UPDATE from Issue 182…
I recently received an update on Bushkill Park. For more than 100 years, kids rode the rides at Bushkill Park in Forks Township. What made the rides so remarkable this summer was the 12 year lapse that preceded their return to operation.
Three major floods, Herculean cleanup tasks and the myriad distractions from smart phones to indoor water parks didn’t keep patrons from returning to the tiny amusement park to take advantage of the newly restored historic rides.
“There aren’t many parks that go to the brink of extinction and come back,” said Jeremy Carrington, Bushkill Park’s director of operations.
It took more than a decade to bring back rides. The park started modestly this summer with just five rides mostly geared toward youngsters. Carrington envisions eventually opening 15 to 18 rides. The park owners knew they were on to something when thousands of patrons rushed to the park for one-day-only open house of working rides in 2017. Then park manager Neal Fehnel estimated 3,000 people came through the gates.
The turnout was much greater than expected, but could patrons be expected to show up weekend after weekend for a whole summer? They did, Carrington said.
“Attendance has gone up every weekend we’ve been open,” he stated. The park averaged about 1,000 riders per weekend. It was only open Fridays and Saturdays and will remain open on the weekends through the end of October. There are bigger and better parks, but they don’t have the memories that stir grandparents to bring their families to Bushkill Park.
“It’s not so much that you can put your kid on a ride. It’s that you can put your kid on the same ride that you rode and grandparents rode,” Carrington said Thursday. Few Parks have been around as long as Bushkill Park. One elderly man whose wife, uses a wheelchair, came every weekend this summer for an ice cream cone.
“He would wheel her down and together they would take a train ride.” Others have come from out of state looking for Bushkill Falls and are charmed by the off-the-beaten-path park they stumble upon.
The park is making a comeback thanks to a staff of five retired carnival workers using their collective talents to reverse-engineer the dormant rides. Some attractions lay caked in mud after three successive floods in 2004, 2005, 2006 that nearly put the park out of business. As workers restore rides, they uncover pieces of history. Chuck Burnham is painting the funhouse. Once known as the “Barrel of Fun,” the funhouse was covered in layers of old paint. Burnham burned away the layers to arrive at a lead-based coat. In lead paint were the words “Hilarity Hall” spanning the entrance.
It turns out the “Hilarity Hall” funhouse is registered through old insurance records dating back to 1927. Burnham dates the paint used back in 1918, making the funhouse the oldest in the country by his reckoning.
When he was invited to restore the house he moved to the Lehigh Valley from Connecticut and has lived here since.
“We have a real Gem here,” he said. His vision for the funhouse includes nods to various eras of its use. To the left of the entrance, he recreated the image of a maiden standing on a circus ball that lay hidden for decades under layers of paint. On the right side, he could find no such hidden image so he recreated his own version of the “Barl,” or the barrel of fun as the house had come to be known.
Over the center of the entrance he painted a 1960’s era sunburst clock with backward numbers. It eventually will say, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.”
Workers like Burnham aren’t in it for the money. “They are here because they want to be. They love the atmosphere of the park and they want to see us open,” said Carrington.
Bushkill Creek floods are a constant threat. The land was drained more than a hundred years ago to make way for a transit stop. The amusement park opened in 1902. Carrington said the owners have learned to cope with the floods, to make the rides more waterproof and make water-sensitive motors easier to remove.
A flood in 2018 put the park to the test. Rather than lament, the workers rushed into the waters to learn how to adapt to the conditions. They figured out water was coming through drain pipes and are modifying those pipes to better control deluges. There will be no flood wall!
More rides are expected to open in the future. If you’re ever in the Lehigh Valley area, you would do well to look up Bushkill Drive in Easton, PA, it would be worth the trip.
This will be the last issue of Impressions by Hal. Harold L. Shive passed away on November 12, 2019. His love for printing was unsurpassed by others. He walked through life with a BreakTime in his pocket and a smile on his face. He used his printing to make the world a brighter place. We will miss him and his Impressions.
Impressions by Hal… was published for the sole enjoyment of the members of the NAPA, using 12 pt Garamond and printed on a model 3770 Risograph by his loving family who are not printers by trade.