Frightmares has been an increasingly popular Halloween event at Lagoon for over 20 years now. But before Frightmares, Lagoon tried out a short Christmas event.
In November 1994, possibly for the first time ever, Lagoon opened its doors to the public for a post-season holiday celebration. The three-day Pioneer Holiday was basically a community event hosted at Lagoon, similar to the way the Davis County Fair had been held there in previous years. Pioneer Village was the center of activity for the event and no rides were operating. Visitors parked at the historic rock church on Main Street in Farmington, then walked down 300 North to enter a back gate into the park.
It was just a few days after Halloween, but the first of many heavy snowfalls during a record-setting November hit the day before the celebration.¹
The event started Thursday with a craft boutique and luncheon at the Davis Pavilion. Admission to the craft boutique was free. On Friday night and throughout the day on Saturday, admission to the activities in Pioneer Village was $2 per person or $10 per family.
Guests could stop at the Bakery and grab a hot scone with honey butter, blueberry muffin, cookie, Navajo taco or a funnel cake then explore a variety of activities while listening to the Victorian Carolers from Centerville. The activities included:
Taffy-pulling, Santa’s Post Office and crafts for kids
Indian storyteller Toker Timothy with his two wolves, Kodashaw & Trouble
Quilting bee in the old PVRR Train Station
Drawing for a Christmas quilt
Mountain man exhibits in a teepee
Spinning & weaving demonstrations
Holiday food booths
The craft boutique continued in the Davis Pavilion on Friday and Saturday where there was also a steady stream of live music provided by local performers. Here’s a schedule of the entertainment line-up:
Friday, 4 November 1994
5:00pm-5:30pm – Christy Taylor, Miss Farmington
5:30pm-6:00pm – Analisa Semadeni, former Miss Farmington
6:00pm-7:00pm – High Priority (Smoot Family band) with High Desert
7:00pm-8:00pm – Ron Behunin Band
8:00pm-9:00pm – Farmington Chamber Ensemble
Saturday, 5 November 1994
10:00am-10:30am – Mike & Angela Page
10:30am-11:30am – Monte Williams & The Crazy Coyote Band
11:30am-12:00pm – Ester Tingey, fiddler
12:00pm-1:00pm – Mike Hansen, guitarist
1:00pm-2:00pm – Ruth Gatrell Singers
2:00pm-3:00pm – The Hay Day Cloggers
3:00pm-4:00pm – Chamberlin Family and
4:00pm-5:00pm – Cinnamon Creek Singers
5:00pm-7:00pm – The Catalyst Band with Joey Hansen
7:00pm-8:00pm – Cori Conners
If not for the success of Frightmares, which began the following year in 1995, the Christmas celebration may have returned and even expanded to include more events and – with the warmer weather in recent years – a few rides may have been opened, too.
It would be nineteen years until Pioneer Village was dressed up in Christmas decorations again, but it wasn’t for a public event. After Lagoon closed for the 2015 season, Pioneer Village became Christmas Land for a Hallmark Channel movie of the same name.
Did you attend the Pioneer Holiday event at Lagoon? Please share your memories by commenting below or send a message using the form on the Contact page.
There’s an old documentary about amusement parks called America Screams which aired on PBS in 1978. It was an hour long, but was later whittled down to a half hour when it was released on VHS. This edited version can be seen on YouTube. (The Lagoon sequence starts at the 7:30 mark and ends about 30 seconds later).
It’s a rare glimpse at amusement parks and roller coasters at a time when both were experiencing a major resurgence in popularity. On top of that, it’s narrated by the legendary Vincent Price!
The documentary came about when an author and a filmmaker decided to do something that had never been done before. Here’s what the filmmaker, Scott Campbell, told me about how it began and why Lagoon was chosen to be a part of it.
