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A collection of Historical Markers with factual information that celebrates the park’s rich 40 year history.
Before you read this, be aware that this blog post is a labor of love. The quest was extensive and time consuming, but I could hardly resist the lure of finding so many cool facts and photos!
In case you haven’t heard, the park has scattered little nuggets of historical images and information around the park like a nostalgic Easter Egg Hunt. Hopefully, I found them all.
If you visit the park this year, take note of the painted color scheme reflects The Old Country Logo. (That did not escape my notice Busch Gardens; nice touch!)
I for one, was pleasantly surprised by the sheer number and quality of the signs. Someone took great care in the construction, documentation, and appearance of the displays. So, to those who worked on this project: I salute you!
The following are my reasons for putting together this blog post:
- Some of you may not be able to visit the park this year. If so, I typed out each of the sign’s descriptions the park listed under each photo. I would have added the little trademark symbol as they do, but I honestly have no idea how to do that on the computer. Just imagine they are there.
- This may help provide a check list of how many there are. Spoiler alert: Some of them are really hard to find. It made for a fabulous form of exercise; so I have no complaints!
- I love anything about park history and honestly, I just want to share it with you all. Therefore, you will occasionally see that I added my own commentary after the descriptions. Such comments will be notated by an asterisk and in bold. *Like this….(fancy isn’t it?)
~ A journey through time via Busch Gardens 40th Anniversary Celebration’s mega-awesome park signage begins.
Tally Ho Adventurers! Your quest awaits!
Busch Gardens, The Old Country
What’s in a name? Busch Gardens has had many through the years. It opened as Busch Gardens, The Old Country; Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 1992; Busch Gardens Europe in 2006; and Busch Gardens in 2008. The original park design featured three villages celebrating the spirit of European villages from which early American settlers came. During the construction, a workman discovered a 200-year old brass and steel saber that was thought to be owned by a French engineer officer of the Revolutionary War period. The Williamsburg theme park was one of three Busch Gardens in the country, including Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. More than 6,000 park guests, led by Governor Mills E. Godwin, Jr. and television personality Ed McMahon, dedicated and officially opened the Old Country on May 16, 1975 after just one year of construction.
The Globe Theatre was the park’s largest structure when it opened in 1975, and it continues to host live shows in the double-sized replica of William Shakespeare’s performance space. Through the years, the theatre has featured a variety of extravaganzas from Mark Wilson’s Worlds Greatest Illusions, America on Ice, Hot Ice, Celebrate America to today’s London Rocks, with puppets, animation, and musical performances from classic British bands. The Bard was a writer for all seasons, and the Globe Theatre showcases many seasonal favorites such as Monster Stomp on Ripper Row, part of Howl-O-Scream and Scrooge No More for Christmas Town. For a time, 4D movies were also shown including Haunts of the Old Country, R.L. Stein’s Haunted Lighthouse and Pirates 4-D.
* I would like to mention two shows; Ghosts of the Globe and Haunts of the Old Country. BGW Memories’ Entertainment Photo Album on Facebook, you may find images of Ghosts of the Globe.
Double-Decker Bus Stop
From the moment guests arrived to Busch Gardens, they were immersed in the European Theme. Guests boarded red, double-decker buses using a special multi-level bus stop to carry them from the parking lots to the main entrance. At the time, Busch Gardens had parking for approximately 3,000 vehicles. Today the park has seven parking lots, including Scotland and Bavaria located across from the park.
* Additional Photos of these buses are found in BGW Memories Facebook Albums “Park Transportation” and “Postcards.”
The sky-high mode of transportation provides guests with a three-minute, 3,000 linear foot tour of the “World’s Most Beautiful Park.” Passengers enjoy views of six European countries while traveling nearly 80 feet in the air. It is the most popular ride in the park, and has given more than 75 million rides since the opening in 1975. All Aboard! Passengers travelling to the following destinations: England (Aeronaut Skyride), Aquitaine (Blimp Debarcadere Skyride) and Rhinefeld (Zeppelin landing Skyride). It is the only ride of its type with a triangular layout.
The Budweiser Clydesdales were first introduced to the public on April 7, 1933, to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition. The first Clydesdale hitch was given by August A. Busch, Jr. as a gift to his father, August Anheuser Busch, Sr. A Budweiser Clydesdale’s qualifications include having an even temperament, gelded, four years of age, eith hands (72 inches, 183 cm) at the withers when fully mature and weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds (820 and 1,040 kg). The Budweiser Clydesdale were and still are a symbol the Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC.
When the park opened in 1975, the bridge in Scotland was called Brittany Bridge leading to the medieval English Hamlet of Hastings on the other side. In the main court area there was a “Guess Your Age and Weight,” and the village featured a Battlements shooting gallery, a penny arcade and Turvey Manor Fun House. In 2001, Busch Gardens introduced Ireland, Replacing Hastings- the first new country to join the park in 20 years.
*Let’s also take a moment to remember the store Wizard Works that had magicians and magical items (Currently it is the store called “Pot O’ Gold.”) The bathrooms next to Wizard Works used to be Rooms of Illusionment and featured two rooms to walk through. One was a body heat reflection and a shadow wall. One could lean up against a wall and a bright light would flash. Moving away from the wall, your shadow was left until it faded and the light would flash again.
Michael Recycle was the featured character in Sid and Marty Krofft’s “Camelot Revue” in the Reynolds Aluminum Theater in 1976. Other shows have included Once Upon a Dragon with 50 puppets and directed by Bill Baird, a 73-year old marionette maestro who is considered the world’s foremost living puppeteer. The original puppet troughs are still located beneath today’s stage. The theater continued its transformation by staging live shows including Kaleidoscope, Hats off to Hollywood, Journey into Music, and Stage Struck. Times changed and Rockin’ the Boat was the last show in 2000 before it was renovated to become the Abbey Stone Theater. When Ireland debuted in 2001, Irish Thunder took the stage and the rest is history.
The Enchanted Laboratory
This unique and enchanting building was once home to Le Catapult for ten years. The art on the walls looked like a howling storm with crashing waves and dark lightening clouds themed after the Battle of Hastings. There were big changes in 1986 when this building housed a new show mixing animatronics, special effects, and live performers called the Enchanted Laboratory of Nostramos the Magnificent, which ran through 2000. Animatronic characters included a wise owl, a dog-like dragon, and a raven. With the introduction of Ireland, Secrets of Castle O’ Sullivan played from 2001 to 2008. Today you can Dine with Elmo and Friends at this theater, enjoy Halloween dining opportunities and Santa’s Fireside Feast during Christmas Town.
