt great, as though a heavy weight had been lifted off me. Frankie would take care of everything.

We’d been hanging together for a good fifteen minutes, when we decided to ride Jungleland together. We rode the ride, we had some laughs, we got off the ride and just like clockwork those guys were in front of me at the exit again. It was as though they were watching my every move. The big guy stood about ten or fifteen feet back from the little dude while he stuck out his hand, “Your tickets, lem’me hold ’em”. I quickly said “I ain’t got no tickets”, with a knowing smirk on my face and thinking to myself, man are you in for a big surprise. He said, “Where they at?” He knew I had tickets, I always had tickets. “My Man’s got’em!” I said with pride, “I got a man now”. I had a man backing me up now, just like he did. I pointed to Frank, who was standing right beside me. The little guy turned to Frankie without missing a beat and held out his hand, “Let me hold your tickets”, he looked right up at him never changing his expression.

“Naw, you ain’t getting my tickets”, (My hero, good old Frank). Frank stood right up to him. And again, “You saying no to my man?” You had to give him credit, this guy had his script down pat, and he was sticking to it. Frank looked around and said, “Yeah, I’m saying no to your man… I don’t see no man, so yeah, I’m saying no to him”, Frank knew the scoop and I had prepped him for what to expect, but he hadn’t gotten a look at the little guy’s man yet because, according to plan, he stayed in the background until just the right moment, then appeared in all his bulkiness to get the full effect. “So you saying no to my man, here’s MY man right here” and he pointed over to the big guy. Frank got his first look at the humongous giant of a boy, looked over at me and without uttering a word, struck out running across the park as fast as he could. In what seemed to be cat-like reflexes, the big guy caught up with him, moved in front of him and blocked his path. He grabbed Frank by the scruff of his shirt and escorted him back to the Jungleland exit ramp where we had been standing all that time. The little fellow snapped his fingers and gestured for Frank to hand over his tickets. Frank reached into his pocket and dejectedly handed him my tickets AND his. I hung my head down in disgust, Frank walked off in the opposite direction never saying another word, I didn’t see him again in the park that day. I didn’t ride anymore rides after that, I’d learned my lesson. I spent the remainder of the day trying to track down Buster to extract my revenge on these guys. I knew that if anyone could handle these guys Buster was the guy for the job. I never did locate him that day, the day I got robbed three times at Glen Echo Amusement Park, a day that will live in infamy.

PostScript:


Blacks weren’t always welcomed at the park. There were marches and protests in 1960 which led to the integration of the park in 1961. I would be remiss if I did not mention all the struggles that took place which allowed me and my friends and family the opportunity to enjoy Glen Echo. As I recall, even though the Promo from WPGC mentions the pool, the pool was closed down once Blacks were allowed in the park, just to avoid having blacks and whites swim together. At least whenever I was there, the pool was chained shut. When Marshall Hall Amusement Park integrated, they actually cemented over the swimming pool.

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Revised: Sept. 2013

2 responses

  1. I used to work at Oaks Park back when Funtasic ran the park back in 1983, 1983 was my rookie season at Oaks Park, I was honored by Oaks Park/Funtastic in 1983 for saving around seventy people’s lives when the park had a black out on one of it’s busiest days of the year.

    On July 3rd 1983 on one of Oaks Parks busiest days of the year the park had a blackout, a transformer in kiddyland blew up, it was on fire, and the power lines going to it were also on fire!

    Everyone in kiddyland was at the risk of being electrocuted, and it was so dark in that park you could not see your feet or hands, and there were around forty to fifty people in kiddyland at this time!

    I was running the Boat ride when the transformer blew up and the park went dark, and the transformer that blew up was right above my ride, I got everyone off my ride as fast as possible, but then realized after that that everyone that is still in kiddyland is still under the risk of electrocution!

    I began ordering customers out of kiddyland and directing their flow of traffic away from the danger area, I was hoping the other ride operators would help me but they did not, instead of helping me they just assumed they were supposed to leave kiddyland along with the customers, so I had to clear everyone out of that area on my own!

    After I got kiddyland clear I scoured kiddyland to make sure no one was left back there, when I was satisfied that there was no one left back there then and only then did I leave kiddyland!

    Once I was out of kiddyland I approached the first ride operator I seen that was standing around in confusion and doing nothing and I told him “YOU! Your now guard! DON’T LET ANYONE IN THIS AREA UNTIL THEY SPEAK TO ME FIRST!” and then I told him I am going to check to see if anyone else needs help!