“My partner and good friend, Gary Kyriazi, had written a book, The Great American Amusement Parks, and he wanted to make it into a film. We were both at UCLA at the time and I was majoring in film, so we said, ‘Hey, sounds like fun. Let’s pool our resources and shoot it.’ So we did. He used the contacts he had made while writing the book and he picked the parks. He liked featuring the smaller ‘mom and pop’ parks because that’s how the industry started. He was also very interested in how the amusement park became the theme park – and Pioneer Village was a part of the beginnings of that kind of concept.”
The success of Disneyland and Walt Disney World helped move the industry towards more storyline-based experiences. Pioneer Village opened in 1976 as Lagoon’s first true themed area.
“Interestingly, we shot an entire sequence at Lagoon (and Pioneer Village) for the original hour version of AMERICA SCREAMS that aired around the world. But when it went to VHS, I had to cut it down to 30 minutes, so the nighttime sequence was removed, along with the Lagoon section. There was even a sequence shot in Lagoon’s Fun House (lugging lights from L.A. for that was not a lot of fun), but that sequence didn’t make it into the film – again due to time constraints.”
While we may never see that Fun House sequence, Campbell was kind enough to share the full Lagoon sequences from the original version with the Lagoon History Project. This first clip begins in the parking lot at the old Auto Gate when it was located near the west end of Roller Coaster. Also shown are views from the Sky Ride including a great shot of the old Wild Mouse. It ends with scenes of Pioneer Village which were cut for the VHS version.
It’s easy to see why Pioneer Village was once called a “living museum” when you see employees roaming the dirt paths and boardwalks in period clothing and kids playing with a working water pump.
The original broadcast version also includes another treat. This nighttime sequence is a blend of shots from Lagoon and Lakeside Park in Denver set to the ’60s hit song Palisades Park by Freddy Cannon. It alternates between the two quickly, so I’ve marked the shots that I can confirm are from Lagoon in the clip. The Roll-O-Plane, Loop-O-Plane and possibly the Skee-Ball game could be from Lagoon as well.
Campbell called Lagoon a “wonderful, friendly park” and shared this about making America Screams:
“Price was a joy to work with…and he loved the parks and ‘rolly’ coasters.”
“…that film was a blast to make – most of the parks paid for the travel – they considered it great promotion! You see roller coaster and amusement park documentaries all the time now, but AMERICA SCREAMS was absolutely the first…by a long shot. I remember people saying to me and my partner at the time, ‘What in the world are you making a film like that for – you’re nuts! It will never sell.’ It went on to do great, not only in the U.S., but all around the world, as other cultures peeked in at what the crazy Americans were up to.”
There have been many invaluable photos shared with the Lagoon History Project over the years. They are a great help in confirming dates and attraction information and they have led to very helpful and unexpected discoveries. But unfortunately, these contributions are few compared to how many historical photos of Lagoon actually exist in attics and basements. Film footage (especially from the days before video cameras were commonplace) is even more rare, so I’m extremely grateful for Scott Campbell letting me share these forgotten scenes here. It was great conversing with him about this pioneering achievement.
See more old footage of Lagoon and old Lagoon TV commercials on the Lagoon History Project’s YouTube channel and 14 more videos on Vimeo that aren’t on YouTube.
Lagoon has hosted hundreds of performances by popular musicians and entertainers over the decades, peaking with the shows held at the Patio Gardens in the 1950s and ’60s. Those who experienced them in person usually have great memories from them and many of those who never got to the chance wish they could travel back in time. If only there were some recordings that could help us feel like we were there. Well, there is at least one concert recording from the Patio Gardens that has been floating around for some time now and is fairly easy to get a copy of.
On a couple of warm, late August nights in 1962, Stan Kenton and his 22-piece orchestra filled the open-air pavilion with smooth, polished jazz music. During at least one of the shows, somebody was smart enough to put the live sounds on tape.
A Night At The Old Nugget
Released by Status Records¹, which specializes in recordings of jazz concerts of the mid-20th century, this recording from Lagoon’s Patio Gardens is one of the many previously unreleased titles that the record label has made available on compact disc.
