Saturday, December 05, 2020

Benson's Wild Animal Farm, New Hampshire - 1960

Today's group of slides feature a small amusement park that was located in Hudson, New Hampshire. Benson's Wild Animal Farm! According to Wikipedia BWAF opened way back in 1926. The zoo was founded by John Benson in 1924 as an animal-training center, and was opened to the public in 1926 with animal exhibits, a miniature train, games and exhibits. Hooray, we're here!

A magnificent fairytale castle charms these children. After opening to the public in 1926, Benson's was expanded in 1932-33 with the addition of a permanent Wild Animal Circus. A special "Jungle Train" ran from Boston to Hudson on Sundays, with admission to Benson's included in the ticket price. By 1934 the parking lot could accommodate 5,200 cars. In 1940 animal trainer Joe Arcaris began his association with the zoo, performing acts with lions and other animals till the late 1970s.

A little car ride reminds me a lot of Disneyland's Midget Autopia. After opening to the public in 1926, Benson's was expanded in 1932-33 with the addition of a permanent Wild Animal Circus. A special "Jungle Train" ran from Boston to Hudson on Sundays, with admission to Benson's included in the ticket price. By 1934 the parking lot could accommodate 5,200 cars. In 1940 animal trainer Joe Arcaris began his association with the zoo, performing acts with lions and other animals till the late 1970s.

It's the world's most interesting grandfather clock. In 1946... the property was purchased by a syndicate from Boston consisting of Boston Garden-Arena Corporation executives Raymond Lapham, Walter A. Brown, Charles I. Keene, and Harry G. Collier. The farm was managed by Collier, who had previously worked for Ringling Brothers and the Brockton Fair. The park was closed to the public during World War II and re-opened in 1945. Starting in the 1960s, it went into a period of decline in maintenance and attendance.

I can find little about the amusement rides that were in Benson's Wild Animal Farm. In this photo there's a small merry-go-round in the background, and a Caterpillar (or "Jolly Caterpillar") ride - it generates a significant amount of centrifugal force, causing the riders on the inside of the seats to crush the riders on the outside of the seats. The first one debuted back in 1925, and used to be found in nearly every amusement park and carnival. Wikipedia says that today there are only two Caterpillars known to be operating (though there might be a few more in storage). 

Benson's Wild Animal Farm had a sad end: Toward the end of its existence as a zoo, it had a wide variety of animals, including trained lions, bears of several different species, llamas, a gorilla, elephants, monkeys, and many kinds of birds. With declining finances in the 1980s, the park added features to add family interest. After an unsuccessful association with outside investors, (the new owner) filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1985. In 1987, he changed it to an amusement park, whose full name was "New England's Playworld Amusement Park and Zoo", notable for a huge statue of Mighty Mouse. This change failed to stem the decline, and the park went out of business at the end of the 1987 season.

I hope you've enjoyed your visit to Benson's Wild Animal Farm!


Nanook said...

It's so sad to see the fate of these little parks - even the ones that allow a 'clothes line' to be placed adjacent to their magnificent fairytale castles-! OH - and that's either a 1957 or 1958 Cadillac, and a 1957 Plymouth driving past Benson Wild Animal Farm.

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Ha, ha, Nanook! I spotted that clothes line! There even a man checking the clothes, to see if they're dry yet.

I wonder if there were mice behind the glass of that grandfather clock? Maybe it was sort of a "Hickory Dickory Dock" display?

After checking out Wikipedia, I see that the "Old Lady in the Shoe" structure was still standing, as of 2019. Wikipedia mentions that in 2010, restoration began on it and some other structures, as well.

JC Shannon said...

When I get my Wayback Machine up and running, I am going to tour all the small parks across the country. That, and buy Intel at 8.00 bucks. Great stuff on a Saturday morning, thanks Major.

K. Martinez said...

Loved little parks like this and I visited my share of them. My favorite is the auto ride on tracks. Thanks, Major.

Could that "clothesline" perhaps be part of a fairytale tableau?

Chuck said...

Ken, that's a good theory about the clothesline. Even Disney allowed Mickey a clothesline with clothes in the backyards at his homes in Toontown and Toontown Fair.

Stu29573 said...

