Six Flags St. Louis gave a sneak preview of its new swing ride, the SkyScreamer, on Thursday. The ride officially opened May 14.
More rides, more fun: Six Flags to add SkyScreamerwww.stltoday.com
Childhood swingsets seem downright boring after seeing the announcement today of the latest ride coming to Six Flags St. Louis.
The park this spring will add SkyScreamer, a 236-foot tower equipped with swings that will twirl 32 guests at a time at speeds up to 43 mph.
The new ride, which will be the tallest at Six Flags St. Louis, will be located in the "Illinois" section of the park, near the Screamin' Eagle rollercoaster.
Still a thrill: Six Flags after 40 yearsSix Flags: Then and now
Significant changes have been made in Six Flags' 40 years, but some things remain from when the doors opened June 5, 1971. Here's a look at what's different and what's stayed the same.
Then • The original name was Six Flags Over Mid-America.
Now • It's been Six Flags St. Louis since 1997.
Then • The park used to hire about 1,400 seasonal employees each year.
Now • More than 3,000 seasonal workers help run the park.
Then • Eight rides, including one roller coaster.
Now • Thirty-four rides in the theme park, including eight roller coasters; plus eight rides in the water park, which didn't exist in 1971.
Then • Six Flags' dark water ride opened as Injun Joe's Cave.
Now • After several name and theme changes, in 2001 it became Scooby-Doo! GhostBlasters: The Mystery of the Scary Swamp.
Guest favorite • The River King Mine Train, which opened with the park in 1971, remains a tradition for many parkgoers.
Handmade • The waffle cones served at First Cone near the park's entrance continue to be made daily, by hand, just as they were at the 1904 World's Fair.
Brain freeze • Ice cream has always been a popular treat with guests; the park serves up an average of 341,355 scoops each year.
Originals • Four rides from the park's opening season remain today: the River King Mine Train, Moon Antique Cars, Log Flume and Tommy G. Robertson Railroad.
If there's such a thing as a new-amusement-park smell, it emanated this month from Six Flags St. Louis.
Fresh coats of paint and asphalt sealant made everything seem new again as workers busily put final touches on the Eureka park, which opened Saturday for its 41st season.
"This is definitely the time of year when we all feel the adrenaline rushing through our veins," says Dave Roemer, the park's president.
Roemer has experienced that rush many times before. He started as a seasonal mail-room clerk at the park in 1972 and rose through the Six Flags ranks to his current position.
But he's not the most tenured employee at Six Flags St. Louis. Five full-time workers have been there since the park first opened its gates as Six Flags Over Mid-America on June 5, 1971.
Still, this milestone season isn't about the employees — it's about the guests.
People who visit the park this year will get plenty of chances to reminisce about the good old days. "Then and Now" signs posted near several attractions show places where Six Flags has changed over the years.
Places like the dark water ride that now has a Scooby-Doo theme but used to be called Injun Joe's Cave and was based on the story of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
"That used to be my favorite ride," Roemer says, wearing a Looney Tunes tie and a smile as he walks through the park, greeting every worker he sees by name. "It was all animatronics, which was state of the art in 1971. You could hear every 'click, click, click, whoosh' as the characters moved. We've come a long way since then."
In the Palace Theater, close to the Scooby-Doo attraction, visitors can look through a display of old photos from the park's construction and earliest days, as well as staff uniforms and other relics. A placard is dedicated to Angus Wynne Jr., the Texas land developer who opened his first amusement park — Six Flags Over Texas — in 1961.
Wynne helped popularize the concept of paying one admission fee, while other parks at the time charged visitors to go on individual rides. And he created a corporate culture where no employee — from ride operators to the CEO — could walk past a piece of trash and not pick it up and throw it away. It's an ethos that still exists today; whenever Roemer is out in the park, he carries a broom and pan with him, sweeping up any litter he sees.
Fifty years after Wynne built his Texas park, Six Flags Entertainment Corp. is the world's largest regional amusement-park company, with 19 properties throughout North America that cater to more than 24 million visitors each year.
"This is a banner year for our parks and our brand," says Six Flags CEO James Reid-Anderson, who joined the company last year. "We are very proud of the Six Flags legacy, a legacy of providing fun, thrilling memories for generations of families."
But Six Flags also has seen its share of dark days, both locally and on Wall Street.
In 1978, a gondola car at the Eureka park fell about 50 feet from its cable to the ground, killing three people inside and critically injuring one other. In 1984, a woman was thrown to her death from a stand-up roller coaster at the park called Rail Blazer.
And the Six Flags corporation weathered a period of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009 and 2010, emerging from it a few months before Reid-Anderson took the helm in August. The CEO says he is focusing his efforts on continuing to strengthen the company's balance sheet while keeping customer satisfaction and employee morale high.
"I can tell you there's no better job than leading a company whose No. 1 mission is to make people happy," Reid-Anderson says. "What could be better than that?"
While many of the original attractions at Six Flags St. Louis are ancient history — remember the dolphin show, or the short-lived Mule-Go-Round? — plenty of buildings, rides and kiosks remain from Day 1.
And the park is constantly evolving, Roemer says, staying on top of entertainment trends to give thrill-seekers what they desire. Next month, the park will debut its newest attraction, SkyScreamer, a 236-foot tower (the tallest ride in the park) that spins guests in swings in a 98-foot circle at speeds reaching almost 45 mph.
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