Monday, June 4, 2018

6 Tragic Events in Kings Island History

On May 28, 2018, we visited Kings Island.

After our visit ended, I started thinking back to visits from my childhood. A memory dawned upon me that got me thinking. During a visit in 1998, when I was 10-years-old, I overheard my parents discussing a man who had "climbed the Eiffel Tower and fell to his death." I quickly pushed it into the back of my mind; it was just too scary to think about at that age. However, I've grown to be quite a curious person, so I decided to research it a bit further.
This research led to numerous other discoveries. I'll be delving deeper into the legend of Kings Island's ghosts including "Tower Johnny" and "Tram Girl," as well as other park incidences, all of which were tragic.

So, hold on to your hats! It's going to be a bumpy ride!

Kings Island's Black Sunday

Considered the deadliest day in Kings Island history, June 9, 1991 led to three deaths at the park.

At around 8:30 p.m., Timothy Benning lost an item in the park's pond in the themed area of the park known as "Oktoberfest." Benning entered a restricted area and was subsequently shocked by an electrical current. He fell unconscious into the shallow water of a pond. His friend, William Haithcoat, heard Benning's screams, witnessed him fall into the pond, and rushed over to help. He jumped into the water and he was immediately electrocuted. Kings Island security officer Darrel Robertson jumped in to help the two men and was also electrocuted.

Two other men attempted to rescue the three men in the pond. One man was luckier than the others. When he touched the water, he was not shocked, as the breaker had apparently tripped, sparing him. He and another man then pulled Robertson and Haithcoat from the water. Benning was eventually rescued as well.

Surprisingly, Benning survived. Robertson and Haithcoat both succumbed to their injuries as a result of electrical shock. The cause of death was listed as "electrocution."

An investigation was launched and it was found that a submerged aerator pump was defective. The pump was used to circulate the pond water to prevent algae growth. Kings Island was fined $23,500 for several violations that directly related to the accident.

Tragically, those weren't the only deaths at Kings Island that day.

Flight Commander Death (Black Sunday's Third Death)

Less than two hours after the electrocutions at Oktoberfest, Candy Taylor, a 32-year-old mother, had been enjoying herself at the park nearly all day. Her friends rode Flight Commander while Taylor stayed behind to finish her beer. When her friends exited the ride, she hopped on and buckled up.

The ride attendants checked her restraints and the ride began operation. Witnesses stated that Flight Commander spun around four times, but Taylor's capsule didn't perform a single spin (the ride could be spun with a joystick controlled by the rider). On the fifth revolution, however, Taylor's car slowly rolled twice, and she fell from the capsule. She hit the ground head first. She was pronounced dead of multiple body trauma.

Despite showing no outward signs of intoxication according to witnesses, the toxicology report stated that Candy Taylor had a blood alcohol level of 0.30, which is three times the legal limit in Ohio.

An investigation was launched, as per usual. Based on the evidence, it's believed that Candy Taylor passed out from alcohol consumption while in the capsule and pressed her leg against the ride's joystick, causing it to roll. As the ride rolled the first time, it's speculated that Taylor slipped from under the restraints and into the seat next to her, subsequently falling out on the second maneuver.

The investigation found no mechanical issues with the ride. Despite this, the State of Ohio ordered improvements to be made. The ride did not reopen until the following year, after Kings Island installed higher seat dividers and placed a guard around the joystick to prevent accidental bumping with legs.

Flight Commander no longer exists at Kings Island.


Racer Boy

Rumor has it that there is a young ghost who haunts The Racer at Kings Island. It's said that he appears on the tracks just before sunset—sometimes he's even picked up by the motion sensors on the ride, leading to his picture being captured. I've never seen any pictures of this boy on the internet, despite many whispers throughout the park stating that it's true.

So, the story goes that there was once a ride at Coney Island in Cincinnati called the "Shooting Star." A young boy allegedly died on the wooden coaster after falling from his train and being run over by the following train. When the train entered the station, it was missing one passenger, who was later found after a search of the tracks revealed his body. Sounds like the typical premise of an amusement park ghost story, right?