*Pelinore was the name of the Owl, Talon was the name of the Dragon-like dog, and the raven was named Elixir. There was also a creature that popped up named “It” at the end. That monster was reused as a prop in the old Haunted Train Ride (No longer running) during Howl-O-Scream. The lighted Gargoyles that were located on theater walls are part of the décor at Howl-O-Scream’s Blood Banquet. I wrote an entire blog about this show located here: https://bgwmemories.com/2013/01/20/the-enchanted-laboratory-a-magical-mystical-show-to-remember/
The simulator building was constructed and debuted in 1990. Riding with a gnome-like character, guests traveled as companions that encountered a variety of obstacles during their mission. Questor combined a fast-paced motion picture adventure, with studio animation, special effects, and flight simulations. In 1996, King Arthur’s Challenge replaced Questor and in 2001 Ireland launched and Corkscrew Hill was introduced.
**Thanks to Frank Forrester for finding this sign beside Grogan’s Pub. The ride was also intrduced at the Busch Gardens Tampa Park and a video was posted to Youtube by weatherguru76 of the entire ride. Located here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTNWeVaY050
A fun and game-filled Renaissance festival greeted visitors in 1975. Theatrical hosts tempted guests to test their skills at a variety of games, and there was even a traveling gypsy show. True to Arthur’s day, fellowship was not forgotten, and the townspeople were always eager to share their good cheer. Jack Hanna’s Wild Reserve opened in 2009, and brought a brand new look to the area. Park guests now have the opportunity to learn and get an up-close look at Grey wolves, eagles and other animals important to conservation and our environment.
*Make sure to notice the “Threadneedle Bridge” sign while in the area. It’s a little Ghost of the past.
Originally known as LaJolie Plume, a bird circus theater, today it is Shenanigans Theatre and hosts the side-splitting More…Pet Shenanigans. This unique and inviting space has always been a home to shows celebrating animals. The many productions featured Feathered Follies in the 1980’s, World of Birds and Wild Wings in the 1990s, Falcons and Fables in 2001 plus many others. Today, more than 40 of our furry friends were adopted from animal shelters and rescue facilities across the country. Now they reside at Busch Gardens where they receive veterinary care, plenty of exercise, and lots of love and affection.
Anheuser-Busch Hospitality Center
Anheuser-Busch Hospitality Center
When the park originally opened, the eagle-One Monorail transported guests on a 7,150 foot oval track from Busch Gardens to the Anheuser-Busch Hospitality Center. Anheuser-Busch opened the Hospitality Center in 1974 to showcase their products. Guests could watch history videos about the company; receive complimentary samples of beer, and tour the brewery.
*The best AC in the park was on the Eagle-One Monorail! It was so refreshing on a hot summer day. Not to mention two free beers! Need I say more?
This 19th century gypsy wagon, known as the Durton reading wagon, once traveled through the picturesque English countryside. The nameplate reveals A. Hooke Lynn as the original owner while the axle bears the inscription of V.R. Mason, Patent, London 1842. Ash is the primary wood component; however the cabinets and bunks are made from pine. There are touches of spruce and lemonwood while the fancy scroll-work is in a bas-relief. The wagon’s meticulous restoration insured matching the original paint, authenticity of hand forged hardware along with cut glass complete with small bubble imperfections and faults.
Three Musketeers Theater
The original Three Musketeers Theater was a 1,000-seat open-air amphitheater where trained animals performed against a mammoths French castle backdrop on a huge stage, separated from the audience by an authentic moat, which remains under the current stage. A fabric-type net tent provided shade. Today it is known as Le Palais Royal or the Royal Palace Theater. There have been several animal shows over the years, along with Circus Europa, Chinese Acrobats of Taiwan, Imaginique, laser shows, ice spectaculars, and popular concert artists. For a brief time, there was even a children’s petting zoo located in the back area.
Over 25 million races were run on LeMans Raceway as one of the original attractions when Busch Gardens opened in 1975. There were 49 recreated antique racing cars that traveled nearly ten million miles in 31 years before the raceway closed in 2006 to make way for the Griffon coaster. The cars, modeled after the 1913 Stutz Bearcat, had molded fiberglass bodies and were built on steel frames in California. Racecars followed of o three 2,000-foot tracks, accumulating a total of nearly 200,000 miles per car. The mileage total for the entire fleet equates to nearly 400 trips around the Earth with a top speed of only 7 mph.
*Did you know that the original design had the cars going the opposite direction? The straightaway was supposed to replicate the race to the finish. Due to the nature of how cars had to stop at the loading area, it was safer to have the ride end on a large curve to aid in slowing the drivers down.
Totem poles and tepees made Eagle’s Nest Village a popular stop for children. Here, a friendly Indian helped organize games amid the kid-powered activities, such as the “Ball Crawl,” the “Cloud Bounce,” and the “Punching Bag Forest.” The children’s interactive play area was located under the LeScoot Log Flume. The supports of the log flume still show remaining remnants of the original Eagle’s Nest theming based on Native American drawings.
*I loved this place as a kid. The ball pit was amazing. Sometimes water would splash from the log flume and we loved to wait for the water to fall on those hot summer days.
LeScoot Log Flume
The LeScoot Log Flume has given nearly 35 million rides since 1975. It recreates the thrills and excitement of a French Canadian logging camp, dipping and turning at tree-top level, ending with a plunge through a sawmill, then a splash into the river below. It was an original attraction when Busch Gardens opened, and featured a totally dark sawmill except for floodlights that shine on what appears to be a seven-foot cycling buzz saw, complete with buzzing sounds. Traveling 60 feet in the air, this dashing ride takes guests through a wild 1,420 foot course, and moves at an average 5 feet per second.
*This ride used to have two hills. The first dip was removed due to debris pooling at the bottom. It was more efficient to keep the one final drop at the end. The water pump is located behind the Alpengeist, next to the maintenance bay. Water from the ride is drained and recycled each day of operation.
Le Catapult has given more than 14 million rides and operated in four different locations, making it the most repurposed ride in the park. The original location in 1975 was inside the building known as Castle O’ Sullivan located in Hastings. The ride was moved and reopened with Festa Italia for the 1987 season when the Enchanted Laboratory of Nostramos the Magnificent was added to Hastings in 1986. It was later moved to Oktoberfest and renamed Der Katapult where Mach Tower currently stands before moving to its present location in New France.
Canadian Folk Palladium
The Palladium has hosted many hit shows since opening with the park in 1975. It is commonly called the Canadian Palladium and has offered bluegrass, country, and dancing performances. At various intervals, the Palladium featured gospel and clogging shows. The Busch Street Boys were featured in 1994, and in 1988 American Jukebox performed at this theater in various forms. Monster Stomp was a new show that debuted for the 2002 Howl-O-Scream season. It was quickly a fan favorite, and provided groundwork for Monster Stomp on Ripper Row which debuted in the Globe Theatre in 2014.
The German heritage of the Busch family is reflected in Rhinefeld Village. It was the original performance space of the park’s first German-themed show played on a bandstand near the gazebo. The 19th century-style Wilkommenhaus is a true replica of a German town hall, and was a hub for good food, drink, and friendly people. The Busch Memorial Fountain was built in 1914 and originally stood in St. Louis for many years. It was commissioned by Lily Busch as a tribute to her late husband, Adolphus Busch 1839-1913, founder of Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC.
