Dr. Mike Robinson, UofL Communication Studies Professor~
“How many times have you been to King’s Dominion?,” my mother asked me on the phone when I told her we were planning our latest trip.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “Maybe twenty?”
The number of visits is hard to calculate because eventually the trips blur together into the strange time that is nostalgia. Internet sources say the place opened in the summer of 1975. So that must have been the year of my first visit.
I know my family went very early in the amusement park’s construction. Back then, Lion Country Safari was the main draw. The air conditioned comfort of a monorail ride was still a few years off, so we drove our relatively new Volvo station wagon through that zoo. I remember a baby rhino gently brushing against the car as it walked by in a way that sounded like the end of the car’s paint job. My father had this kind of resigned look with a faint glimmer that at least this would be one hell of a story to tell later. Dad loved a story. But amazingly, the car was fine.
Few attractions were open when we went through the zoo. Jeeps were racing around in the area that would become the lake that took up a place of prominence in the park for many years. I think there was some kind of petting zoo because I accidently stepped in pig excrement. Pretty awful as experiences go, but the clean-up was so horrible my mother never made me wear those dreaded black sandals again so that was a victory.
I probably went once per year after that. My mother drove us until my friends and I were old enough to drive ourselves. And I know that one summer, when Mom was away visiting family; Dad took me there for two days. He talked me into riding the Rebel Yell, which was then the scariest thing I’d ever seen.
The annual tradition continued until I moved away for graduate school in 1991. And of course, I’ve taken my own family many times since moving to this part of the world. My daughter honed her eerie, nigh invulnerability to rides at Kings Dominion.
During this fall break trip we just took, I was keenly aware of the nostalgia factor. My son is now roughly the age I was on the big two-day visit. And I got my boy to ride the Rebel Yell (now renamed Racer 75). I think he was braver than I was on my first ride, although he denies it.
But Kings Dominion itself was also responsible for my walking reveries. Amusement parks have found a way to extend their seasons by transforming into Halloween attractions at night. The familiar opening area of the park before the Eiffel Tower replica is festooned with scary décor, including fake grave markers for the rides at the park that have since come and gone.
Perhaps it was fitting that I was walking around thinking of rides that no longer were there. After all, Halloween is a time that marks a blurring between the worlds of the living and the dead, the present and the past. Apparently, even coasters can have ghosts.