8 Amusement Parks That Died Surreal And Bizarre Deaths
There's not much middle ground when it comes to theme parks -- either you operate a magical and amazing facility that children will stab each other to get a ticket for, or you wind up with a sad, rusted-out Christmas Wonderland where Santa is a drunk and the reindeer are goats. But some park projects are so pathetic in both idea and execution, you have to wonder if the creators weren't just looking for elaborate ways to set millions of dollars on fire. For example ...
A Medieval Castle In The Middle Of The Ozark Mountains
When we think of backwoods American locales like the Ozark Mountains, most of us imagine mangy, rope-belt-length beards, murderous family feuds, and the most embarrassing 10 minutes of Ned Beatty's film career. What you don't think of are 13th-century serfs toiling away on the castle grounds of their lord, which may explain why you've never heard of the failed tourist attraction known as the Ozark Medieval Fortress.
We heard they were behind the times up there, but we didn't know it was this bad.
The brainchild of a French national named Michel Guyot, the Ozark Fortress is an attempt at exhibiting a realistic, Dark Ages-style citadel but located in the woods of Lead Hill, Arkansas. Guyot had already found great success in overseeing the construction of Guedelon Castle back in his home country of France. Being built entirely with era-appropriate tools and methods, the unfinished French keep is already a thriving attraction with over 30,000 visitors annually -- fortunately for Guyot, there's not that much difference between a Medieval ruin and a Medieval construction site.
20,000 go home afterward. 10,000 are retained to tend to raise crops.
So Guyot decided to take his show on the road, with the apparent mission of introducing the Ozarks to a little culture beyond Toby Keith bootlegs. Like Guedelon Castle, the Ozark castle would take decades to build, with the project being funded by the many curious sightseers eager to behold the endlessly fascinating, majestic spectacle of ancient masonry.
"Wake up kids! We're at literally the last place you wanted to go this summer!"
However, Guyot overestimated how much Americans get worked up over peasants pushing wheelbarrows and stoneworking demonstrations as compared to their European counterparts. After breaking ground in 2009, not even 10 percent of the expected visitors bothered to show up, which led to a drastic mark-up in ticket prices and the site manager returning home to France for "personal reasons." And thus, the workers and other staff gradually scattered and left to take the skills they had learned and seek their fortune elsewhere. Fortunately, there are plenty of places in Arkansas where you can live like a Medieval peasant.
The "Ye Olde Meth Dealer" kiosk was a surprise hit when it opened behind the Little Rock Greyhound station.
So what happened to the Ozark Fortress? It's still there, and while it's not as impressive as advertised, it is doing a decent impression of what a Medieval keep would look like after being blown up by the aliens from Independence Day.
The plague-rat petting zoo didn't help matters much.
North Korea's Only Funfair Is A Death Trap
We've had a lot of laughs at North Korea's expense over the years, but that's OK, the North Korean people will never find out. They're in their own dystopian bubble, desperately pretending that the most horrifying of existential nightmares is actually a rollicking good time.
Take the Mangyongdae Funfair, located 10 miles outside of trendy downtown Pyongyang. It's the citywide equivalent of the dead rat a homeless kid plays with pretending it's a Matchbox car. We've already shown you the reckless endangerment that passes for fun in regards to their "Roller Coaster Of Death," but that's just the beginning of the mortally precarious shoddiness located in the happiest place in North Korea. Just as dangerous are the poorly maintained Ferris wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl contraptions, where grievous blunt-force trauma and tetanus vie for the honor of ensuring your doom.
It's recommended you bring at least three months worth of food in case of equipment malfunction.
Or you could test your psychological mettle at a shooting range where the targets are crudely rendered but graphic portrayals of imperialist American soldiers in various death poses.
Hitting a bullseye will net you ten fun points and immediate conscription into the People's Army.
And you'll need those shooting skills to get past the packs of savage mongrels searching for scraps in what appear to be dilapidated concessions stands.
"We have a taste for funnel cake and dissidents."
According to reports, Mangyongdae Funfair is often devoid of any visitors, apart from soldiers on leave (who feel right in their element in this bleak and harsh landscape) and local farmers who are strapped into the rides to serve as human crash test dummies. Only in North Korea can a trip to an amusement park be both mandatory and a reason to tearfully hug your children one last time.