The instruments sound exceptionally clear and the chatting of musicians and Stan Kenton is audible between songs. The atmosphere conveys the intimate nature of the venue which many seem to recall. Fans of Stan Kenton and jazz music of that time period seem to agree that this particular mix of talented musicians were the best ever collected under Kenton’s leadership. But even if you’ve never listened to the genre, it’s worth giving this concert a listen to get an idea of what could be heard emanating from the northwest corner of Lagoon on summer nights about 50 years ago.
1. The story behind Status Records is a bit confusing and more than I care to dig into for the purpose of this article. But from what I’ve found online, there are two different companies that released music under the Status Records label. The first was based in Bergenfield, New Jersey. It was an imprint of the larger Prestige Records, which specialized in jazz music, and was basically formed to release budget-priced albums. The second Status Records, which is responsible for this Stan Kenton album, seems to have been a revitalization of the old Status Records, but this time is based in the United Kingdom. They have reissued many of the older titles in the Prestige, New Jazz and earlier Status catalogs on CD as well as issuing previously unreleased recordings like this Lagoon concert.
Competitive racing has been present in some form at Lagoon since it opened in its current location in 1896. Even earlier than that, Lake Park (Lagoon’s predecessor) held boat races on the Great Salt Lake.
In the early days, Lagoon served as a starting point and finishing line for many races on foot and bicycle. Horse racing was a big draw in Utah when Lagoon opened a new race track in 1911. But after only two years, the races were outlawed. It wasn’t until 1925 when horse racing was allowed again using the pari-mutuel betting. But even that only lasted until 1927.
Auto races then became the new thrill in racing and a variety of races were held at Lagoon. After the initial Davis County Fair took place at Lagoon in 1906, it eventually became an annual event from 1929 to 1942. During World War II, Lagoon closed indefinitely and the county fair moved to Kaysville.
In the early 1960s, Lagoon was thinking seriously about expanding and bringing in a wider variety of entertainment. One part of their long-term plans including stock car races on the old track. Even though their proposal was approved by the Farmington City Council, the backlash from local residents was enough to cause Lagoon to withdraw.
The Davis County Fair returned to Lagoon in 1966. Lagoon constructed new buildings to accommodate the fair and other events including the Davis Pavilion and Davis Stadium (later known as Lagoon Stadium). The stadium would become home to weekly rodeos and demolition derbies until the early ’80s. It was after the 1984 county fair that it relocated once more, allowing Lagoon to expand onto the land utilized by the fair. The Midway was extended northward in 1986 with Flying Carpet placed at the far end (where Samurai stands today).
A few concerts were held at the stadium in the late ’80s, but the venue was used less and less. The concrete grandstand still stood when Top Eliminator was installed on what used to be the race track’s home stretch. These controlled dragster rides were the first to let park guests compete against each other on such a large scale.
The grandstand was demolished around 1998 and Double Thunder Raceway, featuring two go-cart tracks, opened in its place in 2000. Top Eliminator closed for good in 2011 to make room for a record-breaking new roller coaster, Cannibal.
The tradition of racing at Lagoon still continues in 2015. The first foot race in decades, a half marathon/10k/5k was held on April 3rd with the final leg of the race winding around Lagoon’s rides.
Race Track – All about the race track and events held there
The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was held in Chicago as a tribute to four centuries since Columbus landed in North America. It would become recognized as a pivotal point in history and culture. Many innovations were introduced at or inspired by this fair including the Ferris Wheel, the Midway, Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit gum and Quaker Oats to name a few. It became a standard for future world’s fairs as well as amusement parks, which were increasing in popularity. Among the millions of attendees was Simon Bamberger, a German immigrant who had become an entrepreneur in Utah’s mining and railroad industries. Beginning with his involvement in the Lake Park resort on the Great Salt Lake, Bamberger strove to create a place of beauty and joy. In an age of rapid growth in urban and industrial areas, the exposition with its White City sharply contrasted with American cities at the time. It portrayed the idea of a utopian society which served as added inspiration for Bamberger. After the level of the Great Salt Lake had lowered and left many resorts far from its shore, Simon Bamberger looked inland and with the ideas sparked by the exposition, he created the three-acre Eden Park at the end of his Salt Lake & Hot Springs Railway in Bountiful in 1894. The railway benefited from traffic to the park. When it was decided to extend the line north to Ogden, plans for a larger park to be located at the halfway point were developed. A large man-made lagoon was excavated west of Farmington, buildings and equipment were brought in from Lake Park and the new park, Lagoon, opened there in July 1896.
