Tag Archives: history

America Screams…At Lagoon!

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.

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LINKS

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.

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SOURCES

America Screams. IMDB.com, accessed 21 Apr 2016.

Selected Television & PBS Specials. GScottCampbell.com, accessed 12 Apr 2017.

Email messages to the author from Scott Campbell, Feb-Mar 2016.

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Live At Lagoon, 1962!

Painting of Lagoon's Patio Gardens by V. Douglas Snow, from Ford Times, August 1961.
Painting of Lagoon’s Patio Gardens by V. Douglas Snow, from Ford Times, August 1961.

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.

From the newspaper ad announcing the concerts, 24 August 1962.
From the newspaper ad announcing the concerts on 24-25 August 1962.

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.

Cha Cha Sombrero

OWN THE ALBUM

You can own this piece of Lagoon history for yourself by clicking here and help support the Lagoon History Project in the process.

Stan Kenton - Mellophonium Moods

UPDATE: Thanks to a comment on another page of the website, another recording of a Lagoon concert is available – Woody Herman And His Orchestra 1956. Read more about it here…separatorLINKS

Patio Gardens

Alphabetical List Of Performers At Lagoon

Chronological List Of Performers At Lagoon

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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 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.

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Lagoon newspaper ad. Deseret News, 24 Aug 1962.

Recordings. Charlie Mariano Tribute, accessed 3 Dec 2012.

Mellophonium Moods. Amazon.com, accessed 3 Dec 2012.

Labels: Status. RateYourMusic.com, accessed 8 Jan 2013.

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Missing Link Located In Hairy Heredity

gorilla33
Photo from 1933 Popular Mechanics.

A few months ago I posted an article about the animated gorilla figure used in Lagoon’s Haunted Shack and Terroride attractions. I have since received an update on the history of these hulking creatures from the same man, John Clowers, who has obtained his own gorilla. He says:

“The original company that created these big lugs did so back in 1933 (the same year the first King Kong premiered) and displayed one as part of a huge World’s Fair animated exhibit called 1 Million Years B.C. as shown on the attached page from Popular Mechanics, June edition 1933, the Company was Messmore & Damon, Inc. and created giant mechanical dinosaurs, mammoths and more! Later they used the 1933 gorilla molds to make some replicas for dark rides and theme parks. They made some until the early 1970s and charged $1,800.00 for one back then…

As you may notice, the earlier Gorilla’s detailed chest remained uncovered by faux fur just as I stated I thought mine looked best! So the few remaining animated gorillas by this company are actually made from the 1933 World’s Fair molds (78 years ago) the year Fay Ray and Kong created all that buzz! I’d suggest that the Lagoon gorilla might be treated to indoor restoration instead of weathering outside amongst tossed Halloween pumpkin shells. These have real historic value indeed!”

With a little more digging, I found a 1967 catalog from Messmore & Damon that lists Lagoon as one of their clients. It’s also listed in catalogs from 1968 and a This Is, Inc. catalog from 1975. It’s very likely that the displays and props for The Haunted Shack, Terroride and Dracula’s Castle were supplied by Messmore & Damon. It seems there’s also a possibility that Messmore & Damon designed the displays in Mother Goose Land so I’ll be looking into this a lot more. If you have any helpful information, please let me know by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of the page.

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LINKS

Gorilla Background Check

Terroride

Haunted Shack

Dracula’s Castle

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SOURCES

Amusement Display Associates, Inc. Catalogs, The Bill Tracy Project. Accessed 1 Jun 2011.

RE: Haunted Shack Gorilla. Email message from John C. to author, 21 Apr 2011.

Gorilla Background Check

Photo: John Clowers
Photo: John Clowers

I recently received an email from a visitor who owns a gorilla exactly like the one used at Lagoon’s Haunted Shack and Terroride. His gorilla came from an auction of items from War Memorial Amusement Park in Arkansas. If possible, we’d like to find out at least who manufactured these gorillas. Here’s his description of the mechanical creature.

“His head moves from side to side and both arms raise and lower independently – he also rocks side to side at his hip. All that action is produced by one strong and slow geared electric motor. He stands about 100 inches tall (well over 8 feet) and was covered with the worst condition fake fur, so it was removed, but he has so much detail under that fur that he doesn’t really need it anyway.”

“I’ve only contacted one other guy who owns an identical one that was in the Palace Funhouse at Asbury Park that closed down. His was made of papier mâché, but looked exactly as these do. Mine is made of a thick fiberglass resin type material which will hold up for generations of display and animated use! I love this guy and wonder more about a possible company that may have made him? I read about Van Orkin and the Animated Display creations he made on the Laff-In-The-Dark website. Obviously, these HUGE gorillas were meant to be impressive draws to the spookhouses and were made by some company for that very purpose.”

“I do know that there is a weight inside the head that counter-balances when the Gorilla rocks side to side making his head move left to right on its own. Also, one arm raises and lowers before the other does the same. It took someone with real understanding of mechanical devices to make everything move by rods on one motor.”

Photo: Braden Miskin
Photo: B. Miskin

Lagoon’s gorilla (nicknamed George by employees) was first part of the Haunted Shack and later used in Terroride. He was removed some time after 2007 and became a part of the Psycho Dave’s Junkyard walk-through during Frightmares until 2011. He popped up again in the Pioneer Village Scare Zone from 2014-16 and was placed in Dracula’s Castle in 2017.

If you know about the manufacturer of these gorillas or have any helpful information, please comment below or contact me and I will pass the information along.

Thanks!

UPDATE: The manufacturer has been discovered!

Click to enlarge. Photos: John Clowers

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LINKS

Haunted Shack

Terroride

Laff-In-The-Dark

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SOURCES

Haunted Shack Gorilla. Email messages to author from John C., 25 & 26 Feb 2011.

Frightmares- Gorillas & stuff. LagoonIsFun.com Forums, 8 Mar 2011.

His head moves from side to side and both arms raise & lower 
independantly-he also rocks side to side at his hip. All that action is produced 
by one strong and slow geared electric motor. He stands about 100 inches tall 
(well over 8 feet) and was covered with the worst condition fake fur so it was 
removed but, he has so much detail under that fur that he dosen't really need it His head moves from side to side and both arms raise and lower independently - he also rocks side to side at his hip. All that action is produced by one strong and slow geared electric motor. He stands about 100 inches tall (well over 8 feet) and was covered with the worst condition fake fur so it was removed, but he has so much detail under that fur that he doesn't really need it anyway.
anyway.