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!