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3 Dearly Departed Amusement Parks

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When Six Flags filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Saturday, everyone who enjoys a good rollercoaster probably cringed. While Six Flags' executives are assuring patrons that their parks will remain open during their tough economic times, it's still no fun thinking that all of those six-dollar sodas we've been buying over the years couldn't keep the place solvent.

At least for now, though, Six Flags won't join the list of dearly departed theme parks that for one reason or another couldn't hack it and are now in the amusement graveyard. Let's take a look at some of the ones that weren't so lucky.

1. Action Park

AP.jpgSure, modern amusement parks are fun, but where's the danger? It wasn't missing at New Jersey's infamous/beloved Action Park, which entertained and injured locals in Vernon Township, New Jersey, from 1978 to 1996. When the park opened, it was mostly swimming pools and water slides, but over time more complex water attractions, go-karts, and rides were added.

Sounds fun, right? It would have been if not for how dangerous the park was. The staff was often young and inattentive, and injuries and fatalities (yes, fatalities) started piling up. The giant waves in the wave pool (nicknamed the "Grave Pool") drowned a few patrons, but the park was perhaps best known for its looping water slide.

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The enclosed waterslide ended with a total vertical loop. If this setup sounds like a terrible idea, that's because it was. If the rider lacked the speed or the water pressure to make it all the way through the loop, an injury was inevitable. Patrons got nosebleeds, back injuries, or stuck at the top of the loop.

Park staff later claimed that they were offered a hundred bucks a pop to try to the slide, but refused after seeing that test dummies often emerged on the other end dismembered. The looping slide was actually closed down for most of the park's life due to these injury concerns.

In 1996, with a total body count of six fatalities and countless injuries, the park had to close down due to its inability to cover the exorbitant insurance premiums its dangerous rides required. However, many of the rides still exist in safer, renovated form as Mountain Creek Waterpark.

2. Dogpatch USA

Younger readers might not be familiar with Al Capp's comic strip Li'l Abner, but it basically chronicled the hilarious lives of a family of goodhearted hillbillies in Dogpatch, Kentucky. The strip ran for 43 years and at its peak had millions of readers.

dogpatch-usa.jpgFor some reason, in 1966 real estate developer O.J. Snow decided that Li'l Abner and the gang would be the perfect subject for an amusement park, and he enlisted partners to help build a replica of Dogpatch in the Ozark Mountains near Jasper, Arkansas. In order to secure the Li'l Abner license from Al Capp, Snow had to assure the strip's creator that he wouldn't include any thrill rides in the park, so it mostly consisted of Li'l Abner characters strolling around, paddleboat rides, train rides, and the like.

After Snow and his partners spent over a million dollars getting the park up and running for its 1968 opening, the park turned a tidy profit in its first year. After that, however, some pretty big cracks emerged in Dogpatch USA's underlying concept. First, while Li'l Abner was a fairly lighthearted look at mountain culture, Arkansans couldn't help but realize that going to a hillbilly-themed park was like paying to be mocked. "Ha! Look at how quaint and funny you mountain folk are!" didn't exactly make the locals break out their wallets. On top of that, for all of the Natural State's charms, Arkansas isn't a huge tourist destination, so the park couldn't piggyback off of the region's success at pulling in tourists. For reasons like these, nobody came to Dogpatch USA. The park had hoped to draw 1.2 million visitors a year within its first nine seasons of operation; the most it ever drew was 300,000 in its inaugural year.

Over the next 24 years, the park changed hands several times, added roller coasters, and shifted focus towards theater attractions, but nothing could lure in patrons. In 1993 the park closed for good, and now it sits abandoned on State Highway 7 with trees and weeds growing around the old rides and attractions.

3. Opryland USA

When I was growing up about an hour north of Nashville, the promise of a trip to Opryland could coerce my younger brother and me into doing pretty much anything. The country-music-themed park opened in Nashville in 1972 and offered traditional rides like roller coasters as well as live country music revues. The park quickly established a brisk business and pulled in over two million guests per year. In 1977, the Opryland Hotel opened, and the sprawling inn has since become the largest non-casino hotel in the world.

opryland-usa.jpgOver time, though, the park ran into a problem: it was out of room to expand. Because its triangular footprint wedged between the Cumberland River, the Opryland Hotel, and a major parkway, the park was pretty much stuck at one size. Gaylord, the park's owners, decided to shutter the park, sell off the rides, and built the gigantic Opry Mills mall on the site.

Although the park disappeared, not all of the rides shared its fate. As is fairly common in these cases, management sold some of the nicer roller coasters to other parks. Today the Hangman operates as Kong at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, and the Rock "˜n' Roller Coaster found new life as the Canyon Blaster at New York's The Great Escape.
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Do you have a favorite departed amusement park or have any tales of your own gruesome injuries from Action Park?

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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