*Sadly, I could not locate a sign for the lovely glockenspiel. The clock was repaired and functioning opening day which was a very joyous surprise! If you wish to see a version of this lovely style clock located in Munich, here you go: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rathaus-Glockenspiel
Originally a petting zoo, kids visited and fed baby animals in the nearby forest while adults enjoyed libations at Rhinefeld. It was transformed into Grimm’s Hollow, a fantasy world of children’s rides and experiences for the 1979 season. Rides such as the Lady Bug catered to Children’s whims, while a puppeteer played to their imagination with a Punch and Judy show. A Captain Kangaroo show took place on stage for a short time. In 1994, Land of the Dragons replaced Grimm’s Hollow. The original sign has been repurposed for Chug-a-Tug and Bug-a-Dug.
* Grimm’s Hollow also had a fun sand pit area with a play Gingerbread House and rocking horses. There was a boat ride (still in operation at Land of the Dragons) and a circular buggy and motorcycle ride as well.
Park visitors have enjoyed more than 16 million rides on this historic merry-go-round. Allen Herschell, a pioneer of the mobile carousel, built this unit in 1919 in Tonawanda, New York. For more than 50 years, it traveled throughout the United States before being abandoned. In 1973, Busch Gardens located the dismantled carousel in a Dallas, Texas auction barn. Under the direction of the builder’s grandson, fourteen craftsmen spent six months restoring it to its original condition. All side panels, ponies, castings, and brass rails are either original fittings or genuine Herschell replacement parts.
*Technically, this is the oldest ride in the park.
Das Katzchen is German for “The Kitten.” The roller coaster was introduced to Oktoberfest expansion in 1976 and operated through 1984. Built by the Allen Herschell Company, (the creator of the Busch Gardens Carousel), the coaster was a single train with three cars. Riders were arranged two across in two rows for a total of 12 riders. Some of Das Katzchen’s supports were extended to accommodate its hillside location. Nearby, there are still hints of the footings from the original Oktoberfest Bridge, but you have to look carefully since the bridge has since been removed.
The park soared above its expected attendance in the 1975 operating season, so Oktoberfest, a new section of the German village, was added in 1976. This grand hamlet included a 2,000-seat Munich-like festival hall (where food, drink, and oompah music still abound), several new rides and roller coasters, restaurants, and additional restrooms. Oktoberfest continues to capture the excitement of Munich’s famous street festival. It was the first expansion to the original park layout and originally included Oktoberfest Bridge, since removed.
The Glissade was a wild ride just like those found on the grounds of Munich’s Oktoberfest. This German-built bobsled-like coaster was referred to as the best thrill ride of its size and kind in the world. Cars raced over the 2,00-foot course in 30 seconds, reaching speeds of 60 mph. The Glissade stood where Curse of Darkastle operates today, and still gives rides in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was one of the park’s original attractions in 1975.
Wild Izzy, a steel wild mouse coaster was named after the 1996 Summer Olympic Games mascot. Busch Gardens was a proud sponsor of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games that were played in Atlanta, Ga. Renamed Wild Maus in 1997 and removed at the end of the 2003 season, it was then relocated to Busch Gardens Tampa and renamed Cheetah Chase. In 2005, Curse of Darkastle opened where Wild Maus once stood.
Das Festhaus, a Munich-like dining hall, opened in 1976 as part of the 1976 Oktoberfest Village expansion. At the time, it was thought to be the world’s largest dining hall seating more than 2,000 dinners. Today, it is Busch Gardens largest structure. Over the years, it has hosted a variety of live shows including This is Oktoberfest, Polkamania, and this year’s new show Roll Out the Barrel. Guests can still be overheard talking about a time they dined on a park favorite, the delicious Black Forest Cake. The Festhaus cookbook calls it a Bavarian Torte, Bayrische Torte in German. Look Closely- the stained glass windows on the front of Das Festhaus celebrate the park’s original countries, including Hastings.
*Shockingly, there is not a sign that discusses the famous stage that once stood inside the Festhaus which featured a unique rotating and lifting platform for the band. The dancers would then perform underneath the band. In addition, a 40th Anniversary sign in honor of Bob Bauman, the Burgermeister that hosted the shows in the Festhaus and served as a major icon for over 25 years should be considered. Bob retired in 2002 at the age of 87. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 93. An article with this information is found here: http://articles.dailypress.com/2009-11-10/news/0911090122_1_busch-gardens-lieutenant-colonel-mr-bauman
Drachen is the German spelling of Dragon and the looping roller coaster, located in Oktoberfest, opened in 1992. Special lighting illuminated the sides of the coaster car in red. When Drachen Fire was completed, it has six inversions; a wraparound corkscrew midway on the first hill, two Cobra Rolls (referred to by Arrow Dynamics as a “Batwing”) and a cutback between the corkscrews. Two counter-clockwise corkscrews completed the count. The ride’s loading station is currently being used for Howl-O-Scream.
Die Wildkatze, a Schwartzkopf Wildcat steel coaster, debuted in Oktoberfest as part of the 1976 expansion. The ride featured single-car trains with riders sitting two across and became a park favorite. Removed at the end of the 1983 season to make room for the Big Bad Wolf, it still operates at a park in Maryland.
The Big Bad Wolf
The Big Bad Wolf opened in 1984, and provided over 29 million riders the thrill of traveling at the speed of fright. The coaster’s debut, originally scheduled for April, was delayed until June so that trim brakes could be added on the after the second lift hill because the trains were travelling faster than expected. The “howl” heard on the first lift of the Big Bad Wolf was added in 1985, and in 1992 Bavarian buildings were added in the Wolf’s village. The ride closed in 2009, but some of the footers, queues, and part of the station were left standing and have been repurposed for Verbolten.
* My friend the Big Bad Wolf, how I miss you. I wrote two stories about the Wolf. Feel free to check them out should you wish to read my thoughts about my favorite ride of all time.
Loch Ness Monster
The Loch Ness Monster is a myth and a legend, but at Busch Gardens it is real, at least as a roller coaster. More than 53 million rides have been given since its 1978 debut. The Loch Ness Monster was the first double-looping coaster in the world when it opened and is the only one to this day. For the coaster’s 15th anniversary, 20 Elvis impersonators, from the popular movie, The Flying Elvi, parachuted into the park and rode the Loch Ness Monster. It was a day fit for a king. Stretching over six acres, the double-looping steel Arrow Dynamics roller coaster was designed by renowned International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Hall of Fame member Ronald Toomer. The Loch Ness Monster was added in 1978 and was the first roller coaster to feature interlocking loops. The American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) organization was founded at this coaster. History was made in 2003, when ACE designated the Loch Ness Monster as a historically significant ACE Coaster Landmark.
*For the 20th anniversary, the park added growling sounds, strobe lighting, and a face of the Loch Ness that flashed right before you as you exited the cave; conveniently timed to misters that went off right at that exact moment. Those special effects have since been removed.
