Thursday, January 19, 2006

Community Impact

Whenever something new hits a small, under developed part of town it usually has some pretty serious effects to the local economy. Whether it be a large retail chain opening up shop in a strip mall, or a decent sized amusement park opening up within walking distance to residents its hard to ignore the possibilities for income and revenue. It's also irresistible to have people clamor onto the bandwagon and ride that train into the ground.

Magic Landing was a boom to a small town called Socorro, Texas. It was a huge reason the park could hold such elaborate fireworks displays, the town was outside the fireworks bans that El Paso had to conform to. Bordering El Paso's east side, the town of Socorro is definitely the small town with the small town mentality. Laid back and relaxed in certain areas, busy and booming in others. There were a lot of people early on who saw Magic Landing as the answer to making their business dreams a reality. When the park closed in 1988, so did the hopes and dreams that the park meant to the town.

Like the park, all signs of the optimism that Socorro had with the park in operation disappeared forever. Land developers had purchased new land to build and had plots already laid out & some foundations formed, with the understanding the park would be around for a few decades to cater the community with revenue. Businesses popped up hoping to take in some cash from the people willing to make that seemingly long journey to enjoy themselves. None of them can be found anymore.

None, but one relic.

Magic Laundromat

While researching all of the roads around the area, I came across this tombstone of progress. Located at the corner of North Loop and Moon Road, you literally have to go out of your way to find this building. It's off of the main road and completely unassuming. You might look at the name of the Laundromat and think to yourself that it's mere coincidence that in the town of Socorro there is a now extinct business called Magic Wash & Dry. You might look at the sign and think that the font used isn't the correct font found throughout the park. You might also stop and think this was once someone's dream.

Without renting an airplane to take the picture...
*Thanks to Google Earth

It's not much of a coincidence when you put things into proper prospective. Moon road is a feeder road for one of the cotton fields that rests behind Magic Landing. The road existed with the residences all around it, and it was a popular road to watch the fireworks if you didn't feel compelled to park on the side of the freeway with traffic zipping by you at 65-75mph. The road ends and turns into a dirt road suitable only for tractors. It's also private property and I was shoed away one time too many (hint hint, don't try it!).

Dried Color Stock

The windows have been boarded up a really long time. The closed sign in the window is definitely of vintage 80's stock. If you were to look closely at the sign, you can see the remnants of the colored plastic stock that made up the two pastel colors. The sun has baked them like Shrinky-Dinks and it's amazing that what remains sticks to the plastic, but it's there for everyone to see. Magic Wash & Dry was someone's dream of making a profit using the name of the park to drum up business.

I don't knock someone's efforts in trying to make money and become a success. It's actually expected in this day and age to try and ride on the success of others & that a great profit can be made at the emulation of another's expense. The park is gone. There are no current records of any shops around Socorro with the "magic" name attatched to it. If there are, odds are they hold no association with the park and would venture to say the similarities would be coincidental.

This update isn't a sealed chapter. I could turn another street corner and see a new example of someone's failed dream. I could run into the person who tried in vain to be successful along with the park. Since finding the Laundromat, I sit at my computer and look at photos of the park & the old VHS copy of the parks commercial and wonder what might have happened if the park & surrounding community survived to this day. What would be different?

Monday, January 09, 2006

What Happened

Upon request, I would like to retell the unfortunate event that doomed Magic Landing from ever being anything short of a now forgotten joke that this city has quietly let disappear into the desert sands.

For the record, there had only been one death attributed to this park. Several accidents did happen at the park in its tenure, but the one incident that marked the beginning of the end would have to be the unfortunate accident on the Wildcat ride, more infamously known as the parks lone rollercoaster.

Lets rewind a bit before we get to the subject. When Magic Landing opened its doors in 1984, none of their rides made their completion deadline. On July 4th, the gates opened, but only the shops & food stalls were open to the public. There were some rides that were completed, but because the insurance company hadn't signed off on the safety of them and proper insurance policies weren't in place at the time, the ones that were finished and waiting for people were inoperable. People were still awed into the park by the seemingly lavish and frequent fireworks shows. Being outside of the El Paso city limits meant they were exempt from fireworks bans and their shows often eclipsed that of Western Playland.

According to the news articles posted at the time, there had been serious lapses in training & operator safety around the park. The evening in question was a normal operating day at the park, and by all accounts rather mundane. In years previous, the train would frequently spend more time shut down due to the train tracks being washed away durring El Paso's heavy monsoon season. The train this time was operating as normal, the frequent flash floods known to wash parts of the track away didn't hamper rides and the Wildcat was churning with life. No one knows why he did it, but what happened was at best strange. A park patron lost his hat while riding the rollercoaster and when he came to the end of the ride, asked the ride operator if he could retrieve it from high on one of the supports. The ride operator obliged.

It's unknown from the newspaper articles, and people who were on the ride aren't coming forward with what happened but the operator climbed a certain distance up the ride while it was in operation. While he was resting his arm on a part of track still in use, a ride car turned the corner and severed his arm quite cleanly. It's unclear if he fell from the ride, however, he was on an ambulance rushing away from the park to save his life. Newspapers report that the operator died halfway to the hospital due to loss of blood, his veins collapsed. Investigators later determined that the ride operators failed to stop the ride completely and before attempting to climb its structure or wait till the end of the parks operating hours before retrieving the hat.

This accident along with several seemingly minor accidents through the park raised insurance rates higher than normal. Couple this with the publics lack of trust within the parks safety record and you get a recipe for failure. It's also noted that around this time the park received its most infamous nicknames: Tragic Landing. The once whimsical aura of the park forever mired in the publics eye as an unsafe and ill-managed for letting such obvious safety rules and regulations go without practice. The lack of trust also meant lack of paying customers.

Soon, as the years dredged on and the combined low attendance & insurance became a factor, coverage for the rides became lapse and many times the rides would fall silent for weeks at a time. Several times in 1988 the park closed for weeks, reopening when more funding was sought (usually from concerts & corporate sponsors) but when a major fight broke out in late spring of '88, the park closed for good. Pending lawsuits from the minor accidents & the large cash settlement doled out from the Wildcat accident sealed the parks fate.

It's strange, being present at the park when the unfortunate accident with the rollercoaster, I still remember going back to the park with my family and seeing people idly walk by. Somewhat enjoying themselves, I remember the people who paid for admission walked the park peering around corners at every turn and watched the park start its death throes. The whispers were in the air, and the once light whimsical music that filled the main drag was gone. An eerie silence was cut with the hushed tones of parents grasping the hands of their children tightly, not knowing what might happen.

The park stood quiet in the desert for a total of two and a half years. All of its rides stood right where they were, ready at a moments notice to resume operation. A few attempts were made to re-open the park, some efforts even called for people to go to the park for job applications. All efforts were futile. The park was locked down tight and all of its rides were unceremoniously dismantled & sold to other amusement parks around the world. As seen in previous postings, the only standing structures are the buildings & snack shops. All current attempts to purchase the park go upon deaf ears.

Its sad to say that if someone were to really purchase the park, it would be completely demolished and rebuilt brand new. As it stands right now many of the buildings are falling apart, their usefulness to the park is limited, their need is none. While researching information about the park and realizing what I have been writing about, I am sickened and saddened that no matter how much information is given back to the public, the park is far from being saved. My efforts to give El Paso one last look at a park that disappeared before its time is probably just that.

It's unclear whether or not my efforts might prompt park owners to demolish what stands of the park or let Mother Nature take care of that. Whether it be time or human intervention, Magic Landing will never exist the way it did some 22 years ago.