Friday, March 8, 2013

Stabbed With a Fork Near What Used to be Sea World

- Approaching abandoned Geauga Lake. 

This Golden Corral was the most depressing restaurant I had ever been in. Yet, as he pulled the fork from his arm and drew blood, Dane's jovial laughter was like a breeze of happiness flowing through a dining room of frowns.  We were near what used to be Sea World, except now it was solely just Geauga Lake Amusement Park. That was 2006, and my first trip to the now half-shuttered amusement park. The next time I'd be back, seven years later, most of the "amusement" would be gone. It was a park with a colorful history, born from the lake, and abandoned by corporate giants.

- The vast snow covered parking lot of Geauga Lake. Even in prime amusement park season of summer, this parking lot was often.

The reason I'm writing about Geauga Lake is because I was there recently, at least around it. During our trip through Northeast Ohio to explore the also abandoned Chippewa Lake Amusement Park, we swung up to Aurora just to see if anything was left of Geauga. Since the other half of the park is still active, demolition is ongoing and the thought of being out in the cold anymore wasn't appealing. We opted to just drive around the publicly accessible perimeter of the park and take a look, not venturing any closer.

- One of Geauga Lake's abandoned roller coasters sits behind a sign directing vehicles to the half of the park that's still open. 

Before you can understand the significance of what's left, you need to understand what was there. Eventually, the fork stabbing story will make sense ...kind of. Geauga Lake Amusement Park has one of the most fascinating stories in all the tales of abandoned amusement parks. The lake's park went from humble beginnings to changing hands between three industry entities before its "half-closing." Like many of America's great amusement destinations, Geauga started out simply as a picnic grove.

- Historical photo of the park's old entrance under its signature "Big Dipper" roller coaster. Image via: Roller Coaster Database.

What had always been a popular camping and swimming spot, the amusement park itself was founded in 1887.  Live bands, dancing and the first modern rides were installed over the years. By 1925, the park opened its first roller coaster: The Big Dipper. By the 1960's, the park had grown to be one of the largest in Ohio. However, in 1970, another park opened up directly across the lake.

- A large crowd watches killer whale "Shamu" at Sea World Ohio. Image Via: Sea World Ohio Memorial

When you think of Sea World, the first thought that may come to mind is the killer whales on display at their large amusement parks in popular tourist destinations. San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio all currently play host to a Sea World park. The warm climates and already prevalent tourist crowds make the park's a likely destination for traveling families. What about suburban Cleveland though? Did you know that after the first Sea World park was built, the second was built in Ohio? Sea World Ohio even predated the company's best known park in Orlando.

Sea World Ohio was planning to draw crowds from the Midwest and Northeast population. With Geauga Lake right across the water from them, the two parks coexisted peacefully as compliments rather than competitors. As Sea World Ohio grew, so did Geauga Lake by adding more rides, roller coasters and even building a water park while swimming in the lake itself was still an attraction. In 1988, celebrating 100 years of operation, the park opened another classic wooden roller coaster called "The Raging Wolf Bobs."

- 1982 promo video showcasing the "classic" days of Geauga Lake Amusement Park.

The 90's looked good for Geauga Lake, which was keeping up with inter-state rivals Kings Island in Cincinnati and Cedar Point in Sandusky. In 1995, Premier Parks, a quickly growing national amusement chain, purchased the park. The new owners poured in lots of new capital and built many new attractions. Two years later in 1998, Premier bought the entire Six Flags chain from Time Warner. The "new" Six Flags was gearing up to compete against other seasonal amusement parks all over the country. 

In 2000, the park dropped its Geuaga Lake name and became Six Flags Ohio. Over one winter, Six Flags poured in nearly $50 million and dozens of new rides. The water park was revamped and nearly overnight the park went from being a local mainstay to a mega park full of corporate advertising. In the new millenium, the state of Ohio boasted amusement destinations from four amusement industry tycoons:

- Paramount's Kings Island outside of Cincinnati.
- Cedar Fair's Cedar Point in Sandusky.
- Six Flags Ohio in Aurora
- Sea World Ohio in Aurora.