Busch Gardens Railway
All aboard! More than 58 million park visitors have been boarding and enjoying the train ride at Busch Gardens since 1975. One of the park’s original attractions, the railway line was designed with two trestles, offering spectacular views. The first custom built trains were Balmoral Castle, and English-style locomotive, and Der Hochbeinige, a Prussian-style locomotive. The original locomotive loop was nearly 2 ½ miles with two stations and trains traveled an average of 10 mph. The Alpen Express was added in 1997, and the train was outfitted with a snowplow and alpine style paint on the caboose as it debuted in conjunction with the park’s Alpengeist roller coaster. Originally built in 1972 for Lakeside Park in Salem, VA it is an American style locomotive with a matching four-coach train and caboose.
Royal Preserve Petting Zoo
*Thanks to Frank Forrester for locating and sending the image of this sign. It is located near Sesame Street’s Forrest of Fun. I am unable to read the description and I will make sure to get a close-up the next time I visit the park to fill in the details. However, I will give you the information I know. The Petting Zoo was located where Forrest of Fun is located today. It was wooded and housed various animals like Black Bear cubs, llamas, goats, chickens, a pot belly pig, a Condor, Parrots, and various other critters. Children were able to touch and interact with some of the animals and even feed them. There were these little pellet dispensers and for a quarter you feed the chickens and goats. (Side note, those machines were also located on Grimm’s Landing Bridge, where you could feed the ducks and turtles that lived in the Rhine River at the time). Here is one of my memories at the petting zoo:
Since 1990, Busch Gardens has been consistently voted the “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park” by the National Amusement Park Historical Association. When original built in 1975, care was taken to preserve the mature landscaping and natural terrain of the parl. Some of the trees on site are over 400 years old. To this day, the park carefully stays true to its European style theme and landscaping. Grooming, watering, and replacing plants takes place daily prior to opening. There are more than 250 flowerbeds, 150 hanging baskets, and 1,000 planters throughout the park.
Festa Italia was added in 1987, adjacent to the Italian village of San Marco. Themed around the fair celebrating Marco Polo’s return to Italy from his famous visit to China, it contains many of the park’s midway games, all with a fun and festive theme. The big attraction was the Gladiator’s Gauntlet, along with five additional rides all housed in open air-pavilions and each depicting a country visited by Marco Polo. The expansion also included Festa Station, the third stop on Busch Gardens Railways.
Gladiator’s Gauntlet, a non-inverting Vekoma Canyon Trip attraction, was a 46-foot-tall contemporary thrill ride with a two part boat shaped vessel, which hung on two massive rotating cranks. As the ride began, the boat separated into two parts and the passengers slid back and forth. When the rotation started the boat began to move up and down as the ride swung high in the air.
The Sea Dragon was a Mack Sea Storm ride, featuring a center water fountain. It was removed in 1998 to make way for Apollo’s Chariot. The original metallic Sea Dragon pavilion is still overhead, serving as the roller coasters queue house. The ride had boat-shaped cars with red sails. Based on the ride’s movement, guest could end up forward, backwards, and feel the sensation of an exciting swing.
* This ride was extremely fun for its small size. There was also a feature that allowed the boats to turn horizontally to face the fountain. Sometimes the boats would turn in a way that had you facing the other riders. It was always fun to wave to them before the boats turned again. From someone who worked the controls, I was told these turns were initiated by the ride operator at their command.
Introduced in 1980, Italy was the first new country added to Busch Gardens expanding the park’s footprint and offering guests another taste of the European experience. Known as San Marco, it is a recreation of a 17th century Italian hillside village and covers nine acres. It completed the outer circle walkway around Busch Gardens. Included in Italy is Leonardo’s Garden of Invention which pays tribute to the genius of the 15th century artist and inventor Leonardo de Vinci.
*The Battering Ram, Balloons, and the Flying Machine all opened together. The Gliders and Da Vinci’s Cradle were added later. The Balloons were originally located where Da Vinci’s Cradle is now.
Rhine River Cruise
An original attraction when the park first opened, the cruise line has given more than 15 million rides. As cruise boats wind through the 65-acre man-made river, riders enjoy a tranquil and relaxing experience. The original seven boats were modeled after the early Rhine passenger steamers and had large nonfunctional side wheels. Today, the park has three boats. The photo from 1974 shows the trestle before the river was filled.
*Nothing to add but just to say that this picture is amazing. It is hard to imagine a time where there was no “Rhine River.” Of course it is hard to imagine a time without Busch Gardens as well. Thank goodness I was born right after the park opened!
Forty years ago, this section of the park was a picnic area, a ticket center for concerts and a popular place to get mouth-watering barbeque at Three Rivers Smokehouse and a beef brisket sandwich at Mackinak Café. The barbeque baby back ribs, chicken, and brisket became so popular; the park opened a new 650-seat smokehouse restaurant in 2003. Trappers Smokehouse now features a mesquite-fired show grill, three rustic-themed dining areas and an unprecedented theme park menu selection. Signature items like grilled salmon, smoked turkey, grilled vegetables, mouth-watering deserts, and fried pickles are just a few fan favorites. Here is a tasty fun fact: Trappers served over 70,000 pounds of brisket last year!
Did you know there is a 40th sign located next to the administration building behind the scenes? The wording is the same as the first sign you encounter entering the park and features the original 1975 park map instead. I find this a beautiful way for park administrators and team members to reflect on the long standing history of Busch Gardens Williamsburg and how they are now part of park history. Thank you to all who have worked there in the past and those there today. Your hard work and efforts to provide Virginia with the World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park is greatly appreciated!
Well, I hope you enjoyed a look through memory lane. Please feel free to share your memories and photos here at BGW Memories. Together, we all put pieces of a very large theme park puzzle that is enjoyed by generations of enthusiasts just like you.
~Celebrating 40 Years of Fun~
**This story was originally written and posted on BGWfans July 30, 2009.
September 7th, 2009: Labor Day for all, D-Day for the Big Bad Wolf
The Big Bad Wolf had an amazing run of 25 years. Considered the best of its kind by legions of coaster enthusiasts, this classic suspended coaster’s reign of fright was now coming to an end on Labor Day of 2009. Busch Gardens Williamsburg Executives announced a mere six weeks ahead of this horrid date that due to high costs of maintenance the ride had reached the end of its service life. The replacement attraction of the Wolf would remain unannounced apparently. Now I love the theme park dearly, but all I can say is …BOOOO!!
Shakespeare once wrote that “The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.” Sadly, I could not smile and move on once I heard the news; nay, I wept and begged, and never stopped fighting.
For those of you unfamiliar with the ride, The Big Bad Wolf stood at a mere 99 feet; small in coaster standards. It made up for it’s lack of height by thrilling riders with a unique experience of being dangled in a black cradle cars that had the ability to swing the riders back and forth at a maximum 110 degree angle during the entire ride. A rippling motion of the coaster cars was the beauty of the Wolf, as it swung through a well themed Bavarian town and took a sweeping plunge over a river below.
