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Reawakening of Bushkill Park - New Year's update


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Bushkill Park opened in 1902 and operated continuously through 2004 on the banks of Bushkill Creek. Throughout its first 100 years, Bushkill Park was flooded on numerous occasions by never to the degree caused by the fury of Hurricane Ivan. As the park was continuing to dig out from the severe 2004 damage, additional flooding occurred in 2005 only to be followed by Bushkill Creek breaching its banks again in 2006.

 

After the successive years of flooding and vandalism, some structures fell into a state of instability. Some appendages had to be amputated and vital organs that had ceased to operate were sold off to cover overhead costs. The park was written off as dead.

 

To many on the outside, Bushkill Park did not appear to be breathing, it did not have a pulse. However, the park was in a coma. Outside of the mainstream eye, clean-up efforts continued over the years trying to stay ahead of Mother Nature and Father Time. Bushkill Creek continued to spill over, but not to the degree of 2004-2006. Every so often word would come out about a small team still working hard to re-open Bushkill Park. Finally in January 2017, the Skating Rink opened to the public. It sounded like a good start, but the pictures from outsiders showing the inside of the rest of Bushkill Park for the first time in years didn't tell a great story. The park might be out of its coma but it was still on life support with a touch and go future.

 

A small dedicated crew continued to chug along and on June 9th, 2017, Bushkill Park opened for one day to celebrate its 115th birthday party. 3,000 enthusiast friends and extended family were allowed to visit the patient for the first time in years and show their love for their old friend.

 

The park now has one owner in Sammy Baurkot. Sammy has been a pillar of the business community for decades and he just wants the park open again and he wants it to occur regularly in 2019. He remembers the joy Bushkill Park brought to the community and himself. His community has gone too long without and he wants to fix it immediately. Now as sole owner he can better set timelines, control the budget and seek information from the most knowledgeable sources. His team is developing short term and long term goals with an eye on financial accountability. In talking with Sammy and others involved, the patient is ready to get out of ICU and rise up again. Baby steps at first, but the team is ready to make it happen.

 

I witnessed Park historian Kelly Feathers sharing old pictures of the park with Sammy and his face lit up like a child. He was especially excited when seeing pictures of the old fun house facade which has had more makeovers and augmentations than any Hollywood personality. Kelly has spent an estimated 800 hours at the park volunteering since 2004. She is contracted by Arcadia Publishing to write a history of Bushkill Park. She knows practically everything about the park.

 

Another key member of the team I met with was John Cory. John Cory is a long time employee at the park and while he did not give me an official title, he is a man of many skills, a jack of all trades. His main job moving forward is to get the mechanical rides operational. His main distraction is property maintenance that frequently takes him away from his goal. In discussing the work that went into making their kiddie ferris wheel and roller coaster operational, it is clear that he has the knowledge to accomplished his task with the rides.

 

The newest member of the team and the one who alerted me of the happenings at Bushkill Park is a man I have been following for years, Chuck Burnham. His knowledge of dark rides and fun houses is unparalleled. His immense efforts at Wild Bill's were thwarted through no fault of his own, but now he has returned with a vengeance. His disappointment at his previous locale has only left him more focused and impassioned. He was recommended to the park by a knowledgeable State Inspector who knows what the park needs and what Chuck can do. Bushkill Park is "grandfathered" in for certain old school amusement tricks that might not be possible elsewhere in the US today and that has Chuck's brain spinning in motion.

 

I don't want to overburden everyone with too much reading in one post, and I'll post more info shortly. All questions are welcome and I'll refer them to the park on future visits. The park does not currently have a communications team and does not want to over promise. So while I might ask every question, I might not be able to respond immediately.

 

I am going to use this thread to keep everyone up to speed with updates from Bushkill Park. I'll also review some of the history of Bushkill Park when appropriate. The park, Chuck and I know there will be some haters and non-believers but please be respectful and here them out.

 

The next installment will be dedicated to fun house and it will be photo heavy. This is certainly the heart of the park. The one major remaining structure from the parks hey day, that can be restored in its original building. An attraction that brings back memories for all who rode it.