The red stuff is not paint.
But maybe we're blowing the danger out of proportion. After all, there's not one single recorded incident where anyone received so much as a scratch at this place. The fact that locals avoid it like the plague (unless pressed into service to make things look normal for the foreign tourists) shouldn't concern you in the slightest. After all, it was designed by Kim Jong-il himself! And if you can't trust a man who can alter the weather purely through the power of his own thoughts, who can you trust?
Canada's Shania Twain Centre Sucked The Life Out Of The Town It Was Supposed To Help
During the late '90s, Shania Twain became one of those crossover country music stars whose songs infiltrated the public consciousness, creating a roadmap for such musical genius as Taylor Swift and the honky tonk badonkadonks. So it seems reasonable that the Canadian town from whence she was spawned might construct a mighty edifice to her towering greatness. Or at least a dopey museum like seemingly every other country star.
The various fonts alone cost the city a third of the annual budget.
And so the small town of Timmins in northeastern Ontario, Canada (notably home to the 2010 Police Curling Championships) bet the proverbial farm and actual farming subsidies on the sprawling Shania Twain Centre, spending around $10 million in government grants on a state-of-the-art repository for Twain memorabilia. The singer even donated many of her priceless artifacts, such as:
-- Letters from the Prime Minister of Canada, the Governor General of Canada, and Tipper Gore
-- The brown leather moccasins she wore on the cover of her debut album
-- A sequined lime-green pantsuit with sequins from the Come On Over special
-- Her McDonald's Lifetime Employee award
-- A belt buckle
Whoa, I feel like a rip-off
Surprisingly, the belt buckle did not draw the crowds Timmins was hoping for. The poor residents were compelled to pay out of their pockets to keep the place running, with every infrequent visitor requiring a $33.72 subsidy from the government. Eventually, the Mayor, presumably widely regarded for his skill at understatement, declared, "We probably should have taken a better look at the numbers to ensure that expectations could be met."
After 12 years of nobody giving a fuck, the center was forced to close its doors to make way for a gold-mining operation due to less-than-projected profits equaling somewhere in the ballpark of negative $1 million bucks.
"Close its doors" is actually charitable way to put it. More accurately, the Shania Twain Centre was blown to smithereens and turned into an open pit.
The sequined lime-green pantsuit and other ensembles were donated to the Canadian Institute For The Furtherance Of Frightening Small Children.
The Fabulous Las Vegas Skyvue Wheel That Never Was
Las Vegas is not known for its subtlety or grace. With its sky-touching casinos and laconically waving Godzilla-sized cowboys, Sin City is the gaudiest sight this side of a Dubai laser show. Which must be why real-estate mogul Howard Bulloch put forth a proposal to bring a bit of class back to Vegas. British class, more specifically. And in true Vegas fashion, he wanted to do that by erecting a massive observation wheel that would rise 500 feet into the sky and fill it with a British-themed wonderland of restaurants, shops, and gambling.
The sheer number of all-you-can-eat boiled-meat buffets would be unrivaled.
London, Las Vegas was to make its Paris counterpart look like a steaming pile of truffle-scented shit. There were to be no less than 550,000 square feet of indoor malls, hotel rooms, restaurants, and presumably bars populated exclusively with prostitutes dressed as Prince Charles. And it would all be made up to look like various English neighborhoods, topped off with Big Ben and other obvious cor blimey guvnor landmarks recreated in glorious, stucco-based miniature.
"And after dark be sure to catch our Queen Elizabeth erotic revue!"
The wheel itself would operate pretty much the same as what you'd see at any traveling carnival: slowly and scarily. A total of 32 pods (or "gondolas," as they were euphemistically referred to) would accommodate 24 persons each and offer an "unprecedented and unparalleled" view of both the Strip and the filthy trailer parks/hourly rent motels surrounding Nellis Air Force Base.
In 2011, ground was broken and the ambitiously grandiose project began. Towering twin columns were erected, a bevy of companies had offered to get their brands plastered on the middle of the wheel -- and then the housing bubble burst. Which resulted in a lot of panic, a lot of investment backsies, and this:
Investors probably considered using it as a bungee platform, sans the bungee.