The relatively slow speed of 48 miles per hour was irrelevant. Much like what the humidity does to the heat index factor in Virginia, the true speed of the ride was deceiving. Being carried on the Wolf seemed as if you reached speeds closer to 80 mph. This was due to the sharp banking while being swung at extreme angles throughout the ride, or as Busch Gardens called it, “traveling at the speed of fright”.
Frightening was indeed the key word with The Big Bad Wolf. Everyone knew it was the one coaster in the park without industrial-powered-airport-standard spotlights to shine up on all the riders. (Seriously, there is no reason to use the Bat Signal on any coaster folks). This lack of lighting left you completely in a pitch-black quiet during those late night rides. The buildings that you swung through and around; the trees that bent oh~so close to the coaster tracks, and the cold shimmering moonlit river that waited for you below that final drop, were only sensory dangers as you flew by.
Another frightening aspect of the ride is that it was set farther away from the park. The red tracks were found nestled in dense foliage; making the rider feel alone on their adventure. So well hidden was the ride, the isolation fear factor could be likened to any one of Steven King’s novels…no one can hear your scream!
Of all the fine coasters at Busch Gardens, my love of the Big Bad Wolf was the most intense and the loss has hit me tremendously hard. The thrill of riding it never faded over time. Each twist and turn made me laugh and cheer. When I heard the news, it hit me like a terminal illness or catastrophic loss of a dear friend and I went through the five stages of grief:
- Denial: “They can’t be removing this ride. It is a classic, irreplaceable; it has to be a hoax!”
- Anger: My hate was uncontrollable and aggressive. I attacked with swarms of letters and petitions; emotional, passionate language flowed to everyone I could think of. “How could you? Why are you doing this to a great coaster?” etc.
- Bargaining: The closer the end date arrived, the more panicked I became. I wrote letters with solutions, hope of saving my dear ride, begging them to please consider alternatives!
- Depression: No longer believing there was hope, I knew there was nothing more I could do. Crying, obsessing, I drove my husband crazy. I began to write poetry and artwork. (A sure sign that I was deeply distraught and inconsolable over the inevitable end.)
- Acceptance: I did all I could do. I gave everything I had to help Save the Wolf, nothing was going to change that fact. I began to make peace with the realization that I would never see that beautiful coaster ever again.
It was only after acceptance that I decided to bid on the final ride of the Big Bad Wolf; an idea I was fervently against at first because of ethical reasons. Ultimately, I caved to my inner demons and decided to risk my hard earned dollars for a chance to say the final – final goodbye. My goal was to be in the top six bidders at least and thus securing a spot on either the front or back car; the most prized positions of any coaster fan.
Surprisingly I won the 6th spot and relief ran through me. I would be on the very last ride of the day. I would be one of the final people to say goodbye to the Big Bad Wolf forever. It was a rare instance of crying for two completely different reasons at exactly the same time.
Now begins my tale of the quest for the first and last ride of the Big Bad Wolf:
Waking up early with a clenching nausea in my stomach, the dreaded day had arrived. I donned my outfit that was designed to show the world my complete enthusiasm for the Big Bad Wolf. I looked ready sporting a vintage 1984 “I survived the Big Bad Wolf” (complete with the old original logo on the front), hanging wolf earrings, a wolf necklace, and an actual Big Bad Wolf Puppet to carry around for amusement purposes.
OK, perhaps the outfit made me look a little unbalanced and demented to anyone not inclined to such a show of passion; but as long as my tomfoolery made them smile… it was worth it!
The day was gloomy. My husband called the day, “Pure Bummage.”
Dark rain clouds hung ominously overhead; ready to pour their bounty on all who dared venture out of their homes. No amount of rain could stop me boy howdy! Only the threat of lightening could thwart the operation of coasters that day.
Thus, I threatened all those evil clouds that they better not produce one single lightening bolt or I would find a way to fly up there and personally kick each and every one of their fluffy rain laden butts! I think it worked.
Despite the fact that my whole aura was as dark as the morning sky, my husband still came with me on this quest. His sworn duty was to act as my personal cameraman and designated cheerleader when emotions ran high.
We arrived at the Busch Gardens early enough to be there when the Germany (Oktoberfest) section opened to the general public.
And older fellow, perhaps in his late 50′s, stood watch at a pitiful looking rope that kept a hoard of drooling coaster hounds at bay. He shouted at the crowd. “People! Germany opens at 11:00 and the Wolf opens at 11:30!” No one budged. Instead, we all looked at each other; sizing up the competition. Who would win out for the first ride? One thing for sure, the fight would be nasty.
The goal was located about 150 yards away across the San Marco Bridge; the wet, slippery monstrosity that connected the two areas of the park. At the end of this bridge is a slight incline for those who are fit or a Sisyphean challenge for people like me. (Sisyphus- look it up kids).
At 11 am sharp, the man released the rope and pounced spryly out of the way. The crowd rushed forward. Little kids sprinted ahead and I growled in frustration. My 30+ year old-out-of-shape body with wobbly knee joints cried out in defiance. Still, I was set on winning. No snot nosed kid would beat me that day.
Then a miracle happened. This miracle was called X-box and Playstation. Those TV induced, lazy punks started dropping back. My steady and determined gate passed each and every one. Secretly, I taunted them all.
I saw the entrance ahead. A new-found energy overtook me and I doubt I ever ran faster in my life. The ground was slick and dangerous, and I prayed that I wouldn’t slip and break anything.
In the end there were only a few folks that made it ahead of me. Counting quickly to make sure I was in the top 28, I released a primordial howl of relief and then clutched my sides in pain. Looking back at the swiftly increasing line, I did an awkward victory dance.
My husband, who walked patiently across the long bridge that has just served as host to the geriatric 100 yard dash, approached me laughing. “You should have seen yourself! God that was hilarious!” He then asked me if I pushed down any kids along the way, and I denied the accusation. I did mention to him that yes, I had thought about it.
A staff member announced that they would open the ride as quickly as possible.
For the second time of the day, the rope swung open. The line of people crowded in. With much success my husband and I found ourselves in our coveted back seat, ready to howl and scream on the first ride of the day.
Leaving the ride, I was stoked. Even if it rained all day, nothing could change the fact I would be the first and last ride of the day. It was so worth the shin splints and sore ankles that were already plaguing my aging body from running like an obsessed loon.
After getting some amazing footage of the coaster, the bottom dropped out of those pesky rain clouds. My husband and I retreated to the safety of the Festhaus (a very large dining area of Busch Gardens) and relaxed with a nice lunch and a glass of wine.
The rain started to break, and we both ran out for more rides on the Wolf. All and all, the weather gratefully allowed us at least five rain free rides so far. I felt no need to ride the other roller coasters. I mean, they would all be running the next day; for the Wolf…this was it baby.
I had to meet the park officials at 5:30 pm in front of “Wolf Gifts”, the sparsely stocked Big Bad Wolf gift store found outside the Ride’s exit. The staff kept this information on the down-low so there were no onlookers and harassment from other park goers. So tight was the security around the Big Bad Wolf, I became slightly paranoid that one slip of the tongue would somehow result with me being banned from the park.
