Captive Aeroplane / Rockets

Opened: 1919
Closed: Pre-1987
Manufactured By: Traver Circle Swing Co. – New York City, New York
Model: Circle Swing
Structure Height: ~80 feet

Traver Circle Swing
Wicker gondola as shown in a 1904 ad.

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 were the Shoot-The-Chutes, opening and 1906, and a side-friction roller coaster called the Scenic Railway in 1907. 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.

The first gondolas used on Circle Swings were made of wicker as seen in the photo above. Later, a children’s version using bird-shaped gondolas was patented. As air travel developed and caught the interest of the general public, the gondolas were replaced by small airplanes. Lagoon added its Circle Swing, called the Captive Aeroplanes, in 1919 near the edge of what was then a much larger Lagoon Lake. In January 1920, severe winter storms caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to the ride, but it was soon repaired.

Lagoon’s Captive Airplanes. Photo: LHP Collection

In 1947, a Lagoon newspaper advertisement announced the addition of “stainless steel rockets” which would remain in use for the rest of the ride’s life. The Captive Aeroplanes then became known as the Rockets.

Ready for a ride on the Rockets, 1953. Photo courtesy of Deseret News

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. Traver’s factory closed during the Great Depression and it was taken over by the R.E. Chambers Company until they left the amusement industry in 1968. Many parks had removed their Traver Circle Swings by the 1960s and ’70s, but Lagoon’s operated until around 1986. It was replaced in 1987 by the Turn Of The Century.

Aerial view of the Rockets in operation, 1954. Photo courtesy of Deseret News

A modern re-creation of the ride, called the Golden Zephyr, can be found at Disney’s California Adventure. The owner of Twin Grove Resort in Pennsylvania found one in storage and began to restore it, but state regulators wouldn’t allow it to be operated due to safety concerns.

The Rockets, circa 1956. Photo: Janice Staker Brown

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. Part of that grassy area was another section of the lake when the ride first opened.

Rockets waiting to load.
View of a rocket and the loading area. Screen capture from Parks From The Past, Volume I¹
Rockets
Rockets in flight some time in the early ’80s. Photo: Jason Deadrich

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NOTES

1. From the DVD Parks From The Past, Volume I available from Sharpshooters Productions. Used with permission.

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SOURCES

H.G. Traver Circle Swing, Patent No. 830,687. 11 Sep 1906.

H.G. Traver Amusement Apparatus, Patent No. 842,276. 29 Jan 1907.

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.

Snedden, Jeffrey. Harry Traver took Beaver County on thrilling roller coaster ride. The Times (Beaver, PA), 24 May 2016.

RE: Sea Plane Ride and Steam Swing. NAPHA.org Forums, 29 Jun 2010.

Leighty, Justin. Restored Amusement Park Airplanes Enhance RV Park. Woodall’s Campground Management, 12 Jul 2010.

Harry G. Traver – Legendary Coaster Designer. UltimateRollerCoaster.com, accessed 23 Nov 2010.

Operating Classic Amusement Park Rides. NAPHA.org, accessed 23 Nov 2010.

The Rockets. Email message to author from Stephen A., 19 Dec 2004.

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3 thoughts on “Captive Aeroplane / Rockets”

  1. By far my favorite ride as a kid. Equated removal of the rockets as similar to removing the Roller Coaster. Turn of the Century doesn’t even come close!

  2. My mother tells a story that, when pregnant with me, she rode the Rockets and became ill and vomited. The carp in the lake proceeded to eat the vomit! Kinda gross but funny.

  3. I want to make a short video about this ride and the one at California Adventure. Be fun. When I was at Lagoon as part of our high school Lagoon day one of the kids jumped from the rocket into the lake on a dare. Could have been a disaster. But no harm! I think there was one of these, or something almost the same at Saltair. I have been collecting Saltair stuff for years. Anyway, looking for stills and film or video.

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