Grand Ole Opry(land)

May 7, 2008

I love theme parks!  The first park I ever remember attending is the now-defunct Opryland theme park in Nashville, TN.  I was 5 years old, and my mom and I went with a group from our church.  I made my super-pregnant mom ride the “Little Deuce Coupe”, a teacup-type ride, with me so many times that she eventually vomited in the trash can at the exit.  

After that first trip, we made the journey to Opryland multiple times each summer.  At a travel time of 2 hours it was an easy day trip, and I had an aunt that lived in Nashville, (read: free room and board), which allowed for a few imprmptu family reunions, and group trips to Opryland.  

On one occasion, my parents allowed me to go to Opryland with my grandparents and cousin.  Grandma prefered the shows, and only rode one ride, the train, while the tastes of my cousin and I were more fast-paced.  After much nagging,  we were allowed, me at age 7, and her being all of 12, to roam the park minus adult supervision.  I was still a pretty big wussy at that point, so the most exciting ride that I dare was the Dulcimer Splash (log ride). 

While I prefered the rides, I also enjoyed the shows as a small child.  My preference was for the magic show, and I remember my dad being picked from the audience to assist with a trick.  It involved the illusion that his finger was to be chopped off.  Even at a small age, I was an eternal pessimist, and I was terrified that, through some error on the part of the magician, he would emerge from the trick sans index finger. 

Another favorite from my childhood was the Angle Inn.  It was a house that you walked through, and everything was slanted.  I remember my mom not allowing me to have a lollipop in my mouth when we went through it, for fear that I would fall and the stick would become lodged in my throat.  (I’m starting to see where I get my anxiety from).   The park was in an unfortunate situation to be landlocked, and eventually, the Angle Inn was demolished to make room for a new attraction.  The Tin Lizzies, as seen below, suffered the same fate several years later. 

The turning point in my Opryland experience happened when I was 10 years old.  We attended the park again as part of a bigger church group.  My friend Laura came along, and at her prodding, I finally dared ride the Wabash Cannonball.  Prior to that time I had only been brave enough to ride the Rockin Roller Coaster, and was terrified of the Wabash due to it’s 2 upside-down loops.  I mentally pictured myself falling out of my harness and pummelling headfirst towards the ground during one of the loops.  There’s nothing like a double dare to make you overcome your fears. 

I loved it, and from that point on, I was up for the full Opryland experience.   Each subsequent trip became an adventure, with me trying my hand, and stomach, on every thrill ride on the park map.  Opryland became even more exciting when I became a teenager, and was deemed old enough to enjoy the park with a group of peers without an adult supervising our shennanigans.  I recall one youth group trip, on which, armed with my pink LeClick camera, my female friends and I were on a mission to snap photos of the 12 hottest guys there for a proposed calendar.  Good times……..

During my high school years, I spent many a Saturday in Opryland with various church groups, school clubs, and occasionally my own family.  I can’t say that I had a favorite ride, I had many favorite rides, all for different reasons.  I loved the “Little Deuce Coupe” and the “Rockin’ Roller Coaster”, because they were the first rides we went to after entering the park.  To me, they symbolized the end of a long road trip, and the beginning of a fun-filled day, and they both had short lines. 

I also loved Chaos, another roller coaster, which was enclosed in a metal building, and was rode in almost complete darkness. 

I loved the water rides, such as The Old Mill Scream, Grizzly River Rampage, and the Dulcimer Splash, for cooling off on a hot summer day, and I loved the Tennessee Waltz swings for drying out when I got a little too drenched on the water rides. 

                   

I don’t specifically remember the last time I attended Opryland.  It had to be the summer of 1995 or 1996, and I’m sure that time was as exciting as the other dozens of times I went there.  I do know that I waited in line for hours, to ride the park’s newest attraction, the Hangman roller coaster, and that I had no idea that would be the last time I would go to one of my favorite places on Earth. 

