|- Paule B, Cody Jay Mode and Gordon Bombay standing at the base of an abandoned ferris wheel and on the midway of what once was Chippewa Lake Amusement Park.|
Paule B, Cody Jay Mode and I were making a trip across the Northeastern areas of Ohio. Seeing Chippewa Lake was our priority that day. The three of us had become friends while working at amusent park ourselves. Despite the cold weather we had experienced in our respective homes of Cincinnati and Dayton, we weren't prepared for just how cold it was "upstate." After a five hour car ride, we escaped from Paule's SUV and stretched our legs on the lakeshore, shivering from the abrupt temperature change. Below the snow was the sand and we approached the frozen lake, carefully testing whether or not the ice would hold us. It turned out to be cold enough that not only did the ice hold us as we walked out onto the lake, but tracks could be seen from where others had ice skated before we arrived.
In the years writing and photographing for this website, I've been able to see and explore six different abandoned amusement parks, each with their own unique history and modern day ruins left behind. While I always knew about Chippewa, I had never made an attempt to get there, even when I would pass by it on trips to Cleveland. I had heard that there wasn't much left and shrugged the abandoned park off, but the research of Paule B would prove worthwhile when he organized a road trip up North.
We had heard from a contact that there was a museum dedicated to the park near what used to be its main entrance and if you ask politely, they may open the gates for you to see what's left of the property. Given the recent history of vandalism and arson on the park's grounds, we figured it'd be best to show our intent. We came for photography and history, nothing more.
However, the "museum" seemed to be more of a house than an actual museum. No tire tracks by the garage or footsteps on the porch seemed to indicate that no one was home. A rusted sign out front read: "Future Site of Chippewa Lake Park Museum. Opens May 1987." However, it seemed that such a museum never opened or operated. We weren't surprised when our knocks on the door went unanswered. We had to reassess our plans, discussing how to see the park as we peered over the gates to see the abandoned ticket booths:
|- The entrance/ticket booths at Chippewa Lake Park.|
|- Paule B. and Cody Jay Mode on the frozen tundra of Chippewa Lake.|
We had almost made it. On the shore, we saw where the fence ended and the abandoned amusement park began. The ice made low cracking noises beneath us at times, forcing us to go around some spots, but we were almost there - until we noticed someone watching us. A man walking his dog stood on the shore line, staring right in our direction.
|- A frozen Chippewa Lake.|
"I figured that's what you guys were trying to do he replied. I don't care and don't think anyone else would."
We said goodbye and resumed our course, but as we got closer to the park's shoreline, the ice grew thin. We were cold enough and the prospect of being cold and wet, or dropping any of our camera's into the water wasn't a pleasant thought. It was time for Plan C.
As we walked up a street, we could see one of the park's abandoned roller coasters literally in the backyard of some of the residents. We also noticed that the fence was completely gone in some parts and that one resident was out in his backyard doing some housework. We decided to talk to him and ask for permission to cut across his backyard and into the park.
It seems rare that unexpected visitors drop by and knock on anyone's doors anymore and if someone does - who wants to buy what they're selling or join whatever religion they're preaching? People react negatively enough to those things, how would this guy react to us asking permission to use his property to trespass? How would we phrase that question to him? Before we came up with a firm answer, he came to the door with a blank stare and I tried as eloquently as possible to make my case.
He obliged us in a friendly manner, telling us to be careful and even offered the services of a makeshift wood pallet bridge that allowed us to cross one of the lake's tributaries. Finally, we had arrived at the ruins of Chippewa Lake.
|- Chippewa Lake Park brochure. Image Via: Forgotten Ohio.|
Like the other abandoned parks featured here on QC/D, Chippewa Lake is a reflection of changing American culture and an evolving entertainment industry. Small, family run parks like Chippewa are few and far between these days, especially in Ohio - where the modern amusement landscape is dominated by two corporate run parks.
