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Busch Gardens 40th Anniversary Approaches!
Spring is almost here and so is the opening of Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The park opened May 16, 1975 to a huge crowd. This year will be no different.
With a new coaster premier, more additions to the Food & Wine Festival, and a new show in the Festhaus, there will be plenty to draw people of all ages back for another year of fun.
In honor of providing us with 40 years of traditions and wonderful memories, I would like to post an amazing find that Gary Terrell has shared on the BGW Memories Facebook Page. It is a preview brochure that advertises Busch Gardens in 1974 and features some stunning conceptual art.
This year I look forward to seeing the park evolve and also seeing it reflect on the past history. 40 Years is certainly something to celebrate!
Without further ado~ The brochure.
Remembering my friend, the Big Bad Wolf
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.
Guess who’s turning 35? Happy Birthday Loch Ness Monster!
Can you believe Nessie will be 35 this year? I can’t. Of course, I am judging the ride’s age with my own as the Loch Ness and I practically are fraternal twins. My birthday syncs up with the coolest, classic coaster in the world and who wouldn’t mind sharing their day with that? I don’t. In fact, I’m honored.
Well I am a wee bit older than the Loch Ness; but if Nessie can continue to look sharp and maintain a wow factor, then I shouldn’t be too worried about life in my thirties. I mean, it’s not as if my hand crystal is flashing and it is time for me to be sent to the carousel for Renewal. (OK kids; this is a reference to the classic cult film Logan’s Run; and if you think you are a sci-fi nerd and have never seen the film- I pity you and demand you see it. Off with you now!)
My first memory of the Loch Ness was a powerful one. I recall sitting in my stroller and peering up to see a mysterious yellow metal beast way above the treetops. I remember thinking it was the scariest and most exciting thing I have seen in my two and a half year existence on Earth. These odd green metal snakes would climb up to the top and fall off the side towards the lake below. It had to be some magic behind this and I wanted nothing more than to go into that sacred tunnel my mom and brother disappeared into in order to confront this astonishing beast-machine.
For me, it was “Access Denied”. I was strapped to my little stroller like Hannibal Lector with a pacifier stuck in my mouth to silence my protests of not being included. My dad, ever the fearful sort when it comes to heights, was my relieved guardian. He would sit there, mostly sipping coffee with his 70’s style mustache and bell bottom pants, smiling at me. He muttered, “Stop pouting. You’re not missing anything. We are safe here on the ground.”
This reassurance did nothing to appease me. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to ride on that fantastical creature that defied gravity right before me. To me, this was proof that magic existed.
After my mom and brother returned, my mom asked me what I wanted to ride and I pointed with a grunt to the Loch Ness Monster. She laughed. “No sweetie, you can’t ride that. You are too young. How about the Little Nessie?”
I looked over to the kiddie coaster called the Little Nessie. It had a very small circular track that had these little Loch Ness Kiddie Dragon cars that connected in the center to a main hub. The ride would bound around the track going up & down and I suppose for many kids this was a thrill. I looked back at my mom with a furrowed brow. Did she think that this ride would fool me into thinking I was not getting the shaft in this deal? Really?
I shook my head and angrily pointed again to the Loch Ness Monster coaster way above me. My mom, frustrated said. “No! We are going to ride the Little Nessie. Come on, you’ll ride with your brother.” And so I did.
During the entire ride, all I felt was anger. I stared glaring out into nothing while my brother had the time of his life. Not fair, not cool! I was quickly learning that life wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
Later that same year, I strategically rode the Lady Bug ride in the old Grimms’ Hollow section of the park just so I could watch the Loch Ness Monster coaster cars fly above me. Every time I saw the cars go by I kept thinking: If only I were older. If only I were taller.
It took forever for me to reach that elusive height requirement. FOREVER. Four long years of torture!
It was the beginning of the park’s operating season and upon arriving at the England parking lot, I could see the Loch Ness hill peeking through the trees. Would I be tall enough this year? Is today the day? My excitement was maintained as I remained skeptical about the possibility. I knew just how deep the sting of rejection was upon standing up to be measured and being told the dreaded phrase: “Sorry kid. Not this year.”
The whole experience mirrors that of Ralphie’s wish to own a Red Rider BB Gun in the movie Christmas Story. As a kid you seeing that adults have all the power and control and you are just trying to navigate in their world the best you can. Like the BB gun, the Loch Ness Monster was a right of passage; a graduation to the next level of respect and abilities. You couldn’t study in order to pass this test. Nope, you simply had to grow.