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John Cory, Kelly Feathers, Sammy Baurkot, Chuck Burnham

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Hope to see you all here in 2019

Edited by larrygator
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That's a cool story. I haven't heard of this place previously, but it seems like every little town in Pennsylvania had an amusement park at some point. A cool unique dark ride would be great, and I know people in this area would go for it just based on the many conversations I overheard at Dorney about how it was better when it was family owned.

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Good for them, reopening next year! I hope it's very successful and inspires them

to make the park more and more "a park to go to", by locals and everybody else.

 

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I wish them much success!

 

I remember this park was featured on an episode of American pickers. They sold off a few of the parks circus banners. The pickers bought them for next to nothing, and found out that they were worth much more than they thought.

 

The cool thing is that the pickers donated all the money from the sale back to the park to help with the renovations.

 

You can watch the episode here...

 

https://www.history.com/shows/american-pickers/season-3/episode-1

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I’ve been following them on social media ever since they opened the rink! Is the plan for 2019 to have a handful of small rides like the kiddie wheel and coaster and then the fun house?

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I’ve been following them on social media ever since they opened the rink! Is the plan for 2019 to have a handful of small rides like the kiddie wheel and coaster and then the fun house?

 

The plan is to open the park for the 2019 season with the fun house and a few small kiddie rides as you suspected. More details to follow.

 

So Mr Fehnel is no longer part of this park then?
. Mr. Fehnel sold his share of the park to Sammy Baurkot, but still his a share of the Skating Rink.
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Thank you Larry for sharing the updates on this park's revitalization effort. It seems like those involved are pursuing this progressively in a way that is lower risk, and I hope it works out for them. A park as storied as this is one that has value being open, even if only for a portion of the year. I'm eager to see how these plans pan out!

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I was going to wait until tomorrow to post these photos, but when you have exclusive material and more is on the way, why wait.

 

I want to start with the Fun House. It is the centerpiece of the park and its most identifiable attraction. It is the reason Chuck Burnham was brought in to lead the park's resurgence, and it drew Chuck Burnham to the park. They are now linked together.

 

I will sometimes reference this unedited video from 1988, which starting at the 3:10 mark shows the most recent incarnation of the funhouse as Barl of Fun

 

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John Cory and co-worker Ceser are owed credit for starting the work on the Fun House rehab. After stripping away layers of paint and additional facades, the Hilarity Hall title was uncovered on the facade. This name predates the memory of many since the attraction has been called the Barl of Fun since 1938. Chuck is going back to the Hilarity Hall name and creating a navigational style maze. This will allow everyone to follow one path as opposed to the previous incarnation which allowed people to wander around and linger.

 

When Chuck arrived on site 7 weeks ago, the building was in bad shape and starting to lean, especially the left side of the structure attached to the old Whip building. Chuck ripped up the floorboards of the building in order to raise the building the replace beams under the building, In doing so, he uncovered some interesting history in the building. Before he arrived some walls were ripped to uncover even more history and I going to share some of those discoveries.

 

When the Barl of Fun last operated, the first room patrons encountered was lined with railing, painted black and had a strobe light to disorient you. From 3:10 to 3:40 in the attached video. After the walls were removed John and Cesar uncovered the following.

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If you look at the ceiling you see a black and white portion. That is the extent that the black room reached. If you look to the right of the picture you see more artwork that has been covered for decades.

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Looking from straight one, the keystone cop image and all images below it and to the right have not been seen in decades. The park historian did not know of their existence.

 

But the biggest discoveries were not behind the walls, but under the floor. After ripping up the floorboards the first discovery was mud. Two feet of mud had to be dug out of the ground to reveal more secrets.

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This circular cement pit housed the mechanisms for a human pool table trick, one that even with grandfathered status, could not be brought back today. Videos of this stunt exist from Coney Island where guests go down a short slide and land on multiple circular discs spinning in opposite directions.

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Also sitting under the former black room were mechanisms that shifted the floor both front and back and side to side. These stunts will be re-installed.

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Here you can see the under workings of the spinning barrel.

