By: Dennis Speigel, President/International Theme Park Services, Inc.
April 3, 2012
Forty years. Can it really be forty years since we opened the doors to one of the greatest theme parks in America?!
Yes, forty years ago this season, we opened Kings Island in Cincinnati, Ohio. What a remarkable time it was in the theme park industry.
We had just closed Coney Island on Labor Day of 1971. We had to literally move the entire park in about 45 days. I am talking from knives and forks to Flume Rides, Sky Rides, and everything in between. Ed McHale and I were responsible for the move. We actually almost completed the entire moving process in 30 days! An amazing feat as I look back. We had to transport everything 26 miles up Interstate 71, using a local company to handle the move. They came through for us.
I remember a conversation with Errol McCoy and Larry Cochran – both young General Managers in the Six Flags system at the time. We had them on a speaker phone discussing our anticipated first year attendance. Charles Thompson, a former Six Flags employee, performed the feasibility study for Gary Wachs, Senior Vice President of our company. Charles projected two million in attendance in our first year. When we told Errol and Larry our projected attendance, they laughed for about two minutes it seemed!
On our end of that call were Gary Wachs, Ed McHale and me. We just looked at each other – quite honestly a little concerned over the response we received from that phone call. At that point in time, no other park outside of the Disney parks had ever “cracked” the two million attendance mark, particularly a regional park. At the time, that included Six Flags over Texas, opened in 1961, Six Flags over Georgia, opened in 1967, and Six Flags Mid America in St. Louis, which opened in 1971.
We held our Kings Island grand opening on Saturday, May 27, 1972. Charles Mechem, Chairman of the Board, Dudley Taft, President of the company, Gary Wachs, Senior Vice President, Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, and Earl Wilson, the New York Times columnist, were all on the dais that day.
We released 2,000 balloons. We had a group of fighter jets flying overhead (almost breaking into the glass of the International Restaurant when they hit their after-burners). We had a parade with the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and Scooby Doo. The Kings Mill High School band marched and played. We welcomed Miss America, Miss Ohio, and Junior Miss America. We also featured clown bands, hot air balloon ascensions, and sky divers diving into the park. All in all, it was a great and festive day enjoyed by about 5,000 attendees.
Then our season began and I’ll have to admit it started out very slowly. After that initial opening, we welcomed about 5,000 visitors per day. It remained in that range until the first day of July. We were actually worried that this new and beautiful park was not going to attract any more guests than Coney Island did. However, on July 4, 1972, the flood gates opened and we attracted approximately 40,000 guests! It was unbelievable! And it never stopped!
The crowds continued to come in enormous numbers. Having 25,000 up to 40,000 visitors every day the rest of our first season was not unusual. It was a euphoric feeling to say the least. Every day was spectacular. People were amazed at the park. In our region, they had never seen anything like Kings Island. It was huge, entertaining, exciting, and fun. We offered new attractions such as the Racer Roller Coaster (the first wooden roller coaster to be built since 1947). The Racer launched the renaissance of the wooden roller coaster. Since 1972, over 1,000 coasters have been built, and I believe this resurgence was due to the enormous success of the Racer. Not only was it a new wooden roller coaster, it was a double racing coaster! Two sides were loaded and released at the same time. The actual weight of the passengers in each train determined the winner of the race.
There really were so many “firsts” associated with Kings Island’s opening year. It is difficult to list them all.
Oh! And, yes, on the final day of the season when we closed, our attendance count was 2,012,000! We were the first regional theme park to break the two million attendance barrier in an opening year. So, you can probably guess what we did. We had another speaker phone conversation with the Six Flags team. They asked what our final attendance was…………2,012,000 we told them. You could hear the proverbial pin drop. It was fantastic! Those times were memories I will always cherish.