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Reawakening of Bushkill Park - New Year's update

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A nice update from the local newspaper. Not mentioned in the article, Chuck set-up a mini haunted house featuring some of the props that will go into the returning pretzel dark ride.




What a ride. Spinning, twirling, nostalgia return after 12 years to Bushkill Park.

Posted Oct 11, 2019

By Rudy Miller | For lehighvalleylive.com


For more than 100 years, kids rode the rides at Bushkill Park in Forks Township.


What made the rides so remarkable this summer was the 12-year lapse that preceded their return to operation.


Three major floods, Herculean cleanup tasks and the myriad distractions from smartphones to indoor water parks didn’t keep patrons from returning to the tiny amusement park to take advantage of the newly restored, historic rides.


“There aren’t many parks that go to the brink of extinction and come back,” said Jeremy Carrington, Bushkill Park’s director of operations.


It took more than a decade to bring back the rides. The park started modestly this summer with just five rides mostly geared toward youngsters. Carrington envisions eventually opening 15 to 18 rides.


The park owners knew they were on to something when thousands of patrons rushed to the park for a one-day-only open house of working rides in 2017. Then-park manager Neal Fehnel estimated 3,000 people came through the gates but Carrington puts that number closer to 5,000.


The turnout was much greater than expected, but could patrons be expected to show up weekend after weekend for a whole summer? They did, Carrington said.


“Attendance has gone up every weekend we’ve been open,” he said. The park averaged about 1,000 riders per weekend. It was only open Fridays and Saturdays and will remain open on the weekends through the end of October.


There are bigger and better parks, but they don’t have the memories that stir grandparents to bring their families to Bushkill Park.


“It’s not so much that you can put your kid on a ride. It’s that you can put your kid on the same ride that you rode and that your grandparents rode,” Carrington said Thursday. Few parks have been around as long as Bushkill Park. One elderly man and his wheelchair-bound wife came every weekend this summer for an ice cream cone, Carrington said.


“He would wheel her down and together they would take a train ride,” he said.


Others have come from out of state looking for Bushkill Falls and are charmed by the off-the-beaten-path park they stumble upon.


The park is making a comeback thanks to a staff of five retired carnival workers using their collective talents to reverse-engineer the dormant rides. Some lay caked in mud after three successive floods in 2004, 2005 and 2006 that nearly put the park out of business.


As workers restore the rides, they uncover pieces of history. Chuck Burnham is painting the funhouse. Once known as the “Barl of Fun,” the funhouse was covered in layers of old paint. Burnham burned away the layers to arrive at a lead-based coat. In lead paint were the words “Hilarity Hall” spanning the entrance.

Bushkill Park


It turns out the “Hilarity Hall” funhouse is registered through old insurance records dating back to 1927. Burnham dates the paint used back to 1918, making the funhouse the oldest in the country by his reckoning.


When he was invited to restore the house he moved to the Lehigh Valley from Connecticut and has lived here ever since.


“We have a real gem here,” he said.


His vision for the funhouse includes nods to various eras of its use. To the left of the entrance, he recreated the image of a maiden standing on a circus ball that lay hidden for decades under layers of paint. On the right side, he could find no such hidden image so he recreated his own version of the “barl," or barrel of fun as the house had come to be known. The “barrel” refers to the large rotating tunnel inside the house.


Over the center of the entrance he painted a 1960s-era sunburst clock with backwards numbers. It will eventually say, "Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.”


Workers like Burnham aren’t in it for the money.


“They’re here because they want to be here. They love the atmosphere of the park and they want to see us open,” Carrington.


Bushkill Creek floods are a constant threat. The land was drained more than a hundred years ago to make way for a transit stop. The amusement park opened in 1902. Carrington said the owners have learned to cope with the floods, to make the rides more waterproof and make water-sensitive motors easier to remove.


A flood in 2018 put the park to the test. Rather than lament, the workers rushed into the waters to learn how to adapt to the conditions. They figured out water was coming through drain pipes and are modifying those pipes to better control future deluges.