But it begs the question: Why would he be haunting The Racer at Kings Island if he had passed away at Coney Island? Interestingly, most of the rides at Coney Island were relocated to Kings Island after 1971—and rumor has it that Kings Island purchased the old trains from Shooting Star to be used for The Racer.

*Cue creepy music*

When I first heard about "Racer Boy" I wanted to believe it. I love reading about anything and everything paranormal and unexplained, so it was an intriguing story. Alas, I'm also a skeptic, so I did my research and unfortunately, most of this story just doesn't check out.

Of course, as with any believable fictitious tale, it's based on a little truth. There were, in fact, deaths on the Shooting Star roller coaster.  In 1947, Lucille Clemons fell from the ride and died the next day. Nearly twenty years later, William Bomkamp, an 18-year-old was killed when he, too, fell from his train and died from his injuries. Bomkamp was missing when the train went back to the station and was found at the tracks. He was not, however, run over by another train.

That might be where the story of Racer Boy came from...however...

...not only was Bomkamp not a young little boy, but even more damning is that Kings Island dismisses claims that they purchased Shooting Star trains for The Racer. In fact, Kings Island says that it would have been impossible considering that the trains for Shooting Star were a completely different gauge than those of The Racer. They went on to say that The Racer's trains were custom built, so with that said, there's absolutely no real basis to the Shooting Star story.

As an added piece of evidence, The Racer debuted at Kings Island in 1972. Even if the trains did come from the Shooting Star (which, as we see based on the evidence, they did not), then why were there no mentions of Racer Boy until around 1990?

So, is there a ghost that haunts The Racer at Kings Island? Maybe. Does the story behind it have anything to do with the deaths that occurred on the Shooting Star? Nope.

Tram Girl

My maternal grandparents were relatively superstitious. My parents, on the other hand, didn't take their superstitions so seriously. We often had fun with it. For example, as we drove past a cemetery, we'd hold our breaths, as to avoid "bringing a spirit home." Of course, it was all in good fun and we never actually believed that ghosts would follow us home.

Despite not believing the superstitions, I did believe in ghosts—and there was something especially creepy about the graveyard next to Kings Island. I remember seeing it every time we would visit the park. The fact that a resting place for the dead was so close to a place of fun just felt a little disturbing. Imagine how much more disturbed I was once I heard about "Tram Girl."

Most stories about Tram Girl agree that she is buried at the cemetery next to Kings Island and that when she reveals herself to patrons and employees, she's wearing a little blue dress.

The Original Tram Girl Story

The first story about Tram Girl claims that she wasn't even known as Tram Girl early on. In fact, she was simply a ghost that hung around White Water Canyon. There were numerous sightings of her and employees often mentioned hearing the sound of a child's laughter in the area. It was theorized that perhaps she was the ghost of a young girl who drowned in the pond on the original property.

That story has changed a lot since then...

The Beginning of "Tram Girl"

A more recent story claims that Tram Girl is a mischievous spirit who enjoys scaring people. Many years ago, Kings Island used tram rides to transport visitors to the parking lot at the end of a day at the park. These tram drivers were apparently Tram Girl's favorite people to scare. She would chase the trams and jump out in front of the drivers. Of course, Tram Girl doesn't discriminate, so she'd also jump out in front of cars too, causing motorists to slam on their brakes. Apparently, she doesn't like it that people are enjoying themselves while she cannot—because, well, she's dead.

Since the trams are no longer in operation, the story changed again. Now, it's said that Tram Girl chases the steam locomotive.

Is Tram Girl really Missouri Jane?

Another story, one that people believe has a little more merit, is the one that claims Tram Girl is actually "Missouri Jane," a young girl buried in the cemetery near Kings Island. This story originated after an episode of Ghost Adventures. The episode claimed that before the land was an amusement park, it was a gun powder factory. An explosion occurred, killing many, including Missouri Jane.

