Action Park: New Book Goes Inside America's Most Dangerous Amusement Park

Photo courtesy Andy Mulvihill
Photo courtesy Andy Mulvihill

In the late 1970s, ski resort owner Gene Mulvihill transformed a mountain in rural Vernon, New Jersey, into a destination for thrill-seekers in the summer months. The result was Action Park, a one-of-a-kind amusement destination that left guests in charge of their own fun. In this exclusive excerpt from Action Park, new from Penguin Books, his teenage son Andy begins to realize that his father’s insistence on autonomy carries with it a measure of risk.

Emboldened by the success of the Lola race cars and their propensity to facilitate legal drunk driving in New Jersey, my father became preoccupied with growing out the entire motorized area of the park. If it needed fuel, it belonged here. He collected things that went fast and faster still, scooping up anything that could accelerate and filling up virtually every corner of the dedicated property with vehicles that guests could race or wreck.

From across Route 94, my ears partially obscured by the helmet worn while patrolling the skateboard park, I could hear the chants: “Wreck the boats! Wreck the boats!”

On a break, I walked across the road and stood out in the rain next to my older brother, Pete. We watched as people zipped around in speedboats that were roughly two-thirds the size of a full-scale version. Powerful engines that seemed way out of proportion for their flimsy plastic frames weighed them down. They populated a mucky-looking lake in Motor World with a small island in the middle.

“Why are they upset?” I asked.

“When it rains, we close down all the motorized rides except for the boats,” Pete said. “The lines get long. They get pissed and start to revolt.” Once someone got in a boat, he said, it was almost impossible to get them out until they ran out of gas.

The boats made a zipping sound as they looped around the island, noses pointed up in the air as if driven by junior cartel smugglers on the run from the Coast Guard. Two teenagers sped directly at each other, hair blowing back, bearing down on the throttle.

“Don’t do that!” Pete yelled. “Don’t you do that!”

The hulls collided with a thonk noise. Both speedboats began to capsize, spilling the occupants into the water.

“Serves them right,” Pete said.

One of them managed to get back into the boat and began cycling around the island again as Erin, the area’s traffic cop, tried to wave him in. The other climbed back on the dock, dripping with water and reeking of gasoline.

“There’s fuel all over my shorts!” he shouted. “My skin is burning, man!”

“Go to the office,” Pete said. “They have soap.”

Fuel and engine oil leaked from the motors, giving the entire lake a greasy sheen, like the top of a pizza. People who had been tossed into the water often started screaming. “Something brushed against my leg!” they would wail as they waded toward land, looking back as though a shark might emerge from the four-foot depths.

“Snakes,” Pete said. “Some of them are copperheads. We have snapping turtles, too. They can take a toe.” Doing laps in the boats first thing in the morning, Pete said, usually scared them off.

The relative sophistication of the motor-powered rides didn’t prevent us from installing low-cost attractions as well. Adjacent to the speedboat lake was a giant pile of hay bales that stretched more than ten feet in the air. They formed a winding labyrinth that resembled an obstacle course constructed for a rat in a laboratory. A sign next to it read: Human Maze.

A buddy of mine from school, Artie Williams, worked as the maze attendant. He was a good tennis player and read The New York Times every day without fail. These would normally be insufferable qualities for a teenager, but Artie managed to remain likable. He said he often heard muffled pleas for help from inside the maze. “People don’t understand it’s actually complicated and hard to get out of,” he said. “They think it’s like one of those things you draw a line through in a puzzle book. I wouldn’t go in without a rope tied around my waist.”

Snakes occasionally made their way into the bales, he said, popping out and causing people to sprint away in a mad panic, getting themselves even more lost than before. In the middle of summer, the bales also trapped heat, effectively turning the maze into a suffocating furnace. People emerged from the exit soaked in sweat and gasping. “Water, water,” they whispered, dry lips cracking. One of these disappearances actually made the local newspaper.

After a week, I saw a sign go up near the entrance:

DANGER

People Have Been Lost in This Maze for Up to 9 Hours

“It’s good to warn them up front,” Artie said, The New York Times tucked under his armpit.

