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Carpenter Paper Co., Salt Lake, Utah via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The 11 Oldest Amusement Parks in the U.S.

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Carpenter Paper Co., Salt Lake, Utah via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As the Industrial Revolution gave people more leisure time and new modes of transportation opened up travel, amusement parks sprang up all over the United States. Many came and went, but some 19th-century parks are still in operation. Here’s a look at the country's 11 oldest amusement parks that are still in operation.


Tichnor Brothers via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The oldest amusement park in the U.S. that is still operating is Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut. The Norton family had owned the lake for generations when Gad Norton opened a public picnic park on the lakeshore in 1846, which also offered swimming and boating. He added rides and an amphitheater for concerts over time. In 1911 the park added a carousel designed by Charles I. D. Looff, which is still in operation and on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Norton family sold the park to the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company in 1985, which sold it to the Joseph Entertainment Group in 1987. They built a new theater and concentrated on concerts more than family amusements. The park was in the news when Milli Vanilli performed there on July 21, 1989, and were exposed as lip-synchers when their recording began to skip. In 1996, Lake Compounce was acquired by Kennywood Entertainment, and the focus of the park returned to family amusements and thrill rides. The park was purchased by Parques Reunidos in 2007 and even more improvements were made. But the park still goes by its original name, even after 170 years.


Tichnor Bros. Inc., Boston, Mass. via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Gallup’s Grove in Agawam, Massachusetts, opened as a picnic park in 1870. The name was soon changed to Riverside Grove, then to Riverside Park when rides were added. The park fell into financial ruin with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, then closed in 1933. In 1939 it was purchased by Edward Carroll, who made improvements and reopened the park in 1940. In 1996 the park was purchased by Premier Parks, which later purchased the Six Flags chain and, in 2000, rebranded the park as Six Flags New England.


Cedar Point Collection via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Sandusky, Ohio's Cedar Point opened in 1870 as a beer garden, bathhouse and dance hall on the shores of Lake Erie. Guests arrived by steamboat ferry until a causeway was built in the 1950s. The first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, was installed in 1892. More roller coasters were added over the next century, leading to the park being designated "The Roller Coaster Capital of the World.”


Ron Shawley via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Thomas Mellon, founder of the Mellon Bank, bought a railroad and wanted to encourage passengers to use it, so he provided attractions along the route. Idlewild, in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, opened in 1878 as a campground with picnic tables and a fishing lake. That led to fishing cabins, boats, and amusement rides. The park stayed under the Mellon family ownership until 1951 when a partner, C. C. MacDonald, bought out the Mellons. The MacDonald family sold it to Kennywood Entertainment in 1983 and then the Spanish company Parques Reunidos acquired the park in 2008.


Irondequoit is a suburb of Rochester, New York, at the point where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario. It was here that Seabreeze opened on August 5, 1879. It was a trolley park that proved to be quite popular. Rides began to be added in 1900. The park’s name was changed to Dreamland in 1940 and then back to Seabreeze in 1970.


In 1860, Solomon Dorney built a fish hatchery in Allentown, Pennsylvania—then gradually realized that he was making more money from people who came to fish and picnic than from his fish. So he added a petting zoo and made grand plans to expand his enterprise. Dorney added rides and in 1884 opened Dorney's Trout Ponds and Summer Resort. That was soon shortened to Dorney’s Park and then Dorney Park. Dorney sold the park in 1923, and it has since gone through several owners. The current owner is Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.


Jeremy Thompson via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

James Parker’s apple orchard in Cincinnati, Ohio, was sold to a group of investors in 1886 and turned into a theme park called Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West. The unwieldy name was shortened to Coney Island a year later. The park flourished until a new park was built in Cincinnati. Taft Broadcasting bought Coney Island in 1968 and transferred the rides and most of its other assets to its new Kings Island amusement park. Coney Island closed after the 1971 season, but it still had its water park, which reopened in 1972. In the years since, more rides and attractions have been added to Coney Island. While it will probably never be as big as Kings Island, Coney Island still lives on.


Carpenter Paper Co., Salt Lake, Utah via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Lagoon is an amusement park that opened on the banks of the Great Salt Lake in 1886. The lake then receded, and what was then called Lake Park was moved to Farmington, Utah, just a few miles away, in 1896. The new location had a pond, so the name was changed to Lagoon. A fire devastated the park in 1953, but it was rebuilt much bigger, with a new Kiddieland and a concert arena.


