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March 05, 2011
Six Flags Over Texas kicked off its 50th anniversary Saturday with cold winds and warm memories.
A brief ceremony allowed speakers to offer their favorite stories of the park’s origin, as hundreds of visitors shivered and waited to get to the rides and games.
Angus Wynne III recalled that he was 17 years old the year his father opened the park. His father’s original idea for the park’s name was “Texas Under Six Flags,” he said. But his mother said that “Texas ain’t under nothing,” and the park’s actual name was sealed.
If not for Six Flags, it’s unlikely that Arlington would have hosted a World Series game or a Super Bowl . Local officials credit the park for helping attract Major League Baseball’s Rangers, which helped eventually pave the way for Cowboys Stadium. Park officials say that about 100 million people have visited Six Flags since it opened, making their own kinds of family history.
But for some of those visitors, the most interesting history has been tied up in twisting frames of wood or steel — the park’s roller coasters.
“There are quite a number of coasters that have made an impact on the industry or with coaster enthusiasts,” said David Lipincky, regional representative for the American Coaster Enthusiasts.
He ticked off notable Six Flags coasters: The Runaway Mine Train, now considered a relatively sedate ride, was the first-ever mine-themed coaster. The double-looped Shock Wave was designed by Anton Schwarzkopf, a giant among coaster designers, and is the oldest surviving double-loop coaster. The Titan is the 10th-tallest coaster in the United States. The original Texas Giant was the tallest wooden coaster in the world.
The rejiggered Giant is set to reopen later this month with steel rails replacing the old, rough wooden ones, but with the wood-frame design intact. It will, Lipincky said, “be a game-changer.”
The American Coaster Enthusiasts are so, well, enthusiastic about Six Flags Over Texas that they’ll be holding their annual convention here this summer.
But when Six Flags Over Texas opened on Aug. 5, 1961, it had nary a coaster. The original idea, as whipped up by local developer Angus Wynne Jr. and Arlington mayor Tom Vandergriff, was to create a historical theme park based very loosely on what Walt Disney was doing in California.
As described in a news release, the park would tell “the rich heritage of Texas under the flags of Spain, France, Mexico, the republic of Texas, Confederacy and the United States.”
Wynne’s goal was to convince businesses that people would be willing to drive all the way to Arlington from Dallas or Fort Worth. If the park drew enough people to accomplish that, and it lasted a decade, that would have been fine.
Obviously, Six Flags outlasted those hopes. Although the company that owns the park went through bankruptcy last year, its stock is up and so are expectations for the future.
“I’m looking out at another 50 years,” said Jim Reid-Anderson, Six Flags Entertainment Corp.’s chairman, president and chief executive.
Saturday, however, was mostly for looking into the past for some in attendance Saturday.
Shannon Wynne was in third grade when his father opened the park. When he told his teacher about the Wild West shoot-’em-up shows, the pirate ship, the Skull Island slide and other fun planned for Six Flags, “she said it sounded, in her words, ‘just ghastly.’”
He remembered that a hamburger cost 30 cents on opening day. General admission was $2.75 for adults. Today, the cheapest burger in the park costs $9.99 (with fries) and general admission is $54.99, plus tax.
Wynne’s sister, Temple, was away at summer camp on Six Flags’ opening day in 1961. But she was at the park Saturday. The lone surviving ride from that first season is a train pulled by a real steam locomotive. When the train pulled out for the first trip of this season shortly after noon, she was aboard one of the cars.
“I had a birthday party on this train,” she said. “Everything about this park is nostalgic to me.”
Most of Saturday’s visitors were more intent on creating new memories than on thinking about the past.
After the speeches, the opening-day crowd filtered into the park. Some of the rides were closed at first because of the cold weather and high winds. But enough was running to keep the patrons happy.
“You will never find another park like this,” said Breanna Walker, 14, of Grand Prairie. “The first day is always the best.”
Six Flags Over Texas’ first season
Opened: Aug. 5, 1961, at 10 a.m.
Original admission price: $2.75 for adults, $2.25 for children under 12
Original attractions: Fiesta Train, Indian Village, Boat Ride, Astrolift, stage run, petting zoo, Lil’ Dixie Riverboat, Skull Island
Original restaurants: Nailer’s Plantation House Restaurant, El Chico, Golfs Ice Cream, Depot Café, Armor’s Meat Market, Shady Oak Café
Other historical highlights:
1963: World’s first log flume ride.
1966: First mine-themed roller coaster in the world, the Mine Train
1969: Landmark Oil Derrick Observation Tower
1974: Music Mill Amphitheatre
1976: First parachute ride
1978: Shockwave, the back-to-back looping roller coaster
1985: Warner Brothers characters, including Bugs Bunny
1990: Texas Giant
1999: Batman the Ride
2001: Titan roller coaster
2008: Tony Hawk’s Big Spin
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