ThrillRide! MegaWorld - The Theme Park That Never Was

 

 

 

 

The MegaWorld Story

[Please note: At the request of the surviving family members of the parties involved, names have been changed to protect anonymity.]

When Disneyland opened in 1955, it redefined what an amusement park could be, ushering in a new term: the "theme park." While other traditional amusement parks had already created "themes" for their attractions, like Knott's Berry Farm and Holiday World, Disneyland was the first such place to be called a theme park and it created a boom period of new amusement park development.

In the immediate years that followed, new parks were opened that hoped to follow in Disneyland's wake. Not all were successful, most notably, New York's Freedomland U.S.A., a costly, spectacular dud that closed just a few seasons after it opened. But when Six Flags Over Texas debuted in 1961, it was a blockbuster hit and it helped inspire scores of dreamers.

One such dreamer was a man by the name of Bill Abernathy. According to friends and family, Abernathy was a bit of an eccentric. By day, he worked as an aerospace marketing executive, but his dream of creating a world-class theme park was a mild obsession. As his wife recalled, he'd spend his evenings making notes and drawing sketches, throwing out old ideas and coming up with new ones, until he finally settled upon what he considered to be the ultimate amusement park. And he called it "MegaWorld."

This park, he believed, would combine the visual splendor and immersive themes of Disneyland with the thrills of a Six Flags park. Huge rollercoasters. Wild, horrific dark rides. A spectacular, fully enclosed flume ride.

His family thought Bill's daydreaming was harmless, until in 1977 Abernathy met a man who claimed to be a "theme park development consultant." This person, a "Mr. Buford," told Bill that he was a genius, his ideas were golden, and that his MegaWorld park would set a new standard for themed entertainment. And then he began taking Bill's money.

Buford needed funds to set up an office, to build a scale presentation model, to meet with financiers all over the country. It was a classic fraud scheme, but Bill never doubted that they'd be breaking ground "next year," and so he kept writing checks. There were parties, there were announcements, but in the end, this Mr. Buford simply disappeared. When all was said and done, the Abernathy's savings account was empty and realizing that he'd been deceived from the beginning, Bill was crushed.

By the end of the 1970's, the theme park industry had begun to mature - most major urban centers had amusement parks, and while there were sporadic attempts to build more ("Aero World" in San Diego, a space-themed park in New England), the frenzy of new park construction was coming to an end. So Bill put his plans aside and quietly gave up. As most who knew him at the time will attest, he was never quite the same again.

Years later, a fire destroyed the MegaWorld presentation model, and in 1987, Bill passed away. Only a small stack of his notes and drawings survived.

Recently, I was granted the opportunity to examine these notes and I'm honored to present a brief outline of Abernathy's MegaWorld park.


MegaWorld Map

As illustrated in the map above (based on Abernathy's sketches and graphic images), Megaworld is divided into four major sections: Americana, The Tech Zone, The Land of Mystery, and Dragon Kingdom. Below is a description of each "land" and what Abernathy referred to as their "E-ticket" attractions.

Americana

This land is MegaWorld's "star-spangled welcome mat" and includes one major ride: The Dynamo Bros. Fireworks Factory, a "wacky, high-speed dark ride" through an exploding fireworks emporium.

The Tech Zone

This section, devoted to "science fact and fantasy," includes one of MegaWorld's roller coasters: Saturn 5, a tremendous woodie themed to the massive rocket that powered the Apollo space program. (It is not clear why he chose to use the number "5" rather than the roman numeral "V," its proper designation.) His notes describe "a record-breaking out-and-back coaster," and he sited the Crystal Beach Comet as a standard to exceed.

While the park includes many smaller, "spin and spew" rides, the Tech Zone's Robot Riot is significantly more ambitious. Three "fifty-foot-tall androids" sport eight arms, each tipped with ride vehicles. The arms would spin, as would the "roaring robots."

The Tech Zone's third anchor attraction is the Voyage Into The Q Dimension dark ride. In Abernathy's words, "Guests strap into their interdimensional transports and are taken into the 'Q' dimension, a parallel world where our laws of physics do not apply. Strange 'energy fields' whip us in all directions, through a dizzying realm filled with creatures we can't imagine."

The Land of Mystery

Here, we come face to face with the truth behind well-known myths.

Riding in jeeps through Bigfoot Hollow, an "indoor/outdoor dark ride," we encounter the hairy beasts both in the woods and deep inside a darkened cave, "their secret lair."

Hidden inside a secret army base is the U.F.O., a captured alien flying saucer. "It appears to be dormant, its power supply damaged, but as soon as we board, we discover that it is still quite air-worthy." Abernathy had hoped to create a "super-Trabant" attraction that would spin and rise thirty feet into the air before tilting from one side to another.

Last is The Bermuda Triangle, a flume ride housed inside a giant pyramid. "As we venture into the forbidden waters of the Triangle, we are pulled into a raging whirlpool and descend into a underwater world ruled by 'mer-people.' "

Dragon Kingdom

This "magical Medieval" zone features MegaWorld's other roller coaster, the looping steel Firestorm, a dragon-themed attraction that Abernathy also intended to be the biggest of its kind. Arrow would have been enlisted to design a ride with "eight loops and a 175-foot-tall first drop."

The MidKnight Racers is an enclosed Steeplechase attraction themed to knights on horseback galloping over a hilly terrain, "a moonlit contest to determine the fastest steed in all the land."

And finally, inside a foreboding stone fortress, we face The Terror of Castle Blackheart, MegaWorld's scariest dark ride. "Ghosts of long-gone denizens still haunt the castle's chambers, but the something far more terrifying lurks in the castle dungeon, where an evil wizard has imprisoned a monster that is eager to escape."


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© Robert Coker
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