The "new" Six Flags made it clear that they wanted to go toe-to-toe with the in-state competition. In 2001, they opened even more new rides and roller coasters awkwardly fitting whatever new attraction they could into the oddly shaped, space limited amusement park. Six Flags intended to directly take on Cedar Point and to up the ante, they purchased neighboring Sea World from Anheuser-Busch in straight cash. The name was changed again, this time to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. The entire complex boasted an amusement park, water park, and marine life park all for the price of one admission ticket. However, Six Flags at the time was stupid, really stupid.

- Geauga Lake's Six Flags Worlds of Adventure logo. Image Via: Coaster-Net

One of the reasons Busch had given up Sea World so easily was that the whole marine life thing just wasn't working in Northeast Ohio (they also found someone stupid enough to pay them for it instead of having to close it). All their other parks were year round, in warm climates and already established vacation spots. Cleveland, is great, but doesn't really boast any of those features. Six Flags was also spending way more money than they should have all across their chain. Just two months prior to the opening of the 2004 season and facing a mountain of debt, Six Flags sold the park to Cedar Fair - owners of the nearby rival Cedar Point, who Six Flags originally planned to compete with. Cedar Fair reverted the park's name to Geauga Lake, hastily removed all the Six Flags branding and said to hell with the killer whales, letting Six Flags take the animals on their way out.

Geauga Lake was back to being just an amusement park, while an abandoned "pseudo-Sea World" sat across the lake. By 2006, Cedar Fair had razed most of the original Sea World park in order to build "Wildwater Kingdom," a brand new water park on the land. Geauga's original water park was closed and left to rot on the "ride side."

And that year, is when we first went, when Dane was stabbed with a fork...

- This pixelated, poor quality image is the only known photo still surviving from our 2006 trip to Geauga Lake.

In the summer of 2006, I was 17. I worked at an amusement park, it was my second summer at Kings Island. Most of my friends would make summer trips up to Cedar Point. I, however, had decided to go with some friends to Geauga Lake. Why there instead of Cedar Point? Who knows, but the plans were set. 

Great Wolf Lodge, a mega hotel next to Kings Island, was under construction that summer. My friends Ryan, Dane, Bill and I had been invited as media to take a construction tour of the facility. While enjoying the provided lunch, we were served smoothies in decorative glasses. As Ryan sipped his delicious fruit beverage, Dane decided to hit the glass from the bottom which in turn spilled bright red liquid all over Ryan's freshly cleaned polo shirt. Surprisingly, Ryan was calm. He merely wiped himself off, looked over to Dane and simply said: "It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, next week or even next month, but you'll pay for that."

We left the tour and met up at Dane's house, leaving our cars there. The elder, "adult" on the trip known as Bill had offered to drive despite his lack of car insurance at the time and the fact that I had convinced him it was illegal to take a minor over the county line (it's not). The trip quickly turned from excitement of going to an amusement park to "how can we fuck with Bill?" A stop for gas in Dayton took way longer because we decided to get milkshakes. The next exit up we asked Bill to stop at another gas station so we could get magazines - we took our time to browse for which ones. Another exit we asked to stop so Ryan could get his laptop out of the trunk. And finally, we asked to stop for a bathroom break.

We hadn't even made it to Columbus yet.

I was beginning to fall asleep in the car, and as I laid my head back to relax against the headrest I soon realized the headrest was gone. I turned around to see where it went, but as I turned I saw both front seat headrests fly towards the dashboard as Dane and Ryan threw them up front, having previously removed them. More shenanigans occurred: Ryan would roll down the window and slap the side of the car to make Bill swerve thinking he'd been hit. When Bill told him to stop, Ryan would reach forward to Bill's window and unlock his door ...then open it... ....on the highway.

