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Lazy, hazy, crazy nights (Rehoboth, part 2)

January 17, 2008

The Rehoboth Beach boardwalk held numerous attractions for young kids in the middle of a lazy summer… but the place that hosts the most special memories for me would have to be Funland, a great little amusement park which is still in operation today. Funland was mostly under roof and took up approximately one square block on the southern part of the boardwalk.

Funland had operating hours during the daytime, but the best time to go was in the evening. For a kid whose parents were footing the bill, this park had everything in a relatively small space: games along the outer wall facing the boardwalk, an arcade full of pinball and video games, lots of skee ball lanes, plenty of kiddie rides and even a decent number of “grown up” rides.

Several Funland rides have come and gone over the years. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to list the rides I remember best:

The Boats – a classic ride, and one of (if not the) oldest ride in the park. Just little boats that go around in a circle. But they go around in real water! I loved the boats. When I was very little, I am sure I was convinced that the little wheel was actually steering me somewhere. And there was a nifty little bell on the bow that you could ring by pulling a rope.

The Train – just a little kiddie train. It went around in a loop out in the back section of the park, the portion that was not under a roof. It was adjacent to another one of my favorites, the Moon Bounce, and it eventually gave way to the Paratrooper in the late 70s or early 80s.

The Moon Bounce – Ok, it’s not really a “ride,” and there’s usually one of these at every two-bit carnival that you’ve ever been to. I am certain it was quite dirty inside, but when I was young I had no concept of such things. I loved it! Any ride where you get to take your shoes off is always a thrill, and how much fun is it to wait in line for 20 minutes until you can go through that little flap of a door as the air comes rushing out at you? From the outside it just looked like a huge jello mold, jiggling all over the place while people bounced around inside. Did it feel like being on the moon? No, I daresay it did not. But to have 5 glorious minutes where you can jump around on anything and do somersaults and fall all over everyone else, and not have your parents tell you to stop? Is great.

The Flying Cages – no longer at the park, from what I can tell… and probably with good reason. These were definitely for older kids, and you had to learn how to operate them if you were going to have any fun. You gotta love a ride where you have to work for your entertainment. Basically, they were big steel cages. The ride operator locked you inside. On either side of the cage was a padded bar to hold on to. The operator gave you one big push and then you were responsible for pushing/pulling first on one bar, then the other, keeping the momentum going as you swung higher and higher until eventually (if you did it right) the cage would go all the way up and over in a circle. Then you just had to keep in rhythm with the cage as it swung down, pulling on the bar at the right time to keep the cage swinging over and over in circles. It really was fun once you got it going. But safe? Hmmmm. I remember falling inside the cage on one or two occasions when I accidentally let go of the bar at the wrong moment. It hurt… almost as though I had fallen down inside a steel cage and was being forced against the steel walls by centrifugal force. Go figure.

The Paratrooper – a very special ride for me. Why? Because it was the first “big person” ride that I remember going on, once I was starting to get too old for kiddie rides. The Paratrooper at Funland sat outside near the back border of the park property, and as the ride went around, the baskets came very close to a couple trees that sat along the fence line. So of course I always wanted to try to touch the trees with my feet as I swung around. This paratrooper also was always in its “up” position (unlike many that you see where the arm brings the whole circle of riders up and down during the course of the ride). Because of this, only one or two cars could be loaded at a time… so there was always the extra thrill of sitting in the basket high up in the air for several extra minutes as they slowly loaded people on and off below. I remember sitting with my brother George in the paratrooper together on a warm summer night, yelling silly things at the top of our lungs to everyone below. We even tried to yell in to the windows of the house right behind the park: “get me offa heeeeeere!!!!” I’m sure the people inside were amused.

There were other rides, but these were my favorites.

Coming soon, the final installment of my trip down memory lane at Rehoboth: the arcade and the game booths at Funland!

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