Not So Amusing: Amusement Park Fires

Tragedy struck Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey) on May 11, 1984, when eight perished in the Haunted Castle fire. The “castle” consisted of 17 8- × 40-foot interconnected trailers, and featured plywood, wooden studs, and foam rubber construction.  Read the August 1984 articles, “Horror in The Haunted Castle: The Tragedy/The Investigation” and “The Cause and Preliminary Investigation” HERE.  

1944 was a deadly year for amusement parks and other places of public assembly. The August 1944 issue included the following short item on a fire in which six died, “Denver Amusement Park Tragedy” HERE.

A fire originating in the wiring of a washroom constructed of burlap, plastic, and wooden studs seriously damaged the Luna Park amusement park in Coney Island, New York, on August 12, 1944. Fortunately, there were no fatalities among the 8,000 visitors in Luna Park itself, and the estimated 800,000 others at Coney Island that day, many of whom were on the boardwalk.

However, two days later, on August 13, six died and 125 were injured in a swift-moving fire at Palisades Park (NJ) Amusement Park. The fire started in and consumed the Virginia Reel amusement ride, in which the fatalities occurred. See the September 1944 article, “Amusement Park Fires Not so Amusing!” HERE. The article also refers to several then-recent fires involving places of public assembly, some are included in the From the Fire Engineering Vault feature, “1944 Hartford Circus Fire: Tent Burned “Like Tissue Paper” HERE.  

However, although such fires are often quite destructive, they are not always deadly. Another Coney Island amusement park, Dreamland, succumbed to flames in 1911. The fire began around 2 a.m., May 27. The June 7, 1911, issue of Fire and Water Engineering offered an editorial comment and a fire report on the Dreamland fire. No one died in that incident, although a fire apparatus was lost in the fire, as mentioned in the August 23, 1911 issue, on page 139, left column, fourth paragraph, “A claim has been referred….” See all related articles HERE.

Finally, in St. Louis, Missouri, a July 19, 1963, fire all but destroyed the Forest Park Highlands Amusement Park, but no one died.  See the November 1963 Fire Engineering cover story HERE.



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