While the 1893 exposition contributed to the origin of Lagoon, the park’s management in later decades brought home some significant souvenirs of their own. Following are the stories of three World’s Fair attractions that were relocated to Lagoon in the 1960s and ’70s.
CENTURY 21 EXPOSITION – SEATTLE 1962
The tight turns and quick movements of the Wild Mouse was an unforgettable experience for many including Seattle native Bill Gates, who recalled this and the monorail as his favorite rides at the fair. It continued operating on the fairgrounds after the exposition closed until Lagoon bought the ride and it opened as part of a new expansion north of the park. It operated just north of the Bamberger Fountain from 1965 to 1971. There has been conflicting information about whether or not it was the same Wild Mouse that ran from 1973 to 1989 on the South Midway, but it’s possible that it was the same ride.
NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR – NEW YORK 1964-65
Transportation was a necessity of modern fairs that sprawled across hundreds of acres of land. For the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Greyhound had a large fleet of vehicles built to relieve weary visitors. There were smaller, golf cart-like vehicles called Escorters and three-car trams called Glide-A-Rides. After the fair they were sold off at $5,000 each. One Glide-A-Ride tram was sold to Lagoon who called it the Picnic Train and used it to carry park guests between the parking lot and picnic terraces. So far, I haven’t come across any information about how long this was in use at Lagoon or what became of it.
EXPO ’74 – SPOKANE 1974
The smallest city to hold a World’s Fair was Spokane, Washington in 1974. Railyards and abandoned buildings were cleared away near the Spokane River to provide space for the fair, but also to rejuvenate the city’s center. The star of the fair’s Great Northwest Midway was an innovative Schwarzkopf roller coaster called Jet Star 2. Lagoon bought the Jet Star 2 and it opened there in 1976. It was the park’s fourth roller coaster at the time and has been operating in the same location for over 30 years.
In the days before big box retailers and internet shopping, state and county fairs were prime opportunities for exhibiting locally-produced goods to nearby areas, aside from being major community events.
It was especially important in the comparatively isolated settlements of Utah before the introduction of major railroads. The first territorial fair was held as early as 1856. Years before Lagoon opened, Farmington – a centrally-located county seat – was considered as a possible host for a fair in Davis County. One of the first recorded references to this was probably a letter to the editor printed in the Davis County Clipper in 1892 when the county’s population was around 7,000 people. It stated, “We have been waiting for the bright minds of Farmington to suggest means for a County Fair to be held in that place about September 25th next.”
The idea was tossed around for years afterward. A large meeting was held at the Kaysville Music Hall in June 1906 to discuss the possibility of a fair in Davis County. The meeting featured speeches punctuated by performances from the county’s three brass bands. According to a news report, one speaker “pointed out in glowing terms the great resources of the county, what she could produce from her soil, her livestock and manufacturing industries, etc. and also the great benefits the county and her people would derive from exhibiting her products to the other counties of Utah and perhaps other states.” Residents voted unanimously to hold the first Davis County Fair that fall at Lagoon. Simon Bamberger, founder of Lagoon and a senator at the time, also spoke saying, “The Lagoon is at your service,” and told those in attendance, “you have the best county in the state.”
After the success of that first fair, a Davis County Clipper article stated, “The Lagoon is an ideal place for holding a fair as there are so many suitable buildings and outdoor attractions.” However, it seems the fair was not initially intended to be an annual event at that point in time. The next fair was two years later when Davis County joined Box Elder, Morgan and Weber counties in the Big Four County Fair. The combined fair was hosted at the Ogden fairgrounds for a number of years as it grew to include counties in neighboring states as well. Davis County had an ongoing tradition known as Farm Bureau Day which was essentially a one day fair at Lagoon. Around the mid-1920s there was talk of expanding the celebration into a full-fledged, annual fair. Governor George H. Dern spoke at the festivities in 1926 urging the county to do just that.