The winning bidders had to stand in line at the Wolf Gifts Merchandise Stand and pay their auction money. I proudly handed over the cash and received a lime green wristband; the brightly colored badge of honor. People around this area quickly learned that whoever wore a bright green wristband were the last riders of the day.
I was constantly receiving sly looks of envy and for a moment I was worried someone might pin me down in order to saw of my hand. In response, I fingered the little paper wristband and whispered, “Mustn’t hurt the preciousssss.”
After securing my final ride, I spotted a news crew roaming around those waiting in line for the Big Bad Wolf. In all my “Wolf” garb, I must have looked like easy prey because the news crew swooped down on me like a mosquito and asked me for an interview. The reporter, Jeremy Crider, a pleasant and professional young fellow, asked me a few questions and I tried very hard to not become an emotional wreck in my responses.
I heard shouting which broke my focus from the news crew. Upon turning around, I realized with horror that MY ride had already boarded and the gates had closed! My husband, smirking, was waving a sarcastic goodbye. I returned the sentiment with a plea to open the gates and brought forth my ultimate power of sad puppy-dog eyes and an undeniably large pouty lower lip.
The crowd in the station witnessed the whole ordeal started to scream wildly for the operator to stop and reopen the gates. Touched at the care of complete strangers, I started the rallying cheer of “BIG BAD WOLF! BIG BAD WOLF!!!”
EVERYONE in the entire station joined in the cheer until the gates reopened (strictly for wacky me)! Hopping into my seat, I started HOWLING at the top of my lungs. Then station crowd all began to howl with me in unison until the coaster left the station. I found out later that this whole event was captured on film and was played on the 11 o’ clock news that night. Bless you Channel 3. You made my day.
6:50 pm: The Big Bad Wolf’s Final Goodbye
The park closed at 7pm and it was well known that any rider in line could ride the Big Bad Wolf in whatever seat they wished, no matter how long this took. As if on cue, the rain began to pound down at exactly 7pm.
Now, since Busch Gardens announced they were closing the classic coaster, it has rained every single time I have gone to the park. Seriously, each and every time. It is as if the Coaster Gods are weeping for me. Either that, or the atmosphere could sense my mood and therefore, reflect my feelings in some weird mutant like power.
The final riders gathered around in a silent vigil, awaiting the inevitable. While trying to find a dry location, we all shared stories about our favorite ride. This included a serious discussion and debate if we should all handcuff ourselves to the coaster and then say some “crazy Big Bad Wolf did it.”
A few of us even took a poll of how far we could go if we started grabbing mementos of the actual roller coaster before being caught and arrested. None of us acted out our verbal and perhaps, mental rebellions thankfully. So it is true. No arrests were made that night. This surprised most of my friends and family the next day as the expected to see me on the news chained to the Big Bad Wolf in protest. Yes, it had crossed my mind.
The park’s general manager, Jon Reilly, came to speak with us during the tantalizingly long wait. He congratulated us on being the final riders of the day and expressed his gratitude for our dedication and love for the Big bad Wolf. He spoke with such fondness of the ride and sincerely regretted that the Big Bad Wolf could not continue to be operational. I looked back to my husband who watched it all with tears in my eyes.
Another park official also mentioned that the auction money went towards Busch Gardens conservation fund to help Mexican gray wolves survive in the wild. Right at the end of the speech, a thanks went out to all of us for providing a great contribution to such an important cause and after a long pause by the speaker, I shouted; “WELL IT IS A GREAT COASTER!!!”
A roar of cheers and applause arose from the crowd that had gathered around our little huddle. Darn straight! It needed to be said!
With that, the group photo of the auction winners was taken.
We were then told that the last ride would go like this: Riders would be called out individually by highest to lowest bidder. Each rider would then go through the line and click the turnstile one last time, then select their seat. Once all the riders are ready, the gates would open and the last ride would begin.
Ironically three of the highest bidders where a no show. Therefore, I went from the 6th highest bidder to the 3rd! I was not expecting this, so when my name was called, I shrieked and spun around in circles clutching my face in surprise if as if Rod Roddy said “Nora, come on down, your the next contestant~ since your Price was Right for the Big Bad Wolf!”
Skipping carefully down the rain covered, slick path of glory, I certainly did not want to look stupid and fall right in front of the news media. My happiness soon faded as I halted in front of the turnstile, the metal device never looked so menacing. This was it; no more will I pass this point. Tears began to well; butterflies circled my stomach. I forced myself through the barrier and looked at the empty seats.
Heartbreak. The empty stares of employees, the lonely dim lighting of the station, the smell of the grease from the coaster’s breaking system, and the slight echo of murmurs from onlookers will be burned into my memory forever.
I noticed that the two highest bidders took the front seats; as expected. Which was fine. I wanted my favorite seat in the back anyway. (The best seat on the Big Bad Wolf; don’t even deny it!).
I clung to the silver metal handrails, for the last time; I touched the pole that held the roof of the station securely for the last time, and I leaned heavily on the gate to peer down into that empty coaster car…..for the last time.
Emotions rampaged through me. Excitement, nervousness, joy, sadness, anger, and heartache; the sensations reflected in my eyes and face.
The final ride on the final car; the 7th car, September 7th, at 7:45pm.
The people riding along with me exchanged handshakes and expressed our sincere feelings to each other. The rest of the empty lines quickly filled with the other riders and we heard the dreaded words, “Boarding guests, please take the seats and pull down your harness over your heads so they may be checked for you….” The gates opened.
The world felt it was in slow motion as it had to be the slowest crawl of any group of riders in a coaster. My legs felt light weights stepping over that black car with its red and yellow stripes in order to sit down in the front right seat of the back car. The harness, felt like and anchor dropping on me. I looked up to my husband, who was perched above the station on a walking platform. He was filming me. I made a “falling tear” gesture and waved a sad farewell.
The ride operator shouted, “Is everyone Ready??” The response was a sad lifeless cheer. The operator continued. “Come on now, is everyone one ready to ride?” This time, we mustered the real applause the Wolf deserved; pushing our disappointed spirits away to give the ride true heartfelt appreciation. The coaster cars jerked forward and with the familiar sounds of the breaks releasing, the final ride of the day left the station followed by howls from everyone riding or watching.
As if my questionable weather-induced-mutant-power prayers were heard, the rain had stopped as soon as we all left the station. The Park had been closed for about an hour at this point, and the night was completely dark. We could barely make out the outline of the trees and tracks as it made slight dip out of the station and into the night to complete the little turn to the left and then to the right to climb the first hill. Murmurs of “I’m going to cry” were mixed in with constant cheers as the coaster approached the first hill. A few flashes from cameras were seen in the distance.
With the first click of the lift chain, tears began to fall. I sobbed and cheered all the way up to the top. I vaguely remember looking at the hazy lights of the Festhaus and the Autobahn bumper car house that was eerily Ghostown empty.
