Blue Line

Home > News

Pippin rides again as coaster opens to rave reviews in Wisconsin

DeSoto Appeal

Original Article »

May 22, 2011

For those Memphis-area residents who may follow Steve Mulroy's lead and travel one day to this city known most for NFL titles, for those who remember the wooden roller coaster that thrilled Memphians young and old for nearly a century, it is a startling sight.

Looming over an otherwise quaint and cozy Bay Beach park, right on the shore of Lake Michigan, stands the Zippin Pippin -- Elvis' favorite ride, the old Libertyland amusement park's signature attraction, for so long another example of Memphis' quirky character.

Mulroy, the Shelby County Commissioner who first tried to help save Libertyland then brokered a deal to save its signature roller coaster, got his first in-person glimpse Saturday when Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt officially opened the ride here.

It's all there, in precisely the same order -- those contours and curves, that magnificent first drop, the wave-like track running out and back. Green Bay paid Save Libertyland $10,000 for the name and the famous design, so it is technically a replica with new wood and new metal track.

But it seems more like a clone, with the same DNA and almost identical behavior -- even with the much-improved view.

Indeed, the biggest shock to the senses may be the sounds it was generating Saturday -- the rattling click-click-click hoisting 30 people at a time to the 65-foot apex, the familiar rumble and whoosh that for generations of Memphians triggers thoughts of growing up, of making family memories, of friendships forged and deepened.

Then come the screams, chasing away the clatter.

"There is just something about that sound," said Mulroy, who is also a University of Memphis law professor. "It says summertime. I love that noise."

It sounds like joy, spiced with fear and always, among 30 riders, at least one shriek of undiluted terror.

For Mulroy and those who loved Libertyland and the Pippin, the emotions are also mixed -- happiness at seeing the old 'coaster turned new again, leavened by wistful melancholy.

The accents that emerge from the exit are new, too -- the smoky West Tennessee drawl replaced by the tart, tight "WISS-KAHNSIN" vernacular, the old Memphis "woo-hoo!" yielding to the expressive "Ohhhhh, you betcha!" practiced here.

As the first riders emerged, the reviews were ecstatic.

"Holy smokes," said one middle-aged woman, Nancy Plettner. "A lot more exciting than I thought it would be."

"Fantastic!" said Debra DeNoble to nobody in particular, eyes lit with exhilaration. "The best thing to ever happen to Green Bay."

When someone pointed to the sweatshirt worn by her grown son, Eric, listing Green Bay Packers Super Bowl championships, she paused.

"OK, the second-best."

Maya Tuff, 12, danced with giddy delight: "That was awesome! That was epic! Oh my God, it was so fast I had to hold my glasses."

The ride itself feels much the same but less rough and less fraught, without the unpredictable bumps the old Pippin developed over the years.

You might say the grit and grind are gone.

So, too, is the rock and roll -- at least in the form of the shimmying and shaking created by the old cars, which secured two passengers per car with only one shared roll bar and tended to fling you this way and that.

Green Bay's cushiony cars conform to modern safety codes -- individual lap belts cinch tight, individual two-armed roll bars hold each rider down securely, seat dividers reduce the fanny-slide.

That seems to suit the Green Bay folks just fine. They emphasize the 'coaster is family-friendly -- exciting enough to attract young folks but tame enough for their parents and grandparents.

Schmitt, the mayor, bragged about four generations, including a 90-year-old grandmother, getting a private run earlier in the week.

"This roller coaster will outlast all of us," Schmitt declared.

Mulroy spoke at the ribbon-cutting, commending Green Bay for having "the savvy and appreciation of history to save our ride" and asking its people to "cherish" the Pippin.

The remarks contained a touch of caution to Mulroy's new friends, and a touch of reprimand to those in Memphis who lacked the vision to see the value -- tangible and intangible -- of a historic roller coaster.

In all, the 'coaster is costing Green Bay $3.5 million, financed by $2.4 million in bonds, donations ($750,000 so far), some reserve money and future park revenues. Those on hand Saturday and around town seemed to approve of the final result.

"There were a lot of people against it," said Jim Smales, who has retired here. "But I think it will bring a lot of funds, and people in Appleton, Oshkosh, Sheboygan and Manitowoc, they don't have this. They'll come here."

With the screams rising and falling behind him, many would ask Mulroy some version of this: Why did Memphis abandon the Pippin?

The full answer to that is so complicated that Memphis independent filmmaker Mike McCarthy is producing a documentary -- Saturday's events may well serve as the ending.

Though Mulroy did not openly criticize other public expenditures, he well knows that the last decade saw the city spend millions on seldom-played golf courses and just in the past week figured out how to find more millions for the Beale Street Landing riverfront project and $4 million for an underground parking garage a developer wants for Overton Square.

Instead, he was focusing on the positives.

"It is impossible to overstate how exciting this was for me and those in Memphis that wanted to save the Pippin," Mulroy said. "It's found a home. It isn't Memphis, but it is here in this gracious and charming place."

Zippin Coincidence?

Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy and many here have been marveling at a series of interesting coincidences.

Tina Westergaard, Bay Beach's park manager and employee of 30 years, has a 13-year-old dog -- named Pippin.

The famous 'coaster designer of the Pippin was John Miller, and the project engineer for Green Bay who oversaw construction is Jon Mueller -- but his last name is pronounced "Miller."

A documentary about the Zippin Pippin and the effort to save Libertyland is being produced by a Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy. The name of the coach who led the Green Bay Packers to last season's Super Bowl -- Mike McCarthy.

"Kismet," Mulroy said.

"This was just destined to be."


Blue Line
Company Info  |  Contact Us  |  Terms  |  Privacy  |  Links
Copyright© 2011-2023 - Burketech. All Rights Reserved.
ParkInfo2Go is not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, Six Flags or
any of the other Theme and Amusement Park operators featured on this site.