“Shake it off…”
That was the phrase I heard regularly growing up. Whenever I came home with a scraped knee, a bruise on my arm, or even if I was upset about something, I regularly heard that phrase.
What is now often referred to “free range parenting,” was just called “playing outside” when I was a kid. You would go ride your bike, walk to a friend’s house, play with the neighborhood kids. You went out after homework was finished and you came home when the street lights came on.
No cell phones. No worries. And kids didn’t know terms like “liability.”
If you didn’t grow up in the 70s and 80s, it is hard to explain. You were expected to play outside with little to no supervision. Atari had just come out and very few families had one. We would ride bikes and play kick ball. Some kids in Belleville would spend their summer at the Rec House (the town recreation center) and participate in sports. In the winter we would go to Branch Brook Park and go sledding. I remember going full speed down the hill going right into the hubcap of a parked car nearby. I was told to just stand up and “shake it off.”
There were very few worries from parents about kidnappings, possible abuse, or going missing.
I will say my parents were pretty strict and kept me fairly sheltered. When I would go for rides on my bike, it was mainly to head up to the high school track. Not to run, but to go all the way up to the top corner of the stands and read. I was hardly an exciting kid.
Maybe that’s why I wasn’t prepared for Action Park.
I had seen commercials for the fabled park in Sussex County and begged my mother to take me. She repeatedly refused. Eventually another friend and I nagged our mothers enough, and they gave in.
Action Park is a regular topic in Weird New Jersey. Once I even wrote a letter to the magazine about my one – and only one – day at Action Park. I was very excited when I saw it published. This is the edited version of my letter:
I definitely remember Action Park as a kid. My mom and her friend took me, my brother and her friend’s kids to Action Park only once. After much nagging, my mother finally agreed to take me on the Alpine Slide. My first clue that this was a bad idea should’ve been the blood-covered teenager being carried half-way down the mountain after her car flipped over. Of course, I was too young to think, “this might be a bad idea.” Well, I was scared out of my wits and almost ripped the so-called “brake” right off, I was pulling on it so hard (to no avail). I don’t remember going on anything else because I think I probably blocked it out of my memory. –Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten
Tonight I watched the documentary of the now defunct park, Class Action Park. I had heard the stories growing up, but some of the “behind the scenes” stories were funny, sad, and shocking all at once.
Action Park couldn’t exist anywhere else or at any other time. Those of us from Jersey are proud to have our battle scars. You need to be from Jersey to understand what it is to be Jersey proud. And to grow up during the 80s meant you were sort of on your own. Many teenagers headed to Action Park and enjoyed the same freedom.
Action Park – where YOU control the action!
That was the mantra of Action Park. The truth was, there was no control. Kids ran the park. There was excessive drinking and many deaths. Depending on the reports, at least six individuals died during the heyday of the park. In 1986, the New Jersey Herald reported 110 injuries were logged for the summer 1985 season, including 45 head injuries and 10 fractures. That figure grew to 330 for summer 1986. Injuries were so common, the park actually purchased an additional ambulance for the town of Vernon.
Eventually, unsupervised time turned into chaos and death.
Most of my teenage years included skiing at Vernon Valley; the winter version of Action Park. They used the same lift in both the winter and summer, and you could see the snow-covered track of the Alpine Slide. The ride that scared me half to death many years before. It is worth mentioning ski equipment was stolen if left unlocked; the snow machine was often pointed directly where the lift was, so you were covered in snow and ice by the time you made it to the top of the mountain; the lights would regularly shut off while you were skiing down; the mountain was often ice covered. I actually saw someone take a mogul and fly into a pole once.
I also broke my hand skiing once and sprained my wrist another time. I “shook it off” until I arrived home and my mother took me to the doctor the next day to put a cast on. No muss, no fuss. Guess I had a little Jersey toughness in me after all.