The True Story Of Action Park, New Jersey's Deadliest Theme Park

Action Park was reportedly one of America's deadliest amusement parks. The park opened in 1978 as the brainchild of Eugene Mulvihill, a man considered equal parts P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney. He envisioned a theme park with slightly more thrills, one where the riders "controlled" the action.

What he ended up with, though, was a deadly New Jersey amusement and water park, which still lives on in the memories of New Jerseyans and New Yorkers born in the '70s and '80s. Even New Jersey Senator Cory Booker fondly remembers his scrapes and scars from riding the park's Alpine Slide.

Nostalgia aside, some dark stuff went down, way beyond run-of-the-mill injuries. Multiple visitors sustained injuries on the park's dangerous attractions.

Still, none of the owners or operators ever went to jail for negligence; the park only shuttered in 1996 due to financial woes. We've compiled a list of the most frightening events in the park's 18-year history, a place that remained open 14 years after its first accidental death in 1982.

  • So Many People Died In The Wave Pool, It Earned A Grim Nickname

    The Tidal Wave Pool quickly became a prominent attraction at Action Park. As one of the first wave pools of its kind in the US, it was a huge hit from day one. Instead of filling the wave pool with salt water to make swimmers more buoyant, Action Park used fresh water in the pool, which made it hard for even strong swimmers to navigate the over-three-foot-tall waves. Allegedly, rescuers had to save nearly 100 people on its opening day.

    Due to the intense waves and dangerous conditions, 12 lifeguards manned the pool daily, and - on busy days - they had to save an average of 20 to 30 patrons from drowning. For reference, the typical lifeguard ends up saving two or three people over the course of an entire summer at a regular pool.

    Despite the heightened lifeguard presence, three people drowned in the wave pool between 1982 and 1987, earning it the nickname "The Grave Pool." 

  • The Alpine Slide Caused Dozens Of Fractures And Head Injuries


    No ride embodies Action Park's philosophy better than the Alpine Slide. Former park-goers consider bruises and road rashes caused by wiping out on the concrete chute badges of honor. On the Alpine Slide, riders would climb aboard a tiny sled and launch themselves down a concrete track.

    There weren't any safeguards against injury when people were barreling down the Alpine Slide; in theory, riders could control their sleds using a handbrake, but those were usually broken. One employee said the sleds had two speeds: "slow" and "death awaits." From 1984 to 1985, there were 14 fractures and 26 head injuries reported, and countless more unrecorded minor scrapes.

  • A Park Employee Died On The Alpine Slide

    The first fatality at Action Park occurred in 1980, when an employee riding a sled down the Alpine Slide jumped the track, then fell down a steep embankment onto the rocks below. He suffered a serious head injury and died eight days after the incident. The ride didn't close.

    Instead, staff placed hay bales on the corners to catch riders flung from the track, which was a common occurrence.

  • The Kayak Ride Permanently Drained After Someone Got Electrocuted

    Even the boring rides at Action Park were deadly. The park's kayak ride was nothing more than a few large fans creating fake rapids on a watery track, which riders could paddle down. Patrons tended to avoid it because the kayaks would often became stuck on the track or capsize, and riders had to get out of the boats and flip them back over.

    In 1982, an electrocuted man died after he stepped too close to an exposed wire in the water. The staff drained the ride for an investigation and never filled it again.

  • The Water Beneath The Tarzan Swing Was Cold Enough To Kill

    The Water Beneath The Tarzan Swing Was Cold Enough To Kill
    Video: YouTube

    There were several ways for the Tarzan Swing to go wrong. The ride comprised a long piece of rope which could swing people out over a giant pool, where they would let go and fall into the chilly water below. This was the ideal result, but since there was nothing holding riders beyond their own grip, plenty of patrons would slip off quickly, nearly landing on the rocks below.

    Riders able to keep ahold often landed on their belly or back after trying to impress friends with a poorly timed flip. Some park-goers remember seeing way more than they wanted when riders spent extended time in the air shouting obscenities, sometimes effectively exposing themselves to people waiting in line.

    If the risk of public indecency wasn't enough, the water beneath was cold to the point it could kill. The pool below the Tarzan Swing had natural spring water, which could measure 30 degrees colder than the water at other park attractions. Reportedly, the shock of the freezing water caused a man to have a fatal heart attack in 1984.

  • The Looping Waterslide Destroyed Test Dummies And Broke Teeth

    Park founder Gene Mulvihill allegedly designed the infamous looping Cannonball Slide as a sketch on a napkin. He had no engineering experience, yet figured he was the right guy for the job. After building the slide, Mulvihill and staff first tested the ride by sending dummies down the slide to see how they fared. Rumors claim the dummies would often emerge from the bottom of the ride decapitated or in pieces.

    Mulvihill then paid $100 cash to any employee willing to try the slide, which one former employee said they "didn't buy enough booze to drown out the memory." Test subjects frequently didn't make it all the way around the loop; they instead face-planted at the apex, chipping their teeth in the process.

    A trap door installed at the top of the loop retrieved stuck riders before the ride opened to the public. State safety regulators closed the ride about a month later.