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The spinning tub is just hanging out in the barrel awaiting rehab. In the future a Laughing Sal will sit near the wheel.

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Here on the right you can see the old drive train for the human pool table that no one knew about. On the left you can see one of many hydraulic jacks currently in use to stabilize the building. The whole building has also been lifted 5 inches. I saw some old hoses sticking out of the mud and Chuck confirmed they were old air blasts and they can be added to the attraction.

 

To get to the 2nd floor you climb collapsing stairs (seen around 5:40 in the video). In the past guests would encounter a hall of mirrors, a rolling floor (8:00 minute mark or video), an antique rolling horse and a wood slide.

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The one portion of the attraction visible from the outside is where the rolling pins will be re-installed in the floor to slide across after rehab.

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The rolling pins are hanging out on the floor next to the old antique rolling horse awaiting rehab. The antique rolling horse will not be in Hilarity Hall. In its place a cage maze is planned with historical reference on the walls.

 

One thing Chuck pointed out about the upstairs area was the openness of the area around the Hall or Mirrors. He stood in the middle of this open area and asked what was missing. A meekly answered "fun" and he said "exactly". To fill up space on the second floor and add more fun a glass maze will be added upstairs.

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Many of the old mirrors are still in place upstairs and more will be installed. This one is stretching out Chuck.

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Of course you'll need to get down from the second floor to exit.

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The slide is still in good shape.

Edited by larrygator
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Wow, what a workout renovating the Fun House is going to be!

 

I'm surprised they didn't find little critters living in all of that.... debris.

 

The video is great, too. And I loved that a mirror in the House, reflected

how f-ing BIG that camera was, on the guy's shoulder, lol!

 

Great stuff, all of it, Larry! Thanks for finding and posting it.

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^Bill - thanks for your interest. The renovation is nowhere near the fun "stage" yet, still a lot of work being done by Chuck and John to the infrastructure of the building.

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This is awesome! With all the classic dark rides and fun houses that have been lost in recent years, it's good to see one make a comeback in such a fashion. This whole park project sounds fantastic and such a great win for those who appreciate amusement history.

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I am honestly excited about the progress they're making! I grew up in the Lehigh Valley area, and trips to Bushkill Park were not uncommon occurrences when I'd be dropped off at my grandmother's for the weekend. I'm looking at that 1988 video above and it's a complete flashback for me because that's the way I remember the park from when I was a kid. It's been hard seeing the images come out from there since the flooding and devastation they suffered, but after hearing about how hard they've been working to reopen the park over the past several years, it fills me with anticipation hoping that some day I'll be able to take my own children there.

 

Thank you for posting this and keeping us all updated on the progress!

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One interesting fact about the Fun House, there is no record of when it first operated. The earliest known document mentioning the Fun House are from a 1927 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Kelly Feathers, the park historian believes it may date back to 1919/1920 but is still hunting for proof.

 

Over the years the facade has changed many times. Here are a few versions courtesy of the park historian. Some of the photos are screen shots from videos and may not be in focus.

 

Enjoy the history.

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These first three are from a 1940 video

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Current park owner Sammy Baurkot remembers the politically incorrect image on the right side of the Fun House from his formative years. This photo is from 1953.

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Owner Tom Long, taken sometime between 1960-64

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From 1989

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from the 1990s

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from the 2000s

Edited by larrygator
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The photo from the 1990's is the one I've had for some time. Thanks for the others you've found, Larry.

 

I am curious as to what "gag" happened in that extended spot, on the right, with a gazebo-like structure around "it"?

 

Added-on in the 1960's from the photos you've posted. Hmmm. Interesting add-on.

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The add-on window to the right of the entrance housed Laffing Sal. Bushkill's was almost destroyed in the floods, but the frame was salvaged and Chuck will restore it, just as he has done in the past with another Laffing Sal.

Edited by larrygator
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I'll have a update later this week about Bushkill Park, but for anyway that is attending IAAPA, say hi to Chuck Burnham if you run into him. He'll be there walking the floor representing Bushkill Park.

Edited by larrygator
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