Pop Culture

The Skeletons of Geauga Lake

geauga lake 1Six Flags had a self-destructive streak in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

They didn’t know it at the time.

However, the brand’s desire to buy up as many parks, large and small, as it could and stretch them way past their limits led to serious financial difficulty and the failure of a few parks.

One of the parks that got swept up and spit out was Geauga Lake on Aurora, Ohio.      

The park was founded in 1887 and was family owned until being sold to Funtime Inc. in 1969.

In 1995 Premier Parks, owners of the Six Flags franchises, bought Funtime. This led to the 1996 construction of the Mind Eraser, a cookie-cutter ride found in several parks around the world, and the 1998 construction of Serial Thriller, also a cookie cutter coaster. This was all well and good, since both were compact rides that had simple crowd pleasing ability.

One of this site’s founders, Jim Pete, went to the park several times a year from the 1970s until 2000, when he moved out of the area.

“My strongest memories as a kid was walking in and seeing the log ride at the entrance. It used to scare the cow out of me,” Pete, 42, said.

He said the park was really well known for having two looping coasters, the Double Loop and the Corkscrew, both designed by Arrow Dynamics. Pete also said he had a strong affinity for the water park and its wave pool, which he said had an eight-foot wave, the Big Dipper roller coaster and the fact that Sea World was across the lake.

Double Loop

When I was younger, my family would go to Sea World once a year (no one remembers how this tradition started). I vividly recall being intrigued by seeing Geauga Lake’s rides from across the lake during the laughably lame Baywatch show. We didn’t make it to the park until 1998, attracted by all of the commercials for Serial Thriller. Funnily enough, Serial Thriller was not operating that day, but plenty of fun was to be had.

During this time period, the park stayed at a relatively small size and was regionally popular.

However, in 2000, Premier put $40 million into the park, adding several new rides and giving the park the new moniker of Six Flags Ohio. Premier bought the Six Flags brand from Time Warner two years prior.

Despite getting all of the new rides, the surrounding infrastructure on Route 43 remained the same. The in-park infrastructure remained the same too. The new rides and large advertising blitz led to overcrowding at the small park.

About two years later, Six Flags bought Sea World, located just across the lake, for $110 million, basically doubling the size of the park. The park was renamed Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. Although, based on the size, it really should have been Six Flags County of Adventure, but that just doesn’t have the same ring.

By 2004, the company faced serious financial difficulty due to large amounts of debt. Just two months before the summer season begun, Six Flags sold the park to Cedar Fair, owners of Cedar Point, for $145 million.

This is not the only example of Six Flags biting off more than it can chew. Two years after the owners of popular Denver park Elitch Gardens moved from the outskirts of the city to downtown in 1996, Premier bought the struggling park. It was rebranded a Six Flags park in 1999, and it continued to struggle. Six Flags sold the park in 2007.

Now, Cedar Fair is great at operating efficient parks, but it lacks in the area of theming. Six Flags, for all its faults, had solid, cohesive theming. So, gone went the Batman and Looney Toons theming, as well as much of the western and 1950s theming. When Cedar Fair bought Paramount Parks in 2006, those parks also lost their unique movie theming.

Cedar Fair also tends to neglect its other parks in favor of keeping Cedar Point at the absolute cutting edge. It started moving some of the newer roller coasters out of the park to other Cedar Fair parks.

At the end of the 2007 season, Cedar Fair announced that Geauga Lake would close, and that the water park side would remain open as Wildwater Kingdom. Many rides were moved out or sold, but some still stand.

The Big Dipper, which was built in 1925 and is an American Coaster Enthusiasts Coaster Landmark, still remains. At the time it closed, it was the oldest operating coaster in Ohio. There have been several attempts to sell the ride, but it hasn’t happened. A couple of coaster enthusiasts tried to buy the ride in 2010, but the sale fell through in 2011.

geauga lake 3

The Villain, one of the 2000 coasters and a great example of the type of medium-large wooden coaster being built at the time, was sold for scrap. The Raging Wolf Bobs, a ride based on the classic Riverview Park Bobs that could have been a potential crowd pleaser had it not been hampered by poorly-designed trains for 15 years, also was sold for scrap.

The Double Loop, a simple, smooth steel coaster from 1978 that was the first to feature two consecutive loops, also was sent to the scrap heap. Dominator (formerly Batman: Knight Flight), X-Flight and Thunderhawk (née Serial Thriller) got to live on, relocated to other Cedar Fair parks.

The land also still is up for sale.

Sadly, the Cleveland area lost a good example of what used to be a traditional amusement park.

The park had a good, “small park” feel to it, with a halfway decent water area. It had a fun 1950’s area, with a massively ugly old-style freefall ride and an oversized Magic Carpet themed as a car. The western area was low key. The lake, with the Ferris wheel on the banks and the boat ride, brought everything together.

Today, the remains of the park still are visible; a reminder of a past that lasted more than 100 years but only took a few years to end.

“I miss Geauga Lake for its downtown allure and blame, to an extent, Cedar Point for its demise. But not because of the purchase. But because Cedar Point, the park, became perhaps the best amusement park in the country. That’s what killed Geauga Lake, probably combined with the fact that GL was too big for its britches,” Pete said.

geauga lake 2

3 replies »

  1. I went to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in 2001. Rode the X-Flight, it was awesome. Lay down coaster gave the illusion of flying, similar to Tatsu out at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA. Wonder what happened to the X-Flight?

    • Actually, X-Flight moved down the road to Kings Island where it operates under the massively creative name of “Firehawk”

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