Fantasy Island (July 1, 1961 – February 18, 2020)

The fantasy has ended… (or has it?)


Article and photos by Michael Burkes, with contributions from Bob Kilner, GOCC Editor

Note: Michael originally wrote this article over the winter, and it got buried in a backlog of other articles, which is why I’m publishing it now to the blog so it doesn’t become too outdated.

I don’t understand this.  It just doesn’t make any sense.  You open an amusement park for the surrounding community to come in and enjoy themselves and leave their worries behind for a few hours.  This place becomes such an intricate part of the area that folks take for granted that it will be around forever and ever.  Everything seemed to go well, even though there were a few hiccups, but things always worked out for the better.  Then comes the shocking announcement during the off-season of 2020 that everything will be closed and shuttered.  What happened?!  Why?!  Was the closure done in the name of progress?  Was the surrounding competition too intense?  Did consumers, God forbid, lose interest?  It is anyone’s guess.  Let’s explore this unfortunate event as we speak about Fantasy Island on Grand Island New York.

Fantasy Island has had an up-and-down history since coming on the scene.  The park opened in 1961 and unfortunately went bankrupt in 1982.  It was acquired by Charles Wood, the original owner of Storytown USA, now known as The Great Escape in Queensbury, New York.  Mr. Wood sold the park to International Broadcasting Corporation in 1989 and later re-acquired the park in 1992.  When this company went bankrupt in the second phase of ownership, the park’s name was changed to Two Flags over Niagara Fun Park. This name was kept until 1994 when local businessman Martin Dipietro purchased the park — and redubbed it Martin’s Fantasy Island, a name it kept until the end of the 2016 season.


On opening day of the 2016 season, Mr. Dipietro announced that his park had been sold to Apex Parks Group, a company based out of California. The park’s name reverted to Fantasy Island after the 2016 season ended.  When originally opened, the park occupied only 12 acres of land.  It expanded mightily to its largest size of 85 acres in 1974, which it remained at until its closure.  The park, like many of its competitors, is a combination amusement and water park.


When entering the park from the main gate, the first thing patrons would encounter was a small water display intermingled with the park’s logo.  Behind that, one could find the carousel.  Immediately to the right was the train station.  The train course traveled around the outer circumference of the park.  Within the first section of this ride was kiddieland.  To the immediate left of the main entrance was a small western town where gift shops, games, arcades, food stands, and the occasional gun fights were held.  Next to this area was a bridge over a picturesque creek where guests could paddle their own canoes and view scenery on an island.  The next section was where the thrill rides were located.  Last but not least was the water park — which contained a wave pool, lazy river and various styles of water slides.




When it comes to roller coasters, Fantasy Island had four.  The Dragon coaster, a steel kiddie coaster was opened in 1998, removed in 2004 and reinstalled in 2019.  There was Crazy Mouse, a steel wild mouse spinning coaster which opened in 2005, Max Doggy Dog Coaster, another steel kiddie coaster opened in 2013 and finally the granddaddy of them all, The Silver Comet: a fantastic wooden coaster built by the former Custom Coasters International which opened in 1999.


The Silver Comet was 85 feet high with an 82-foot first drop.  It was 2800-feet long with an out & back figure-8 design.  There was only one train that had a very odd loading procedure.  After riders loaded onto the train, they were not allowed to pull the lap bar down, (notice I said lap bar, there are no orange restraints).  The ride operators did that for you.  The ride went as follows: the train left the station, making a left turn.  A short straight-away followed then another left turn to the lift hill.  At the top of the lift you can see Niagara Falls, (that’s if you were looking for it).  The train went down a straight drop that veered to the left at the bottom.  Two speed hills followed.  The train then went up onto an elongated left turnaround with a dip, a short straight section, a short right cut, then down another drop.  Then came the figure eight section, a right turn around, down a not-to-steep decline, up to another right turnaround, down, up to a left turnaround then down a double dip which lead to a left-curving drop.  Two more speed hills followed before an upward right cut into the final brake run.  Interestingly, after the park’s closure, the train was sold to be refurbished, after which it will be sold again.  The track and structure still stand as they did when the park closed after the 2019 season.




Fantasy Island was a great park. Whether it was known as Two Flags over Niagara Fun Park, Martin’s Fantasy Island or just as Fantasy Island, the facility had great expectations of being around for years to come.  It was a great family getaway that was not too big, had iron and water attractions, and best of all, was very affordable compared to the other mega amusement parks nearby.  Am I guilty for not patronizing more often?  Yes!  But aren’t a lot of coaster/amusement park enthusiasts?  It wasn’t a far drive, but it wasn’t in my backyard either.  I am glad that the Great Ohio Coaster Club had a chance to visit this park when they did in 2018.  Not only GOCC, but also Western New York Coaster Club (WNYCC), American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), and the National Amusement Park and Historical Association (NAPHA). 