In the fall of 1997, after the park closed for the season, it was announced that the park would close permanently.  The company that owned it had opted to build a mall at the site, which would attract tourists year around, rather than just a few months out of the year.  The annual Christmas event, which I never attended, was marketed as the public’s last chance to see the rides in all their glory.  To the chagrin of many, several of the rides were already being dismantled when they came to see them one last time. 

There was no final season, no chance for one last train ride, show, game, or slice of pizza in Do-Wah-Ditty City, where you could relish it, and know that you could never experience it again.  

At the time of the announcement, I was apathetic about the situation.  I was in a location about the same distance from a 6 Flags, as I had been to Opryland, so I knew I had somewhere else to “get my thrill on”. 

It’s closure wasn’t widely publicized, and many a tourist still flocked to Nashville for their annual trip to Opryland the next summer only to find it gone.  My family and I joked that it was much like the one about the 2 blondes going to Disneyworld.  (They saw the sign that said, Disneyworld: Left, so they turned around and went home)  To this day, the hotel and Showboat still function under the Opryland name, and interstate signs still direct you to “Opryland”, which I personally feel is a disgrace. 

While as a youngster I may have acted nonchalant about the demise of Opryland, as an adult and mom, I long for it.  I would love to take my kids there, to share a spin  on the “Little Deuce Coupe”, to fly high on the Barnstormers, and share a funnel cake.

I frequent the mall that took it’s place, affectionately known as, “Shopryland”,  once or twice a year, and quite honestly, it’s not all that spectacular.  I seldom buy anything there,and even during the holiday rush it’s not all that crowded.  I think it was a bad corporate decision, and rumor has it, the company that sold it thinks so too.  The only reason we go to the mall at all is because it has a Bass Pro Shop and I am married to an avid sportsman.  Driving in the parking lot, I try to recall what was where, and it makes me feel like an old fogey.  Seeing the remains of the old Grizzly River Rampage, complete with the cave where a stuffed Grizzly once stood and scared the daylights out of me, gives me an empty feeling inside.  Someone in the memories of Opryland yahoo group said that it was like driving through a graveyard, and I agree. 

Who knows if Opryland would still be successful if it were still operating.  It was land-locked, making expansion difficult, and without progressing I can see how it would be hard to compete.  However, I have a hard time believing that the park was not making money, or that the mall has proven any more successful.

A mall, no matter how big and new, could never take the place of the magic that was Opryland, and not having a last chance to experience it hurts, even a decade later.  It may not have been the biggest or the best theme park, but to me it was perfect!

If you remember Opryland, the theme park that is, I would love to see your comments!

 

Advertisements

37 Responses to “Grand Ole Opry(land)”

  1. Red Says:

    WOW. This post was wonderful, so much imagery and details .. I loved it.
    I didnt move to Ky until 1995, so I only remember going to Opryland once, in the summer of 1995. I dont remember a whole lot of details except that it was way to freakin’ hot. It sounds like you had a much better time with it, but you also grew up with it. Your memories would of course be different than mine, which are pretty non-existant.
    I’ve been to the Mall a few times. Once to see the lights (which are pretty) .. and once to shop (which sucked because I hate malls).
    Though a bit of sadness was read in this post, it’s a wonderful one, Alyson.

  2. Alyson Says:

    Thanks so much. I wondered if you had ever been there. We might’ve been there at the same time.

  3. Matt Says:

    Awesome. I loved Opryland and the Tin Lizzies. I remember it fondly even though my wife greatly prefers it as a mall!

  4. ashley Says:

    I REMEMBER OPRYLAND!!! We got season passes every year and went just about every weekend. Grizzly River Rampage was the best! And Chaos and Rockin’ Roller Coaster, and Wabash Cannonball and the log ride! I rode them all!!! WHOO! What a great post! I went to Rainforest Cafe with some friends a while back and it was sad–I wish Opryland was still there! (I bet Bon Jovi would have liked to ride the rides!!)