    I went to check the rides that would most likely have customers trapped, the Monster Mouse and the Ferris Wheel, I checked the Monster Mouse first because it was closet to kiddyland at the time, and I discovered that the ride foremen were already on the scene at that ride!

    So I thought to myself “OK they got help, so I better check the Ferris Wheel!” so I went to check on the Ferris Wheel and discovered NO ONE was helping the Ferris Wheel and that the ride was filled with customers that were trapped on it, so I went to where the need was the greatest and went to the Ferris Wheel!

    I offered myself to the Ferris Wheel operator as his assistant in order to get the ride unloaded, and the Ferris Wheel operator profusely thanked me for arriving to help, and then he proceeded to tell me someone else showed up before I did and that person took off and left and never came back, and the Ferris Wheel operator was afraid I would do the same thing!

    I told the Ferris Wheel operator “Wild horses can’t drag me away from here! I ain’t going anywhere until this ride is unloaded!” the Ferris Wheel operator was scared and in a panic, and I had to take charge of the situation and ordered him to accept me as his assistant so that we can get these customers off the ride!

    I saved around forty to fifty people in kiddyland from electrocution, and then I rescued around twenty five to thirty people that were trapped on the Ferris Wheel!

    That was once again my rookie season!

    I continued to work at that park after Funtastic pulled out of that park in 1984 after the park was surrendered over to the City of Portland, all the years I worked in that park I was recognized as a go-to person and as a reliable and trusted person.

    In the late 1980’s before Dick Connor’s retired he trained the at the time current maintenance men on how to balance the Monster Mouse ride and shortly afterwords Dick Connor’s retired.
    Dick Connor was the last manager left in the park that was from the Funtastic era of the park, all the other managers in the park were hired by the City of Portland!
    At the end of that season after Dick Connor’s was gone management ordered the maintenance team to have the Monster Mouse moved to a new location in the park.

    I noticed as the maintenance team was resembling the Monster Mouse at it’s new location that they had left ALL THE BOARDS IN PLACE ON THE POSTS as they assembled the ride.
    I already knew that when Dick Connor’s and Funtastic balance that ride they always remove the boards during the dissembling part and thought it weird they left all the boards on the posts.

    I did not suspect foul play because I was giving the maintenance team the benefit of the doubt they were going to properly balance it after they assembled the ride, but I thought they were stupid for leaving all the boards in place because it would make the dissembling and reassembling of the ride much more difficult.
    The maintenance team did not balance the Monster Mouse they used a cheat and lied claiming they balanced it, the cheat they used was to leave all the boards in place on all the posts, that way after the ride is assembled the boards will already be in place and appear balanced when in fact it is not!

    The maintenance team did this at the end of the season, and it was not until the next year when I got rehired back as a ride operator that I noticed the Monster Mouse was not properly balanced.

    I reported this to Tim Greeley of the maintenance team and he just grinned at me in a evil manner and said “Well,,,,well get around to it.” and after a couple of weeks went by the Mouse ride was still not balanced, and I realized I was being ignored by the maintenance team!

    So I reported it to the lead ride foreman Bill, and he told me he will take care of it, and it was right after that that the ride foreman permanently stuck me on the Ferris Wheel and would not give me any days off and would not allow me to run any other ride!

    The Ferris Wheel at Oaks Park at the time was the hardest ride in the park to run, and it is a burn out ride if your stuck on it all the time, so the ride foreman Bill was trying to force me to quit with his treatment of me!

    Telling the foreman about the problem on the Mouse ride never accomplished anything, and after a couple of weeks went by the Mouse ride is still not balanced properly, I reported it to other ride operators and asked them to report it because I was being ignored by the maintenance team and by the foreman!

    By this time I had my own problems to deal with, the Ferris Wheel is a burn out ride and I was stuck on it seven days a week with no break from it, and I was forced to give Bill the ride foreman a two week notice and quit if he does not get anyone else trained on that ride!

    Two weeks later Bill never trained anyone on it so I quit, as I walked out of the park I was approached and asked by the at the time ride manager Mary Beth Coffey not to quit and instead just take a couple days off, so I reluctantly agreed.

    After I came back to Oaks Park I discovered the manager fired Bill the ride foreman and hired a new lead foreman named Jim and the manager wanted me to be an assistant foreman to Jim, so I quit only to be rehired as a foreman.

