It’s that time of year again when the regional amusement parks are getting ready to open for the season. It is one of my favorite times as well. Going to the parks with my son is a blast and we always have a good time. Unfortunately, for the citizens of the New Orleans area, they can no longer experience this, at least locally. In 2005, hurricane Katrina blew through the area and, through an unfortunate series of events, the levies broke and the area was flooded. One of the sections of the area that was flooded was the Six Flags New Orleans theme park. The park had a troubled past already, starting out as Jazzland in 2000. The park was a failure, almost immediately. Six Flags purchased the park in 2003 and brought new attractions. The park did better and Six Flags may have been successful in making the park more profitable. Unfortunately, they never got the chance.
When the levies broke and flooded the area, the park sat under seven feet of water-salt water, sewage and rain water-for a month. Many of the rides were destroyed or severely damaged. Others were salvageable and removed, renovated and installed in other Six Flags properties. Most of the larger rollercoaster’s and nearly all of the flat rides were damaged beyond repair. None of the shops survived and all of the products were considered a total loss.
In 2006, Six Flags announced that they were not going to re-open the park and proceeded to try and get out of the contract they had with New Orleans. The park property is owned by the city and Six Flags had a long term lease on the property which came with many strings attached, including a guarantee that the park remain open. Six Flags determined that the cost of rebuilding the park, even at a minimal level, was too high. Over the next few years, they negotiated with the city and eventually got out of the contract. This happened mainly because another company was interested in re-developing the property as an amusement park. So far, that has not happened.
Today, the park stands deserted, but with the damaged attractions still standing. It is a stark contrast to the ‘glory days’ of the park: dank, deserted and grim. Both the city and Six Flags (when they still had an interest) took steps to keep wanderers out of the park, but a few brave urban explorers managed to get in and take photos. One of my favorite web sites, the Web Urbanist, has a page showing some of these photos. Some of the photos, taken from a distance, show what looks like an inviting place: silhouettes of rollercoasters and the ferris wheel, reflecting in the water. It’s not very inviting, though. Up close, you see the rust, the vandalism, the watermarks and the despair-perhaps indicative of the residents who were stranded in the city or those who could not leave for what ever reason. The park looks likes something out of a horror movie.
Seeing the pictures and video of people being rescued and hearing of the personal stories of those who lived through the hurricane’s aftermath-no matter if they were in the New Orleans area or any of the areas that were affected by Katrina, struck a chord with many of us, but, for some odd reason, seeing the this Six Flags theme park in the condition that it is in really hits home. It isn’t because I’m a thrill seeker or that I’m some cold person who doesn’t care about the people-I do care. No, I think it is the bond I have with my son and the seeing the joy on his face when we go to our local theme park. It is the bond that we formed by spending time together in a place that is supposed to make you feel good and evoke happy memories. Seeing this place, like it is now, doesn’t evoke those types of memories. Instead, it is a reminder of lives lost, lives changed so drastically and the lost memories-those that will never take place.
Web Urbanist has an entire section devoted to abandonments. The photo essays are well done and, perhaps, the only other one that evokes this type of emotion from me are the few that deal with Pripyat in the Ukraine. This was the city that was, literally, abandoned over night because of the Chernobyl accident. People were forced to leave everything they had and relocate to other parts of the country. The busses that took the population out of the area were buried afterwards. Lives were turned upside down. I cannot imagine what that did to those people. Only the photos that have been take, years later, convey the sense of loss for these people. They are pretty powerful photos. The sense of loss that is represented by the pictures is tremendous. I cannot imagine what it was like to live through this. I get the same emotions looking at the Six Flags photos. I cannot imagine what the people who suffered through Katrina-or any other disaster for that matter-went through. It is heightened, for me, because of the location-the theme park-which is something that I can relate to, on a personal level. I would not have the same emotion if the park was simply closed, leveled and a mall put in its place. Yeah, I hate see them close like that, but, I also know that it was simply due to money. For Six Flags New Orleans, its closure was forced by something out of human control and that makes it worse.