Saturday, January 31, 2009

Golden Nugget Goodbye

Today Wildwood and a few hundred people said goodbye to the Golden Nugget, a classic roller coaster that has lived at Hunt's Pier in Wildwood for nearly 50 years.

I went because -- of course -- I'm writing about it. My father came along, too, because the Golden Nugget had been his favorite ride as a teenager. Roller coaster enthuasists will tell you that it was unique between it was both coaster and dark ride (e.g. like a funhouse). It last ran in 1998, and the Moreys, who bought Hunt's Pier. It sat for so long because the Moreys tried to figure out what to do it. When I interviewed Jack Morey a few weeks ago, he rattled off the possible ideas they'd developed: the Golden Nugget as part of a picnic pier; Golden Nugget as quasi-museum; and of course Golden Nugget as a new ride. In the end, though, keeping the ride was too expensive. The Golden Nugget wasn't up to code, and it wasn't grandfathered by any historical society. The Moreys would have had to spend three to five million dollars to save it.

I didn't know what to expect today. Even though a sad occasion, the 952 folks who braved 20 degree weather made it feel like a carnival. I saw lots of parents with children who were old enough to have ridden the coaster as a kid, and parents younger than my father whose kids didn't know what they were seeing, but still posed for pictures next to those (creepy!) artifacts. The ride has been gutted on the first floor, but posters of what the ride looked like were hung on the wall. Artifacts were out on display, too, and a video of the ride played on a screen where the tracks used to drop carts down into the dark.

That last picture's not of an artifact -- that's my dad. Here's both of us by the ride.

I don't remember riding the Golden Nugget. I'm not sure if I did -- we spent a lot of time in Ocean City when I was a kid. But Adam Revesz of the American Coaster Enthusiasts gave a great speech, describing the ride from what he remembered when he was eight years old. Even he admitted that the time had come for the Golden Nugget to go into wherever coasters go when they pass on. Part of it will live at an amusement park in Pennsylvania, which has bought the tracks and cars. Parts will live in those who showed up early for the event. I now have a piece of the nugget on my desk.

Here's a shot of the crowd:

And even more people waiting in line for one last "ride" -- pictures in the carts:

For how sad a day this was for so many people, it was also one to remember Wildwood of the past and celebrate the future. The Moreys unveiled their plans for a new pier-to-pier coaster in a ceremony after the ceremony (thank you, too, for the cupcakes!) Here's those plans:

My article about the Moreys and the Golden Nugget won't be published until the summer. Until then, check out this piece from the New York Times about the ride. Also, mark your calendars: January 31 is now and forever more Golden Nugget Day, as proclaimed by the city of Wildwood.

I hope that's my last cold weather assignment of the year. I've been home for over an hour, and my fingers still hurt. I'm headed to Florida on Thursday. Will I be thawed out by then? Here's hoping.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The final number of people who showed up was 952. I had guessed the number before, so the post has been edited now that the fine folks at Moreys had an exact number!

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Cavalier92 said...

I think Jen's got a thing for cupcakes!

Leigh Wetterau said...

That pier to pier coaster looks amazing! Do they have any other plans for the piers?

iconjohn said...

Thanks for posting this Jen. We would always get passes to Hunts Rides for helping out with Stone Harbor July 4th Parade each year. Golden Nugget and Flyer are very missed.

wildwoodwaitress said...

Hi Jen,
Thanks for the fine reporting and photos of the Golden Nugget farewell.

I'm at least your dad's age and remember the GN as one of the best rides on Hunt's Pier.

The amount of press coverage on this event amazes me. Maybe because another big part of a once great resort town and one-of-a-kind amusement park ride was up for demolition?

Change is inevitable, but I wish the majority of changes over the past 20 years in the Wildwoods had been for the better. Dismantling Hunt's Pier, a true gem of the island, is a loss for past, present and future generations.

Thanks again for a great piece on what's happening in Wildwood.

Mary Lebeau said...

The ACE's guy said it all on Saturday. "Goodbye good friend."

As you know, Jen, I have many fond memories of the Nugget and the golden days of Hunts (though I' a little younger than your dad). It's hard to believe it won't be part of the Wildwood landscape much longer.

I will treasure the piece of the Nugget I have on my desk, and the memories of the summers on Hunt's Pier I have in my heart.

The BIKE Lady said...

When you mentioned the Golden Nugget, Jen, I thought you were talking about Vegas--a casino in Las Vegas, to be specific. I *did* see a saguaro in one of your photos, after all. lol

Sorry to see the old coaster go, but it's cool you got to take your dad down there to say goodbye.

And I know I'm dating myself but..."Thanks for the memories," as Dean Martin used to sing. They aren't mine, but their someone's.