A youthful spirit instills old Idlewild amusement park

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Reporting from Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa. - As one of the oldest amusement parks in America, Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa., has always been geared toward youngsters under 12 years old.

Photos: Top 10 kids’ rides at Idlewild Park

Idlewild is about firsts and lasts. For generations, kids have ridden their first merry go round, Ferris wheel and roller coaster at the idyllic park. At the same time, Idlewild is home to many last-of-their-kind rides, including a caterpillar, haunted swing, tilt house and Tumble Bug.


A cross between a wooded national park and permanent carnival, Idlewild stays true to its origins by allowing visitors to bring their lunches in coolers and baskets.

Founded in 1878 as a campground in a picturesque mountain valley with fishing, boating, picnicking and dancing, Idlewild was built along a railroad line as an enticement to increase passenger traffic.

By the turn of the century, Idlewild had added a steam carousel in the center of the park. Today, the Olde Idlewild area celebrates the park’s traditional amusement rides, including the 1920s merry-go-round, the 1938 wooden Rollo Coaster, the 1939 Whip and the 1947 canopy-covered Caterpillar.

In 2010, Amusement Today awarded the Golden Ticket for the world’s best children’s park to Idlewild, which wrestled the “King of the Kids” title from six-time champ Legoland California.

A look at the 10 best children’s rides and attractions at Idlewild Park:

1) Rollo Coaster
With a minimum height requirement of 36 inches and a top speed of 25 mph, the 27-foot-tall Rollo Coaster is the perfect first roller coaster for kid. It was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. in 1938. The wood for the ride was harvested from trees on the park property using a sawmill built on site. Designated a “Coaster Classic” by American Coaster Enthusiasts, the out-and-back wooden terrain coaster uses manually operated skid brakes that apply friction against the underside of the trains.


2) Dizzy Lizzy’s Four Quarters Saloon
This haunted swing ride creates the optical illusion that riders sitting on a swinging bench are rotating head over heels inside Dizzy Lizzy’s Four Quarters Saloon. In reality, the entire room and the furniture fastened to the floor rotate around the riders, who are slowly swinging back and forth on the bench. (Dizzy Lizzy photo courtesy of Coaster Image)

3) Caterpillar
One of the last remaining rides of its kind, the 1947 Caterpillar features a series of linked cars speeding around a circular, undulating track. A canopy that covers the train and casts the riders into darkness adds to the trill.

4) Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe
Idlewild’s $1 million signature attraction takes visitors on a life-size trolley ride through the make-believe world of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the beloved PBS children’s television show. Along the way, the faithfully accurate trolley makes stops at the homes of neighborhood characters, where kids interact with animated figures of King Friday, Prince Tuesday and Henrietta Pussycat. Fred Rogers wrote the script for the one-of-a-kind 1989 attraction and provided voices for the characters.

5) Story Book Forest
The classic Story Book Forest takes visitors through life-size displays of more than 40 famous nursery rhymes, including Jack and Jill, the Three Little Pigs and Humpty Dumpty. Meet-and-greet characters include Mother Goose, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Goldilocks. The 1956 Story Book Forest remains one of last, largest and best-preserved versions of this once-popular roadside attraction in America.

6) Handcars
The large version of the 1954 Handcars lets kids and their parents use a hand crank to power cars around a railed track. Adults can ride by themselves if they want. There’s also a separate junior version just for kids.

7) Whip
Built in 1939, the classic Whip ride features 12 cars that travel around an oval course with a “crack the whip” effect at either turnaround. Designed and built by W.F. Mangels Co. of Coney Island, N.Y., the simple ride consists of two opposing turntables with a cable loop that pulls cars around a laminated wooden track.

8) Turtle
One of the last operating Tumble Bug rides, the 1956 Turtle features three linked cars traveling around a circular undulating track in the Raccoon Lagoon kiddie section of Idlewild.

9) Merry Go Round
Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. in the 1920s and added to Idlewild in 1931, the Merry Go Round features 48 hand-carved horses and two chariots. The carousel serves as the centerpiece of the Olde Idlewild section of the park, which is filled with traditional rides from the first half of the 20th century.

10) Confusion Hill
The walk-through tilt house attraction features gravity-defying illusions designed to disorient and amuse visitors. On the outside, Confusion Hill resembles a typical Wild West building in the Hootin’ Holler section of Idlewild Park. Once inside, visitors encounter slanted floors with perpendicular walls and furnishings that confound and entertain the senses.