The question of my ability to grow from last year would soon be tested when my mom took me up to what I called “The Judging Pole.” This lifeless piece of wood held the power to grant you access to the coolest rides in the park or to take them away. Much like Gandalf’s staff, the wielder could make the decree that “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”
I hated that pole; that stupid, evil pole! I thought it magically caused me to shrink every year just to keep me away from my goal. With that said, I nervously perched on the stand and the employee at the ride used the loathsome staff of doom to measure my height. I vaguely heard, “You’re good.”
For a moment I just stood there shocked and not sure if I heard the man right.
I’m tall enough? I’m tall enough!! Holy crap did you hear that? My mind raced on the news I just heard. “Mom, mom, mom I can ride it! I can ride it!” I screamed with joy and ran in circles like a dog waiting to go outside while you grab the leash. Heck, I probably was drooling like a dog too. Who knows.
Mom was thrilled for me and asked me if I was ready. Ready? I thought. Ready? I have been ready for like, my whole life. Duh! Sheesh. I didn’t say that. It was more of a incoherent babble of “Aragah oh man.. ahhahh can’t believe.. heee… let’s go!”
I grabbed my mom’s hand and drug her into the line of the coaster. I was SOOOOO excited at this point. I could barely think. Looking around the folks in line I felt so cool! I was now a part of the exclusive club of big kids and adults! My thoughts rambled something along the lines of: I made it, I made it! Oh yeah. Doing my little jig right here in line. I’m cool, I’m awesome.
I felt so much older. This was going to be the best day ever.
I cannot recall much about the wait in line other than going through the turnstile and seeing the rows for the first time. So this is what the mysterious building looked like on the inside? I thought as the sound of the announcement spiel and the hustle of the ride attendants became mesmerizing. As quick as people got in the cars and the harness came down, the quicker they shot off like rockets into the unknown.
My mom asked me what seat I wanted. I had already given this some thought. If you are going to go out on your first coaster ride, go big! “The front,” I nodded with absolute certainty. Mom was hesitant. I had to reassure her several times but she eventually guided me to the line to wait for the front seat. Everything was cool until it was my turn to ride. The gates opened for me to take my seat and I began to feel nervous. What if I hated this? What if all this wait is for something horrible?
It was too late to turn back. I raised my chin high and walked through the gates to take my seat in the front car as if I’d done it a million times. Inside my stomach was about to hurl, but I kept it in check. No fear, no weakness! I chanted this to myself and took a deep calming breath as the harness was pressed down onto my shoulders.
As if they were harnesses made of Kryptonite, the feeling of being a big kid-adult vanished; leaving me powerless. I felt so small and insignificant in this exact moment. I realized that I was no longer in control; that I have to trust this ride with my life and I was about to fly 60 mph over a 114 foot drop and even be turned upside down! Twice! I squeezed my mom’s hand. “You can do it.” She said with a calm voice.
I gulped. The car took off, a slight dip out the station. The little glide through the trees was peaceful and I began thinking to myself that this isn’t so bad. However, when the first car hit the lift chain and I was looking straight up the hill, my thought quickly became: OH MAN, THIS IS WAY HIGHER THAN IT LOOKS FROM THE GROUND!
I started to have a mini panic attack. I scanned left and right, keeping my eyes off the top. I could see my dad below, sipping coffee and looking bored. Higher, Higher… click click…clack..clack… Each sound bringing me closer and closer to the top of the hill I had so long wanted to climb back in my Hannibal Lector stroller days.
Upon reaching the top I gasped. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. I was on top of the world! I made it! I was higher than anything at Busch Gardens!
Suddenly, I wasn’t nervous anymore- I was invincible! “This is awesome!” I screamed. Mom told me to get ready and to hold my arms up.
This was it, this was the hill! Over the edge…. My eyes widened… my mouth dropped… words escaped me at view below. Then I felt a sensation of falling; the weight of the car pulling me down, faster, faster, until it all became a blur.
My body began to process this feeling and my brain quickly decided if I liked it or not. I felt a smile starting to creep up on my face and suddenly I shouted out a loud “Wooo-hooo!”
The ride approached the second hill and first loop. Down the hill the train went and then all of a sudden, I was looking at the world upside down. This time I started laughing, the smile never faltered from my face.
Before I knew it the ride was over. Done.
I did it!
