You can bet whatever you bet that I would be damn well taken with, and I just had to buy my three dollars worth of tickets to enter something claiming to be the country’s oldest Fun House.
As my illustrator partner and I often do, we were out and about in the interesting environs around New Jersey (once again in nearby PA) selling our kid’s books, this time landing at Bushkill Park. (See their Facebook page here.) The place, as much featured on an episode of American Pickers as the Discovery Chanel and seen here in this silent film clip from the 30s is one of the oldest parks of its kind in the U.S. Bushkill, built in 1902, has surfed a few floods (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun), was open continuously for over a century, and by fits and starts lately, has been welcoming nearby residents and out-of-towners. I won’t deny it’s not a little worse for wear in some spots, and the owners have been trying to get the place completely back up to speed. But with the Fun House seen here, an old wood-floored indoor skating rink, and all the events they feature best they can as weather allows, Bushkill is open, operating, and providing thrills still.
When I walked through the Fun House, I had the honor of not only being the only patron but being able to speak to two park worker guys inside, plus the young lady taking the tickets and turning on the Bar’l of Fun (which used to give the attraction its name) all who filled me in on lots of the history of the old structure, as well as the park in general. I was shown water marks up on the walls where one flood had left its stain, while on another wall, I was shown yet another, from a flood of another time. Bushkill sits in a deep pocket of land, and when the water comes, it comes down there hard.
We also spoke about the slide (which you need fit a piece of burlap under your shoes to slide down on, but you can do so as many times as you like), the “wobbly stairs,” “roller floor,” and so much more juicy good Americana fun that this park’s patrons, as well as its workers, love so much.
This is not the first time I have reported here on something out of the way and historic I found on my recent travels (see this blog). But when I walk through a place like Bushkill, I’m prompted to consider how many spots there just have to be in other states, even off this continent, and how we all better get out and about seeing them before they are bulldozered away for an Amazon supply warehouse or condos.
And as I walked through the center of the spinning barrel so as not to fall and break a hip and looked across at the old carousel being refitted and its fence repainted, I wondered how many couples walked this spot back in the day on a warm summer night, their hands intertwined as much with sticky cotton candy remnants as the potential of a budding romance. Then I looked at the Bushkill video I embedded above, surely a simpler time, and realized many people populating that quick silent scene shot at the end of the 1930s are probably long dead by now.
Am I being a wistful elder waxing and waning on all of this? Yeah, I guess you could stain me with that frailty. But I think we need to mark the special places and the times we had in them or make them anew, and not just dismiss anything older than the neighborhood drive-thru Starbucks as simply nostalgia. Bushkill, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Lake Compounce in Connecticut, Lagoon in Utah, Funderland in Sacramento, or a thousand other places where folks laid out a picnic or tried a game of chance, fed their dreams, loves, and lives, are essential to who we are.
Thank you, Bushkill, for a spin around your Fun House; I had a great time.