So, is it true?

Well, Missouri Jane is actually someone buried in the cemetery, based on this picture...

...but the story about "Missouri Jane" is riddled with false truths.

The White Water Canyon story is the most believable, but only because it's the original. The story that went on to earn the young ghost the name of "Tram Girl" could be true, but I'll just chalk up the accounts to overly tired tram drivers and motorists. Kings Island is a big park and anyone will tell you that after spending a full day there, you're going to be exhausted.

As for the "Missouri Jane" account? I know for a fact that most of that story is untrue, especially the bit about the factory explosion. The Ghost Adventures episode had so many factual errors that it literally made me cringe. They mention that there was an explosion at a gunpowder factory that was on the grounds in 1890 and killed 50 people, and that most of the people buried at the cemetery are victims of that explosion.

While there was an explosion at The Kings Great Western Powder Works in 1890, the blast only killed 12 people. Not to mention, the factory was not on Kings Island property at all, but was a mile away from the park. It should also be noted that the latest tombstone in the cemetery is from 1869, so it's clear evidence that none of the victims buried there died in the explosion.

So, is the ghost in the little blue dress real? I've never seen her. Is Missouri Jane real? It can be proven that she was, in fact, a real person and is buried at the cemetery. Is she the ghost that everyone speaks of? I can't say for sure, but I can say that the alleged circumstances surrounding her death are wildly inaccurate.

Here's a quick bit of history for all you history buffs out there...

The following information is unrelated to the ghost story. Sometimes people refer to Kings Great Western Powder Works as Old Peters Cartridge Factory. Of course, the same place that housed the Powder Works was eventually sold and went on to become Old Peters Cartridge Factory, but that was long after the explosion.

In 1855, Joseph Warren King purchased the Austin & Carleton powder mill and expanded it as the Miami Powder Company. Twenty years later, King sold the company and went on to build the Great Western Powder Works in Kings Mill. It was more favorable for hydropower, being that it was near a river. This is the factory mentioned in the ghost story.

In 1890, an explosion occurred, killing a dozen people. Five years later, the factory was being rebuilt. By 1935, Remington Arms purchased the property that was eventually known as the Peter Cartridge Company.

And a little more interesting info...

While Remington Arms owned the factory, they produced military ammunition during the second World War. Production ended in March 1944 and Remington sold the factory to Columbia Records. Columbia Record produced records in the facility for several years before leasing it to Seagram distillers. Seagram distillers used the factory as a warehouse until 1968.

In 2012, the EPA declared the space a "Superfund National Priorities List" site due to copper, lead, and mercury contamination in the soil. Needless to say, if you're thinking about ghost hunting there, just don't.

    Lion Mauling at Kings Island

    Unlike Son of Beast, Black Sunday, Racer Boy, and Tram Girl, the lion mauling at Kings Island is a widely known, nor widely discussed event.

    John McCann worked for Kings Island as a safari ranger for their "Lion Country Safari" attraction. On July 24, 1976, John McCann was in his jeep (which was protected by iron bars), driving near the lion's area. This area housed over 50 lions, so it came as a surprise that McCann, for reasons unknown, exited his jeep and was subsequently mauled to death.

    John McCann
    "Evan's Blog," also known as Kings Island Ghosts, has an excellent write up on this case. I highly recommend reading his report on the incident, as it is far more detailed than mine. I will simply be recapping some of the facts from Evan's report.

    In 1974, Kings Island opened a new attraction: Lion Country Safari. The attraction featured a large, air-conditioned monorail that carried guests through several wildlife enclosures. It was able to handle a much larger human capacity than typical Jeep safaris. The monorail ride lasted about 25 minutes and featured over 300 animals. The attraction was attended by safari rangers year round, who cleaned, fed, and looked after the animals.

    Kings Island's first fatality would occur at the Lion Country Safari attraction.