The train pulled up to the station and stopped. All I could feel was electricity. I couldn’t speak; I couldn’t even process how powerful I felt.
My mom helped me out and we were walking up the walkway to exit when my mom asked if I enjoyed it. My words exploded into a frenzied mass of syllables. “It was the coolest thing ever! Oh man, that hill… and the loops.. an uh.. and the tunnel was soooo scary!” My dialogue remained on the Loch Ness Monster through six more coaster rides and for the rest of the week.
I will never forget the magic of my first ride on the legendary Loch Ness Monster. In fact, I still have my “I survived the Loch Ness Monster” button and t-shirt as well as my plush Nessie toy I earned after my brave adventure that amazing summer day.
So Happy Birthday Loch Ness Monster! Thank you for all the years of joy and thrills you’ve given me and may you continue to create wonderful memories for decades to come! Cheers!
The Enchanted Laboratory: A Magical, Mystical Show to Remember
In the early years of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the country of Ireland was originally the Hamlet of Hastings; technically medieval England. This area has changed so much over the years that I plan on writing its own tale of development, but for now, I would prefer to concentrate on my memories of a show called “The Enchanted Laboratory.”
I was still pretty young when The Enchanted Laboratory opened in the old Catapult ride building. In fact, I would say I was the perfect age for the show and found the music quite enthralling. Yep. Even now I can sing the melody to the main introduction and finale of the show; the correct lyrics long forgotten.
“Nostromos Mystical Magical Show; a feast for ears and eyes! A world of wonder.. ….something.., of enchantment and surprise! …. Something… blah, blah, something artistical, …. something…??istical…. magical, mystical show!”
Yeah, I know. That is not even close to the main theme, but never fear! I’m pretty certain about the details of the show’s story at least.
It all starts outside the theater where everyone meets “Northrup the Assistant.” He gathers interest by performing a spiel designed to lure and entice guests to come inside and watch the show. Behind the energetic actor dressed in medieval-peasant garb is a banner that advertises Nostromos the Magnificent who promises to turn Iron into Gold. After gaining everyone’s enthusiasm, the crowd is led into the theater to watch the performance.
I can remember the inside of the theater clearly. The air was always cold and the scent of dry ice was forever lofting around. Fake candles flicker around the sides of the wall, and the stage is dark and quiet except for peaceful music that relaxes the senses. The assistant Northrup is busying himself around the Laboratory preparing the stage for the arrival of powerful wizard Nostromos, while everyone settles into their seats.
Before summoning Nostromos, Northrup awakens several animatronic characters. There is a wise owl named Pelinore** (my favorite character), a sleeping dog-dragon Talon, and a taunting raven named Elixer. The basis of the show is given right off the start as it is revealed suddenly that Nostromos will not be appearing and it leaves poor Northrup struggling to perform magic for everyone after the main introduction.
There were several parts to the story arc. There was an interactive magic trick with two children picked from the audience, a disappearing illusion, a spell that allows Northrup to fly (with its own musical number I may add), and the attempt of turning iron into gold.
I would like to insert a brief note that I was called up twice to assist with the trick of a drooping magic wand and the ol’ head in the basket trick. The second time I was savvy to how to keep the wand from breaking which garnered nervous glances from the actor until he bumped me lightly on the arm and whispered “just play along.” Ah~ Good times.
The “Iron to Gold” spell was the climax and since Northrup was not ready to cast such powerful magic, much like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the spell backfires and suddenly causes the beast named “It” to rise from the floor. The special effects were amazing as the sounds, smoke, flickering lights, growls, and bright flashes of light all made the scene very terrifying and yet tantalizingly fun. Nostromos appears on a screen above the theater and scolds Northrup for misbehaving while he is gone but also praises him for his honesty. Then, as Northrup begins cleaning a suit of armor and wishing everyone a fond farewell, the suit of armor on stage turns to gold when the young apprentice touches it, (by the use of laser projections of course). The show ends with that main theme and the doors opening to allow guests to stand up off the wooden benches and leave the theater.
Overall, I would like to stress that the most important aspect of the Enchanted Laboratory was that it was a high-quality production. The music was well done and the whole show inspired my imagination. So, a big thanks goes out to all of those who designed, produced, wrote, built, acted, and created The Enchanted Laboratory.
I will never forget the most important lesson of the show: “If you believe in yourself, then anything is possible!”
**You know, I wonder where the animatronic owl Pelinore is these days? He always said that “Wavering Faith will not serve you well.” I believe in you Pelinore!