It wasn’t until 1929 that the Davis County Fair became a regular occurrence and Lagoon was home to the fair until World War II. In 1942, exhibits were dropped and the two-day fair reverted back to a single day. Lagoon remained closed for two or three seasons during the war and it seems there was a chance of it being closed for good. Land was purchased east of Davis High School in Kaysville as a permanent site for the county fair where school buildings such as the fieldhouse were also put to use.
When county fairs were first held on the Kaysville site in the 1940s, fair officials hoped to expand in that location, but surrounding plots of land later became unavailable. Residents of the homes being built around the perimeter of the fairgrounds complained of dust and noise from the fair. By the ’60s, the Davis School District needed space to build an equipment shed and the most obvious choice was the largely unused fairgrounds next to Davis High. The land was sold to the school district in 1964 with an agreement to have one last fair on the site in 1965. A county-owned park in an unincorporated area between Kaysville and Farmington was a decent place for relocating the county fair, but the required buildings and improvements could have taken years to complete. Meanwhile, Lagoon had been thriving since its World War II closure and it already had a race track and several practical buildings for exhibitions and contests. The former home of so many earlier county fairs was starting to look like an attractive venue once again.
A deal was settled upon in 1965 for the fair to come back to Lagoon.¹ New animal sheds, pavilions and a grandstand were constructed on the property. The race track was revitalized after decades of going unused. The return of the county fair to Lagoon in 1966 brought in record crowds estimated to be three times the size the attendance of any previous fair.
The tradition continued each August with the fairgrounds also being used for events like Boy Scout jamborees. In the early ’80s, another multi-year lease was about to run out and Davis County was looking for a new site for its fair once again. In 1981, Lagoon began maintaining the county-owned grandstand (which stood where Double Thunder Raceway is now) as part of an agreement to purchase them from the county at the end of the lease. But the following winter, Lagoon showed interest in becoming a permanent host for the fair and even talked about donating land north of the park to the county for that purpose. Davis County had $50,000 budgeted for buying land for a new fairground and if it was decided to stay at Lagoon, that money would have gone towards construction of new buildings. The county also looked into the possibility of allowing the grounds to be used by equestrian groups to generate more revenue year-round.
A deal was never reached and the Davis County Fair had its last year at Lagoon in 1984. Livestock pens used since the ’60s were sold off and removed by early June of that year. Temporary pens were set up for the 1984 fair and afterwards, Lagoon went ahead with projects utilizing land once set aside for the fair. In September, construction began on a new maintenance and warehouse building where the pens had been located. A Deseret News interview with Peter Freed in 1982 revealed, “…Lagoon soon will expand to the north, building rides where the Davis County Fairgrounds now stand and the rodeos are held. He [Peter Freed] expects one of the first rides to be a new roller coaster, which he said he expects will cost about $3 million.” It’s very likely that the coaster mentioned was Colossus: The Fire Dragon which cost about the same and was installed the following year on the south end of the park. It wasn’t until 1986 that Lagoon’s midway expanded northward onto part of the land occupied by the race track. There were even plans to build an IMAX theater² somewhere on Lagoon’s property which never came to be.
The Davis County Fair would return to Kaysville for a time before a new, permanent fairground was completed southwest of Lagoon and Interstate 15 in 1990.
1. The first ten-year contract required Davis County to pay $3,000 annually for year-round use of the land. In 1975, a new ten-year contract was signed allowing the county to use the grounds for 10 days per year, free of charge. This was based on the fact that the county had made improvements to the property during the previous ten-year lease. It was also at that time that Lagoon paid $20,000 for facilities “previously used for cutter and horse racing tracks.”
