Action Park was one of the most dangerous amusement parks America has ever seen. The park opened in 1978 as the brainchild of Gene Mulvihill, a man people considered equal parts P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney. He had a vision of a theme park that was a little bit more extreme, one where the riders "controlled" the action. What he ended up with, though, was a deadly New Jersey water park that 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 the scrapes and scars left behind by the park's Alpine Slide.
Nostalgia aside, some pretty dark stuff went down beyond run-of-the-mill injuries. Multiple visitors were severely hurt on the park's truly dangerous attractions, and Action Park earned its reputation as one of the deadliest water parks in history. Still, none of the owners or operators ever went to jail for negligence, and 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 stayed 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 one of the main attractions 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 that would make swimmers more buoyant, Action Park used fresh water in the pool that made it hard for even strong swimmers to navigate the over-three-foot-tall waves. It was estimated that nearly 100 people needed to be rescued on opening day.
Due to the intense waves and dangerous conditions, 12 lifeguards had to man the pool every day 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 remember bruises and road rashes caused by wiping out on the concrete chute like badges of honor. On the Alpine Slide, riders would climb aboard a tiny sled and launch themselves down a concrete track.
There weren't really any safeguards against injury while barreling down the Alpine Slide; in theory, riders could control their sleds using a hand brake, but those were usually broken. One employee said the sleds had two speeds: "slow" and "death awaits." From just 1984 to 1985, there were 14 fractures and 26 head injuries reported, and countless more minor scrapes that were never recorded.
A Park Employee Died On The Alpine Slide
The very first fatality at Action Park occurred in 1980, when an employee riding a sled down the Alpine Slide jumped the track fell down a steep embankment onto the rocks below. He suffered a serious head injury and died eight days after the incident. The ride wasn't closed. Instead, hay bails were installed on the corners to catch riders who were flung from the track, which was a common occurrence.
The Kayak Ride Was 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 that riders would paddle down. Patrons tended to avoid it because the kayaks would often get stuck on the track or capsize, and riders were forced to get out of the boats and flip them back over. In 1982, a man was electrocuted and killed after he stepped too close to an exposed wire that was in the water. The ride was drained for an investigation and never filled again.