As it nears its seasonal opening, I find myself wondering about the history of Rye Playland.
Did it just evolve over time? Or, just spontaneously appear one day, like the creationists have suggested? Well, for people of all beliefs, here's a bit of the story. And, to the cheeky person who asked? That wasn't me screaming on the Dragon Coaster last July. Little Richard just happened to be playing Playland the very same night.
In the late 18oos and early 1900s, Playland's waterfront area had several hotels, amusement areas and so-called 'shady spots.' These included a bar, where a man could talk to a woman about activities "below the equator" even if she wasn't a geography major. Local residents were concerned about the growing number of unsavory people such places attracted. So, they asked the town to build a large amusement park where all these unsavory people could gather in one spot. Which would make it easier to I.D. them later. Thus was Playland born.
The park was commissioned in 1927 and architect Frank Darling was put in charge. Accounts differ as to whether this was his actual name, or a nickname given to him by lonely Rye housewives. What is known is Mr. Darling did excellent work. Again, as to whether this meant at Playland, or with Mrs. Levin on Barlow Lane, is still being debated to this day.
Playland was finished and ready for operation by 1928. Notable, particularly for its striking Art Deco style. Numerous unsavory people gathered at the park's opening. Who thought that striking Art Deco was a command, and nearly trashed the place. Sadly, too, there was a man at the opening, actually named Art Deco, who was later memorialized as Playland's first fatality.
The world famous Dragon Coaster was built in 1929 and remains one of our country's 100 wooden roller coasters still in operation. Even if Playland execs have threatened a lawsuit, if anyone uses the terms "Dragon Coaster" and "operation" in the same sentence.
Built that same year is the adjacent "Ice Casino." It originally contained both a skating rink, and, somewhere above it, an upstairs dancehall. Much confusion ensued. The dancers who went out onto the rink, only got through two steps of the Charleston, before sliding right into the street. However, few of them made the same mistake again.
Not long after, Frank Darling designed something called The Airplane Coaster. It was originally known as Airplane Dips. As were, apparently, the people who rode it. When Playland changed the ride's name, the people who went on it were later simply known as "whack jobs."
The Dragon Coaster is considered one of the park's seven "classic" rides. It has about 3400 feet of track and is 85 feet at its highest point. Of course, that doesn't include the two feet I left behind, trying to brake the thing when I freaked out.
In 1966 Playland had a rather substantial fire that destroyed the original bumper cars ride and The Magic Carpet. No one was injured. Several people, however, insisted on riding the cars while they were in flames. Playland officials responded swiftly and aggressively to this action. And charged every one of these kids double.
In recent years, you may have noticed that scenes from several motion pictures have been shot in-and-around our amusement park. Among them, "Big" and "Fatal Attraction." There was supposed to be a scene in the latter where Glenn Close feeds the little girl some Playland pizza. But the ratings board felt it endorsed child endangerment and ordered it cut out.
Which leads us to the present. Enjoy the new season at our legendary park. And know that even if a good deal of time has passed since Playland first opened, certain things have remained consistent. Sure there's the Dragon Coaster and the merry go round, but I really mean the unsavory element. They always seem to find their way to Playland. But then again, it's nice to know there's something you can count on.
Peter Gerstenzang is a freelance videographer and entertainment and humor writer based in Rye. His humor column about life in the city, "Wry Observations about Rye," will appear every other week on Rye Patch.