Opened: ca. 1919¹
Manufactured By: Traver Circle Swing Co.
At the turn of the 20th century, Lagoon was more of a place of relaxation than a place of excitement. The park was dominated by gardens and shady boweries. But the beginnings of what Lagoon would become were gradually taking hold. The first thrill rides, Shoot-The-Chutes and the Scenic Railway, opened in 1906. Another popular new amusement of the era, the Traver Circle Swing was being installed in many parks across the world at the time. An ad in the Street Railway Journal boasted the ride’s cost-efficiency and high-visibility.
The ride was designed by Harry Traver who took inspiration for the device from watching seagulls flying around the mast of a ship. It was a fairly simple ride consisting of a tower about 80 feet tall with gondolas attached by cables to arms at the top. After loading, the ride would spin and the gondolas would fly outward with the centrifugal force.
Lagoon added its Circle Swing around 1918 or 1919¹ near the edge of what was then a much larger Lagoon Lake.
The first gondolas used on Circle Swings were made of wicker as seen in the photo above. As air travel developed and caught the interest of the general public, the gondolas were replaced by small airplanes (although they likely had a much lower rider capacity). The planes were subsequently replaced by shiny steel rocket ships. I have yet to find out what Lagoon first called their Circle Swing. Names of the ride at other parks were often variations on the Circle Swing name such as “Sea Plane Swing” or “Giggle Giggle Swing”. Lagoon ads and newspaper articles referred to the ride as the Captive Airplanes in the 1920s.
In January 1920, severe winter storms caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to the ride. A 1947 Lagoon advertisement first mentioned the “stainless steel rockets” which would remain in use until it closed. Many parks removed their Traver Circle Swings in the 1960s & ’70s, but Lagoon’s operated until around 1986. It was replaced in 1987 by the Turn Of The Century.
Even though there were probably hundreds of Traver Circle Swings at one time (Saltair also had one), there are no longer any originals in operation. A modern re-creation of the ride called the Golden Zephyr can be found at Disney’s California Adventure and NAPHA reports that Twin Grove Resort in Pennsylvania is restoring one.
Here is one visitor’s memory of his experiences on The Rockets:
All they did was make a circular swinging pattern over the lake and across some well-trimmed trees. I always thought the bottom of the rockets would brush against the trees but they were well above the leaves and branches. While waiting in line for this attraction it was common to purchase carp food from gum-ball-like dispensers and feed the fish in the lake.
In this short film clip from the early 1970s², you can see the “well-trimmed trees” around the ride. If you look closely, you can make out some of the old attractions such as the Haunted Shack. You’ll also notice a large grassy area on the south end where the midway had not yet extended. When The Rockets first opened, part of that grassy area was another section of the lake.
1. The official Lagoon press kit shows the “Rockets over the Lake” opening in 1900, but other sources say the ride wasn’t developed until 1902. The patent was filed in 1906. There are also photos of the area dated 1905 & 1906 in which it doesn’t appear. One of the earliest mentions in local papers was a report on a winter storm on 8 January 1920 which stated, “Reports from up country indicate severe winter conditions, with considerable damage. At Lagoon, the ‘captive’ air plane, one of last summer’s features there, was hopelessly ruined, at a loss of several thousand dollars.”
The Circle Swing (advertisement). Street Railway Journal, Vol. 13, 1904.
Amusement Park Wrecked. Deseret News, 8 Jan 1920.
Lagoon, “Fun Spot Of Utah”, Opens Season Thursday, May 29 (advertisement). Deseret News, 22 May 1947.
The Rockets. Email message to author from Stephen A., 19 Dec 2004.
Chronological Order Of Attractions At Lagoon. Lagoon Press Kit, 2010.
RE: Sea Plane Ride and Steam Swing. NAPHA.org Forums, 29 Jun 2010.
Harry G. Traver – Legendary Coaster Designer. UltimateRollerCoaster.com, accessed 23 Nov 2010.
Operating Classic Amusement Park Rides. NAPHA.org, accessed 23 Nov 2010.