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Kings Island! 40 years of making Cincinnati smile


King Island in 1972


Dennis Speigel, who was there at the very beginning, asks “Can it really be 40 years since we opened the doors to one of the greatest amusement parks in North America?”


es, 40 years ago this month, we welcomed the first guests to Kings Island in Cincinnati, Ohio. What a remarkable time it was for the theme park industry in the United States. We had just closed Cincinnati’s Coney Island on Labor Day of 1971. We had to literally move the entire park in about 45 days. I am talking from knives and forks to flume rides, sky rides, and everything in between. Ed McHale and I, as assistant general manager, were responsible for the move. We almost completed the entire moving process in 30 days! An amazing feat as I look back. We had to transport everything 26 miles up Interstate 71, using a local company to handle the move. They came through for us.


Y I remember a conversation with Errol McCoy and


Larry Cochran – both young general managers in the Six Flags system at the time. We had them on speaker phone discussing our anticipated first year attendance. Charles Thompson, a former Six Flags employee, performed the feasibility study for Gary Wachs, senior vice-president of Taft Broadcasting. Charles projected two million in attendance in our first year. When we told Errol and Larry our projected attendance, they laughed for what seemed liked about two minutes.


The ribbon cutting ceremony in 1972 with project manager Charles Flatt, Kings Island president Ralph Wachs, group vice-president Gary Wachs, Kings Island general manager Ed McHale and Fred Flintstone


36


Cause For Concern Back in the office, Gary, Ed and I just looked at one other. Quite honestly we were a little concerned over the response we received from that phone call. At that point in time, no other park outside of the Disney


parks had ever “cracked” the two million attendance mark, particularly a regional park. At the time that included Six Flags over Texas, opened in 1961, Six Flags over Georgia, opened in 1967, and Six Flags Mid America in St Louis, which opened in 1971. We held our grand opening celebrations at Kings Island on Saturday, May 27, 1972. Charles Mechem, chairman of the board; Dudley Taft, company president, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera (Hannah & Barbera) and Earl Wilson, the New York Times columnist, were all there on the day. We released 2,000 balloons. We had a group of fighter jets flying overhead, almost breaking the glass of the International Restaurant when they hit their after-burners. Thanks to Hannah & Barbera, we had a parade with the Flintstones, Yogi Bear and Scooby- Doo. The Kings Mill High School band marched and played. We welcomed Miss America, Miss Ohio and Junior Miss America. We also featured clown bands, hot air balloon ascensions and sky divers. All in all, it was a great and festive day enjoyed by about 5,000 attendees.


Then the season began and I’ll have to admit it started out very slowly. After that initial opening, we welcomed about 5,000 visitors per day. It remained in that range until the first day of July. We were actually worried that this new and beautiful park was not going to attract any more guests than Coney Island had. However, on July 4, the floodgates opened and we attracted approximately 40,000 guests! It was unbelievable! And it never stopped!


MAY 2012


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