Martin Lewison via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

As the U.S. expended westward, folks discovered the beautiful lake country of Iowa. Wesley Arnold bought property on the shores of West Lake Okoboji in 1864. He opened a hotel in 1882 to accommodate travelers and vacationers. As the family built more accommodations and attractions, the land came to be called Arnolds Park. In 1885, a post office was established at the hotel, which marked the founding of the town of Arnolds Park. When Arnold built a wooden waterslide on the edge of the lake in 1889, Arnolds Park became an amusement park. The park grew and flourished for the next 100 years, but was damaged from a riot in 1965 and a tornado in 1968. It closed in 1988, but was purchased by investors in 1989 who rebuilt the park into what it is today.


Junction118 via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Exposition Park opened in 1892 on the banks of Conneaut Lake in the town of Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania. Colonel Frank Mantor intended it as not only a lakeside resort, with a hotel, convention hall, and beach, but also as a place to show off the livestock and technology of western Pennsylvania. More buildings were added for parties and exhibits, and the first ride—a steam-powered carousel—was added in 1899. A railroad company bought the park in 1901, and added rail service and more hotels. The name was officially changed to Conneaut Lake Park in 1920. With several ownership changes, the park began to have financial troubles in the 1970s, and admission was charged for the first time in 1990. Visits declined, and the park closed in 1995. A group of investors resurrected it in 1996, and in 2001, the park was taken over by a nonprofit community trust. The park is still dealing with bankruptcy, but is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.


Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania, opened in 1894 as a trolley park, a park placed at the end of a trolley line to encourage riders to take advantage of the entire range of routes. The park’s prized possession is Leap-the-Dips, the oldest operating roller coaster in the world. It was built in 1902 and decommissioned in 1985, then restored and put back into operation in 1999. The wooden coaster is a National Historic Landmark.

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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski
The Elements
9 Essential Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.


It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.


It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.


While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.


It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.


May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.


Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.


Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.


American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.


Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Nicole Garner
How One Widow's Grief Turned a Small Town Into a Roadside Attraction
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Nicole Garner

Like many small towns, the southwest Missouri town of Nevada (pronounced not as the state, but as Nev-AY-duh) loves to tell tales. Incorporated in 1855, the 8000-person city was once a railroad hub and a former home to the outlaw Frank James, the elder brother of the more infamous Jesse James. But the one story Nevada residents love to tell above all others isn't about anyone famous. It's about an atypical above-ground grave in the town's oldest cemetery, the man who's interred there, and how he can't get any rest.

Scan of the Nevada Daily Mail from March 4, 1897.
Nevada Daily Mail; March 4, 1897.
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

On March 4, 1897, the body of a young man was found near Nevada, Missouri, apparently struck by lightning. The local newspaper, the Nevada Daily Mail, printed the story of his death that evening right next to the news that William McKinley had been sworn in as president that day; a bold-faced headline declared "Death Came Without Warning," and noted “His Clothing Torn From His Body." A reporter at the scene described how the body, which was found around 11 a.m., was unrecognizable at first. Eventually the young man's father identified him as Frederick Alonzo "Lon" Dorsa, and the coroner determined that an umbrella was the cause of Lon's electrocution.

Lon left behind a widow whose name was never mentioned in newspapers; to this day, other printed versions of the Dorsas' story omit her identity. But she had a name—Neva Dorsa—and her grief led her to commission a singularly peculiar grave for her husband—one that would open her up to years worth of ridicule and also make their small town a roadside attraction.

A funeral announcement in the Daily Mail noted that undertakers had prepared Lon's body in a "neat casket" before a funeral service set for March 7. A follow-up article the next day read that Lon's funeral was widely attended, with a large procession to the cemetery and burial with military honors. His widow—whose name was determined from a marriage license filed at the Vernon County courthouse showing that Lon married a Neva Gibson on February 12, 1895—had gone from a newlywed to a single mother in just two years.

But, Lon's first interment was temporary. Neva had arranged a grand resting place for her husband, which wasn't ready in the short time between his death and the funeral. Modern newspaper retellings of Lon and Neva's tale say she ordered a large, above-ground enclosure from the Brophy Monument Company in Nevada. A large piece of stone—some accounts say marble while others suggest limestone or granite—was shipped in via railroad car. When it arrived, the stone was too heavy to move, so a local stonecutter spent more than a month chiseling away before the piece was light enough to be pulled away by horses. A wire story described the stone tomb as being "12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Its weight at completion was 11,000 pounds."

Before Lon’s body was placed inside, Neva made a few key additions—specifically a hidden pane of glass that let her view her husband:

"A piece of stone, covered to represent a bible [sic], is the covering of the aperture. It can be lifted easily by the widow's hand and when Mrs. Dorsa's grief becomes unusually poignant, she goes to the cemetery and gazes for hours at a time upon the face of her dead husband."

