Emerge from the entrance to Kennywood Park. Take a look around. If you didn’t know beforehand, you might have a tough time discerning what year it is.
And that’s as it should be, at a place like Kennywood. There shouldn’t be touchstones that would remind visitors of the world outside the gates — or, in this case, the world on the other side of the tunnel under Route 837 in West Mifflin; it should be relaxing, familiar … and timeless.
Kennywood opens this weekend for its 120th season. It outgrew its origins as a trolley park decades ago, and it’s grown up considerably since the park began adding more major attractions in 1970s, when it was no longer a tenant at the site. Those attractions come and go through the years; old rides get makeovers or are replaced entirely. In fact, that may be the best way to mark the passage of time at a place like Kennywood: what’s gone, what’s new and what’s still there. With apologies to Rick Sebak, here’s a look at some of your Kennywood memories.
Pitt Fall (1997-2011)
The towering Pitt Fall occupied a spot in the just-opened Lost Kennywood section of the park, and gave riders an unparalleled view of the Mon Valley. If said riders could keep their eyes open while they hung at the top of the ride, 251 feet above the ground.
Dipsy Doodle (1940-1951, 1954-1962); Phantom Phlyers (1995)
If you wanted to fly, the Dipsy Doodle was for you. It was a simple ride — each car was suspended on cables from the center, and centrifugal force swung the cars out into the air as the ride turned. And riders got a say in the experience, too — each car had a hand-powered rudder, so the cars could dip while they circled. One bit of trivia about the ride, which sat where Kennyville Stage is now: Kennywood spokesman Nick Paradise said the Dipsy Doodle was named for a standard bit by Rosey Rowswell, the Pirates’ radio play-by-play man, who would shout, “the oooooollld dipsy doodle!” when a breaking ball struck out a batter.
The original Dipsy Doodle was long gone by the time the park opened Lost Kennywood in 1995, but a similar ride, the Phantom Phlyers, occupied a spot there for one year. Paradise said it was removed after that season to make room for the Pitt Fall.
Steel Phantom (1991-2000)
Want to make a splash in the amusement park world? Open your season with the newly-crowned fastest roller coaster in the world. The Steel Phantom took that title, reaching speeds of 80 mph (and faster, for a while, until engineers briefly closed the ride to slow it down just a tad). Another claim to fame: the coaster’s first hill wasn’t its biggest; that came with the second hill, a 225-foot plunge through the Thunderbolt and down a ravine towards the Mon. With high speeds and multiple loops and corkscrews, the Steel Phantom was not for the faint of heart — it earned a reputation as a rough ride, even after the installation of a new braking system slowed the Phantom to its intended speed.
There is, of course, a new Phantom in town. Phantom’s Revenge, which opened in 2001, sits in the same spot as its older brother. It has the same first hill; the second hill, for what it’s worth, was extended by three feet. It doesn’t have the inversions, though, just a slippery-smooth ride that allows a faster top speed — 85 mph, if you were curious — and for plenty of airtime, that delicious, stomach-dropping feeling when the rider drifts up out of the seat while rolling over a peak in the track.
Laser Loop (1980-1990)
The Steel Phantom wasn’t your first chance to go upside-down at Kennywood; that was the Laser Loop, a simple out-and-back coaster with one big, scary loop in the middle. The ride’s simplicity didn’t seem to hurt its popularity; it was perhaps the park’s main draw through the 1980s. And yes, that’s Jack Lambert on the ride; he rode it, and several others, while filming a mid-’80s commercial for the park.
Log Jammer (1975-2017)
The most recent transition at Kennywood came last September, when the park announced it would shut down the Log Jammer at the end of the season. We rushed to get one last ride down the surprisingly steep main hill of the flume that had been a fixture next to The Racer for more than 40 years … and then its run was over. There are other water rides at the park, and there will be another attraction — “Kennywood’s next great attraction” — to mark the passage of time in a timeless amusement park.