Such as another abandoned Ohio amusement park, Americana/LeSourdsville Lake, Chippewa began as a picnic ground in 1875, becoming an "amusement park" with the addition of its first ride in 1878. Throughout the 20th century, the park expanded immensely. New rides were added, live bands took the ballroom stage almost nightly and the park built its signature attraction: The "Big Dipper" roller coaster. Opening in 1925, the Big Dipper was the definition of a classic wooden coaster. It would remain with the park after its eventual closure and even in death, remained one of the key icons at the now abandoned property.
|- The "Big Dipper" as seen abandoned sometime in the early 2000's. Image Via: Forgotten Ohio.|
|- Chippewa Lake as seen from the air, date unknown. Image Via: Forgotten Ohio.|
|- Remains of the "Wild Mouse" roller coaster.|
The first thing of consequence remaining from the old park was the rusted structure of one of its roller coasters. The "Wild Mouse" was purchased by Chippewa from Geauga Lake, another northeast Ohio park, in 1972. It operated at Chippewa until its final day in 1978.
|- Looking up at the "Wild Mouse" track structure.|
Paule B, Cody Jay and myself had all become friends while working at an amusement park, albeit an active one. All three of us have done our fair share of walking up a roller coaster's lift hill to tell guests that "we hope to have you moving soon" during a break down. Despite all the coaster's we've walked up, including the 200 ft "Son of Beast," no one seemed to want to try and climb the "Wild Mouse" that day at Chippewa. The wood has long since rotted, yell still manages to hold up the rusting track and superstructure.
|- Track of the "Wild Mouse."|
As nature reclaims the land on which the park was built, trees have even begun growing through and around the coaster's track. Through the rusted remains of the roller coaster, a tree grows in Chippewa:
|- The sharp turns of the "Wild Mouse."|
|- The lift hill of the "Wild Mouse."|
Still somewhat visible to the neighborhood, we quickly moved from the coaster in people's backyards to the rest of the park. We came across a building right on the edge of the lake. What this place had been used for, I haven't been able to find out. However, there seemed to be a small wooden stage at one end with bleachers stacked in the middle. Had we gone through with crossing the ice, this would've been the first place we came upon.
We then started down a clear cut path towards where the rest of the park had been. Judging by the numerous footprints, it was obvious that we weren't the first people to treck through the park since the snow fell.
|- The midway.|
It became clear that the path we were walking was once the park's "midway," or main boulevard that linked its various attractions in its heyday. Thirty-five years ago this midway would've been packed with kids looking for a ride on the kiddie coaster aka the "Little Dipper." However, the aptly named pint sized version of the park's main attraction is now nothing but a rusted and twisted hulk in the woods:
|- The "Little Dipper."|
We found our way to a wide open area. It was hard to imagine that we were in an abandoned amusement park. Between the arsons, vandalism, deterioration, foliage and partial demolition - there's not a whole lot left of old Chippewa. Not to mention, we were all used to sweating our assess off at an amusement park during the summer, not freezing in one during the winter.
|- Former boat dock entrance.|
Finally we came upon what has become the definitive icon of Chippewa Lake's abandonment: the ferris wheel. The tracks in the snow were clear, we weren't the only ones who made the trek to see the forgotten park and in nearly forty years of being abandoned. Not to mention, several other people have been here and shared their photographs all across the internet. The park's rusted out ferris wheel with a tree growing through it has become the photograph everyone seems to take when they go here. We were of no exception. The symbolism of the object speaks for itself - the park is dead and nature is reclaiming the land, rising through the rust and deterioration of humanity's remnants.
Through the rusted remains of the ferris wheel, a tree grows in Chippewa:
|- The iconic ferris wheel and its tree.|
|- The ferris wheel up close.|
A destroyed pick up truck, a collapsed wooden building and some other objects were found scattered in the brush, but the last significant piece of history we found was the track of the "Tumble Bug."
The "tumble bug" had been one of the park's key attractions. Hell, as of this writing, only two of them still exist today. Riders boarded cars attached to rods that connected to a motor in the center. When powered, the ride would turn and pull the cars along a circular track that featured changes in elevation.
|- "The Bug" operating at Chippewa in better times. Image Via: Forgotten Ohio.|
|- Rusting Tumble Bug cars. Photograph by Paule B.|
|- Tumble Bug track.|
|- Tumble Bug track.|
|- Arms of the Tumble Bug that once pulled the ride's cars.|
With not much left to see, we turned back down the "midway" and headed for the exit.
I couldn't help but wonder if one day our park, the one that three of us spent so many summers working at, would one day be left behind like Chippewa has been. If so, who, if anyone, will explore it and how will they look back on it?
|- Gordon Bombay exiting Chippewa. Photograph by Paule B|