The Daily Mail covered the second tomb's installation with morbid attention to detail on May 6, 1897, precisely two months after Lon was initially buried:

"When the grave was opened this morning the coffin looked as bright and new as when buried but it had water in it which had at one time nearly submerged the body. The remains looked perfectly natural and there were no evidences of decomposition having sat in—no odor whatover [sic]. A little mould [sic] had gathered about the roots of his hair and on the neck, otherwise the body looked as fresh as when buried."

The newspaper called the tomb a "stone sarcophagus" and noted that Neva was there to examine her husband's corpse and watch the reburial of his remains. There was likely no inkling from those present, or the community who read about it in that evening's paper, that Neva had designed the tomb with unexpected and usual features, like the pivoting stone Bible that would reveal Lon's face below when unlocked and moved.

Instead, the newspaper suggested that the "costly mousoleum [sic] provided for the reception of his remains is the tribute of her affection."

Lon Dorsa's grave.
Lon Dorsa's grave at Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada, Missouri.
Nicole Garner

Following Lon's re-interment, Neva managed her grief by visiting her deceased husband regularly. Her home was near his grave—the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as a 25-year-old widow living on south Washington Street in Nevada, the same street as the cemetery—and three years after her husband's death, she was employed as a dressmaker, working year-round to provide for their young children, Beatrice and Fred.

By 1905, a new wave of public scrutiny hit the Dorsa (sometimes spelled Dorsey) family when the details of Neva's specially designed, above-ground grave began circulating. It's not clear who reported the story first, but the Topeka Daily Capital, published across the Kansas border 150 miles from Nevada, published a piece, which eventually spread to The St. Louis Republic. Early that spring, the same story was printed in the Pittsburgh Press, a Chicago church publication called The Advance, and in the summer of 1906, a description of Lon Dorsa's crypt had made it nearly 1000 miles to the front page of the Staunton Spectator and Vindicator in Staunton, Virginia:

"The strangest tomb in America, if not in the world, is that which rest the remains of Lon Dorsa in Deepwood cemetery, Nevada, Mo. It is so constructed that the widow can look upon her deceased husband at will, by the turning of a key in a lock which holds a stone Bible just above the remains."

Articles at the time noted that Lon's remains were in an airtight tomb and that scientists supposedly told Mrs. Dorsa that her husband's body would be well-preserved in those conditions, but decomposition had already taken place: "It [the body] has turned almost black, but the general outline of the features remains unchanged."

According to a 1997 walking tour pamphlet of Deepwood Cemetery, it wasn't long before community members caught on that Neva visited the cemetery all too often: "Fascinated children hung about to watch the lady arrive in her buggy. If she saw them, she'd go after them with a whip, shrieking like a madwoman …" the guide stated. Eventually, "her family had the pivot removed and the Bible cemented down."

Local lore suggests that the publicity and Lon's deterioration drove Neva to insanity. Some say she ended up in an asylum and died soon after—a fairly believable tale, considering Nevada was home to one of the state's hospitals for mental illness. However, a list of Deepwood Cemetery lot owners, found at the Vernon County Historical Society, doesn't have a burial space for Neva.

A more likely explanation—based on a listing on Find a Grave, a website that indexes cemeteries and headstones, and which matches Neva's personal information—suggests she simply remarried and moved to California. The California Death Index, 1945-1997, shows that a Neva (Gibson) Simpson died Dec. 30, 1945 in Los Angeles. The birth date and place match those of Neva (Gibson) Dorsa.

Newspaper clipping featuring a picture of a skull.
Nevada Daily Mail, Nov. 30, 1987. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
State Historical Society of Missouri

Wherever Neva ended up, Lon's body didn't exactly rest in peace. In July 1986, vandals broke into the town's most famous tomb and stole his head. It was recovered the following year in a Nevada home, but law enforcement and cemetery caretakers noted that the stone Bible, which had been cemented down for some time, was periodically ripped off the tomb.

Talbot Wight, the Deepwood Cemetery Board’s president at the time, told the Daily Mail in 1987 that Lon's hair, skin, and clothing were well preserved until vandals broke the encasing glass. "Evidently, he was still in pretty good shape until July," Wight said.

But when Lon's skull was photographed for the newspaper's front page, it featured no hair or skin, both of which likely decomposed quickly after being stolen if not before. The skull was buried in an undisclosed location away from the body so as to not tempt new grave robbers, and the tomb was re-sealed with marble in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Still, the story of Neva Dorsa and her husband’s remains hasn't died away. It circulates through southwestern Missouri, drawing visitors to Deepwood Cemetery to gaze at the stone plot—just not in the same way Neva had intended.


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