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Book Review: Action Park

Ellen Levitt

Posted on July 28, 2020 01:14

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There's a new book out about Action Park, the infamous New Jersey amusement park which, in its heyday in the 1980s was incredibly chaotic and wild.

As soon as I heard that there was a new book out about Action Park, the Vernon, New Jersey amusement park that was greatly entertaining but also chaos barely contained, I knew I had to read it. I had visited Action Park twice in the late 1980s, each time with three different people, and both times we had a massively fun but scary and at times nearly insane experience.

Once I went with Alyce, Steve, and Rob. Driving to Action Park in Alyce's convertible Sunbird was a blast ... until she couldn't lower the convertible top. That, and the punishing rides and attractions of the park, made for a memorable day. The next time I went with Lori, Joe and Alex and I had to take Alex to the infirmary after he tumbled out his cart on the Alpine Slide and sustained multiple bad cuts, scrapes and gashes.

This new book, written by Andy Mulvihill with Jake Rossen, is one of the few books I've read that made me burst out loud with laughter multiple times, but also groan and cringe at other times. Highly descriptive, it's a lot like my experiences at Action Park: barely controlled chaos, thrills and that fine line between horrifying and exciting fun.

Mulvihill was one of Gene Mulvihill's six children; Gene was the highly unusual and slightly unhinged owner of Action Park (as well as other businesses). But he seems to have lavished the most time, energy and money on this park. Gene wanted park-goers to have a certain amount of sway over their own ride experiences. Unlike most parks and rides, which were and are almost completely scripted, Action Park had many rides that could be amped up in frenzy depending upon how an individual person controlled it.

But there was also a lot of potential danger and continuous humiliation that played out on these rides. Cuts and scrapes, concussions and broken bones, near (and sadly, actual) drownings, bathing suits that fell off or got hiked way up your body: all this and more was par for the course at Action Park.

The book describes how the park was developed, upgraded, maintained, and had various legal and financial woes (especially when it came to insurance and lawsuits). To some extent the book is also a study of a family and its flakey father, and how the children (especially Andy and his sister Julie) dealt with their dad and the park's day to day operation. It's also a pop culture study, and a nostalgia trip about the seemingly lawless late 1970s through early 1990s. 

My own loopy memories of such crazy attractions as the Tarzan Swing and Roaring Rapids tube ride are affirmed by this book, and it was both fun and embarrassing to recall what happened to me on these rides.

If you are fascinated by amusement parks and rides, enjoy business topics, and want to reminisce (or peek into) American life a few decades ago, this book is so enjoyable and illuminating. 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on July 28, 2020 01:14

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