2. Read more about the Lagoon IMAX which was never built.
Public Opinion. Davis County Clipper, 17 Jun 1892.
Kaysville Kinks. Davis County Clipper, 23 Mar 1906.
Will Hold A County Fair. Davis County Clipper, 29 Jun 1906.
Excellent County Fair. Davis County Clipper, 5 Oct 1906.
Proved A Big Event Farm Bureau Day. Davis County Clipper, 3 Sep 1926.
Given the nature of many thrill rides, it’s not uncommon for them to be compared to aviation. Ever since the Wright Brothers first flew in 1903 (and maybe even earlier), the amusement industry has drawn upon the experience of flying for inspiration. The connection is still apparent today as Lagoon adds the new ride Air Race to its list of rides based on air travel.
The first such ride at Lagoon would have probably been the Captive Aeroplanes added around the late 1910s. The planes swung out over Lagoon Lake before they were switched out with large silver rocket-shaped gondolas. Real airplanes also entertained Lagoon’s guests. In 1914, a big race was held on the old race track north of the park between Lincoln Beachey in an airplane and Barney Oldfield in an automobile.
Kids also had the chance to experience floating through the air on rides like the old Kiddie Planes or today’s Red Baron and Helicopter rides. Rides such as Rock-O-Plane, Roll-O-Plane and Octopus were manufactured by Eyerly Aircraft, whose founder Lee Eyerly started out inventing devices to train pilots and later found his creations to be more popular as amusement park rides. When Lagoon added Space Scrambler in 1961, airline stewardesses and a pilot were photographed taking one of the first rides by the Deseret News. The Sky Coaster’s creator based the ride on the thrill of jumping out of a plane and Lagoon’s Sky Coaster features signage portraying a fictional “Lagoon Air Corps”.
For the 2012 season, Air Race has taken its place next to Jet Star 2 and one of Lagoon’s most popular classic rides – Flying Aces. In addition to these rides, many Lagoon rides and their names have also been inspired by space travel such as The Rocket, Satellite and UFO to name a few.
An old iron cannon used to start off Lagoon’s summer firework displays now rests in front of the Farmington City Historical Museum. The plaque beneath it states it was also used “in the Morrisite Battle at Uintah at the mouth of Weber Canyon in 1862.” Included below are some accounts from two long-time Farmington residents.
Milton Hess built many of Lagoon’s original buildings including the original Fun House and Shoot-The-Chutes ride. After leaving for other work, he was asked by Julian Bamberger to return and move his family to a house next to the park which had been relocated from Lake Park. His wife, Margaret Steed Hess, wrote a history of Farmington in which she shared her memory of the cannon, nick-named the “Old Sow”.
“On the 4th and 24th of July my husband (Milton) would stuff the ‘Old Sow’ cannon with rags and powder, over on the south side of the east pond, and when it got dark enough he would touch a match to the cannon and ‘Boom-boom’ the noisy thing would nearly blast off your head if you were too close to it. Then all the fireworks would be set off.”
Another history of Farmington by well-known educator, George Q. Knowlton, included these stories about the cannon.
“The old cannon that the pioneers brought across the plains used to be at the Lagoon, and was fired on big holidays. One day some boys loaded it with rocks and blew the top off the skating rink.”
“. . . for a long time it disappeared. Finally Dr. R.C. Robinson found it buried in the south bank of the Lagoon Pond. He dug it out, cleaned it up, and with the aid of Horace Van Fleet brought it up into town, and had it mounted on wheels.”
The east pond mentioned in Margaret Hess’ account is basically the portion of Lagoon Lake that remains today. Originally, another pond connected to it on the west side where the South Midway is now. The plaque on the memorial was placed in 1947 so it might be that the cannon was forgotten while Lagoon closed during World War II, if not earlier. As George Knowlton says, it was found in the same south bank of the pond. It probably sunk into the soft ground because of its weight. The cannon was mounted by David Lund at what was then the City Hall (now a museum).
The cannon that sits there now is actually a replica. The original was moved to the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History in Missoula, Montana.