As Motor World swelled, so did the rest of the park. New attractions seemed to erupt from the ground weekly, and other areas found new purpose. My father put in batting cages and basketball courts. The ski lift became the Sky Ride, a “scenic, 40-minute tour through the mountain landscape.” Trails of pot smoke surrounded the lifts. The race car mechanic, Mike Kramer, had cobbled together single-occupancy tanks that shot tennis balls at velocity at both guests and employees. It was Wimbledon meets Vietnam.

The concept of the Vernon Valley Fun Farm was already too quaint. The park was evolving, reflecting the increasingly rabid tastes of its patrons. The diesel-drenched success of Motor World and the failure of the comparatively serene skateboard park proved that people wanted speed and danger, competition and risk.

They did not want a fun farm. They wanted an action park.

Penguin Books

Excerpted from Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park by Andy Mulvihill with Mental Floss senior writer Jake Rossen. Published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Andrew J. Mulvihill.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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14 Black Authors You Should Read Right Now

Pexabay, Pexels // CC0
Pexabay, Pexels // CC0

With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, works on anti-racism have been flying off the shelves of Black-owned bookstores. But anti-racism doesn’t start and end with philosophical theories—it’s also a matter of shifting your current reading patterns. If you’ve found yourself purchasing Stamped but not The Hate U Give or With the Fire on High, then you’re doing yourself a major disservice. To help you get started, here are some groundbreaking Black authors you should read—and a few suggested books for you to check out.

1. Jason Reynolds

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Amazon

Jason Reynolds has a true gift when it comes to describing the Black male experience. He began writing poetry at age 9 and published his first novel in 2014. With his books—more than 10 so far—he’s created a space for Black boys to see themselves on the covers of fiction as much more than victims. On his website, Reynolds acknowledges that “I know there are a lot—A LOT—of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don't actually hate books, they hate boredom… even though I'm a writer, I hate reading boring books too.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Boy in the Black Suit, Ghost

2. Nic Stone

Nic Stone has been kicking down the door on issues that have been overlooked for decades. Through her books, she brings attention and nuance to subjects like grief, discrimination, and questioning one’s sexuality in a way that has rarely been seen before in Young Adult and Middlegrade fiction. Up until 2013, The New York Times bestselling author didn’t think she could write fiction. “Part of the reason I didn't think I could do it is because I didn't see anyone who looked like me writing the type of stuff I wanted to write (super popular YA fiction),” Stone writes in an FAQ on her website. “But I decided to give it a shot anyway. (Life lesson: If you don't see you, go BE you.)”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Dear Martin, Odd One Out

3. Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas made waves after the release of The Hate U Give, a New York Times Bestseller that was made into a critically acclaimed film. Thomas’s second novel, On the Come Up, takes place in Garden Heights about a year after the events of The Hate U Give. It follows a 16-year-old up-and-coming rapper who goes by the nickname Bri. As a former teen rapper herself, Thomas knows the topic well. Just don’t ask her to participate in a rap battle. “I hoped that with writing these scenes and with showing people the ins and outs of it and the internal part of it, of coming up with freestyles on the spot, that maybe—just maybe more people would respect it as an art form,” Thomas told NPR. “But I can't do it.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Hate U Give, On the Come Up

4. Brittney Morris

Simon Pulse/Amazon

In her debut novel, Slay, author Brittney Morris shows the ways that Black people are discriminated against in the gaming industry. In its review, Publisher's Weekly wrote, “This tightly written novel will offer an eye-opening take for many readers and speak to teens of color who are familiar with the exhaustion of struggling to feel at home in a largely white society.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Slay

5. Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Nigerian-American author who intertwines African mysticism and science fiction in her writing, masterfully addressing societal issues while showing us how the world can become a better place. Okorafor never envisioned a career as a writer; she planned to be an entomologist until, as a college student, she was paralyzed from the waist down after back surgery. She began writing to distract herself while she recovered, and never looked back. “Nigeria is my muse,” Okorafor told The New York Times. “The idea of the world being a magical place, a mystical place, is normal there.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Binti, Akata Witch