The above two monumental pillars are all that remains of the dream, along with various orange cones blocking the entrance to an empty, shame- and tumbleweed-filled lot. The property is for sale, if you're interested. It's right across the street from the Mandalay Bay resort, so maybe with a little creative photography you might be able to scam some rich investor into thinking you're building the world's first wacky inflatable tube guy-themed casino.
Or just move them a couple of miles down and build "Caesar's Phallus."
Related: Nicolas Cage Says He Only Gambled Once, Won $20,000, and Immediately Donated His Prize To An Orphanage
The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft Was Terrifying In All Sorts Of Ways
For Americans who grew up in the 1970s, there was one children's TV show whose psychedelic weirdness was (a misshapen) head and shoulders above all the Hanna-Barberas and Looney Toons: H.R. Pufnstuf. But for many children, its special brand of "creative television magic" was simply code for "lingering psychological trauma."
It's hard to pick out the most disturbing thing that will haunt our -- no, the white boots. Definitely the white boots.
But creators Sid and Marty Krofft weren't the acid-blotter gobbling burnouts that some might suppose -- they had quite the savvy business sense and were just tapping into the zeitgeist of the era. Unfortunately, their instincts failed them when they decided to build a theme park based on the trippy, retrospectively heinous characters that slithered out of their imaginations. They say never to meet your heroes, the same can also be said about meeting your childhood nightmares.
Truly, the Jimmy Carters frightened every one of us.
And so, The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft opened in 1976 in downtown Atlanta, and even received the blessing of our nation's toothiest, nut-lovin' president. Its biggest selling points were that it was the first theme park to be entirely indoors, boasted the world's largest escalator, and, of course, offered the opportunity to interact with randos dressed as abominations. The downside was that this area of Atlanta was, at the time, a cesspool of violent crime. And when city officials failed in their promise to clean the area up, the banks promising to support the park became wary of any further involvement.
There were simply no funds to save victims when the escalator became carnivorous.
This lack of funding led to unfixable technical problems with already sketchy-sounding rides like a "crystal carousel that 'floated' on a cushion of air," and "a ride that sat you in a metal ball and took you through a giant pinball machine." It's odd to think that something as boring as money worries and red tape killed an amusement park filled with surrealist horrorscapes and smiling monsters, but it just goes to show that adult nightmares one-up children's nightmares every time.
So the park was a bust, but the Kroffts' stated dream of "screwing with kids' minds" now lives on, on Nickelodeon. While the place their park once stood sunk even further into squalor and degradation, transforming into the headquarters of CNN.
American Dream Meadowlands Is Colossal(ly Ugly)
The Canadian-owned Mall Of America in Minnesota is the largest mall in the U.S., and is doing pretty well for being in a place more known for ice fishing and Prince's fortress of solitude than rampant shopping. But if the Land Of 10,000 Lakes could support such a behemoth filled with Hot Topics, Sunglass Huts, and Panda Expresses, imagine what an actual hotbed of culture and consumerism could allow. Like the swamps of New Jersey, a veritable Shangri-La of capitalism.
Wow, they even managed to bring back the Sun.
Hang on, we forgot to apply the New Jersey filter -- here's what the place actually wound up looking like:
The chief architect apparently saved money by asking his toddler to build it out of some spare Duplos.
American Dream Meadowlands, formerly Meadowlands Xanadu, has been in the works since 2003, and there's still hope that it will eventually open sometime in 2017-2018-ish. Developers have bragged that the facility will house various attractions such as a baseball stadium, an aquarium, a children's theme park, and a working ski slope and skydiving platform. But while a promotional video promises that it shall one day be a "world of opportunity," where "the great outdoors comes inside to play," Governor Chris Christie has referred to the complex as "by far the ugliest damn building in New Jersey. Maybe in America." And that guy has been inside enough Trump Towers for that to mean something.
The "streaks of rust" paint motif should really hold up when the entire place is covered in actual streaks of rust.
Who knows, maybe one day this ambitious project might actually open, and New Jersey residents will finally be able to obnoxiously boast about having the mother of all consumer monstrosities, furthering the Garden State's reputation of having more eyesores per capita than a Spring Break town after a pink eye epidemic.