Poor Bill, he must've been a nervous wreck knowing that if any of that tom foolery got him pulled over he wasn't going to be able to show insurance and was under the impression that I legally wasn't allowed to be in the car with him. All in all, Bill was a good sport in the surrounding immaturity. He kept his cool as we pulled into the Motel 6 parking lot where a night's stay was only $40.

We were in Macedonia, Ohio. A town that I remember as being the most depressing place on earth. The hotel clerk's were sad, the gas station attendant was sad and as we walked into that Golden Corral for a hearty dinner, everyone in there was sad. I'm not kidding, it was as quiet as a funeral home. Everyone in there looked like they had just heard about 9/11 all over again. Even the waitress had a look of impending doom as she handed us a plate of rolls and took our drink orders.

Nevertheless, I was learning life lessons from my older peers. As I reached for a dinner roll, Dane fiercely slapped it out of my hand exclaiming: "Don't fill up on that shit!" That day, I learned the value of a buffet. As we enjoyed the "food" before us, Dane was telling a story. A story about what, I don't recall. What I do recall is what happened next. Out of nowhere, after sitting quietly listening to Dane, Ryan grabbed a fresh fork and stabbed Dane in the arm.

Near what used to be Sea World, Ryan stabbed Dane with a fork.

Dane laughed it off. His school girl giggling was probably the only laughter heard in Macedonia that day where everyone was still really sad for some reason. The fork actually went into his arm and made him bleed. Gross? Yes. Irresponsible? Yes. Was he carrying any blood borne pathogens? I don't think so. However, it was pretty funny.

We spent the rest of the evening cruising into different hotel parking lots, trying to find a free Wi-Fi signal in the dark ages before smart phones. For some reason, Bill wanted to find go-karts. While we never found Wi-Fi, we did find go-karts randomly. They closed at 10 PM. We arrived at 10:03 PM.

Back at our quaint Motel 6, we prepared for sleep in anticipation of the next day's adventure to Geauga Lake. Ryan was so tired that he fell asleep sprawled out across the entire bed. I couldn't wake him up and since Bill and Dane had paired up, I opted to sleep on the floor. There are very few decisions I truly and deeply regret in my life, but looking back... sleeping on the floor of a $40/night Motel 6 is definitely one of them. Thankfully, whatever diseases I may have contracted didn't kill me.

The next morning Bill was up bright and early, ready to ride some roller coasters. We were awake too, but Bill didn't know it. He'd come in the room from sitting in his car and see us still asleep, shouting:  "Jesus, come on!" and slam the door. We'd laugh and wait for him to come back, pretending to be asleep again. After awhile we went to the car and wasted more time. Ryan found one of those aerosol cans used for dusting off keyboards and electronics. Turns out, when you hold a lighter up to the spray it produces a large flame. Bill didn't like this. He took the can from Ryan and locked it in the trunk. A minute later Ryan said: "Bill, can I get my laptop out of the trunk?" Bill obliged, opened the trunk and Ryan only grabbed the aerosol can while Bill didn't seem to notice Ryan's lack of a personal computer.

Ok, but seriously, what the hell does any of this have to do with Geauga Lake?

It's true, we did eventually make it to Geauga Lake. Despite arriving way later than Bill wanted to, it turns out the park wasn't crowded. Frankly, the park itself was pretty unremarkable. We rode every ride multiple times, the lines were nonexistent and you could clearly tell the place used to be a Six Flags. It wasn't a very clean park and the ferris wheel overlooked the old, abandoned water park that had been replaced that year with a shiny new one across the lake. In fact, the best ride there was the free golf cart shuttle that took you to the other side of the lake. The classic charm seen in the 1982 video posted above was long gone. When we were at Geauga Lake, it was like standing in a business that couldn't tell what it wanted to be. It wasn't as nice as Kings Island or Cedar Point and across the way were a collection of buildings that Ryan described as a "Sea World mausoleum."

On the way home, Bill remarked to all of us that it "was going to take forever to get home." That's when Ryan said: "Not if we us 'turbo speed.'" I remember it all happening in slow motion. I turned my head just in time to see Ryan's thumb flick the lighter, Dane's deviant smile in the orange light and then: flames. Flames right up the center of the car. Ryan had used the aerosol can again.