  5. Allison Says:

    I visited Opryland a couple of times as a child adn remember having fun on some kind of raft ride. “Greatly prefer” might be a little strong, but these days my stomach can handle the Banana Republic outlet store a lot better than the spinning rides.

    I also like the Grand Ole Opry (have been 3 times).

  6. Allison Says:

    Oh, and how could I have forgotten LeClick cameras from the 80’s???

  7. Alyson Says:

    @ Matt: I loved them too, until I got old enough to actually drive, then they kinda lost their novelty. I think your wife is about the only person that prefers the mall.

    @ Ashley: We got season passes one year too. It was so much fun. If it were still there we could be the guys private tour guides.

    @ Allison: I’m sure that was the Grizzly River Rampage. It was great.

    I’ve never been to the Opry.

    I almost commented on your 80’s post about LeClick’s.

  8. Liz Says:

    I went there a few times, but more to Six Flags in St. Louis. So, I feel about it the way you felt about Opryland.

    GREAT piece! Your writing style is evolving!

    Hope the job situation improves!!!!

  9. Brian Says:

    I miss Opryland. It was so much fun!

    I remember going one hot summer day with a school friend. His parents dropped us off and planned to pick us up later in the afternoon so that we could go see a Pasty Cline play at the Ryman. Well… we got so hot that we decided to ride water rides just before they arrived to pick us up. We were both completely soaked and then had to sit in the air conditioning during the play. It was FREEZING! I don’t know if I’ve ever been that uncomfortable since.

    Anyway, Opryland had some great rides. I wonder what happened to them?

  10. Alyson Says:

    @ Liz: I’ve been to 6 Flags several times, but I guess Opryland was just special to me for all the history I had there.

    The work situation was resolved today, just another instance of me freaking out for no unecessary reason.

    @ Brian: How did we manage to not go to Opryland together?

    That story is funny. I remember stopping at a fast food restaurant in Clarksville and paying with money wet from the Grizzly River. The workers said they got it all the time.

    I think the Buck Jones thing was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been. It was totally worth it though.

    Some of the rides were eventaully sold for scrap metal, and the location of others is unknown. How sad!

    I did find some info on alot of them here:
    http://www.thrillhunter.com/WhereAreTheyNow.html

  11. Carla Says:

    Hi, your blog came in on my google alerts for the word “dulcimer.” I spent a lot of time at Opryland as a teenager, going there for church events, family outings, and school/band field trips. I visited the park as an adult with my child just before it closed, but I didn’t know it would soon close. I miss it, too! I have been to the Opry Mills Mall too many times, and unfortunately that is the image my daughter has of “Opryland.” I didn’t remember that the log ride was named after the dulcimer…I enjoyed reading that in your blog…maybe all those rides I took on that splashy thang planted the seed that I would someday be a dulcimer player/performer…or maybe it was simply enjoying the many musical shows in those years I visited Opryland that inspired me to continue making and sharing music throughout my life.

    Good on you for reminding folks how fun and worthwhile the lovely Opryland theme park was.

  12. Alyson Says:

    The Dulcimer thing is funny. I think it was originally called the, “Flume Zoom”, then later renamed.

    I really enjoy hearing from people who went to Opryland.

  13. kip Says:

    tears.

    i cannot look at the old grizzly without feeling sad. what a disgrace.

    they closed my childhood memories. 😦

  14. Alyson Says:

    It is really sad what they did to all of us. We’re going to take the kids to Holiday World, but it’s not the same.

  15. Allison Says:

    That’s very ironic. I remember going to Holiday World much more so in my childhood than Opryland. It was Santa Claus land back then, and much smaller. Good times.

  16. Alyson Says:

    That is funny.

    I have a postcard that my grandma had from when it was Santa Claus Land.

