R.I.P. Indiana Beach, 1926-2020

Indiana Beach!

The view from the Ferris wheel, once upon a time.

This week Hoosiers statewide were shocked to hear the news that Indiana Beach, our longest-lived amusement park, would be closing its gates forever. The news was especially surprising to the citizens of Monticello, IN, who had no idea it was in anything resembling dire straits. Situated along the shores of scenic Lake Shafer, it was a beloved vacation getaway whose TV ads featured a crow mascot proclaiming “There’s more than corn in Indiana!” during an era in which folks from other states wouldn’t shut up with their stupid jokes about Indiana’s ubiquitous corn.

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Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019 Photos #8: Adventures in Official Merchandising

Galaxy's Edge Falcon!

Lucasfilm’s answer to “Hi, we’re in…Delaware.”

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

April 11-15, 2019, was the ninth American edition of Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Celebration, recurring major convention celebrating their works, creations, actors, fans, and merchandise, not always in that order. After jaunts around the U.S. coast and overseas, this year’s was in Chicago, gracing the Midwest with its products for the first time since 2005. My wife Anne and I attended Thursday through Saturday and fled Sunday morning…

The exhibit hall was littered with dozens of vendors plying wares old and new, but if you treated the Celebration website and program as your concierges, their strongest recommendations to you were two particular stops most directly tied to Lucasfilm itself, each demanding either that weekend’s disposable income or a promise of your future vacationing dollars. Both had everyone’s attention. Both had long lines. Neither was guaranteed to satisfy everyone.

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Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 5: Scaling Down Mount Olympus

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Day 2: Sunday, July 23rd (continued)

Our next stop after Alligator Alley had been preplanned months in advance. Our only previous water-park encounter was the single time we remembered to bring swimsuits to Kings Island, but didn’t gidet around to putting them on till two hours before closing time. We’d enjoyed what little we could in such a short timespan, but we yearned to enjoy a water park without hurrying. Besides, we’d have to be complete fuddy-duddies not to visit the self-styled Water Park Capital of the World and not visit at least one lousy water park. Our choice was an ancient Greco-Roman theme park called Mt. Olympus. For my son, it seemed a winning combination. He likes pools. He likes amusement parks. He likes Greek mythology. (He and I were among the half-dozen people in America who got a kick out of Disney’s Hercules.) All three combined should’ve been a winning ticket.

Gates of Mount Olympus

Enter, and be one with the gods! Or just pay godlike prices.

Columns of Olympus

You half-expect Hercules to be hanging around and preparing to topple some of these. Or Samson, even.

Little did we know…

Planning the Perfect Joy-Killing Amusement Park for My Lazy Retirement Years

Hersheypark, PAThe amusement-park phase of my life has been slowly wrapping up over the past few years. My son has decided amusement parks no longer offer him sufficient intellectual incentive, and also they’re just not cool. My wife has never been a fan of any fun-time vehicle that exerts greater G-force than my interstate driving. My mother’s requests to visit such places have receded as she’s very, very slowly realizing that such devices will be the death of her.

In recent history I’ve been willing to handle death-defying contraptions as a Family Quality Time function under a few controlled circumstances. I haven’t minded the occasional steel roller coaster, remarkable when they achieve a proper balance of speed and smoothness, as long as I remember my Dramamine dosage and the coaster track contains not a single upside-down segment. I’m also still a fan of any construct that gently lifts me through the air to tremendous heights and returns me safely to the ground without a single rotation or revolution. Beyond that, any excitement and eagerness I ever had for this group-outing genre has faded nearly to black.

As my wife and I spent this afternoon at a location with a couple of low-impact thrill rides, not only did I feel zero temptation, I also felt relieved that no one expected me to climb aboard. The toll on my body, the disruption of my equilibrium, and the loss of general control may be part of the experience, but I’m no longer fond of the compromise. I might feel differently if I were allowed to steer the coaster, sit in more accommodating seats, or even control the brakes and accelerator. I haven’t found a theme park benevolent or magnificent enough to grant me that power or luxury yet.