It was hard to laugh as we rolled down the windows to bring oxygen back into the car.

In a quote repeatedly used on Facebook by people trying to make themselves feel better, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "Life is a journey, not a destination." Maybe he was right. I don't remember Geauga Lake being all that fun of an amusement park, but the trip there was really funny. I share this story for no particular reason other than it makes a good tale to share with a round of beers and my latest trip to Geauga Lake was pretty boring. Also, it makes the title of the article more intriguing when you involve a guy being stabbed with a fork. The next trip, nearly seven years later, isn't nearly as interesting.

- The remains of the "Raging Wolf Bobs" roller coaster. Ronny Salerno

We drove several laps around the perimeter of the park, public roads encircle what's left of it. On the horizon ahead we could see what remained of one of the park's wooden roller coasters: The Raging Wolf Bobs (I don't understand the name either). The "ride side" of Geauga Lake is abandoned. So what happened?

- The park's "rip cord" attraction still stands. Ronny Salerno

The year after our 2006 visit, Cedar Fair began to scale back the park dramatically. In the summer of 2007 the park opened without two of its marquee rides. The X-Flight and Steel Venom roller coasters had been relocated to other parks. By this time, Cedar Fair had also purchased Kings Island - the company now owned all three major amusement parks in Ohio. Rumors began to fly about how Geauga Lake would close. Sure enough, after the park closed for its 2007 season, Cedar Fair announced that the park's rides would never open again. Focus was being shifted to the water park, which would remain open.

- "Raging Wolf Bobs" being dismantled. Ronny Salerno

Cedar Fair began shipping out rides to other park's in its chain. Most of what wasn't worth moving was demolished save for a few rides. The park's closing thoroughly upset the local population. Preservation efforts were set in motion to try and save the park's 1925 "Big Dipper" roller coaster, but those plans ultimately fell through. Today, a few buildings and the Big Dipper still stand, their future unknown. Upon our recent drive-by visit, The Raging Wolf Bobs was in the process of being torn down - the salvageable wooden timbers being stacked nearly behind a barbed wire fence.

- Salvageable wood from the "Raging Wolf Bobs." Ronny Salerno

Many to this day will attest to the theory that Cedar Fair had planned to shut down Geauga Lake all along - that the Sandusky based corporation, bitter over Six Flag's incursion into their territory, wanted to eliminate any chance of nearby competition once and for all. I don't buy into that. I think if Cedar Fair wanted to do that, they would've done it right from the get go when they purchased the park in 2004. Instead, I think they found out the same thing that Six Flags had learned - Geauga Lake had become too big.

- Peering into the remains of Geauga Lake through a fence. Ronny Salerno

Cedar Fair still operates their water park across the lake, on the graveyard of the old Sea World Ohio. These days as you slather your body with sunscreen before hitting the water slides, you can look across and see what little remains of Geauga Lake and its history.

- Looking across the actual lake at the ruins. Ronny Salerno

When we went in 2006, there had been one ride at Geauga that I did really like. It was called X-Flight. Sure enough, the year after our visit, Cedar Fair moved the ride to Kings Island where I was still working. The ride was renamed "Firehawk."

Eventually, I became a manager in Kings Island's Rides Department, supervising the rides in the "Coney Mall" section. The ghost of Geauga Lake known as Firehawk would still haunt me. The ride was notorious for causing unaware riders to drop valuables and loose articles. I'd close the park and get to the office, only to get a call from Guest Services telling me someone was at Lost and Found waiting to see if we found anything lost under Firehawk. Quickly, I realized this was a daily occurrence and every closing shift would spend a humid summer night walking underneath that roller coaster's track looking for lost iPhones, earrings, hearing aids and just about anything you can imagine.