    John McCann became a safari ranger one year after Lion Country Safari opened at Kings Island. He worked in the lion section. Shortly after having been hired as a safari ranger, McCann was involved in his first incident. While on duty, he saw that an antelope was inside of the tiger enclosure. He pushed the antelope back into the correct enclosure. The fact that John McCann left his protected Jeep without his gun frightened another ranger who shouted at McCann to get back to his vehicle. After the lion mauling incident, many other rangers would state that McCann left his Jeep often and was usually unarmed.

    On July 4, less than two months after he started work at the Lion Country Safari, John McCann was injured by a lion. While driving through the enclosure, a lion jumped onto his Jeep and its claw slipped through the bars, cutting him on the neck. He required stitches. You would think that someone who was clawed by a lion would be more cautious around them, but not John McCann. A little over two weeks later, John McCann was witnessed, again outside of his Jeep, straddling a lion.

    On July 24, McCann arrived for work and everything seemed to be going smoothly. It was a typical day and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. McCann went to the lion preserve and spent the rest of the day there, keeping an eye on the lions. At 11 a.m., another safari ranger witnessed McCann open the door of his jeep and pull a lion's tail. About an hour and a half later, McCann rode up to a fellow ranger and told her he was going to check on the lions and would be back. He did not return and that was the last time that McCann was seen alive.

    Dennis Acus, the ranger who worked with the tigers, radioed to McCann at 1:05 p.m. to let him know that he would be bringing him some water. McCann did not respond. After another failed attempt to establish communication, Acus was sent to check on his fellow ranger. When he looked behind Blazer Berm, located in the back section of the safari, he saw McCann's Jeep. The door was closed, so he had assumed that McCann had simply fallen asleep—that was until he pulled around and saw McCann's badly mauled body. Six lions were surrounding the body, with others nearby.

    Pat Callahan, senior ranger, was contacted and immediately sent to the area. Upon arrival, it was clear that McCann was deceased. He radioed the rangers, Kings Island's Chief of Security, and contacted the Warren County Sheriff that was on-duty at Kings Island at the time. He also radioed to the monorail station to tell them to stop running trains and to get any trains out of the safari immediately.

    Before the lions could be chased away, one dragged McCann's body further from its resting place. The sheriff's deputy arrived, decided it was accidental, and apparently felt that it warranted no further investigation. Kings Island Chief of Security contacted the coroner and Mason Life Squad to remove the body.

    The body was removed and once all lions were rounded up, Kings Island Chief of Security was able to get a better look at the scene. Here's what they found:
    • McCann's loaded shotgun was still in the Jeep
    • His radio was on, in good working order, and was also in the Jeep
    • McCann's shirt was in the driver's seat with a brown substance on the sleeve (that looked and smelled like feces)
    • Blood was found on the seat, floor, and driver's side door of the Jeep
    • McCann's trousers were found lying between the body's location and the Jeep
    • Paper, torn into pieces and covered in the same brown substance as the shirt, was found stuck in the perimeter fence
    The autopsy revealed that McCann had died as a result of "asphyxiation due to animal bites." He suffered from a fractured windpipe, which is what ultimately caused his demise. Lab analysis eventually came back and proved that the brown substance was human fecal matter and that the blood found inside of the Jeep was human and belonged to McCann. Toxicology reports showed that there was no alcohol or drugs in McCann's system.

    It's believed that John McCann was making his daily rounds at the lion enclosure, when he had the urge to use the bathroom. He drove behind Blazer Bern, exited his vehicle without taking his gun, and went to do his business. Some suggest that there were lions in the brush (which McCann did not notice) who became curious. Before McCann had finished wiping, one or more lions approached and attacked. The pants that were found indicated that he had not yet finished pulling up his pants and may have lost them as he tried to escape. He apparently made it to his Jeep but couldn't close the door in time and was dragged away and mauled.

    After the incident, the attraction didn't suffer too badly. In fact, it reopened the next day with no drop in attendance as a result of the mauling. Over the years, however, the ride would undergo several changes. By 1993, it had closed, as it was expensive to maintain and attendance had dropped.