Within another decade or two, I expect my tolerance to worsen and my stodginess to know fewer bounds. Should relatives or employers suggest another engagement at one of our local mechanized wonderlands such as Indiana Beach or Kings Island, I expect to be slow to consent and slower to avail myself of the ride options…unless, perhaps, they might be willing to accept some of my suggestions for new, calmer, gentler, barely mobile “thrill” rides tailored to meet the wishes and fussiness of those disinclined against disorientation. Examples in my new, personalized ride demographic could include:

* Gently rotating teacup ride, except with broken motor so there’s no actual rotating.

* Antique autos driven by chauffeurs and stocked with elegant snacks.

* Perfectly motionless lazy river, three inches deep and using state-of-the-art technology to prevent any kind of current or even the slightest Brownian motion.

* Sensory deprivation chamber, with inside walls lined with pictures of cute kittens. No lolcat captions, though. When they’re unfunny, they angry up the blood.

* Amazingly lifelike “Mattress Firm showroom” simulator.

* Out-of-order video games that require you to imagine you’re playing the game in your head.

* The Happy Fun Park Mascot Presents the Wonderful Wacky Padded Benches for Sitting and Watching Other People Ride Rides.

* TVs. Enormous ones everywhere, like up-close drive-in screens.

* The lines for the concession stands, but with extra neon lighting so they look more like rides than chores.

These could be great couch-potato-ey fun for the whole family. Or at least for me.

If I ever have grandchildren who want Grandpa to take them to Kings Island, I’m in deep trouble. If I’m lucky, they’ll be willing to settle for an hour’s drive at top speeds along the nearest interstate. I don’t expect to tire of that sort of action anytime soon.

Threat Level Milquetoast: Visiting Indiana Beach Without Kids

Indiana has no Kings Island, no Six Flags, and no Disney theme park, but we have two independent amusement parks to call our own. Holiday World, located in southern Indiana in a town called Santa Claus, is a clean, calendar-themed entertainment machine whose most impressive feature to us Hoosiers is not their steel coasters or their massive water park; it’s the unlimited free soft drinks for all patrons. Yes, free. Drink stations are positioned all around the park with several varieties of Coke products and plenty of twelve-ounce cups. The stations are so plentiful that long drink lines are rarely a problem.

Their competition in the opposite half of the state, just north of Purdue University, is longtime family destination Indiana Beach, located in a town called Monticello — pronounced “monti-SELL-o”, not “monti-CHELL-o” like President Jefferson’s crib. The “beach” part is attached to Lake Shafer, a pretty body of water now surrounded on most sides by tourist havens and summer getaways. After decades of settling for being a mere beach, Indiana Beach began to build up an empire of machinery as the management has added rides one by one over the decades, slowly bringing more action to the area while leaving a little less beachfront.

I’d only been once before because beaches turn me crispy, swimsuits fail to flatter me, and the thought of trying it actually never occurred to me until a few years ago, when my wife floated the idea as a one-tank road trip. My second visit was made possible when my employer scheduled this year’s company picnic there. An excuse and discounted tickets were all the motivation I needed. My son, age 17, was permitted to opt out, leaving us adults to do whatever we wanted. As it turns out, we weren’t really in the mood for wild and crazy. In fact, nearly everything we rode was rated “Mild”, devices fit for AARP members and easily jostled agoraphobes.

The ride nearest the Indiana Beach entrance is the Steel Hawg, a wild ‘n’ twisty steel coaster that inverts and induces nausea. This is a prime example of what we fuddy-duddies merely gaze upon rather than experience for ourselves.

Steel Hawg @ Indiana Beach

The Ferris wheel is more our sad, sorry speed. The ambience at the top was breezy on a hot day and included a comprehensive vantage point above the modest park. The Hoosier Hurricane, their standard-issue wooden coaster, consumes most of the view.

Indiana Beach overhead shot

To our right: bucolic Lake Shafer.

Lake Shafer

You can view Lake Shafer from afar, snuggle up close to it in the water-park section, or — if you jog over to the Honey Creek Bay section — you can now zip-line across it. When Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl XLVI last winter, one of the most prominent and coveted features of its downtown Super Bowl Village was a zip-line along several blocks of Capitol Avenue. Tickets were sold out days in advance. Now every event organizer in Indiana wants one installed, whether temporary or permanent. They’re in danger of becoming this decade’s answer to bungee-jumping.