UPDATE: In June 2020, it was reported that a Western New York amusement park company named Empire Adventures would be either raising the funds to purchase the park or would be leasing the property — with the intention of reopening the park in 2021. They have stated that it will be a 5-year/3-phase plan of reopening and they have a new logo set up on a placeholder website at Hopefully, the pandemic hasn’t altered these plans and they can still reopen the park next year or in the future beyond that.

m q EBPN 10 14 029


Robert “Bob” MacCallum - Member #006

With many emotions, we must say goodbye to my old friend Bob MacCallum.  Bob has been struggling with health issues for the past two years, and it was difficult for him not to enjoy participating in activities he used to enjoy.

I met Bob originally on the same morning bus route where we both used to get to downtown Cleveland.   I also met Chuck on the same bus route on my way home.  Years later when I reconnected with Chuck, we started dating, and he introduced me to amusement parks and roller coaster riding, as well as his friend Bob.  The three of us went to coaster enthusiast gatherings and events (Spring Fling, Mid-Summer Scream, Fall Freak Out, and holiday parties) together and developed a strong bond. We were part of the original group which started Great Ohio Coaster Club with Bob being the lowest active member number.

Bob and Chuck travelled together for years plotting out trips to ride roller coasters.  They also shared interest in classical music, film, and of course good eating.  Bob was involved with Kiwanis, railroad clubs, theater organs clubs, NAPHA, MACC, WYNCC, ACE, EBPN (Euclid Beach Park Now), his condo/ retirement association, his local AARP, and his church --- all of which will miss his involvement.

He will be greatly missed. We are grateful for the many memories and shared pictures from Bob, his extra hobby, to cherish and remind us of our time with Bob and of coasters now gone.  

----- Rosemarie Kusold
Member #014


m s RK 11 14 220

g t JPM 12 13 016

p d JPM 12 15 639

Article by Michael Burkes

Photos by Michael Burkes and Bob Kilner


In a place, approximately 2000 miles away from Ohio, that was once populated by acres and acres of orange groves, lies an oasis of fantasy and fanfare that started as an idea in the mind of its creator, Walt Disney.  It has revolutionized the concept of the American amusement park. Before its creation, the entertainment complex was very traditional. They had their roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, flat rides, dark rides/tunnels of love, train rides and such.  This particular amusement park went a step beyond giving its attractions a detailed emphatic feel that no other facility had initiated. With a heavy emphasis on American and European architecture and larger-than-life cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo, Mr. Toad — this is a place that has a magical talent to make grown men and women feel like children again. Celebrating 65 years as the “happiest place on Earth,” I bring to you the one and only Disneyland.


The idea for Disneyland began when Walt Disney was visiting Griffith Park in Los Angeles with his two children.  While watching them ride the carousel, he came up with an idea of a place where adults and children could go and have a great time together.  He may have been influenced by his dad’s memories of the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Another likely influence was Benton Harbor, Michigan’s Eden Springs Park (formerly known as The House of David).  Mr. Disney visited the park and bought one of the miniature trains used there; The Colony had the largest miniature railway set up in the world at that time. The earliest documented draft of Disney’s plans for Disneyland were sent as a memo to Dick Kelsey — A Studio Production Designer on August 31, 1948, where it was referred to as Mickey Mouse Park.


The initial concept for Mickey Mouse Park started with just an eight-acre plot of land.  Mr. Disney started to visit other amusement parks for inspiration and ideas including Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, Efteling in the Netherlands, and Greenfield Village, Playland, and Children’s Fairyland in the United States.  As his designers began working on concepts, the project grew much larger than the land could hold. Mr. Disney then acquired 160 acres of orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim, California. Construction began on July 16, 1954 and cost $17 million to complete, equal to roughly $163 million today.  Disneyland opened one year and one day later.



When Disneyland opened, there were five themed areas; Main Street, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland.  As the park expanded, new themed areas were added. New Orleans Square in 1966, Bear County (now Critter Country) in 1972, Mickey’s Toontown in 1993, and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in 2019.  When you enter the complex, the train station is located directly in the front in all of its glory. After walking through a small tunnel, guests emerge on Main Street — a tribute to small town Americana.  This area is the setting for the park’s daily and nightly parades and also leads to a central hub that branches out to New Orleans Square and Frontierland to the left, Tomorrowland on the right and Fantasyland and Adventureland straight ahead.  Located in the center of the hub is perhaps the most iconic attraction of them all, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.


When It comes to rides at Disneyland, Walt wanted an entirely different experience for his guests than other parks provided.  Guests will not find the “old school” rides like a Tumble Bug, Loop-O-Plane, Tilt-A-Whirl or modern-type (for the 1950s) rides like a Wave Swinger, Disk-O, Frisbee, etc.  In fact, the only rides that look similar to this genre are Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Astro Orbiter, and King Arthur’s Carousel. What you will find instead are a large assortment of dark rides, scenic rides and a spectacularly-themed log flume called Splash Mountain.