Bushkill Park flood


“We learned a lot from being in the actual water,” he said. They took advice from Knoebels in Elysburg, an amusement park also prone to flooding. As the water retreated, Bushkill Park workers power-washed and pumped out wet areas and were ready to reopen quickly.


It’s not too late to check out Bushkill Park yourself. The park remains open three more weekends. Halloween in the Park is slated for Saturday, Oct. 19. There will be food trucks, a craft fair, pony rides and a pumpkin patch.


Carrington knows there’s a long way to go before the park is fully restored but he’s happy with his progress.


“Almost all the feedback we’ve gotten is positive. They tell us, ‘It’s looking good. Keep up the good work,’” he said.

See for yourself


Bushkill Park’s rides are open:


5 to 10 p.m. Sat., Oct. 12.

5 to 9 p.m. Sunday., Oct. 13.

Noon to 10 p.m. Sat., Oct. 19 (Halloween in the Park. It features food trucks, a craft fair, pony rides, and a pumpkin patch).

5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20.

5 to 10 p.m. Sat., Oct 26.

5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27.


What’s open?


The swans. The ride is original to the park and easy to maintain. It’s a favorite with the youngest patrons.

The Cops and Clowns ride. It was brought in from Dorney Park.

A portable kiddie ferris wheel.

The train.

A red kiddie track ride.


What’s (hopefully) coming next year?


The funhouse.


The dry boats, so named because they don’t run on water. A “wet boats” ride, where the boats actually float on water, is also slated for repair at some point.


The kiddie coaster. This ride is original to the park. It’s among the last of its kind. The park received a grant to restore it.


The whip ride or the Merry Mixer.


Year-round fun


The skating rink is open all year from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from noon to 2 p.m. Sundays.


The rink has been open for the past three years. It went up in 1926, making it the oldest rink in the nation, according to Carrington, who cites a report in Rinksider magazine.


There’s an adjacent hall with a snack bar to host birthday parties at the skating rink. Parties start at $250.


Find out more about the park or kids’ parties by calling 610-258-6941 or checking Facebook.

Edited by larrygator
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I will certainly be checking this place out next year if they get some more of this stuff opened up. Hopefully they can update the website with additional info because right now there's really nothing on there.


For the time being, they are focusing on Facebook updates, the website is far down the chain of items to fix.

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If anyone is in the area, I'll be at Bushkill Park Saturday 11/26 at 4:30 and Chuck Burnham is going to talk about their small haunted house and the future Pretzel ride. He is invited TPR members to join us an take pictures and have a little tour, just arrive at the park by 4:30PM, the park officially opens at 5PM. The haunted house (with scare actors) costs $5, but no charge for the meet and greet. If you don't know what I look like, just look for someone wearing a Florida Gator sweatshirt or hat.

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I visited "Booskill" Park yesterday to check out the walk through haunted house that Chuck and his team put together in just two weeks and am proud to say it well worth the minimal $5 charge. Chuck and his team were given one picnic pavillion, leftover/donated Halloween supplies, Chuck's inventory of props and a park employee spent over $100 on lighting.


On average they have tried to have 8-9 scare actors in the house at all times, but were short staffed this weekend but by using the hidden corridors and changing masks I encountered 10 different characters in my walk through. All the scare actors know each other and were having a great time. I recognized some of the set pieces from Chuck's collection and he wanted to showcase them before putting them into the Pretzel Dark Ride. Chuck spent a lot of time talking to guests in his limited downtime explaining his vision for the park's refurbished Hilarity Hall and the return of the Pretzel, he also provided me with extra details and photos.


Looking forward on the ride situation. As previous mentioned the park is likely to first bring back the Merry Mixer (Scrambler) and Whip. Management and maintenance from the park has also visited Knoebels to discuss proactive measures to quickly recover from floods. Ideas such as making motors easy to remove and store before a flood.


Since the roller rink is open year round and people need to walk through the park to get to the rink, attractions may be open next weekend. Based on next week's weather they may extend the activities this final weekend as the locals are relishing the reawakening of Bushkill Park.


