MASON — Through its half-century of existence, Kings Island amusement park has led the way in firsts in the nation and internationally.
The Warren County amusement park’s birth in 1972 — as the successor of Cincinnati’s famed Coney Island on the banks of the Ohio River — marked its initial first as southwest Ohio’s newest and since, reigning entertainment park.
In the 50 years since, Kings Island has expanded in both acreage and entertainment scope as it hosted millions of visitors over the decades.
Thrill rides have often been a staple of the park’s national and world firsts.
From the world’s largest, wooden roller coaster — The Beast — to the 1984 unveiling of America’s then first stand-up, steel looping roller coaster — King Cobra, Kings Island has notched many pioneer ride honors.
The amusement park’s iconic one-third sized replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris was then the largest in the nation when it was constructed in 1971 for the park’s spring 1972 opening. It has since been surpassed by one-half size scale replica that has been part of the Las Vegas skyline for years.
So beloved by many in surrounding community that some — like Mason resident Amy Godsey Alexander and her husband decided to buy their home with a view of top portion of the tower from their yard and enjoy the nightly fireworks show at the park’s closing.
They had their first date at Kings Island and previously Godsey Alexander’s first job was as a teen driving the parking lot tram carrying visitors to and from the park entrance.
“We are Kings Island crazies and for us it’s part of our entire life story,” she said. “When we bought a house, we purposefully bought a house so we could see Kings Island.”
Godsey Alexander was also among the giant crowd – joined by a national TV audience - at another famous Kings Island first: Daredevil Evel Knievel successfully jumping over 14 Greyhound buses on his motorcycle in the Kings Island parking lot in 1975.
The event was nationally televised by ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports” and earned the highest rating in the show’s history.
A year earlier, another internationally famous daredevil — 69-year-old Karl Wallenda — risked his life by performing a record-breaking high-wire walk over Kings Island.
Other Kings Island firsts and notables, according to Kings Island officials, include:
· Opened in the park’s inaugural year, the Racer was the first twin-track wooden roller coaster to be built in modern times and at speeds approaching 60 mph, also the fastest coaster speed in 1972.
· In 1974 the park opened “Lion Country Safari,” and it featured an elevated monorail — the first in the nation for that kind of open field animal preserve exhibit.
· In 1976 the still popular Racer roller coaster became America’s first to have more than 3 million riders in one season.
· 1977 saw the park’s major new attraction — the Screamin’ Demon — operate as the first steel looping coaster in the United States to run both forward and backward.
· In 1979 The Beast rollercoaster set a new standard for roller coasters throughout the world. The Beast continues to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest wooden roller coaster. The coaster is always ranked as one of the top wooden roller coasters in the world in Industry polls and by groups such as the American Coaster Enthusiasts.
· 1982 saw Kings Island become America’s first amusement park to be open during winter as Winter Fest was born.
· 1996 saw the world’s first Linear Induction Motor (LIM) launch roller coaster, Flight of Fear, open. The thrill ride sends riders over almost 3,000 feet of track in complete darkness.
· In 2000, Son of Beast is introduced as the world’s tallest, fastest and only looping wooden roller coaster.
· 2007 sees the park unveil Firehawk — Ohio’s only flying coaster. Willing test pilots soar 115 feet through five inversions at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour.
· 2008 sees a number of firsts including Daredevil Robbie Knievel jumping his motorcycle over 24 Coke Zero trucks in the parking lot to set a new world record. And Rick Wallenda sets a record with a 2,000-foot skywalk from the Eiffel Tower and over the fountains to the front gate and back again.
· In 2011 Dinosaurs Alive! at Kings Island is unveiled and is the world’s largest animatronic dinosaur park, featuring more than 60 life-sized, moving dinosaurs in a 12.5-acre Jurassic forest outdoor setting.
· 2014 sees the Banshee — the world’s longest, inverted steel roller coaster — unveiled.
· 2020 — Orion, the longest, tallest and fastest coaster in Kings Island’s history opens.
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