Related: Why Your City Looks Ugly AF
Autoworld Was Doomed From The Start
Michigan nowadays is better known for urban blight and unreasonably metallic drinking water than for once being the automobile capital of the world. By the 1980s the cities of Detroit and nearby Flint (of the aforementioned H2O conundrum) were already in serious decline. However, Flint had a plan to recover from Americans falling out love with American cars: Build an expensive theme park for people who love American cars.
Ah, yes. Antiques and creepy-ass animatronics will surely bring Orlando to its knees.
Six Flags Autoworld ambitiously tried combining the thrill of an amusement park with the thrill of ... mostly stationary cars. Developed for $80 million and opening in 1984, Autoworld was supposed to put Flint back on the map. And it did, for all the wrong reasons. As one of the first to set foot in Autoworld described the situation, "You could tell it was just something that wasn't going to make it. They needed more thrill." But hey, where else are you going to go to see the Ferrari from Magnum, P.I. and, um, this really big-ass engine?
"Fuck roller coasters and arcades, right kids? Please stop crying -- I saved up all year for this."
Due to a combination of bad timing, bad luck, and -- we can't stress this enough -- a fundamentally lame core concept, Autoworld backfired. Badly. It only took around six months for the decades-long project to fold. (More like explode, actually, but we'll get to that.) Autoworld's prospects weren't helped by the developers' unrealistic expectations that over 900,000 visitors a year would come to nowhere, Michigan just to see a plastic horse sitting in a Model T Ford.
It's nice to see the maniac who came up with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride found work after rehab.
With a few desperate reopenings that were merely last gasp attempts to recoup the millions in private and public investment, Autoworld was somehow able to cling to life all the way up until the mid-'90s, when city leaders finally decided to give up the ghost and reduce the entire complex to rubble. Awesomely.
Hopefully someone thought to charge admission for this, as this was the most fun Autoworld was ever going to be.
Hard Rock Park Took Just Five Months To Go Bankrupt
If the number of dinguses wearing their T-shirts is anything to go by, the Hard Rock Cafe brand has seen plenty of success over the years. As a theme restaurant, it combines just the right amount of comfort and buzz to entertain a family waiting on a delayed flight. But as an entire Disney-style theme park? Are there even that many dads left in the world to make that work?
For five glorious months, Hard Rock Park stood proudly, guitar erect, at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The boggy locale was actually a smart location for the Hard Rock paradise in a "Redneck Riviera" sort of way, with bikers and alligators and alligator-tolerant vacationers swarming around like chiggers during the Spring and Summer months.
With some settings, it's a fine line between "family fun" and "corpse disposal."
And the music themed opportunities were endless. After all, where else but the Hard Rock Park provided visitors the opportunity to do things like, say, ride a Led Zeppelin roller coaster -- but not the one Robert Plant used offer to groupies backstage.
But, alas, after a fortune spent building the place up, securing the rights to use famous musicians' songs in questionably tasteful ways, and even hiring The Eagles and The Moody Blues to play on opening day ... nobody showed up. Only around 1/10 of the anticipated 25,000 daily visitors were trickling into the park. Why? Well, for starters, the developers were so confident that they had a winner on their hands they didn't feel the need to advertise. Apart from some local TV ads that brought eternal shame upon the business models of all involved.
But what has to be the saddest aspect of the whole debacle was, at least according to reports, that the place was actually pretty darn fun. Even if it was perhaps trying a bit too hard to be hep, with silly bullshit like a reggae-based water slide and random Nirvana quotes plastered onto obviously anti-corporate brick walkways.
Huh, it seems you have things a little backwards there.
But just like how bands might be playing in stadiums one day and Sweet Sixteen birthday parties the next, the concept just didn't have the requisite staying power. And when a lack of profits forced it to be sold and repackaged as "Freestyle Music Park," people cared even less. So now all that's left is a gated-off collection of rusted, gutted buildings and rides, with large empty spaces dotted with piles of debris and creeping vegetation that's rapidly taking back the land where mankind's hubris reaped naught but despair. Which is actually more rock 'n' roll than the park itself ever was.
It's the last day of Happiness Week. But don't worry if you missed a day -- you can check out everything we've done here.
For more amusement parks where there the magic has truly left, check out The 9 Most Baffling Theme Parks From Around the World and 5 Theme Parks Where Childhood Goes to Die.
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