    As an assistant foreman I do not have a ton of power/say at the park, I can give orders to ride operators and that’s about it, and since now I was a assistant ride foreman I took it upon myself to start filling out ride reports on all the rides that have problems with them!

    I filled out eleven ride reports on various rides that had problems that needed reported to the maintenance team, none of the rides was broke down, but they all had problems that needed reporting!

    I discovered the next day the maintenance supervisor named TC took my eleven ride reports and burned them, it was him that told me to my face he burned them, and he told me he did not need any help from me and to not ever fill out a ride report on a ride ever again unless the ride is broke down!

    So I was not welcome to report any problems with the rides unless they were broke down, in other words known problems that do not cause the rides to go down are no longer to be reported in writing!

    The maintenance team at the time was deemed the Golden Boys by managers at the time, managers and the maintenance team members would regularly hobnob with each other, and for the most part managers ignored their ride team, so I was under the impression no one in management would care I got treated badly by the maintenance team!

    I should not have to point this out to people, common sense alone will tell you this, to have an atmosphere at an amusement park where no one is welcome to report problems with rides is dangerous not only for customers but also for employees!

    At the beginning of the next season near the beginning of the season I discovered a track on the Monster Mouse ride was cracked all the way through and that the track was separating as the cars go over the track!

    I shut that ride down in the nick of time, saving dozens of kids lives and possibly a ride operators life and prevented a bloodbath from occurring, and I got on the radio and told my superior Jim the lead foreman the Monster Mouse is down for the remainder of the day and to please notify the ticket booth so that they don’t sell tickets for it!

    I am not allowed to say over the radio what the problem is I can only say the ride is down, or I can say the ride is down for the remainder of the day, saying the ride is down for the day is code warning managers/maintenance team that the ride is f##ked!

    I was following Oaks Park policies and procedures over shutting down that Monster Mouse, the fact that the track was completely cracked and separating is enough to prove maintenance incompetence, which is why I reported to the foreman first, and THEN I reported to the maintenance team!

    When the maintenance supervisor TC showed up he was with the CEO of the park Joe Norling, they both were approaching the Monster Mouse together, and as they got about forty feet away TC began berating me for shutting down the ride, he did this loudly so others can hear, and I noticed that the CEO was grinning while TC was berating me, so the CEO was of the same mindset as the maintenance supervisor!

    I was mad and angry at this treatment but said nothing and stayed professional and waited for the both of them to get onto the ride and to stand next to me, as they approached me and was standing right next to me TC said “Alright,,,,,what’s wrong with it?” in a sarcastic manner, and I stated flatly and bluntly in return saying “The track is cracked,,,the tracks is separating as the cars go over it!”

    I was gauging both the maintenance supervisor and the CEO’s reaction to the news because they both are giving me reason to suspect foul play and sabotage, the CEO’s reaction was shock and horror on his face and his face turned immediately ashen, and he was staring at the maintenance supervisor as though he was seeing him for the first time as some kind of monster!

    The maintenance supervisor’s reaction was to go into immediate cover his butt mode,no shock, no horror, but fear on his face!
    The fact that the ride is in this condition is proof of maintenance incompetence, and TC knows this, so he immediately began giving his men the blame for it as a way to cover his own butt!

    In the process of TC giving his men the blame he dug his own grave by making it known he and his men already knew about the crack and that they slagged it with wielding slag!

    The wielding slag they used to hide the crack with was on the ground below where the crack is!
    Now I am deeming TC as well as his maintenance team as criminals and as dangerous!
    The maintenance team already knew about the crack and was hiding it with wielding slag and opened the ride up to the public and did not tell anyone on the ride team about the crack!

    Can you say SABOTAGE!

    I reported this to my superior Jim the lead foreman and he acted as though he was completely misunderstanding how serious this is, he seemed not bothered by it!

    The CEO did not fire the maintenance team the team continued to work at the park the whole season!
    I was under the impression that the CEO was not involved in this sabotage at first but when the CEO did not fire the maintenance team and he made it known their not going to repair that track section and instead are going to spend fifty thousand dollars on a used Mad Mouse ride and use that for parts to REPLACE the SABOTAGED section of the Monster Mouse with, I then suspected managers were behind this sabotage as well!

    One week after I shut down the Monster Mouse saving dozens of children’s lives I was being gang-stalked by several people I did not know, the park was closed and I was clocked out and heading to my car to go home!
    Several people I do not know walked along with me heading in my direction and they were openly verbally praising me for shutting down the Monster Mouse and praised me for saving lives!
    What’s makes this bad is the fact these seemingly organized people were praising me in a sarcastic manner!