We had reached the point of isolation. No more could we hear the cheers of other watching us go up the hill. We were alone with the Wolf.. as it should be.
I felt the first car slide off the guide rail and begin to pull the rest of the cars down. We were yanked left through a German building, swooped right, and then left in a matter of seconds. Little lights flickering in windows were the only giveaway that a Bavarian style town was even there. I swore I heard a haunted wolf howl and a church bell ringing that was once part of the Wolf in years past.
At this moment I felt the true soul of the ride. Yes. I believe wholeheartedly that coasters have a soul.
It is plausible that people are able to imprint bits of themselves on inanimate objects once they become emotionally attached to them. It is all about perspective. The Big Bad Wolf was designed by one of the best coaster engineers of all time and had thrilled over 29,000,000 riders. With so much love and appreciation, this ride had developed it’s own distinct personality; a collective soul filled with projected emotions.
So perhaps in some way, the Big Bad Wolf knew this was the last ride of its long life. If so, I hope it sensed the appreciation from everyone that night.
I touched the side of the car and gave it a fond pat.
Swinging around the horizontal loop and slowing to a near stop as it turned slowly to the right; the last hill was approaching. A hush came over the riders. The jerk of the coaster hitting the lift chain caused us all to snap out of our reveries and we started a loud chant of “WOLF! WOLF! WOLF!” which continued all the way to the top.
I could see the lights of the Loch Ness Monster, the Griffon, Apollo’s Chariot, and the Alpengeist. Suddenly, visions of each and every ride I took on the Big Bad Wolf played in my mind. It was almost as if the Ghost of Christmas Past was allowing me to see various stages of my life.
In 1984 the coaster opened two days after my seventh birthday and I was there in line; eyes shining brightly up at the tracks. Hundreds and hundreds of times I must have rode this coaster from age seven to thirty two. Like the story the “Giving Tree”, this great ride saw me as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. And the girl loved the roller coaster… very much. And the ride was happy.
Despite my tears, the pull from the front cars let me know it was about time to plunge down the last hill. Because I was siting in the very back, I experienced that wonderful stomach dropping swing to the right, then to the left before the coaster cars rushed swiftly to the bottom. In a blink, the coaster swung over the water and with a quick snap to the left and then to the right, and then to another pull to the left. …… the final ride was …..over.
It seemed like the fastest 3 minutes and 30 seconds of my life. Even though I cheered along the other riders, I knew that this was the last time that I would see the familiar glow of the approaching station house. I even thought about how I would never again experience the slight jerk back when the breaks locked down on the wheels below.
Oh Lord, how getting out of that black beautiful coaster car was so hard. I did not want to lift up the harness and I doubt I was the only one. Chants rang out for another ride.
No such luck.
We all pried ourselves from our beloved coaster and just looked at it. Many of us wiped tears from our eyes.
The whole house went quiet with contemplation. I leaned over and hugged the pivoting fulcrum that hung from the coaster car’s wheel assembly and said a mental goodbye. Slowly, the last riders started to leave the station. Walking over the bridge that allows riders to exit, I howled again. I shared twenty five years with the Big Bad Wolf. Now it was over.
Shaking hands with various people, the remaining crowd marched along towards the main gates of the park. Once we started across the bridge I started to look back to see if I could spot those red tracks in the distance and instantly I had to stop. My husband pulled me into an embrace while I quietly sobbed and repeated. “It will be gone next time.”
Glancing over my husband’s shoulder the rain began to fall again. As if the coaster called out to me, I suddenly recalled something: “Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than remember me and cry.”I have thought about this classic coaster every day since September 7th. Perhaps with the passing of time, I will be able to cry less and smile more when I think of my dear friend; the Big Bad Wolf.
Faded Tracks of Red
by Nora Marien
July 30, 2009
Written in Honor of the Big Bad Wolf Coaster
based on the poem: THE FADED COAT OF BLUE
by J.H. McNaughton
Oh the mighty Wolf sleeps in its faded tracks of red.
All lonely and alone, it awaits its day of dread.
The cars are all still, and what more can be said,
That the twists and turns all remain engraved in our heads.
Thank you strong coaster, for all the years of delight,
the engineers who made you, really got it right.
You always gave us thrills in both the day and night,
and we always enjoyed “traveling at the speed of fright.”
No more will we hear screams of joy caused by you,
rest noble coaster, I wish there was more for you to do.
Your fate was out of our hands, for if we all could choose,
you would stay here forever, and end our coaster blues.
Though you are not the oldest coaster here, there is no disgrace,
the feeling of the swinging cars, can never be replaced.
You are as beautiful now as we all saw you then,
we so wish that your time here with us, would never, ever end.
And even when many years pass, and you have long been gone,
Your majesty and legacy shall forever continue on.
We all say goodbye and in sorrow, bow our heads.
For we shall never see your tracks again in that glorious shade of red.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem; a favored companion.” The Big Bad Wolf roller coaster was my friend for 25 years. And so, it is to my friend, that I dedicate this story.
When the Big Bad Wolf closed Labor Day of 2009, I was an emotional wreck. Being depressed for weeks and completely inconsolable in my grief, my husband, family, and friends were all baffled as to why I was taking the news so hard. It was understandable. My grief had taken over most of my life at that point. Therefore, I am writing this story in hope that my feelings will be put into a perspective that anyone can relate to. I believe we all have or will have our hearts terribly broken. Maybe this retrospective will bring meaning to those moments.
Remembering my friend, the Big Bad Wolf
I will always consider The Big Bad Wolf to be “My Coaster”; not because it belonged to me in a physical sense, but because I always felt a deep emotional connection to the ride. I had to search my soul in order to find the real reason behind my belief that the coaster was a living, breathing entity that returned my affection. It was a difficult journey but with some lengthy contemplation, I discovered the answer.
The Big Bad Wolf was not my first roller coaster experience. In fact; that honor belonged to Space Mountain; then followed quickly by an amazing adventure on the Loch Ness Monster. It’s funny. The Loch Ness Monster was built before I could remember and so as I child, I imagine that it sprung from the Earth like Venus from the Ocean. It had and always existed in my world and therefore, I considered it part of the landscape as much as the trees and flowers around it.
At the age of six, I was entranced by the Busch Gardens landscape. I was a magical world that held great power. Needless to say when I heard of a new coaster being built, I was ecstatic! Better yet, I would liken the announcement of the Big Bad Wolf’s arrival to a mother explaining to their child that a “new little brother or sister” would soon be here. I was about to have an exciting addition to my life! What adventures would it bring?
My imagination greedily fed my excitement and I counted down the days as if it were Christmas day. Ironically, that day ended up a few days after my seventh birthday. Fate had a way of connecting us from the very beginning. In my mind, Busch Gardens just gave me the best birthday present ever! My seven year old self knew that “as sure as the sun rises and the rain falls,… they must have held the opening day back just for me!”
