The following has been transmitted, as a Letter to the
Editor, to both the (Harrisburg, PA) Patriot-News, and
the (Carlisle, PA) Sentinel.
Recent coverage of the death of Morgan Hughes
centered on his contributions to auto racing, and
rightfully so, but that's not what brought him to our
area. When he purchased Williams Grove Park and
Speedway in 1971 it was the height of his career in
the amusement park field.
Following his service in World War II he came to
this country and became a pioneer in the business of
importing amusement rides from Europe. Many of what
are now standard rides, found in most parks and
carnivals, were introduced to America by Morgan
Hughes. Over the decades he supplied numerous World's
Fairs, including New York in 1964, Knoxville in 1982,
and New Orleans in 1984. After having been closely
associated with New Jersey's legendary Palisades Park,
his dream of owning his own amusement park was
realized with the purchase of Williams Grove, one of
America's oldest parks, dating at least to the 1870s,
and possibly earlier.
Almost immediately disaster hit, with the Agnes
flooding of 1972, but he cleaned up, fixed up, and
persevered. The classic 1933 wooden roller coaster,
originally named Zipper, but rechristened Cyclone with
the installation of trains from Palisades, would, over
the years, take many a hit. A succession of storms,
floods, even major vandalism, when a hot-wired truck
was driven through it, might have led a more
hard-nosed businessman to close or even raze it, but
Mr. Hughes always found a way to get it up and running
again. As other coasters in other parks fell to time
and progress, the Cyclone/Zipper remained running,
thanks to Mr. Hughes.
Williams Grove is one of very few amusement parks to
operate in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, and
when the time came in recent years to devote his
attention to the Speedway, the Cyclone/Zipper was one
of the oldest remaining roller coasters in the
country. It wasn't offered for sale in last year's
auction, and still holds its ground, where Morgan
Hughes had continued to maintain and improve it almost
to the end.
While his contributions are little known outside the
industry, Morgan Hughes was, in his way, as much a
pioneer of today's theme parks as Walt Disney, and he
will be missed, both here and abroad.
-J W Green-