It’s early August 1967. The Boston Red Sox are in the midst of their Impossible Dream pennant race. That’s all the AM radio personalities are talking about on my grandfather’s 1960 Ford Fairlane radio as we drive up Rt. 3 North towards Hull, Massachusetts and Paragon Park. Every station, regardless of the format, are talking up Yaz, Tony C., Rico, and Gentleman Jim. Screw the top songs of the day — the Sox might win a pennant! The further north we drove, I could feel increasing excitement. Not just because we were in Sox Country, but because I was finally going to get to ride Paragon Park’s Giant Coaster!
As mention previously, I was too short to ride the Giant during my last visit to Paragon in 1961. Since that visit, I had read about the 1963 fire and knew that the coaster had been rebuilt and still very much in operation. I didn’t know anybody who had ridden it; of all my East Providence friends, only one had been to Paragon and he didn’t care for roller coasters. As it did in 1961, the lift hill looked imposing as ever. But I wasn’t nervous about riding it, just anxious to get on it. I had been in line for coasters at other parks and seen them suddenly shut down for the day due to some mechanical issue spotted during a ride. I couldn’t bear the thought of traveling all the way up to Nantasket Beach only to have the Giant’s station entrance gate slammed in my face.
Of course, this was my first look at the circa 1964 loading station and it immediately struck me as something that was thrown together in a rush, just to get the coaster back up and running after the fire. It was a cell block-like structure with protective, barbed fencing. Once inside the confines of small building, I noticed the open entrance to a small room to the far left. Peeking inside, I saw a moldy, tattered mattress atop a wooden bench. I couldn’t decide if it was a break room for ride ops or a place for dizzy patrons to lay down after completing a ride. Either way, my assessment was that anybody putting their head on that toxic mattress would become more ill than they possibly could from riding the Giant Coaster!
To be honest, the most intense part of riding the Giant Coaster was the seemingly-endless brake run to the lift hill. It was quite bizarre and unnatural, leaving me squirming in anticipation of riding the “coaster proper.” Finally, engaging with the lift chain I got a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean. The tracks felt safe and plenty supportive. This was not what some critics label “rickety”. Since I couldn’t bring my clunky 8mm home movie camera aboard the coaster back then, I’ll let these frame grabs from VHS shot by Lone Wolf illustrate my experience. While the lift hill wasn’t deceptive — it was just as high riding up it as it looked in the distance – the first drop wasn’t as steep as it appeared from the ground.
Still, it was a thrilling drop at a fast clip. As I rode over several hills, the blacktop midway and rides were constantly in my field of vision.
That is until I entered…
…a forest! Well, actually it was a cluster of trees on either side of the track, but it came out of nowhere, quickly shielding the sunlight. Given the speed at which the train hit it, the turnaround was surprisingly smooth: a perfect segue to a double-down.
From there it was a sprint over a series of airtime-generating hills, ending with a much shorter brake run to the station.
One year later (August 1968) I returned to Paragon and this time I captured some descent 8mm film footage looking up at the Giant. I’ll post a link to where you can see the footage on YouTube at the end of this post. For now, here are some frame grabs from it.
After I obtained my driver’s license in 1972, I made twice-yearly visits to Paragon – always enjoying the Kooky Kastle, the Congo Cruise, and of course, the Giant Coaster.
My visit there in mid-July 1981 was rather bleak. Major League Baseball had been on strike in what promised to be an exciting season for the Red Sox. 1981 was known as the “Split Season” – the season that ended on June 12th and the season that began on August 9th after the strike ended. Upon arriving at Paragon Park that July afternoon I heard what seemed to be a Red Sox broadcast from a speaker inside an arcade. How could this be? Upon listening for a few minutes, I learned that it was a prerecorded simulated broadcast of what the radio station perceived could have occurred if the Sox were playing that day. That’s how desperate everybody was in Red Sox Country (this was before it became Red Sox Nation). What a contrast from 1967!
It was a sunny, hot humid afternoon with no ocean breeze. As always, my adrenaline made me virtually numb to these nuisances. This is usually the case when I visit an amusement park.
But things would soon take a turn for the worse. On my very first ride of the day on the Giant Coaster, the train stalled momentarily while cresting the lift hill. I assumed this had something to do with track expansion due to the humid weather. Accompanied by a loud metallic crackle, the train released and completely crested the hill. The ride was enjoyable as always, and without incident. But from the concerned looks of the maintenance workers at the station when we braked in, I knew all was not well. We were politely asked to disembark and leave the station quickly. Signs indicating that the Giant was closed for repairs were blocking the entrance to the station. I watched as two workers jumped underneath the station tracks to inspect the undercarriage. As I walked away from the station, I saw a lone worker scale the lift-hill catwalk and begin applying his tools to the track at the crest of the hill – very similar to what this man was doing to the Giant in the unrelated Boston Globe photo below.
Things didn’t look too promising for the Giant, so I decided to cut my losses for the day. After several rides on the Kooky Kastle and Bermuda Triangle (formerly the Congo Cruise), I felt several drops of rain… or was it seagull droppings? I got my answer soon enough. The dead of night quickly overtook Nantasket Beach as an un-forecasted coastal storm swept in. If you never saw the cloak of darkness emerging on the horizon over the Atlantic like a gigantic Darth Vader, let me tell you, it’s more terrifying than any coaster out there!
The lone maintenance man atop the lift hill fastened his tool belt and slowly but surely navigated his way down the catwalk, his eyes frequently glancing at the unfriendly Giant on the horizon. Patrons began to scamper for cover much like the kids in this Globe photo shot at Paragon during happier times.
To make a long story short, the storm flooded the midway, but fortunately, the lighting strikes weren’t over the park, and the high winds did no visible damage. Before the last raindrop fell, signs had already been posted that Paragon was closing on this day until further notice. I knew that every ride would have to be thoroughly inspected before it reopened. With that, I headed home to Rhode Island
I made at least six visits to Paragon Park after that 1981 experience. Every visit was delightful and there were no issues with the Giant Coaster at any time.
On June 4, 1974, an associate professor of art at the State University of New York at Albany, Robert Cartmell, penned a guest article for the New York Times, ranking the top ten roller coasters. In his piece, The Quest for the Ultimate Roller Coaster, Cartmell ranked Paragon’s Giant Coaster number six, writing:
The “Giant Coaster” in Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach south of Boston. This ride, the latest in a series of great coasters at Nantasket, is extremely steep and fast. It has a 98‐foot drop resembling the old Palisades Park coaster and is 3,200 worrisome feet long.
At some point, Paragon Park management decided to capitalize on this, amending the loading station with this hand-lettered sign.
I’m not sure where the Smithsonian Institution reference came from. Perhaps the Times article was reprinted in a Smithsonian publication.
Regardless, the ranking was well-deserved and there’s no doubt that the sign lured more riders.
Whoever rode the Giant Coaster couldn’t possibly be disappointed.
However, like that coastal storm on the horizon, disappointment was hovering in on Paragon Park.
To be continued…
Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, Inc. (http://www.philadelphiatoboggancoastersinc.com/index.php)
The Boston Globe
Paragon Park Memories (http://www.paragonparkmemories.com)
Forest Park Highlands web site
Check out this site about an upcoming book on Paragon Park:
To find out more about Paragon’s Red Mill ride and those that followed, go to:
To see my 1968 Paragon Park video, go to:
To see Lone Wolf’s Giant Coaster video, go to: