Culture
1.5m readers

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

Updated April 6, 2021 1.5m views12 items

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.

  • 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.

  • Employees Jury-Rigged Go-Karts To Reach 50 MPH

    Action Park featured a few different kinds of go-karts - some were more expensive to ride because they could reach higher top speeds and drove more like race cars. Each super go-kart had a device on its motor to keep the top speed at or around 20 mph, but ride operators figured out a tennis ball wedged in a specific place allowed the karts to reach speeds closer to 50 mph.

    There's nothing safer than an open cockpit go-kart without restraints, traveling at speeds capable of killing passengers in real automobiles. After the park would close, employees often snuck into the garages to take the fastest go-karts for a spin on nearby Route 94.

  • The Town Needed To Purchase More Ambulances To Handle All The Injuries

    Video: YouTube

    Action Park earned plenty of nicknames by visitors and employees alike - from "Traction Park" to "Class Action Park" - because of the implied danger and Mad Max-esque environment created at the resort. The town of Vernon, NJ, the park's location, allegedly had to purchase more ambulances to manage the multitudes of injuries at Action Park.

    During the summer, aroughly 10 people suffered injuries per day.