- Wildwater Kingdom, the still active waterpark. Abandoned Sea World building in the foreground. Ronny Salerno

- The boarded up Geauga Lake hotel. Ronny Salerno

- The boarded up Geauga Lake hotel. Ronny Salerno

- The Big Dipper as seen from the roadside. Ronny Salerno

- The Big Dipper as seen from the roadside. Ronny Salerno

- The Big Dipper as seen from the roadside. Ronny Salerno

- The Big Dipper as seen from the roadside. Ronny Salerno

- The Big Dipper as seen from the roadside. Ronny Salerno

- The Big Dipper as seen from the roadside. Ronny Salerno

The story of Geauga Lake is a sad one. What was once a classic piece of Americana settled in Ohio's Northeastern corridor is a slowly decaying reminder of what once was. Most of the land is for sale and the massive, empty parking lot is a wind swept asphalt field. The existing water park is nothing but a faint glimmer of the huge tourism destination that existed there just thirteen years ago. Geauga Lake has come a long way since it was just a nice, quiet lakeside picnic spot. What will come of it in the future is yet to be seen, but it'll never be as incredible as it once was.

- Roller Coaster in a Ghost Town. Ronny Salerno

Dedicated to Bill for always being a good sport, putting up with us and driving us on that fateful trip. Bill, you're awesome guy and an awesome friend.

Over the years, several of QC/D's urban exploration stories have focused on abandoned amusement parks: View all of the stories

Updates | Oct. 22, 2017:
  • At the end of the 2016 season, it was announced that Wildwater Kingdom would also be closing. 
  • A plaque now stands in memorial to the park, but a redevelopment plan has yet to be realized. It's my understanding that most of the rides and structures, including The Big Dipper, have been demolished.


  1. I have family in nearby Solon, and spent many a summer day at all of these parks in their various iterations (even getting a season pass in the last two years of Geauga Lake's pre-Six Flags era.) It was such a great place to spend a nice summer day. It was never crazy busy, even after Six Flags came in and sunk all that money into it. But the world class rides that Six Flags brought with it (Superman, Batman, X-Flight, The Villain) were fantastic. I remember going up on Memorial Day weekend the year that X-Flight opened. It was a walk on all day. When was the last time that happened at Firehawk (or any major attraction at KI) on a clear holiday weekend?

    Now that I look back at it, the park did have a fun vaguely retro vibe before corporate took it over. When they came in and plastered DC Comics and Looney Tunes logos everywhere, the park lost its charm. It's a really tragic story when you think about it. If I'm not mistaken, the only reason the Big Dipper is still standing is because it's a Historic Landmark.

    I agree, the placement of Sea World in suburban Cleveland was an off-beat choice. I'd been a few times, but the only thing I really remember is this massive rope obstacle course and climbing area that would surely be seen as too dangerous these days.

    Great piece, Ronny. Thanks for the nostalgia.

  2. Great article, as usual. You and your cohorts need to negotiate entrance to GL much like you did with Americana/LeSourdsville Lake a few years back.

    The only factoid I think is inaccurate are the two pictures that you labeled as the Geauga Lake Hotel. I'm not sure what that is/was, but the hotel was further past the park and currently being renovated into an assisted living facility, or at least as of November 2012 was.

  3. Yeah the hotel is down the road a bit. I don't know about it becoming an assisted living facility, but that makes sense that the Anna Maria nursing home across the street could have purchased it.

  4. from Anonymous, 3/26/13- 2:57am...

  5. Just so you know, that boarded up building that you labelled in pictures as the Geauga Lake "hotel" was actually not a hotel. It was originally built as a ballroom and later became a retail warehouse (it may have had other roles over the years, but those were the purposes it served at the beginning of its life and at its very ending). I can say this for certain because I spent one summer during the mid-2000s as a GL employee toiling the hours away inside that building, moving boxes of toys/clothing/candy (and everyone else that was in the stores) up and down from shelves.

  6. This is the question I have been trying to get an answer too all day.

  7. The entire property is now defunct. After the 2016 season Cedar Fair elected to close down Wildwater Kingdom, so that too, is now gone.