Tag Archives: Pioneer Village

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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Recent Updates: Hand Cars & More

In case you missed them, here are some recent additions to LagoonHistory.com:

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The forgotten kid-powered ride that opened with the rest of Mother Gooseland in 1956.

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Origins of an overlooked ,classic, American-made thrill ride.

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New information and photos about the plays featured in Lagoon’s Opera House starting in 1968.

PLUS more information about Pioneer Village attractions have been added including:

More projects are currently in the works and existing pages are always being updated with more information. Thanks for reading and supporting the Lagoon History Project!

The Map Room

Map RoomHistorical maps are now available in the Lagoon History Project’s Map Room. The maps can be navigated similarly to Google Maps as they allow you to zoom in and pan across. There are currently six maps: three Sanborn maps and three guide maps. More will be added later on.

Go to the Map Room

Sanborn maps were originally created to help insurance companies determine fire risks. A large percentage of the country was mapped by the Sanborn Map Company from 1867 until 1970.

Loads of information can be gleaned from these old maps. To help you compare the locations of the older buildings to the current layout, the original entrance was on the east side of the park next to the railroad tracks. The main entrance as we know it today would have been close to the center of the old Dance Pavilion. The Swimming Pool/Lagoon-A-Beach has always occupied the same basic area. You’ll also see how the size of the lake has been scaled back over the years as well as some old attractions we don’t hear much about like the Bump-The-Bumps, Joy Wheel and The Whip.

The Pioneer Village map and the 1988 map came in a press kit from that year. It’s uncertain how long this particular Pioneer Village map was distributed. Since the 1989 map had to be scanned in portions from a 24″ x 36″ map, there are some areas that don’t quite align, but it doesn’t detract too much from the map.

All guide maps have their inaccuracies, but they still give us a good idea of what was and wasn’t there at the time. The 1989 map seems to have really squished things in on the extreme northern and southern ends and are placed in awkward configurations. It also shows a guest walkway from Pioneer Village to the South Midway which never existed. Some things you’ll see in these maps from the 1980s include the connecting walkway from Pioneer Village that goes between the Prison and Gingerbread House (instead of alongside the church as it is now), the East Gate on Lagoon Lane, former picnic terraces and old rides like Tri-Star, Flying Carpet, Speedway and more.

I’m always looking for old maps and brochures (as well as just about anything else related to the park’s history) so if you have anything to share, please contact me at admin@lagoonhistory.com.

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SOURCES

Old Lagoon Maps!. Email message to author, 20 Sep 2008.

Another old Lagoon Map. Email message to author, 22 Sep 2008.

About Digital Sanborn Maps. ProQuest Digital Sanborn Maps, accessed 2 Dec 2010.

The True Namesake Of The Freedola

FreedolaAnyone who has been on the authentic Carousel at Lagoon and who has looked closely at the band organ may have noticed the name “Freedola” painted on the bottom. It’s understandable if you assume this is a small reference to the Freed Family who has been operating the park since the 1940s, because that was my assumption at first. I’ve recently discovered that was incorrect.

The story behind this band organ seems to have begun at Opera House Square. When the area opened in 1968, it featured many authentic pieces collected from across the country. This was before Pioneer Village opened at Lagoon so this was the first large display of antiques in the park. One of those displays was Lagoon’s Engine No. 999, a miniature locomotive which pulled Lagoon guests around for many years until it was placed in storage around 1949. The engine and tender were brought out again to be displayed at the new Opera House Square. This excerpt from a Deseret News article explains what happened from there:

Dick Thiriot, a Utah miniature-train buff and theaterman, told Peter Freed, new general manager of Lagoon: “Hey, I know a guy who could get that engine into running condition and you could operate it at the park again. How about it?”

That guy was Richard Freed who is not related to the Freeds of Lagoon. While working on the train, Richard mentioned to Peter Freed that he also built and worked on band organs. The band organ on Lagoon’s Carousel had stopped working and at the time only recorded music was in use. Peter was interested and Richard agreed to build a new 105-pipe band organ which has been in place ever since it was completed in the late ’70s. It’s fitting that the “Freedola” bares his name since he made almost all of its parts from scratch.ยน

Along with his work on Engine No. 999 and the band organ, Richard Freed also restored the clock at the end of Pioneer Village’s Main Street as well as several music boxes for the Music Hall and was a maintenance worker on the Bamberger Railroad (which was once the main mode of transportation to Lagoon).

Engine No. 999 is on display once again at the Railroad Museum at the south end of Pioneer Village.

On a side note, Dick Thiriot built the miniature train which operated at the original Pioneer Village in Salt Lake. When the land was sold, the train was moved to Thiriot’s home in Midway and the buildings, of course, ended up at Lagoon.

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NOTES

  1. You can read more about the other band organs Richard Freed has built and the work he puts into them in this 1984 newspaper article.

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LINKS

The Main Street Clock

Opera House Square

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SOURCES

Old Engine 999 is comin’ down the track. Deseret News, 23 Apr 1977.

He’s behind the calliope. Deseret News, 17 Jun 1984.

Small train brings great joy. Deseret News, 7 Sep 1999.