There’s nothing better than heading to an amusement park during those long, hot summer days. The thrill and adrenaline of riding exhilaratingly fast rides and anticipating the momentous drop into what feels the abyss is like nothing else–well, except for entering the grounds of an abandoned park, certain that you'll encounter a terrifying spirit. Be careful: Many of these parks are no longer safe to explore, but their eerie stories live on.
1. Lake Shawnee Amusement Park (Princeton, West Virginia)
Do you hear that? The sound of laughing children in the middle of summer, enjoying the rides or squealing with excitement as they win a prize. The only problem? Those sounds are made by ghosts. According to local legend, the park is frequented by ghosts of six children that were killed by the park rides.
Even before the ride-related deaths, Lake Shawnee Amusement Park’s grounds were haunted. In 1783, the land played host to a violent war between a European family and a Native American tribe. The tribe killed children from the family and in retaliation, the patriarch, a man named Mitchell Clay, enlisted the help of other white settlers to seek vengeance and murder several Native Americans.
During the 1920s, a businessman named Conley T. Snidow purchased the site and converted it into an amusement park. Soon, he’d realize it was a mistake. Death hung over the cursed land: A little girl in a ruffled pink dress was killed after a truck backed into the path of the swing, and a boy drowned in the amusement park’s swimming pool. Today, locals say they see a little girl with her dress covered in blood and hear the wooden swings creak without the help of wind. Only enter if you dare!
2. Gulliver’s Kingdom (Kawaguchi-machi, Japan)
There’s a reason realtors are famous for their “location, location, location” exclamation. The owners of this amusement park would realize the value of that bromide a bit too late. The Gulliver’s Kingdom theme park opened in 1997—it would be forced to close its doors only four years later. Some speculate the park’s proximity to rather grim locations caused a lack of customers.
At the center of the park laid a 45 meter long statute of Jonathan Swift’s epic character, Lemuel Gulliver. The park recreated the famous scene where Lemuel is captured by the tiny people of Lilliput; this may be considered as a depiction of the park’s stagnant future. The park was situated next to Mount Fuji, near Aokigahara (Japan’s famous ‘suicide forest’) and the former headquarters of a religious cult, Aum Shinrikyo. The cult headquarters had a nerve gas production facility that caused the air to smell noxiously of chemicals. The park was eventually demolitioned in 2007, leaving only small remnants of its amusements as evidence it ever existed.
3. Joyland Amusement Park (Wichita, Kansas)
It’s all fun and games … until someone gets hurt. The Joyland Amusement Park was once the largest theme park in central Kansas, featuring a wooden roller coaster and 24 other rides. It continuously ran for 55 years until its abrupt closing in 2006. The park had its share of safety concerns that were never fully addressed. A young boy fell off a roller coaster and died in the 1970s; an employee was stabbed and killed in the parking lot in the 80s; a 13-year-old suffered serious injuries after falling 30 feet from the Ferris wheel. Due to all the economic troubles and safety concerns the park was unable to fully recover. It is continuously vandalized and in poor conditions. The initial stages of demolition began in the summer of 2015. Some rides of Joyland still exist, but the land is scheduled to go to auction in November 2018. After that, it’s likely that the land will be fully cleared.
4. Spreepark (Berlin, Germany)
Enter and be amazed! Spreepark has been entirely consumed by nature: Trees and bushes have grown over the rusting rides and the ferris wheel turns idly in the wind. The desolate park remains waiting, but for what? Tangled in city regulations, bad luck, mismanagement, and misunderstandings, the property maintains an eerie state of profound slumber. It opened in 1969 and thrived throughout the Communist era in Germany.
Spreepark’s downfall began in 1991 when the park came under the ownership of Norbert Witte. By the mid 90s, visitor numbers were decreasing and the Wittes were forced to relocate to Peru. Eventually the Wittes faced hardships: Norbert Witte suffered multiple heart attacks and was involved with drug smugglers. In 2003, Norbert and his son were arrested for attempting to smuggle cocaine into Germany. Today the grounds are littered with forgotten rides and toppled life-size dinosaurs—and some say that Witte himself can be found living in a trailer parked on the grounds of the abandoned park. Whether this fate was the result of bad luck or bad choices, the air of decrepitude haunts the grounds to this day.
5. Disney’s River Country (Bay Lake, Florida)
River Country debuted at Walt Disney World in Florida in 1976 with the slogan: “An exciting new country now awaits you inside Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness.” The combination of water park and Disney seemed certain to appeal to youngsters around the country and the world.
However, the new country was left waiting … and waiting. After 25 years of amusement, River Country was closed, indefinitely. The park has now been abandoned for more than 16 years. The slides are still in place, the pools full of water, and the safety signs stand firm in place in what seems more of a ghost town than an amusement park. The water park was first forced to close on November 2001 following the September 11 attacks. Like much of the tourism-fueled economy across the United States, the water park was negatively affected by the loss and was unable to recover. Instead of being torn down, the water park was left to ruin, a haunting reminder of what was.