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This episode of the See America Podcast was written and hosted by Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue.
Roller Coasters are a right of passage for just about every kid. Peer pressure is usually what drives you to have your first go at one. I think I was probably 10 or 12 before I worked up the courage. For many, your first is your last. For others, it’s sparks a lifetime of enjoyment.. Years of development have made scream machines safer, but have also allowed for a dramatic war between amusement parks across the world to build the biggest and fastest. One park has been at the epicenter of that battle from the beginning.
On this episode of See America, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, the second oldest amusement park in North America.
G.A. Boeckling and Cedar Point History:
Billed as America’s second-oldest amusement park, Cedar Point first started off as a bathhouse, beer garden, and dance floor on the beach of a sandy, cedar-covered peninsula separating Sandusky Bay from Lake Erie on the north end of Ohio. In 1870 Louis Zistel, a German immigrant began ferrying locals to the peninsula once used to defend a Confederate prison during the Civil War. He charged 25 cents per person to ride on his boat “Young Reindeer,” thus marking the beginning of commercial tourism to the area.
In 1882 Benjamin F. Dwelle and Captain William Slackford leased land on the peninsula and built eight new bathhouses, a dance hall and wooden walkways on the beach. The steamboats R.B. Hayes and Lutts provided transport as Dwelle and Slackford continued to expand their offerings to visitors each year by adding picnic tables, clearing acres of brush, and building a baseball diamond.
In 1888, after Slackford became ill, Dwelle entered into a partnership with Adam Stoll and Louis Adolph, who also owned land at Cedar Point, and investors Charles Baetz and Jacob Kuebeler. The partnership’s first venture was constructing a Grand Pavilion, featuring a two-story theater and concert hall with a bowling alley and photographer’s studio. The building, recognized for its unusual architecture, still stands in the park today.
The first amusement ride, a water toboggan consisting of a ramp that launched riders into Lake Erie, opened in 1890. Electricity was installed in 1891. The first roller coaster, Switchback Railway, opened the following year and stood 25 feet high with a top speed of 10 miles per hour and was designed as two identical tracks side-by-side – one track for the ride down and the other track was used to haul the train back to the top by the ride attendants.
In 1897 a representative of the Lake Erie and Western Railroad purchased the peninsula for $256,000 and formed the Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company appointing Indiana businessman George A. Boeckling as the park’s new manager. Known as the Boeckling Era, Cedar Point was transformed from picnic grounds into a national amusement park and resort destination. By 1902, the second roller coaster, the Figure-Eight Roller Toboggan, debuted and a pony track was built near the beach. The historic Hotel Breakers opened in 1905 as was one of the largest hotels in the Midwest with 600 guest rooms and a cafe that could seat 400. A new area of the park called “Amusement Circle” was designed in 1906 to link the pier to the beach. It was located southeast of the Coliseum, a large arena built the same year that featured a grand ballroom and other attractions.
By 1917 Cedar Point had grown to a destination location, featuring an assortment of rides including three roller coasters, however, Boeckling continued to market the peninsula as a bathing resort. Focusing his attention on shows, exhibits, motion pictures, and other forms of entertainment. Constructing a substantial number of hotels and restaurants, including Hotel Cedars, White House Hotel, Crystal Rock Castle and the Crystal Gardens Ballroom.
But even as focus was being placed on the bathing resort, Cedar Point continued to update its rides, replacing the Racer, the Circle Swing, and others to make way for a Tilt-A-Whirl, fun houses, and the Shoot-the-Chutes water ride. In 1929, as Boeckling’s health began to deteriorate The Cyclone, a rickety and rough roller coaster, opened, and by 1931, Boeckling was confined to a wheelchair. He continued to oversee park operations eventually having to remain indoors as his condition worsened. Boeckling died from uremia on July 24, 1931. His portrait in the lobby of the Breakers Hotel was draped in black and flags around the resort and on the G.A. Boeckling steamboat were lowered to half-mast in honor of a man who put Cedar Point on the map.
Visiting Cedar Point:
Since the Boeckling Era Cedar Point has continued to expand, becoming one of the nation’s largest amusement parks, and a record-setter in roller coasters. In the last decade the park has doubled down on family fun offerings with rides aimed at younger visitors and the recent addition of Adventure Island’s Forbidden Frontier allows families to embark on an interactive adventure complete with secret missions. The park has also continued to push the boundaries of thrill rides. Debuting a floorless rollercoaster in 2015, the tallest, fastest and longest dive roller coaster in the world in 2016, and in 2018 they unveiled Steel Vengeance, the tallest, fastest, longest, steepest hybrid roller coaster on Earth. If you want tall, fast, and steep, Cedar Point is your amusement park.
Cedar Point considers 1870 it’s official opening, making 2020 it’s 150th anniversary, and while COVID-19 has kept the park closed for the early part of the year, Cedar Point does have plans to reopen on July 9th. Tickets to the park vary from single-day admission to season pass, along with hotel packages and an RV park with 25 sites. The park is open daily during the summer with adjusted hours during the spring and fall. Cedar Point is only a short 4-mile drive from Sandusky, Ohio’s city center, and 62 miles from Cleveland. I highly recommend you check Cedar Point’s website for up-to-date information as park hours, availability, and attendance guidelines will continue to change long after this podcast has been published.
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You can hear this story and more on the See America Podcast. Available on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.