There was no rain the opening day of the ride. In fact, the day was rather hot and sweltering in typical Virginia fashion. The night before the grand opening, I was nervously picking out an outfit for the occasion. I had wanted to dress up for the Big Bad Wolf. So when the day came and I put on my hot pink pants, purple and white stripped 80’s styled blouse, and did up my hair in side ponytails with white yarn ribbons, I felt ready.
This was it. The ride was here. I had already seen where The Big Bad Wolf was to be placed within the park. My knowledge came from a 1984 park brochure that also featured an artist’s conceptual drawing of the ride. That image of swinging coaster cars will never be forgotten. It might as well been an ultrasound image of my unborn child.
My mom and brother were excited too but I doubt not as much as I was. My dad hated heights, and therefore couldn’t care less. His lack of enthusiasm was what made the departure to the park EXCRUCIATINGLY long. An hour is a year to a seven year old. Please dad! I thought, Please- please- oh please let’s go! The park is open! The ride is waiting! GAHHHHH!
I really hated being a kid at this exact moment. I started to wish that Scotty from Star trek to beam me to the flipping park right then and there. Forget everyone! I shouted in my head. Just let me get to that ride!
It felt like a lifetime passed before we set off in our little white cramped Pontiac. In fact, I nearly reached tantrum levels before we were able to navigate the humungous line of cars that stretched down 199 and route 60; my sweaty palms pressing against the side window as I impatiently tapped my forehead on the glass. Finally! Arrival! Flashing our season passes to the gate personnel and then actually crossing the threshold of the park’s entrance seemed as tedious as watching Congressmen bicker on CNN. Maybe the world found amusement in my frustration; it certainly seemed so.
You know those kid leashes that parent’s use these days; the one that looks like a little monkey? I’d bet money that my mom wished she could have had one of those. I never strayed farther than 15 feet ahead before I heard shouts of typical parental frustration. Get Back Here! Stop running! I’m warning you!
My response was a huffed “Hurry up! For Pete’s sake, come on!”
When we passed Italy’s garden area, I knew we were almost there. In retrospect, I should have just strolled down the lane and cleverly stopped at the restroom because the phrase “Hurry Up and Wait,” soon applied to our predicament. Turning the corner, we quickly reached the end of the line for The Big Bad Wolf which was currently the middle of the San Marco Bridge. This was not what I had hoped to see.
A groan escaped my dad. My mom sighed and looked at me. “How about we come back tomorrow? This line is going to take all day.”
I looked at my mom as if she were the headless horseman. “I want to ride the Big Bad Wolf!” I declared with my chin jutting out and my arms crossed in defiance. My legs planted themselves like roots of a mighty oak.
“Ok” she resigned. “So be it, but I do not want to hear one single complaint missy!”
I wasn’t tall enough to really see over the concrete wall of the San Marco Bridge but I could still hear the Siren’s song of a roller coaster. I stretched up on my tippy-toes, my hand clutching the textured wall, just so I could get a glimpse of the Wolf. Eureka! There it was! The Big Bad Wolf was real! It was here; born into the world at last!
I could not have contemplated a more magical time in my life to witness the Big Bad Wolf’s arrival. Seven was the prime age of innocence. I still believed in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and pure magic. In my youthful world, fairies lived in my garden, gnomes roamed freely in our house; and when I talked to my Star Wars action figures, they actually responded.
Drawing nearer to the entrance my heart could barely take the blood rushing though it. I could hear my pulse as loudly as the coaster cars flying overhead! Pure Magic! I thought. The black cars glimmered like fairy dust in the sun; the red tracks looked like a mythical creature crawling through the trees. Much like a true love’s kiss in fairy tales, I felt an unbreakable connection from the Big Bad Wolf immediately attach itself to my heart.
It took three hours to actually ride the Big Bad Wolf that day and surprisingly, my patience never faltered during the wait. Afterwards, I knew this ride would be forever special. It was everything I dreamed it to be and more!
As a child, the Big Bad Wolf took me to a magical place. As a young adult, the ride served as a means to whisk away my worries and replaced them with peace. It was a welcome companion through life’s journey. No matter how bad my day was, how bullies at school taunted me, or if some silly boyfriend broke my heart, the Big Bad Wolf cradled me, gently rocking me back and forth along its red tracks until I no longer cared. I would close my eyes and just feel as if I were flying away from it all.
Still, not even the healing powers of my favorite coaster could assist me in the next stage of my life; the loss of a loved one. My grandmother used to share her words of wisdom by starting off with the line: “When I am gone, remember what I say.” I used to scoff and rebuke her declaration with: “Oh Stop it! You’ll live forever!” Sadly, I believed that. I had fooled myself into thinking that death was a fictitious tale to frighten children.
When my grandmother passed away, I held a veil over my eyes that shielded me from accepting it. My grandfather’s death however, was excruciatingly real. I realized that with granddad still alive, I could still feel my grandmother’s presence. Losing him was like losing my grandmother too. The veil was lifted and I saw death for what it was; a thief.
A few months after I lost my grandfather, the park officially announced the closing of the Big Bad Wolf. My world began to crumble.
It can’t be! I thought. The Big Bad Wolf is supposed to live forever! The naive mantra I had maintained before my grandparents passing returned in desperate force but quickly faded. I realized that this roller coaster had become more than just a machine of steel; it had become more than just my friend. It had become an inseparable part of my life and in turn, a part of me. If something as strong as the Big Bad Wolf could fall, then what will carry on after me? What will be left of us all?
A riddle from the Hobbit came to mind:
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town
And beats high mountains down.
The answer was time. Time devours everything. I had finally come to understand what “nothing lasts forever” really meant.
It was almost too painful for me to ride the Big Bad Wolf after the announcement. I felt as if I was holding my friend’s hand at the hospital who was only given weeks to live. The fate of the Wolf was out of my hands. No matter what I did, nothing would save it.
The final day of the coaster’s operation arrived and after winning an auction earlier that month, I had already secured the honor of having the last “official” ride of the Big Bad Wolf. The day went by so fast, but just before my hand slipped off the coaster car for the last time, I was able whisper a soft farewell.
The next few weeks I felt lost in a emotionless fog until I eventually ran across a quote from my hero General Joshua Chamberlain. His wise words aided in my quest to find closure to a long year of sorrow.
“We do not live for self…. We are a part of a larger life, reaching before and after, judged not by deeds done in the body but deeds done in the soul. We wish to be remembered. Willing to die, we are not willing to be forgotten.
..it is the living who cherish what can never die; it is the loving who keep back their dead from death.”
Profound words from a great man.
My grandparents are gone, The Big Bad Wolf is gone, and in time, I too will be no more. Yet, if Chamberlain is right and as long we harbor the memories of those we love, then we do not walk alone in our grief; we carry their love with us.
I have taken that lesson to heart.
Therefore, I will steadfastly hold treasured memories until the end of my days; never to forget the love of my grandparents nor the welcoming sight of my dear friend, The Big Bad Wolf.
~May they continue to live on in the hearts of all who loved them.