I'm afraid that I'm a "rides guy" more than an "exhibit guy," even if the exhibit is wild animals! My wife is the exact opposite, though, and will even read every fact posted in a museum (it takes us forever to get through a museum). If it has to do with animals, fugetaboutit. However, once just the two of us went to Disney's Animal Kindom, and even though she drug me down every path there was...I actually enjoyed it! Wow! REAL Disney magic! In short, I probably would have been bored here, but she would like it. Huh, that was a whole lotta words to just say that..

DrGoat said...

I was four years old when my parents, uncle and aunt moved from NYC to Tucson. According to my sister, we stopped at several of these little parks driving across the US to our new home. I wish I could remember more. Just a vague memory of one fairy tale place along the way, maybe somewhere in Ohio or one of the midwest states.
K. That auto ride on those tracks is really cool. Wonder what they had powering those little buggies.
I think that is a Hickory Dickory Dock thing TM. There must be a mouse or maybe some other creature in that compartment. Those folks sure are intent on it. I thought those were magic mushrooms in front of the clock, but they are flowers after a closer look. Would have explained the standing and staring.
Major. Getting crushed on the outside seat is no fun, as we can probably all attest to. Jolly looking ride though, looks like new paint and everything.
A sad end indeed. Made worse when animals are involved and the uncertain fate that awaited them.
Fun pics Major, thanks.

Andrew said...

Awesome post! This looks like a wonderful roadside attraction. All of the rides shown here were made by Allan Herschell. Here's a link to a company catalog.

There is some Caterpillar confusion going on! The Jolly Caterpillar here is a pretty common old kiddie ride, so there are definitely more than two of them left operating. The Caterpillar that you mention is a full-sized ride. Ironically, the last Caterpillar in the United States is at Canobie Lake Park, which is 20 minutes away from this former park. And both the Jolly and regular Caterpillars were made by Herschell, although other manufactures made the full size version too. Got it?

There was a great old amusement park called West View that closed in 1977 and would only be 15 minutes from me if it was still open. My dad went a few times before it closed, and one of the few things he remembers is their Jolly Caterpillar (specifically, the caterpillar faces on the seatbacks that are painted to match the ride's front). Anyway, it turns out this ride went to Conneaut Lake Park when West View closed, so I got to ride the same thing my dad did when he was a kid!

This is the longest comment ever, but the full-size Caterpillar has been a "white whale" ride for me. In 2012, I saw one at Idlewild Park (a Kennywood "sister park") but, being a 7-year-old amusement park snob, didn't ride it because the canvas cover that makes the ride unique was missing. I figured that I would "just ride it next year." Well, it was gone next year, so hopefully Canobie Lake doesn't take theirs out before I get there.

I'll shut up now. Have a good Saturday everyone!

DrGoat said...

Hey, thanks for the link Andrew. Would you know the date that catalog was issued? Looks like a few decades ago at least.

Andrew said...

DrGoat, that catalog is from the late 50s.

Is that a mustache on the Jolly Caterpillar?

Melissa said...

Helloooo, little sailorettes! I hope you’ve got your good underpants on with those little skirts, because one string gust of wind...

Andrew, that ride catalog is a gem! And yeah, I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve said “I’ll ride it next time” only to have it not be there next time!

DrGoat, I also wish I knew more about the little parks I enjoyed as a kid. When I was about four, we went through a period where we made a ton of day trips to little family attractions, but nobody in the family can identify where most of the pictures were taken now.

Nanook said...

@ Andrew/Dr. Goat-
I started writing this before your comment - but obviously, you are correct...

If you look carefully, there's a 6-digit phone number listed (although the factory is in North Tonawanda - former home to WurliTzer, afterall). In the text, they reference being in business for "... more than 75 years..." - having started in 1880. And also refer to their merry-go-round's as ..."After 79 years of development..." - so perhaps this catalog dates from 1959-?

Andrew- Thanks for providing the link to all this fascinating goodness-!

Melissa said...

P.S. that clock reminds me of the Grandfather Clock on Captain Kangaroo. I was so terrified of it that I’d run out of the room whenever it came on TV, and I wouldn’t go into the antique store with my mother because they had a whole wall full of cabinet clocks.

Andrew said...

That has to be it, Nanook, as the description says this was the last catalog Herschell produced before moving to Buffalo, which happened in 1960.

I found other catalogs on that site if you want to waste more time!

By the way, Idlewild's Story Book Forest has a similar grandfather clock too.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, it would be nice if the country could still support all of the little parks that used to dot the landscape. I guess once the baby boom was more or less over, there weren’t enough kids to go around. Or else everyone stayed home and watched TV instead.