  17. Elaine Says:

    OH! What a trip down memory lane. Your writings brought back so many memories! About the only thing I recall that you didn’t touch on was the music, especially those HOT Cumberland Boys (remember, I WAS a teenager!) I graduated from Franklin High School in 1983, a year after Wynonna Judd! I had already moved to New York State when I heard about the closing through my brother who still lived in Franklin (Go Rebels!). Boy, how I cried. I had planned to take my children there to visit every summer. Dollywood can never replace Opryland. Nor can anything they build in Branson, MO. Nashville will always be the center of my country music universe. But I’m afraid for many others, Opryland and Nashville are nothing more than a secondary option for country music nostalgia and … shopping.

  18. Alyson Says:

    Glad to hear from someone else who enjoyed the place as much as I did.

    I was more of a thrill seeker, and didn’t pay too much attention to the live shows. I ignored them all together, unless I was forced by my parents to attend one.

    I do remember my BFF having a crush on the Cumberland Boys back in the day though. I hadn’t thought about that in years.


  19. […] July 2, 2008 A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, also known as high school, I heard of a place called Holiday World.  The setting was at an FHA officer’s meeting, and one of the underclassmen officers suggested Holiday World as a possible destination for our group trip.  She claimed her family had been going there for years, and that it was even better than Opryland.  […]

  20. Jennifer Says:

    Great article. I couldn’t agree with you more. It saddens me to think there is no more Opryland. I have such great memories there. I really wanted to make memories with my family there and now i won’t get to. 😦

  21. alyson Says:

    Thanks. I really miss it too, but on the plus side, I have discovered Holiday World.


  22. really enjoyed reading and thinking about the olden days of OPRYLAND!!!!!!!! I was their Magician and worked there for 11 years and they did not give me any notice of the closing…..the really sad part is there are generations of children who cannot enjoy the Thrills and the Shows of OPRYLAND. There were soooo many families who had their Season Pass to OPRYLAND and came every weekend for a couple of hours. I made soooo many friends from working out there and found out that Nashville has a ton of very wonderful people!!! Thank you again for the trip down memory lane, it was wonderful!! http://www.nashvillemagicshow.com
    Rodney

  23. Alyson Says:

    Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s terribly sad what happened to my favorite place, and that they gave you no notice of the closing.

    11 years………..wow. I don’t suppose you were the one that cut off my dad’s finger, as that was probably 15 years before closing.

  24. John M. Says:

    I have fond memories of Opryland, mostly of my eighth grade trip there and an earlier trip with my family. The Wabash was my first real roller coaster and oh what a thrill! I do think the Grizzly River was my favorite though.

    Thanks for bringing back those memories! It is a terrible shame they “malled” that site. Corporate suits know NOTHING!!!

  25. Alyson Says:

    Wabash was my first real one too, except for the Rockin’ Roller Coaster.

  26. Nancy Says:

    I grew up in Tennessee near Jackson. It was a yearly vacation spot for my family every year. I’ve missed it. I ended moving to Michigan (where my folks are from) and the trips to Opryland stopped. I had hoped to go and visit Opryland and bring my children there so that they can experience where mom had fun when she was a kid. I have been home a few times since 92 and found out that Opryland was gone. My heart crushed. Reading your blog brought back my own memories that I had for the place and the name of the rides I started to forget. Thank you so much for putting them fresh back in my head again! So nice to read this…was like a trip down memory lane. Thank you so much for that!

  27. Alyson Says:

    I’ve been to Jackson a few times. Glad you enjoyed the post. I miss it so much.

  28. Kathy Says:

    My memories of Opryland are great! My family went there every year when everyone else was going to spend a week in Florida or what sounded like some exotic place. I only live about an hour or so from there but as a child it seemed like an eternity to finally get there. When I was 5 I only made the height to ride the Walbash Cannonball by the length of my hair on top and I remember loving it but my mom throwing her leg across my lap thinking I was going to fall out and lost her hair combs in the process. I worried all day about those things. I started going in the early 70’s and my last trip there was I think the year it closed with my oldest son who was only 4 at the time. I wish I had known that was going to be the last time to see the magic I remember as a child. I talk about it all the time every time we go to Opry Mills or to the hotel to see the lights. I wish my youngest son could have gone. My favorite ride was the timber topper and I remember the petting zoo was where we would go when my parents wanted to sit and rest. Those were the days. Like the other post said, I cant believe that place wasnt making money hand over fist. It was like any other attraction today being very costly but it was worth it all to have known such a great place. One last note, I never wanted to see the shows there as a little girl but now I would give anything to be able to see any one of them so kids remember enjoy everything you come across, even the boring stuff because someday you will wish you could have those times to relive.