    Is that enough to suspect the City of Portland wanted the disaster to occur so that the city can justify shutting down the park so that the city can use the property for other MORE PROFITABLE PURPOSES?!

    It was enough for me to know a ton of people were involved in this sabotage and that their not happy I know about it and don’t like the fact I saved a lot of lives!

    The Monster Mouse ride was down the entire season, the Mad Mouse Oaks Park purchased never arrived until after the season was closed and no one around to witness the Mad Mouse rides arrival into the park!
    Oaks Park maintenance team that sabotaged the Monster Mouse quietly replaced the sabotaged section on the track with a Mad Mouse track section!

    After the SABOTAGED section of the Monster Mouse ride was replaced management pretended they hired a new maintenance supervisor and claimed they fired the old maintenance team, they did not fire them but they lied to me telling me they fired them, they were actually laid off and they came back the next season!

    After management pretended to hire a new maintenance supervisor the new supervisor as well as management wanted me to help them in this so-called crisis of no experienced maintenance people and they wanted me to transfer over to the maintenance team claiming I am the only one the CEO trusts!

    I knew THAT was a lie I already know he was grinning while the maintenance supervisor was berating me for shutting down the Monster Mouse, and I never got an apology from ANYONE in that park for being berated for shutting down a death trap and saving lives and following policies and procedures!

    While the season was over with I helped out with maintenance until the next season, I was re-transferred back over to the ride team at the start of the new season!

    Once the park was opened I discover that the old maintenance team was not fired at all because they were hired back into the park, that means I was lied to by management and that they lied about needing my help on maintenance!

    From this point forward I was getting auto-blamed for everything that happened in that park, if the maintenance messed up the train ride I would immediately get blamed, behind my back, and management was going along with this pretense as well as the maintenance team!

    Oaks Park managers had no intention of firing or prosecuting their sabotaging maintenance team, they wanted instead to set up and blame everything on the witness to the sabotage, me!

    The Squirrel Cage ride was sabotaged and I was almost killed by it, one of the cars just came right off the ride and slammed into the railing three feet from my controls, and the ride was still turning and the other cars on the Squirl Cage were smacking into the car that came off and was rolling that car into my direction!

    I turned off the power to the ride and frantically yelled at the customers on the ride to keep their arms and hands and legs inside the ride, each car that passed the car that came off was smacking right into the car that came off and I had to franticly muscle that car away from the other cars, my own life is at risk!

    The next day I told the maintenance team what happened and I was met by them all grinning at me, they all thought it was funny!

    The next week the maintenance team designed an additional safe guard to the ride, by adding another bolt system to the ride, so that there are now two bolts instead of just one large bolt holding the cars on the ride!

    The maintenance team named this new bolt system the “Terry-Bolt” and they grinned and admitted they named it after me!
    They named it after me because their setting me up to get the blame for THEIR SABOTAGE!

    I got fed up with this auto-blaming me for everything in that park so I quit being a ride foreman and went back to being a ride operator, but the blaming continued!

    I was running the Monster Mouse on my last day in that park, and on that day the Ferris Wheel operator had an accident, the loading ramp got torn apart because the Ferris Wheel operator screwed up, and I got blamed FOR THAT even though I was on and running the Monster Mouse at the time!

    So saboteurs at Oaks Park are protected by management while Hero’s and witnesses to sabotage are gotten rid of!

    I have been a target of police/sheriff sting operations ever since I shut down that Monster Mouse ride, and I was under the impression the new maintenance supervisor the park hired was a county sheriff sting operative hell bent on setting me up to get the blame!

    I don’t think they realize just how many people I already reported to in regards to the Monster Mouse not being balanced, in other words there are too many people that know they never removed the boards on the posts and there are too many people I told that the ride was out of balance!

    The Monster Mouse was so badly out of balance you did not even need a level to see if it was out of balance, just looking at the ride was enough to tell, THAT’S HOW BADLY OUT OF BALANCE THE RIDE WAS!

    Dozens of posts would have severe give to them, when a car would go over that section of track you can visably see the posts give to the weight of the cars and the posts as well as the track would have like a two to five inch give to them as the cars went over those areas on the ride!

    ANYONE WITH WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF A MONSTER MOUSE WILL TELL YOU THAT’S BAD! REAL BAD!!!

    Terry Wagar
    wifepoisonedme@yahoo.com

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