Zipline @ Indiana Beach

For an even better view, you can ride the two-way Skylift across the park, peering down at the other rides, treetops, and roofs. But don’t forget, unlike these former occupants: the safety bars are there for a reason.

Skylift @ Indiana Beach

This enormous water slide wrapped around a steel coaster is no doubt a consequence of overcrowding, but would be the greatest ride of all time if you could somehow combine the two. That inventor shall be anointed as Emperor Genius of Amusementia.

Water Slide Around Coaster @ Indiana Beach

Or there’s the polar opposite of rollercoasters: the Wabash Cannonball kiddie train, which provides a tortoise-level mass-transit connection between the kiddie rides in the middle of the park and what used to be a miniature golf course on the far end. Sometime after my previous visit that mini-golf course was dismantled and replaced with a couple of benches and a fountain. This substitution doesn’t sound like an exchange that would result from consumer demand.

Wabash Cannonball @ Indiana Beach

If the ironically named Cannonball seems too breakneck, the antique-auto track travels at speeds up to almost 1 MPH, and has the advantage of allowing riders to steer the vehicle themselves and determine their own destiny within the narrow confines of the strict, uncool guide-rail. In case this sounds too exciting for the faintest of heart, an auto with a flat tire is stationed nearby as a demotivational reminder to cocky braggarts that accidents can happen even at 1 MPH.

Antique autos @ Indiana Beach

Our company-picnic passes allowed us dual admission to either the normal Boardwalk rides or the water-park rides. One unexplained exception: the Carousel. When we tried to board, we were rebuked and denied by a ringer for Old Man Witherby who insisted our all-access armbands weren’t all-access enough for the Carousel. I’m not sure what makes the Carousel such a hoity-toity upper-crust dreamlike experience that an additional charge for kiddie-ride passes is required. Maybe it only looks normal from the outside, but on the inside turns into an evil whirlwind like the one from Something Wicked This Way Comes. That would be worth an extra buck or two.

Carousel @ Indiana Beach

We declined to stage a protest, mostly because this random white tiger wouldn’t stop giving us such a piercing, vulturous glare. I imagine spooky kiddie-ride totems are more cost-effective than paid security guards.

White Tiger guards rides @ Indiana Beach

Also on guard: a faux Moai fountain. Because of the similarities between Indiana and Easter Island.

Moai Fountain @ Indiana Beach

When the time came to report to our assigned picnic shelter to commence with the company picnicking, we found our hosts running behind schedule and still carting our foodstuffs out from an unseen kitchen. Despite the unceremonious containers and the “Shelter Chicken” label that makes it sound like an imported shipment from the Wheeler Mission, the fried chicken was surprisingly fresh, warm, and delectable.

Food arrives!

As my son has aged beyond theme parks and our nieces and nephews have their own agendas and parents, I fear my time for this kind of experience is drawing to a close. I still enjoy the food, the company, and the occasional arcade game, but the physical stress and motion sickness aren’t as endurable as they used to be, nor am I enamored anymore of walking long distances through water parks barefoot, topless, and nearly blind without my glasses.

Despite our limitations (some admittedly self-imposed), the good parts of Indiana Beach still kept us going for quite a few hours before we departed around 5-ish when the remains of our energy evaporated. Options still abound under those circumstances, such as a few video arcades that offer old-school coin-op fun, especially a long row of those great Data East licensed-character pinball machines that I could keep playing forever if I were insensitive about how that would bore my wife to sleep standing up. If you don’t mind paying extra, the Shafer Queen ferry can spirit you across the waters and allow you to see vacationing jet-skiers and well-heeled boaters up close in their natural habitat.

In addition to the company-picnic meal, their concession-stand food is also top-notch for its category. Three scoops of vanilla ice cream atop a large elephant ear certainly made my day, and helped me let go of my bitterness at Old Man Witherby and the Forbidden Carousel, which would make a great title for a Scooby-Doo episode.

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