  29. Meghan Says:

    I LOVED Opryland SO much! I was crushed when I found out it was closed. I was about 20 in 1997, and I was so upset. The Tennessee Waltz were and still are the only swings like that I could handle. I have tried others since, but they are never the same. The Flume Zume was also the best, no other log ride has ever compared!! How I miss the roar of the grizzle when you were going through the cave on the Grizzle River Rampage!! What was the name of the coaster when you first walked into the park? It was green and did not have tracks, it was more like a sled kind of thing.

    Thanks for the memories!!

  30. Alyson Says:

    @ Kathy: I agree wholeheartedly about the shows. I never bothered with them either. In our family that was how you knew you were getting “old”…..when you heard yourself utter, “we should go to a show”. Thanks for sharing.

    @ Megan: I loved all the same rides you did. I think the ride you are referring to is the “Screaming Delta Deamon”. I had totally forgotten about it. Thanks!

  31. Steve Whelan Says:

    Your website brought a lot of good memories back. Thank you. I read somewhere that a some of the rides were eventually sold for scrap metal. Kinda sad. I was always amazed at the Angle Inn. and had wondered if it was still around someplace. Thans again. Steve

  32. alyson Says:

    You’re very welcome. I loved the Angle Inn. Not sure what happened to it. It was closed while the park was still in operation to make room for a new attraction.

    I also read that some of the rides, including Chaos, were eventually sold for scrap. I almost cried.

  33. Dave V Says:

    Thanks for the narrative on opreyland. I was looking at some pics in my photo album circa 1976. The pic was the cork screw rollercoaster in the image you posted. I did a google search on opreyland, wondering where on google earth it was. I couldn’t find it, cause it was no more.

    I was a sailor stationed in Millington Tn. A friend and I went there for a weekend. Aside from sleeping in a rain soaked tent, we met some of the greatest people and partied with musicians who worked at the park. Of course they were playing live. One song I remer was Peace Train by Bob Dylan.

    A most memorable event in my life.

  34. Alyson Says:

    Glad I could bring back some good memories!

  35. Sandra Says:

    We loved that park, too – even honeymooned there. I saw in today’s news that the last of the Grizzly River Rampage is being dozed. So sad. That ride had great music, and was so great on a hot day. We loved the shows, too – Country Music USA, Gaslight Theater, American Music Theater, etc. Also, the Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff Museums. You never knew who might show up in the park – one day it was Porter Waggoner riding through the park on a horse. Another day it was Minnie greeting folks at her museum. Another it was Roy Acuff who stepped on stage to sing “Cannonball.” We loved visiting the animals at the petting zoo, walking through the park eating strawberry waffles, enjoying ham and beans while listening to the bluegrass show, winter-time ice skating, the white plaster Nativity. (Thankfully, they kept that beautiful Christmas scene and still use it at the hotel at the holidays.) What a great park…still miss it.

  36. Alyson Says:

    Thanks. Your comment brought back some memories for me too!


  37. I worked at Opryland USA for three seasons. I worked in just about e everywhere and had the time of my life. I worked the front gates taking tickets, I was a front area sweeper, I worked in doo wah daddy city as a sweeper, I worked in the grizzly area as a sweeper, I worked the kiddie rides, an d I worked Rymans Ferry (before it became the Old Mill Scream.) Maryland was a safe haven for me as a teenager, a place away from the bullies at school and abuse at home. I was so sad when it closed and I no longer had that place to go. The summers were hot and the crowds could be crazy, but I loved it, especially the music. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: