Action Park: The 1980’s Most Dangerous Theme Park

Action Park logo
Action!

As we wrote about Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park recent, theme parks are on our minds.

And when we came across the history of New Jersey’s crazy Action Park, we just abandoned everything else to get our take on it down. Hurray?

The History Action Park in New Jersey

Okay, so we stumbled across this and then found a whole heap of recent activity about the theme park’s history.

There’s the documentary Class Action Park from 2020, which is on Netflix. Plus the New York Times ran an article in 2019: America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park.

It’s like the world suddenly rediscovered Action Park in 2020 and now everyone wants to document the extent of the lunacy.

We were going to go all in-depth with this feature but it seems we were kind of beaten to it. Instead, we’ll focus more detail on other stuff we’re working on right now.

But! We still want to document the Action Park right here on Professional Moron.

Located in Vernon Township of New Jersey, it opened its doors to the public in May of 1978. Pretty standard stuff, right?

Eugene Mulvihill was behind the thing. His business Great American Recreation (GAR) was looking for a summer period money earner.

So it opened up and GAR began filling out the park with rides, starting with a 2,700-foot-long (820 metre) alpine slide—this thing became notorious

The general problem is that over the coming years, particularly throughout the 1980s, health and safety standards were a bit of an afterthought.

As if the park’s owners just didn’t give a damn about the way physics works. Or that at least six people were killed due to the poorly designed rides.

In various descriptions of the rides we’ve come across, Cannonball Loop appears to highlight the trigger happy nature of the ride designs.

The loop integrated at the bottom of the slide seems to have ignored the way physics actually works in favour of some cartoon variant.

As if it’s taken from a Tom and Jerry episode. There are all sorts of reports of people not following the designer’s loop concept—if you didn’t have the speed built up, you weren’t going to make it through.

The New York Times notes in its sombre article:

“But there were deaths at Action Park: six between 1978, when it opened, and 1996, when it closed. (It reopened under different owners a few years later, only to close and reopen again.) Two deaths occurred within a single week in 1982. One victim was a 15-year-old boy who drowned in the notorious Tidal Wave Pool. The other was a 27-year-old man who was electrocuted on a ride called Kayak Experience.”

Whilst aspects of all this are darkly humorous, there’s the unavoidable tragic element of young people losing their lives due to horrendously lapse health and safety standards.

Below is some footage of the park in action (get it) at some point in the 1980s.

As you can see from this footage, it really doesn’t look like much thought has gone into the overall safety of rides.

It seems remarkable—Action Park only closed in 1996.

It’s important to note just how popular the place was. Millions flocked there annually from all across America, so with that income the owners wanted to keep on earning.

Researching this piece we came across a lot of park visitors who said they found the park positively exhilarating.

The rides were genuinely dramatic and heart pounding.

But when injuries were as common as they were (one visitor noted losing a sheet of flesh from their leg on the alpine slide) it’s only ever going to cause problems.

And when the deaths start racking up, you can bet the pesky old law will come down on your like a tonne of bricks.

Action Park eventually went bankrupt in 1996.

But then reopened in 1998 under new ownership, where a battle of names began. It keeps swinging back and forth from Action Park.

But in 2016 the title disappeared again and it’s now called Mountain Creek Waterpark.

It now seems to operate on the normal safety standards you’d expect. But, hey ho, let’s look back on the 18 year run when it was a disaster zone, eh?

4 comments

  1. Action Park is one of those things that doesn’t seem so bad on the surface, but when you learn of the subtle details, you’ll realize it’s a complete mess. A lot of people talk about the many injuries that took place there, but what really kills me about it is how it’s built on either side of a highway. Granted, there are plenty of theme parks that are near a highway, but I recall hearing a story about how they placed a guy in a giant ball and they sent him tumbling into the highway. It really says something how for any other amusement park, that would be the most infamous story about it. For Action Park, it likely doesn’t even crack the bottom ten.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes in England we have Alton Towers and there was a roller coaster smash a few years ago with a few injuries. The only real issue at the park in decades and it caused a hell of a fuss in the press.

      And well, having seen the clips and read the stories of Action Park a day didn’t go by without mayhem. Only in the ’80s.

      Liked by 2 people

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