‘The Coaster’ lives, but our thrills are long gone
The excitement would start to build as you pass Hingham District Court on George Washington Boulevard. Go past a bend in the road, and suddenly the 10-story-high Giant Coaster would come into view.
“The Coaster” dominated the landscape, and for almost seven decades the crowds who flocked to Paragon Park in Hull each summer dared each other to take a ride.
They don’t make them anymore like The Coaster, which was removed from the park when it closed in 1985. It moved south and, renamed The Wild One, is celebrating its 101st birthday this summer at Six Flags America in Bowie, Md.
Ah, the memories. Years ago, it was probably the only place in the country where you could be bending over a crucial putt on the miniature gold course when The Coaster would come rumbling through just a few feet away.
On Friday nights during the summer, WBZ’s mobile Sundeck Studio would cramk out the latest hits, played by “Juicy Brucie” Bradley, who also traditionally took the last ride of the night on The Coaster.
Anything is possible at an amusement park located on a beach, including death-defying rides, food mom would never let you eat at home, arcade games that sucked the change out of your pocket like a vacuum cleaner, and fun in the sun.
Veteran park-goers knew better than to gorge on fried foods before getting on The Coaster, with its nine-story drop likely to bring back up what you just put down.
OK, Paragon also had the Wild Mouse, aka the Galaxy Coaster, the Flying Swings, etc. But there has always been something special about wooden coasters like the Giant Coaster. I rode the infamous Cyclone at Revere Beach in 1969 not long before it was brought down by a fire, its remains finally removed in 1974. No visit was complete without a ride on that Cyclone.
Wooden coasters give you the sense of danger you don’t get from the smooth steel rails.
Can roller coasters have birthday parties? It turns out they can, as Six Flags America pulled off a huge one for the former Paragon Park attraction last summer when it turned 100.
“It was a real blowout event,” said Denise Stokes, a spokeswoman for Six Flags America.
Stokes said the Maryland fun park has 10 roller coasters, and while the steel coasters with inversions are popular, “the thrills of a wooden coaster are timeless.”
She said The Wild One remains her favorite coaster and is “one of the centerpieces of the park.” She hopes fans will come to visit it at Six Flags when they’re in the Washington-Baltimore area.
A USA Today story in November 2017 brought into focus just what happened after Paragon Park closed. The owners of what was then an amusement park called Wild World bought the ride, transplanted it to Maryland, restored it, and renamed it the Wild One. According to B. Derek Shaw, an amusement park aficionado who writes about the industry and tracks its history, the park paid $26,000 for the structure.
It’s likely that little, if any, of the actual wooden frame was salvageable and could have made the journey, according to Shaw.
“They got the trains, the motor, the lift chain, and, most importantly, the blueprints,” Shaw told USA Today. “They preserved the spirit of the ride.”
The spirit, indeed, may be the only thing surviving from The Coaster.
“I don’t believe that anything remains from the original 1917 coaster,” said Rick Howarth, the president of Six Flags America.
He said that while everything may have been replaced, some parts more than once, the Wild One gives the same kind of ride that its creators intended, and has an enduring appeal.
It still climbs 98 feet, drops 88 feet, and revs up to 53 miles per hour. And the ride still sends riders racing through a 540-degree helix for its grand finale, a feature that was installed in one of the rebuildings in Hull following a fire.
I still journey to Nantasket Beach several times each summer, armed with my senior pass that provides free parking for seniors at state-run beaches. I still enioy a hot dog or playing skee ball, which you can still do, and the Paragon Carousel is alive and well and busy. The concerts under the rebuilt bandstand still attract a loyal following.
And while there is no coaster here now with screams of riders careening down that first hill, there is something right and just that The Coaster survived Paragon Park’s demise and still thrills young and old more than a century after it was built.
But when I come around that final bend into Hull, my heart doesn’t start racing like it used to.