Monday, June 14, 2010

Summers at Silver Dollar City

This is off-topic, but since we're heading toward summer vacation time, this is weird and even involves movies, I think we can make it fit.

When I was a kid, my family took a couple of vacations to the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. We stayed at a place called Alpine Lodge Resort on Table Rock Lake, but what was most thrilling for me and my sisters was Silver Dollar City, an amusement park less than a mile away.

From what I can tell by my research, the first time we visited was in 1969 (I remember watching the historic moonwalk on TV at the resort) and 1972 (the year that the "Fire in the Hole" ride opened at the park).

The Alpine Lodges are just what they sound like—Swiss chalet-style buildings with two floors, multiple bedrooms and kitchenettes, making them ideal for weekly family rentals.

At night the management would show 16mm films on a big wooden screen at the pool. Nothing really entertaining—as I recall they were mostly those free Chamber of Commerce travelogue reels—but it started my fascination with the projected image that persists to this day.

And the pool was cursed. On our first visit, I slipped on the suntan lotion-slickened cement and bashed my head, requiring stitches. On our second visit, my sister slipped on the same cement and jammed her toes through the spiky edge of the chain-link fence surrounding the pool, also requiring stitches, I believe.

Branson's transformation into the Las Vegas of the midwest was years away yet, but Silver Dollar City was a thrilling oasis of entertainment for restless kids who get tired of fishing and sightseeing. Coincidentally, the park is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, as I discovered when I went to its site, and I was amazed to discover that my two favorite rides—"Fire in the Hole" and "The Flooded Mine"—are still in operation. After all, it was quite a long time ago!

"Fire in the Hole" is an indoor roller coaster/dark ride. You rush through a burning town, and there are dips and twists you can't see coming. My favorite is the final dip, when you're heading straight toward the blinding light and blasting horn of an oncoming train. Right before the moment of impact, your car takes a long plunge while a prerecorded voice cries "Fire in the hole!" There's a splash when you hit bottom. Here's a video of the exciting conclusion:

"The Flooded Mine" is a water ride, but it's more in the style of "Pirates of the Caribbean" than "Splash Mountain." Riders are confronted by inmates who have overtaken the prison as well as the ghosts of those who perished in the flood. It's much gentler sounding than that description, although I understand they've added an interactive element: riders are given laser pistols to shoot at the prisoners and score points. They didn't have such newfangled things back in my day...not even on Star Trek. Here's a pretty decent video someone took of the ride just a couple of years ago:

The attraction that began it all is Marvel Cave, located near the park's entrance. It's pretty awesome, as I recall. There were also old-timey arts and crafts, like candle dipping, arcade games and cowboy shootout shows. Five episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies were shot there in 1969, and my young mind merged memories of watching the show with my visit to the park, and for years I was convinced I actually saw the cast there in person. I don't think that happened.

Interestingly, Dollywood was known as Silver Dollar City Tennessee prior to Dolly Parton's investment in the park, and it even had its own "Flooded Mine" ride until 1997.

Now that I know both Alpine Lodge Resort and Silver Dollar City are still open and thriving, it'd be a lot of fun to take a trip back there. What a time warp that would be.

If you're as fascinated by dark rides as I am, be sure to check out this terrific site.

1 comment:

Russell Adams said...

I'm happy you did this. It reminds me of my own family's unfortunate summertime adventures and the visits to tourist attractions so awful, they were fun for all the wrong reasons! This, of course, was in contrast to the year-round amusements in our familial surroundings, such as "The Flooded Basement" and "The Exploding Laundry Basket"!


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