TokyoMagic!, I noticed the clothesline, but stupidly assumed that it was part of one of the fairytale tableaus. But I can’t think of any that involve laundry!! I’m sure the clock is related to “Hickory Dickory Dock”, which I can’t say without thinking of Andrew Dice Clay. I’m glad the Old Lady’s shoe is still there!

Jonathan, I still remember when Apple was as low as $14 per share. This is only around 2000, I believe, so I could have invested. My friend wanted to buy some, and I said, “I don’t know, that company might not be around for much longer…”. This is why I am not a financial advisor.

K. Martinez, the dream: get in that time machine, have plenty of money, and just explore the U.S. in a cool vintage car. Just imagine! See my reply to TokyoMagic! about the clothesline; maybe it’s laundry that Cinderella had to do for her wicked stepsisters?

Chuck, it’s good to know that Mickey does his laundry - we do see him wear the same thing so often that I started to wonder.

Stu29573, I’m fine with exhibits, as long as they are somewhat interesting! I love a good museum display. But of course I love my rides too. I always start out a visit to a museum reading every info card, but three hours later I will stroll past most items, stopping only at the ones that truly grab me. I’m glad you and your wife had a good time at Animal Kingdom. A Christmas Miracle (even if it wasn’t Christmas)!

DrGoat, the problem with many of the little regional parks is that they tended to either be fairy tale themed, or western themed. With some exceptions of course. But a lot of them offered very similar themes and attractions, including “off the shelf” rides. I’ll bet those little cars ran on nuclear power. Maybe the clock had a little mouse in it that would run up and down inside the case? We will never know! I have told this story before, but when riding the Scrambler with my young niece, I stupidly let her sit on the outside, and spent the entire ride hanging on trying not to crush her. I was exhausted by the end!!

Andrew, well gosh, TWO rides with the Caterpillar name! No wonder I was confused. The video that you linked to certainly doesn’t look like the kind of ride that would cause much centrifugal force. Thanks for the link to the catalog. Do you collect things like that? Maybe having a digital copy is good enough, since you get the info and don’t have to spend an arm and a leg. I am truly amazed and impressed with your depth of knowledge on old amusement rides in general, AND specific examples - where they started, where they went after that, and how many of them are left. I love the story of you riding the same ride your dad did when he was a kid! I also love the concept of you at age 7 already being an amusement park snob!! Thanks for your great comment.

DrGoat, that catalog is awesome, and it definitely has a 1950s look to it, based on the graphics style.

Andrew, yes, everyone knows that caterpillars have their mustaches ABOVE their noses!

Melissa, ha ha, “underpants”. I’m easily amused. I think we’ve all experienced the “I’ll ride it next time” curse, sadly. I would think that I’d have more experience with little parks, considering how often I moved as a kid, and how many trips to the midwest my family took, but we really didn’t see very many amusement parks. Maybe my dad knew he’d be bored?

Nanook, excellent detective work, Hercule!

Melissa, I only watched Captain Kangaroo to watch him get 1000 pingpong balls dropped on him!

Nanook said...

It appears from a date code on the back cover, the catalog is from April, 1959.

DrGoat said...

Thanks Nanook....never would have identified that date code, or put together the 75 years reference. Need to exercise my cognitive skills more. I fear it's a case of accelerated decrepitude.
Thanks again.

K. Martinez said...

Andrew, that ride catalog is awesome! I remember riding "The Twister" flat ride on page 38. I remember it being unusually loud and noisy because of both the motor and the vehicles wheels rolling on the metal track band circling the center of the ride.

Thanks for sharing that.

Melissa said...

Melissa, ha ha, “underpants”. I’m easily amused.

I learned from the commentary on the Futurama DVDs that the word “underpants” is exactly 25% funnier than the word “underwear.”

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, so funny, I thought, “I wonder if there is a date code on that catalog!”, but was too lazy to look for it. Now you get all the fame and glory!

DrGoat, I started doing crossword puzzles. I like them, and feel like good ones force my brain to do some mental gymnastics that they wouldn’t ordinarily do!

K. Martinez, I have definitely see the Twister in photos of old amusement parks, though I’m not sure if I ever rode one. So many of them are similar spinny-tilty rides!

Melissa, IT’S TRUE! Even Einstein knew it.

JG said...

Oh Thank You Major, and Andrew! I have hours of entertainment ahead.

Thanks friends for the comments.