SSoP Podcast Episode 56 — Amusement Parks: Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

SSoP Podcast Episode 56 — Amusement Parks: Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

Monday, 17 July, 2023

The gates of an amusement park are a portal to a magical realm of thrill rides and fantasy worlds, larger-than-life characters, and the best portable foods on the planet. (We’re looking at you, corn dogs and kettle corn!)

And it’s been that way since the beginning. The first quasi-amusement park entertained revelers in 1133 with merry-go-rounds, extravagant stage shows, gingerbread, sausages, and dancing in the streets. All that merriment made it easy to forget it was meant to honor St. Bartholomew.

Eventually, the rides got bigger (and faster and more hair-raising), the shows more over-the-top, and the spectacle more spectacular. Roller coasters! Carousels! Tilt-a-Whirls! Mickey and Donald and Cinderella! Legos! Quidditch! Funnel cakes! Turkey legs! And fireworks!

In this episode, we take a fast romp through the history of amusement parks and celebrate the magical world of Walt Disney, then we recommend five books that took us to amusement parks on the page, including a comedy-thriller set in Helsinki, a nonfiction exploration of delight, a dystopian disaster tale, and historical mysteries set in 1915 Chicago and 1911 Coney Island.


Read the full transcript of Amusement Parks: Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!.

The Rabbit Factor

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Curious Toys

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other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

Perhaps you’d like to listen to some carousel music while you dig into these links.

And some photos to set the scene…

colorful Ferris wheel against a bright blue sky
Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park at Coney Island. Photo courtesy of Amy Perring/Unsplash.
black and white photo of vintage carousel and its inventor in 1876
The first carousel at Coney Island, hand-carved and built by Charles I. D. Looff, 1876. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
yellow steel roller coaster against a bright blue sky
Photo courtesy of David Traña/Unsplash.
neon-lit food truck at night
Photo courtesy of Taylor/Unsplash.
a girl in pink and blue shorts eating pink cotton candy in front of a blue merry-go-round
Photo courtesy of Yarden/Unsplash.

amusement parks 101

painting of bartholomew fair in london with a crowd of people and a big state
Bartholomew Fair.
illustration of the lagoon surrounded by historical buildings in luna park
The main lagoon at Luna Park, Coney Island. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
black and white photo of dreamland park in coney island
Dreamland Park, Coney Island, 1905. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
black and white photo of Ferris wheel at the world's columbian exposition in chicago
Ferris Wheel at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

two truths and a lie

  • Listen to our Argentina episode to hear Mel talk about the novel The Gods of Tango (in which a girl dresses as a boy).

  • Nancy Bileau is the author of Dreamland. Here’s her website and Instagram.


Congratulations! You made it to the end. Here are your rewards:

This is weird and wonderful: a YouTube playlist of carousel music. You’re welcome and sorry.




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Top image courtesy of Ethan Hoover/Unsplash.

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A day that starts with a roller coaster, ends with a fireworks display, and has a bunch of junk food in the middle can be a whole lot of fun. But as these books make all too clear, delights can also be dangerous.
This story has the ideal elements for a King horror tale — a creepy carny, a haunted ride, a fortune teller, and an unsolved murder — it's really a coming-of-age story that captures that breathless ache of summer.
This weekend, we recommend a getaway to the lush landscape of Costa Rica: glorious sunshine, azure-blue water, and dazzling foliage. Pay no attention to the many ravenous, angry dinosaurs roaming the jungle.
Treat yourself to a recipe for homemade Chicago-style hot dogs! It's an all-beef dog 'dragged through the garden' with colorful toppings for a taste explosion, inspired by Erik Larson's brilliant romp through history.
The enticing aroma and salty-sweet crunch of caramel popcorn is literally the taste of the circus. You can easily make a batch in about half an hour — plenty of time to escape into the magic of 'The Night Circus.'

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