Book Review - Action Park by Andy Mulvihill
Please note, the opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of the Caldwell Public Library.
As I'm handing out Summer Reading Prize books, one title keeps grabbing my attention - Action Park it reads, accompanied with a gnarly picture of a flaming skeletal head in a dune buggy. Each time I pass it, something in the back of my head tries to click into place, "Was it a movie? A TV show? Did I read another book about it?" The AH-HA moment hit one night while I was falling down the Youtube rabbit hole of defunct amusement rides around the country when the algorithms offered a suggestion for a video from Kevin Perjurer (the DefunctLand videos are a whole different rabbit hole) about a water/theme park called, "Action Park."
Finally, I connected the two. Excitedly, I told my friend, "Hey! I saw this book at the library about Action Park, it was a pretty crazy place I guess." He looked at me, puzzled, and said, "Well yeah, didn't a bunch of people die?" I wasn't sure what part of this phrase finally put the thought I was having in place, but I realized I had actually heard the name from a 2018 movie Action Point featuring Johnny Knoxville. Side note here, I had a lot of brothers growing up so movies like these were pretty common for our household. Luckily, my brothers never tried to recreate any stunts.
Queue me spending the rest of the night reading all about this insane park operating mostly in the 1980s. Action Park: fast times, wild rides, and the untold story of America's most dangerous amusement park by Andy Mulvihill offers a unique look at the workings of Action Park from its conception to its final days being operated by his father, Gene Mulvihill. With a catchy phrase, "Where you're the center of the action!" it tells of the impact Action Park made over the years in Vernon Township, New Jersey. Over its 20 years of operation, the thousands of accidents, multiple deaths, and several scandals have made it a memorable enough place to be the subject of books, movies, and documentaries.
I didn't read this book to hear about all the accidents and negligence (this is was highly debated in the narration) but to stare in disbelief at the absolutely insane contraptions Gene Mulvihill put in his park. Andy Mulvihill does a great job describing the charismatic personality of his father that led to outrageous rides and experiences that people in and around New Jersey craved with abandon. He also acknowledges the dangers and deaths he and the other employees experienced as well as the mental toll.
As a 90s kid, I remember going to places like Disneyland and Lagoon (there was an experience with the old wood rollercoaster that's left me from trying other coasters) but never hearing anything about dangerous rides. Reading Action Park reminded me of tales I'd heard from my dad about all the things teenagers got up to in the late 70s/early 80s. This book provided proof, along with pictures, about the vast differences regulations were from the 1900s until now.
This was a great read, and I texted my dad when I was finished to tell him about this park that catered to thrill-seekers like himself (back in the day). He admitted, "Sounded like my kind of place haha."
For more opportunities to learn about Action Park try out these resources:
The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever - a short documentary by Matt Robertson
Class Action Park - a 2020 documentary on HBO Max