Even when it comes to roller coasters, Disneyland does not give them this name.  They call them “roller coaster-type attractions or roller coaster-type devices.” They do this to differentiate them from a regular amusement park attraction (OH WHATEVER!)  There are a total of four roller coaster-type attractions in the park. The oldest is the Matterhorn Bobsleds — a dual coaster that takes place inside the title mountain where passengers escape the grasps of the Abominable Snowman.  This ride was notable for being the first tubular steel tracked coaster in existence. The second is the legendary Space Mountain — an indoor space themed-type coaster that takes place in a futuristic building. Then, there is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad — a runaway mine train-style coaster that shoots through tunnels and traverses through tight curves.  Finally, there’s Gadget’s Go Coaster, in Mickey’s Toon Town. It’s the most “normal” looking of all the rides and is primarily a junior/kiddie ride for the whole family to enjoy. 



I feel it is imperative that all amusement park fans come to Disneyland at least once in their lives.  It is so unique, different and charming and it is an amazing feeling to experience attractions that Walt himself had a part in designing and building.  The park might not have the standard amusement park attractions, but what other place on this earth can make adults feel like kids again? What other place can make you go gaga when Mickey Mouse appears and gives you a high-five? What other place do you know that is so meticulous in their daily operations, with pathways so clean, guests can eat off them (although I wouldn’t recommend it)?  Where there is not one single light bulb that is not operating? Where employees are always glad to see you and make you feel very welcome? That’s Disneyland in Anaheim, California!














Article by Michael Burkes, GOCC Member

Photos by Michael Burkes and Bob Kilner, GOCC Editor


Los Angeles, California.  The name says it all. When someone mentions this city, thoughts of blue skies, pleasant temperatures, endless beaches, and Hollywood come to mind. Unfortunately, along with these visions are smog, traffic congestion, endless highways, high prices, and an ever-growing population.  But just west of the downtown area, there is a metropolis with a year-round population of less than 100,000 people. It’s a scenic break from the hustle and bustle of everyday inner-city life. The city is Santa Monica. Within Santa Monica lies an attraction called Santa Monica Pier.  Within Santa Monica Pier lies a two-acre amusement park that is a must-see for anyone who considers themselves an amusement park fan. It has been seen in countless television commercials, TV shows, and movies. It is a major asset to this city and surrounding communities. It’s simply called Pacific Park.


Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier is the perfect destination to take in the scenery and people watch.  The current pier is actually made up of two adjoining piers. There is a long, narrow, municipal pier that carries sewer pipes beyond the breaker.  The short, wide, adjoining pleasure pier to the south, a.k.a. Newcomb Pier, was built in 1916 by Charles I. D. Looff and his son Arthur. The bridge and entry gate to Santa Monica Pier were built in 1938 by the Federal Works Project Administration as part of the New Deal.  This place has long been known for fishing, taking in the sights, and strolling on the beach below.

When it comes to Pacific Park, its slogan says it all: “The family amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier, LA’s only admission-free park.”  That’s right, admission is free and you can either pay one price or pay as you go. The two big attractions here are West Coaster roller coaster and the Pacific Wheel, a large enclosed Ferris Wheel that is located at the end of the pier.



West Coaster is a full-size junior coaster with a single train consisting of five coaches, each seating a maximum of six passengers, for a top capacity of 30 passengers per ride.  It has a maximum height of 55 feet and reaches a top speed of 35 mph. This is the perfect ride for families because there are no excessive g-forces for passengers to endure. The ride experience is as follows:  Immediately after leaving the station, the coaster train engages the chain lift to ascend the lift hill. At the top of the lift, the coaster will traverse a downward one-and-a-half helix turn. At the bottom of the turn, the coaster goes over a speed hill.  The grand finale is another downward helix encircling the Pacific Wheel and back into the station. That’s it. Now I personally would not fly or drive to California just to ride this, but it is a worthwhile credit and a great coaster for younger enthusiasts looking to move up from kiddie coasters.


Pacific Park has other rides like a Scrambler, Sea Dragon swing, drop tower, and bumper cars along with some midway games, food outlets and shopping.  A must-see attraction that should not be missed is the carousel. This particular ride is located within the Looff Hippodrome building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Both attractions were memorable sets featured in the movie “The Sting,” although the story was set in Chicago.


Besides the movie “The Sting,” some other motion pictures that were shot here were “Elmer Gantry” in 1960, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” in 1969, “Farewell My Lovely” in 1975, “1941” in 1979, “A Night at the Roxbury” in 1998, and “Her” in 2013.  Pacific Park has also made its mark on television, appearing on “The Mod Squad,” “The Rockford Files,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Three’s Company,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” and in animated form on “South Park.” Finally, the Pier also appears in the book series, “The Dark Artifices” by Cassandra Clare.

Late evening to nightfall is probably the best time to visit Pacific Park because the facility, as well as the pier, are brightly lit.  It’s the perfect time to embrace the ambiance of this long-standing institution. So, when visiting Southern California, check out what beachfront amusement parks were like in the past, as well as today.  Come to Pacific Park and imagine yourself 50+ years ago. It is definitely worth your time to visit an amusement park that has the charm and feel of what amusement parks were like.