Location: Central Midway
Manufactured By: Traver Circle Swing Co. – New York City, New York
Ride Model: Circle Swing
Structural Height: ~80 feet
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 Traver Circle Swings used gondolas 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.
In 1947, a Lagoon newspaper advertisement announced the addition of “stainless steel rockets” in place of the original planes. The name then changed from Captive Aeroplanes to the Rockets and would remain that way for the rest of the ride’s life.
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.
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.
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.
1. From the DVD Parks From The Past, Volume I available from Sharpshooters Productions. Used with permission.
MORE FROM LHP
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.
6 replies on “Captive Aeroplanes / Rockets”
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!
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.
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.
Does anybody besides me notice the similarities between circle swings and Hiram Maxim’s captive airships or captive flying machines? I don’t know which came first. Maxim’s ride showed up in England in 1902. he built them all over the world. The shoot the chutes ride was supposed to compliment the flying machines. Though the shoots first showed up at Coney Island in 1896. Just in the states, there were close to 50. most survived until the ’60s. By far outlasting the ships. I believe the last few airships were built at the Portland Oregon expo, and the St. Louis World’s Fair, both in 1905. Hiram Maxim’s rides had infringment issues often. The problem was he lived between Paris and London and was unavailable to travel. When you invent the way he did, infringment was an everyday occurrence. He was using amusement park rides to fund his real flying machines or aeroplanes.
I rode the Lagoon Lake Rockets in the mid ’60s, and they were surprisingly fun for what they did. I was about eight years old. A memory is that I found a silver 50-cent piece stuck in a seat strut by the floor, which was real money back then.
Another memory is we were shown the “well-trimmed trees” and told that was done by attaching a sharp blade to the bottom of a rocket every so often, and the rocket did the trimming!
I remember going down to the Lagoon Lake to check the water, but when I put a hand in I got a definite electric tingle-shock from it, as though some high power cable had electrified the entire lake. We naturally reported this to the operators, and if they found out what it was, I imagine it never made the news. But at the time, it scared me far more than the Rocket ride.
Interesting! And a clever way to trim the trees. Thanks for sharing your memories.