Chuck greets me as I arrive.


They chose a perfect pavillion, with an awning in front to allow the greeter to collect tickets, group victims and go over the rules. I should have taken a picture when it was darker as it looks great.


Not the greatest picture, but Colleen does a really good job getting into character inviting the guests to dinner at the haunted house. Candy is provided to kids as the witch tells them that they prefer the kids to have more meat on their bones for dinner.


Scare actors getting ready to scare, you should see them when they put on their masks. Chuck is not a fan of blood and gore, just scares and a few guests complimented him on not using bloody scenes.


The 5 kiddie rides were open along with the roller rink


The monsters will pose for pictures as time permits


I checked out the latest paint on Hilarity Hall. Chuck estimates that the paint has taken 120 hours to date, with about 30 more hours to go. Hundreds of our also went into renovating the old food building to the right of Hilarity Hall


I peeked inside to get a look at the barrel.


A big thank you to all who have volunteered to help bring the park back.


Chassis and body work is complete and ready for painting. Chuck wants the standard red paint traditional used on pretzel rides with each car having an unique paint job on the back glorifying individual pretzel rides of yore.


Like the work on the undercarriage of this pretzel car this update is done.

Edited by larrygator
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Great update Larry! And maybe they should/could carry over the painted theming of Hilarity Hall onto the Food Building as well? Just a suggestion.


By the way, what is the low roofed building to the left of Hilarity Hall? I forget if you've mentioned it before.

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^Bill - the building to the left of the Hilarity Hall is the Whip building one of only six of it's kind in the nation. And it will end with a wicked paint scheme/them when finished. Chuck needs no suggestions on painting/theming ideas, but you are always free to speculate. The Food stand building to the right of Hilarity Hall is actually going to be complimented with flower boxes and a finish to the stone motif


Chuck presented to the local historical society Monday night about the Pretzel project for 3 hours. Chuck is not a seasoned public speaker and the fact that he had the historical society listening for 3 hours is quite impressive. Chuck made one new contact who instantly became a giant fan of the project. One member of the society (Richard Siegfried) is also a pretzel ride fan and is sharing "information on some dark rides in his family!!!!! Lost Darkride’s from down the road and knows they are in storage somewhere" nearby. Historical society member Rick, will be driving Chuck around to go see some old dark rides that have been under cover for years helping Chuck in the search for lost dark rides that are in fact just stored. Chuck has promised to share all information with TPR first so keep checking back in this thread.

Edited by larrygator
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Very happy to see a classic park coming back! Pennsylvania sure is the place for classic parks and classic rides (and some new ones too!) I could make a 2 week coaster trip out of Pennsylvania alone (come to think of it, I have!) and can't wait to add Bushkill to that lineup.

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Thank you Larry for the continued updates! Exciting stuff for sure and always a good read! And wow...3 hours meeting with the Historical Society. That's impressive and speaks to how studied and passionte Mr. Burnham is on not just Dark Rides but Bushkill Park as a whole! I know I can speak for a lot of people when I say, as a huge fan of Pennsylvania theme parks I'm thrilled that The Dark Ride Artist is back doing what he loves....creating art and making people happy. Thank you Chuck for all that you are doing! You're efforts to preserve this historic park are appreciated. And finally, thank you to all the other folks working to bring this park back to life. Without you this park may have been forgot!!!

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  • 1 month later...

This park is moving up, on my Parks Bucket List! I would really like to visit it, once a lot of the other stuff is open and operating. Like the Hilarity Hall and the Pretzel Ride, eventually. Hanging on, till then.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I stopped by Bushkill Park to catch up with Chuck. He had plenty of information to share so I'm going to break it into 5 posts spread out over a couple of days. Today's post is update the fun house, Hilarity Hall.


Chuck fully expects Hilarity Hall to be open when Bushkill Park opens for the 2020 season in late May.


John Cory continues to practically live under Hilarity Hall to perfectly level the structure. They are almost ready to re-install the floor.