6. Tiffany D. Jackson

If you love psychological thrillers and haven’t read Tiffany D. Jackson’s first two novels, you’re missing out: Jackson has an ability to twist elements of her story to include new perspectives while keeping readers second-guessing their own theories. Her writing was influenced by many of the authors she discovered in her teen years. “I was, and still am, a HUGE R.L Stein fan, so his Fear Street series took me into my teen years," she writes on her website. "But then I was introduced to Mary Higgins Clark, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Jodi Picoult, to name a few.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Allegedly, Monday’s Not Coming

7. Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Nafissa Thompson-Spires catalogues the plights of the Black community with stories that are so intricate, they could be true. One story follows a Black cosplayer shot by police; another addresses post-partum depression. She also showcases the joy that surfaces throughout our lives, despite the hardships. Thompson-Spires’s writing has earned her comparisons to the likes of Paul Beatty, Toni Cade Bambara, and Alice Munro. “I think the goal of a writer should be to tell the truth in some way, even if it’s to tell it slant—or to imagine a better version of the truth," she told The Guardian. "We have to find ways to confront difficult subjects.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Heads of Colored People

8. Justin A. Reynolds

Katherine Tegen Books/Amazon

No, Justin A. Reynolds isn’t related to Jason Reynolds, but he’s just as talented. In his debut novel, Opposite of Always, Reynolds uses common YA tropes in an innovative way; a star-crossed lovers plot with the added effect of time travel truly sets this story apart.

Add to Your TBR Pile: Opposite of Always, Early Departures

9. Tony Medina

Tony Medina, the first Creative Writing professor at Howard University, has published 17 books, and his fight for social justice is evident in his writing. In his graphic novel, I Am Alfonso Jones, Medina uses Hamlet as inspiration for explaining issues of police brutality and social justice to Young Adult readers.

Add to Your TBR Pile: I Am Alfonso Jones

10. Elizabeth Acevedo

Quill Tree Books/Amazon

The Black experience is not a singular one, and Elizabeth Acevedo—whose debut novel, The Poet X, was a New York Times bestseller and won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2018—expands the canon with beautifully detailed Afro-Latinx narratives. “I feel like it’s hard to dream a thing you can’t see," Acevedo said in an interview with Black Nerd Problems. "And I think growing up like I knew I loved music and I loved poetry and I loved the feeling of being with other poets and listening to other stories and thinking, like, I think I can do that just as good.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Poet X, With the Fire on High

11. N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin is a voice for the marginalized in science fiction. She has won a number of awards for her work, including a Nebula Award and two Locust Awards, and she was the first person to win three Hugo Awards for Best Novel in a row, for her Broken Earth trilogy. "I’ll use whatever techniques are necessary to get the story across and I read pretty widely," Jemisin told The Paris Review. "So when people kept saying second person is just not done in science fiction, I was like, well, they said first person wasn’t done in fantasy and I did that with my first novel. I don’t understand the weird marriage to particular techniques and the weird insistence that only certain things can be done in science fiction."

Add to Your TBR Pile: The City We Became, The Fifth Season

12. Renée Watson

Renée Watson uses her novels to address gentrification, discrimination, and what it’s like to grow up as a Black girl. “My motivation to write young adult novels comes from a desire to get teenagers talking," she said in an interview with BookPage. "I hope my books are a catalyst for youth and adults to have conversations with one another, for teachers to have a starting point to discuss difficult topics with students.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: This Side of Home, Piecing Me Together

13. Maika and Maritza Moulite

Inkyard Press/Amazon

In their book Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, Haitian-American sister-author duo Maika and Maritza Moulite have created an exciting and riveting story of self-exploration and the meaning of family. These two have already secured a publishing deal for their next novel, One of the Good Ones.

Add to Your TBR Pile: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine

14. Talia Hibbert

Although you may have heard her name more recently due to her USA Today bestselling novel Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert isn’t a newcomer to the world of adult and paranormal romance: In books, she writes narratives that often follow characters who are diverse in race, body types, and sexuality—because, as her website bio states, “she believes that people of marginalised identities need honest and positive representation.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Get a Life, Chloe Brown, A Girl Like Her

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