Perhaps no structure at Rocky Point State Park is more enchanting and mysterious as the Skyliner remains. It’s the only ruin you can actually set foot on — and pretend to embark and disembark just as millions of people did for real for nearly 30 years. Its towering supports serve as a reference point for the sites of other former midway amusements.
Installed in 1966 by Goforth Brothers, Inc.of Shelby, NC, the Skyliner offered a breathtaking view and for some, an element of danger when it bumped under the transfer pulleys. Below is Goforth’s patent for the ride
Inspired by the Von Roll Swiss Skyride at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, amusement parks throughout the country soon began scrambling to have ski lift chairs or suspended gondolas on their midways. Two distinct elements set Rocky Point’s apart from most others: a sweeping view of Narragansett Bay and…
…a gradual ascent to the top of a wooded cliff.
The Skyliner was an extremely popular alternative to Rocky Point’s white-knuckle rides. It was go-to ride for me as a youngster after marathon riding on the Wildcat coaster. My only negative experience on the Skyliner was a frightening one; not so much for me but for two girls in the chair behind me. I was riding with a junior high school friend and as we embarked toward the cliff, two older teens riding back to the platform began pointing at the cable above us and screaming, “Your chair is coming loose! Jump! Jump! Before it’s too late!” The classmate I was riding with was terrified, sinking her long, red-painted nails into my left arm.
I was quickly able to assure her that it was a sick joke. But just as she calmed down, two younger girls behind us went into hysterics, thinking that THEIR chair was about to dislodge. We looked back, horrified to see that they were contemplating a jump to a sure death! Throughout the rest of the ride, me and my classmate kept a conversation going with the girls, assuring them that they were safe and secure, and to just ride it out with us. So all ended well. But when we exited the ride, we found the nearest bench and plopped down to catch our breaths. The Wildcat marathon riding session paled in comparison to what we just experienced on the Skyliner.
It was for situations like that one, and those of riders actually attempting ill-fated daredevil stunts, that the park retrofit the chairs. The original Goforth Skyliner lap bars consisted of two separate bars that each lifted up and away from each other, and had rubber bicycle handlebar grips on the ends.
Later these were modified in-house to a single bar, weighted on the back for balance and to prevent slam-downs. The September 1970 accidental death of a park employee repairing the Skyliner resulted in further safety precautions.
Thankfully the Department of Environmental Management recognized the appeal of the Skyliner when it was in operation and retained much of it for generations to enjoy and reminisce about.
During the DEM’s First Day Hike on January 1, 2015, hundreds of bundled up hikers made their way up the former employee path enroute to the ride’s turnaround pulley – something that was off-limits. to patrons during the park’s operating days. For most it was the their first experience going where no man had gone before since Rocky Point State Park had just opened to the public two months earlier!
State park patrons can enjoy a panoramic view of the former midway and the Bay from the turnaround pulley cliff.
Best of all, one need not violate any Skyliner rules to enjoy all that comes along with the remnants of this Rhode Island treasure!
(Photo credits: Anita Cerri Ferla, You Must Be This Tall movie collection, 1989 Submitted Photos, Sean McCarthy, Michael I. Stultz, George LaCross, Newport Daily News)