John has also treated the inside wood walls near the base of the fun house to best preserve it. Also a few months ago when cleaning second floor storage room above the old snack building, Chuck found a 4ft by 5ft painted clown stashed in a corner. It once hung near the exit to the barrel in the 1950s. It will be moved to its old location.


Chuck continues to touch up the facade, which currently only has a base coat. As I was up close to the facade I could see some pencil drawn designs and nuances which may or may not be added with the top coat of paint. Chuck told me about a trick of the trade called "Line of Action". The premise is that the 10 feet of the facade closest to the ground is used to attract children, while anything drawn more ten feet from the ground of the facade serves as an attention grabber for those across the midway. Chuck's girlfriend Colleen will continue to put in dozens more hours painting and sanding Hilarity Hall.


The words Hilarity Hall will be illuminated with 100 lights bulbs, additional light bulbs and backlights will shine on the facade. Flower boxes will underline the second floor open window across the facade. Chuck is also spending time at his off-site workshop, as has created the entry and exit doors for Hilarity Hall.


Final blueprints and floor plans are being submitted in order to enable placement for appropriate electrical boxes and safety features. Chuck reminded me of the abundance of issues encountered with safety restrictions.insurance in his former State of Connecticut (home of the Insurance Industry) and said it is just so much easier to do this in Pennsylvania.


In future updates I will discuss:

- Pretzel Dark Ride

- Other happenings around the park

- A clandestine group of dark ride devotees in Eastern Pennsylvania

- A book in the works “Reflections of the Bushkill Park Dark Ride”. Past, present and future”...


On behalf of Bushkill Park, Chuck also wanted to recognize the donated materials, time, work and effort put in by two local companies:

Go Green Get Clean for power washing buildings and sidewalks inside the park

Ted's Roofing (Bath, Pa) for its pledge to re-roof the Park Office and a Power Building


Hilarity Hall from a side angle


The clown painting, that no employees at the park were aware of, found in the corner of a storage area.


The Park Office, the green mossy roof might look appealing, but it is not good for the roof. Thanks again to Ted's Roofing


This power building will also be getting a new roof courtesy of Ted's Roofing

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so great to see this update, and really looking forwards to seeing walkthru once it's up and running.


VERY curious to see the update on the Pretzel ride.


thanks for sharing Larry, this is so interesting.

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Thanks, as always Larry. I am hopeful for this park and will certainly make an effort to visit this summer or next (depending on my schedule/status of Pretzel Dark Ride). A true labor of love, I hope those in the community support it as they see fit and give this some life.

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The Pretzel


Even though the fun house is a tangible building at this point and has a long history. The park is questioned quite frequently about the Pretzel dark ride opening date. Right now there is a 2021 target date. There are multiple moving pieces in this project and I'll try to give an update regarding the different aspects.


It will be a Circus themed dark ride, and Chuck continues to revive old props and think up new ideas. This will not be a copy of the old Bushkill Pretzel as Chuck is incorporating bits of pieces from multiple dark rides into his Circus theme. These pieces come from multiple sources, one is a paper-maiche mask created by Howard Hewlett came from Lakemont Park.


Presiding over the Pretzel entrance will be a oversized facsimile of Elwood, the longtime ride operator. Chuck's had to go off-site to have his certified welder Sean McGill create the skeleton/spine of Elwood. Sean was also the main force behind the welding of the Pretzel cars.


The ride will not be in a typical building but built as a ground mount. This basically means no foundation will be poured and the ride will sit about 3 feet above ground on girders. Walls will be constructed but the physical roof will be a canvas circus tent like material. While this may create other issues, it saves on building costs and will allow water overflow from future floods to run under the structure.


The 484 feet of track will feature traditional slam doors and multiple vortex tunnels, including one shaped as funnel (one end will be 8ft wide while the other will be 14 ft wide).


The Pretzel vehicles have been sanded and re-welded. Upholstery and painting still needs to occur.

Edited by larrygator
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