    Today, the site of the safari is now the site of Banshee, Flight of Fear, and Firehawk. The site of the mauling is in a restricted area behind Banshee.

    Oh, and if you thought McCann's story was the only story of a lion mauling at Kings Island, you're wrong. Only six years after McCann was killed, Terry Raitt was cleaning the lion enclosure when he was mauled. He suffered a punctured trachea and body cuts, but survived.

    Tower Johnny

    Perhaps the most widely known and most discussed event in Kings Island history is the tragic death of John Harter. Harter was a Delaware Hayes High School track star who was, by most accounts, well-liked by his friends and classmates. He was scheduled to graduate on June 5, 1983 and planned to attend Kent State University.

    On May 13, 1983—Friday the 13th, no less—Harter attended Kings Island with several friends and his girlfriend, Pam Donley. Kings Island was celebrating Grad Night and would be open later than usual. It's believed that Harter and his friends arrived sometime around 8:30 p.m.

    There are many sources that state that John Harter had consumed a large amount of alcohol prior to his visit to the park. Even still, Harter rode several rides with Pam Conley and his friends. Later, it's believed that Harter and Conley got into an argument, which led Harter to drift away from the group.

    After some time had passed, Pam Conley became worried when Harter never met back up with the group. As she walked around the park, she saw several people that she knew and asked them if they had seen John, but no one had. Nobody was overly concerned; Kings Island is a big park and sometimes you lose track of people. Conley, however, had a sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong.

    Around 10:15 p.m., about two hours after his arrival at the park, John Harter made his way up the 50-foot platform on the Eiffel Tower and entered a restricted area. It's speculated that he climbed a fence and entered the emergency stairwell. From there, he climbed further and then moved onto a beam near the elevator shaft. The elevator's counterweight came down, striking Harter and knocking him down into the elevator shaft. He fell fifty feet and landed on the top of the rising elevator. It's said that he was killed instantly.

    Art teacher at Hamilton Township High School, Bruce Jacklin, stated that he was on the observation platform at the time. He heard a scream and a loud sound that he initially believed was students yelling and hitting the side of the tower. 

    An operator in the elevator at the time heard something hit the roof. The elevator was stopped and passengers were moved to another elevator.

    It was eventually determined that there had been an accident. John Harter's body was discovered and the Eiffel Tower was closed off and stayed closed for several days after the incident.

    By the time John Harter's friends were ready to leave the park, they searched for Harter but couldn't locate him. They had all rented a vehicle together, so they thought that perhaps Harter was already at the car. When they found their car, they realized that Harter was not there. They waited at the lot and figured that as the park emptied, Harter would show up. Once the parking lot was nearly vacant, they became concerned. After speaking with security, it was determined that there had been a fatality at the park. They found out that it was, in fact, their friend John Harter who had fallen from the tower and plunged to his death.

    It's a tragic event in the park's history and one that has ignited a firestorm of ghost sightings, not long after the incident. It's said that "Tower Johnny" is the ghost of John Harter who haunts the Eiffel Tower area. Sometimes he's seen staring at people from the tower, whereas other times he messes with the mechanical functions of the elevator.

    There is another legend that "Tower Johnny" haunts The Beast as well. The story behind this is that as the counterweight came down, the chains decapitated John Harter. Rumor has it that the chains are stored in a restricted area near The Beast.

    So, what's the truth?

    Well, John Harter did die at the park. That is a fact. He was the first patron fatality at the park. However, John Harter was not decapitated. It's not a surprise that this became legend, as a news report the day after the incident did state that he had been decapitated. The newspaper article cites the Warren County Sheriff's Department as the source of this information, but the official report from the sheriff's office stated that he died of skull fractures and also had several broken bones.

    So, perhaps "Tower Johnny" does haunt the Eiffel Tower. I've personally never witnessed a ghost at Kings Island, so I can't say for sure. However, I believe that the likelihood of him haunting The Beast is low, considering that the basis for that story is entirely unfounded.. 


    No comments:

    Post a Comment

    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...