Friday, March 19, 2010

Strange But True

There is a saying that truth is sometimes stranger then fiction. That's true also with the history of Worlds of Fun. From the very beginning there have been urban legends, some true some not. So which are true? Was Detonator originally designed with more then two towers? Was the park sued over the name Orient Express? Was the park originally considered for hosting a Worlds Fair? Well there is no time like the present to discover the answers to these questions and more...

Four decades ago, when the park had first opened the world was quite a different place, in more ways then one. Mini skirts, plaid pants, and yes, jumping donkeys... (mules)

Is this really happening? And is this really at Worlds of Fun? Yes and yes. In 1975, Worlds of Fun guests delighted in watching "The Diving Mules". Mules would trot 48 feet up a narrow ramp, and dive head first, 30 feet down, into six feet of water. Strange.... yes. Would this happen today? Not a chance.

You have to wonder what people were thinking, this couldn't possibly be entertainment! Then we have to remember that crowds gathered for another exhibition, in this case TWICE in park history. Last year, 2009, Nik Wallenda crossed a tight rope strung between Detonator and a crane. What most don't know is that twenty two years earlier, Arthur Duchek (otherwise known as King Arthur The Lion), accomplished the same feat. In this case he crossed the Sky Hi/Ski Heis cable on Memorial Day weekend 1977. By the way, he did this dressed in a Lion costume, in 25 MPH winds, with no safety net. Yikes! For those that don't believe me though..

Not exactly fitting into the STRANGE category, but definitely boasting a strange name, Worlds of Fun over the years, hosted several balloon races at its designated, Phileas Fogg Memorial Balloon field. (named after the main character in Around the World in 80 Days). The first annual Balloon Race was in 1973, and several other balloon flights occurred over the following years. I figured I would share a few photos from the 1970's...

and the 1980's

To make a quick 180 to the semi-serious realm.... in the same year, 1977 Worlds of Fun was considered for another honor. For over a century World Fair's were the way for the countries around the world to not only demonstrate upcoming products, but also promote their own country through usually a large and ornate pavilion.

The last major Worlds Fair was hosted in New Orleans, LA in 1984. However, before the concept was pretty much completely scrapped, Kansas City was also considered for the honor of hosting this prestigious event. Jack Steadman (president of Worlds of Fun, and chairman on the Worlds Fair Task Force), suggested Worlds of Fun as a possible site. Several other sites were under consideration as well, including Kemper Arena, the Kansas City Riverfront area, and the Kansas City Municipal Airport (Wheeler Airport).

Think about that for a second... there was certainly enough spare land, and one doesn't have to think to long to realize the impact that the event would have had on Kansas City and possibly Worlds of Fun as a whole.

Maybe that's why this little beauty was built in 1980?

Orient Express... the great steel terror (which will be singled out for its own blog entry in a few weeks stay tuned), made its way into strange but true history book as well. Not for what you might think either.

Some may be aware of another Orient Express? This one, atleast in the 90's, was operated by a French company The Societe Nationale De Chemins De Fer Francais that ran the Orient Express train from Paris to Istanbul. In 1991-1992 they contended that the Orient Express (roller coaster) name created an "erroneous impression on the consuming public" (KC Star Jan 19, 1992). Though I am not aware how anyone could confuse an European/Asia train, with a roller coaster in Kansas City... The objection was dismissed soon after, and Orient Express, stayed the Orient Express.

So last, lets see, Detonator how many towers does it have? Two. The big question though is how many towers was it DESIGNED with? Actually you may be suprised, for the answer is not one, not two, not four, but... THREE. This last-minute design change never changed in that years' map as immortalized in the infamous 1996 map shown here.

For those that think three towers on Detonator is interesting, I thought I would throw another quirky map "mistake" out for you. This one occurred the VERY next year! 1997, the park's 25th anniversary saw several changes, but one that some of us remember was the "renaming" or "addition" (depending on how you look at it), of a specific wooden coaster. Forget about Timber Wolf, nope Timber Wolf no more. In 1997 we had THUNDER WOLF!

So here's to the future, looking forward to more, strange, odd, weird, and out of this world to add to this continuously changing story.


Anonymous said...

I will be uploading my NoLimits recreation of the Orient Express on April 4th, and also put a video on YouTube. Maybe it could coincide with your article on the coaster?

Anonymous said...

Great article Jennifer!! I am looking forward to your next one!

Jennifer said...

Aytrane thats a good idea. I sent you an e-mail.