Many of us have fond memories of childhood theme parks — fun rides, roller coasters, street food, bumper cars, and more have all brought smiles to so many of our faces. But no other amusement park in the U.S. is quite as controversial as Action Park in Vernon, New Jersey. Known by many as ‘Class Action Park’ for its deaths and injuries, the amusement park featured highly dangerous rides such as The Alpine Slide, The Cannonball Loop, and The Wave Pool (or ‘The Grave Pool’). Whether it was loved, hated, or litigated, there’s no argument that it continues to hold infamy in New Jersey. Read on to learn more about the legendary, controversial, and dangerous summer playground that was Action Park.
(Photo credit: @classactionpark)
The Legend of Action Park
Businessman Gene Mulvihill had an idea for an amusement park where every visitor could control their own thrill level. This newly flush, self-proclaimed “Walt Disney of New Jersey” chose to build his park in Vernon, NJ. The area was up and coming, with a new Playboy Club, winter ski resorts, and seemingly endless business possibilities for investors hoping to make money off New Yorkers looking for a thrill outside the city. Action Park opened its gates in 1978 with a single ride. Gene’s dream had only just begun to be realized.
At the time of the early 80s, amusement parks in the U.S. were pretty new to the public. Because of this, there was a lag in regulating their safety. Gene used this to his advantage, pushing the boundaries of what the average summer teen or young kid could physically endure.
The Alpine Slide, a downhill sled nicknamed ‘The Skin Ripper,’ was one of the most dangerous. Park visitors were given a wheeled cart, often with defective brakes, and sent down a concrete, fiberglass ramp. The slide was definitely a thrill, but once a kid lost control and gravity took over, there was a lot of room for severe injuries and skin burns. Teens considered their war wounds from Action Park a badge of honor, especially after surviving the terror of the Alpine Slide.
(Photo credit: @classactionpark)
The Cannonball Loop might have been the first water slide to send someone upside down. Without engineers and amusement park experts, Gene hired his own team to build the looping slide. Then, using a dummy to test out the slope, he attempted to perfect the deadly-looking ride. Unfortunately, the dummy’s head was ripped off, which didn’t bode well for visitors. Nonetheless, Gene didn’t give up. He bribed teenage workers with $100 to test the ride, even though they often came out with bleeding noses, terrible cuts, and purpling bruises. This ride was open to park guests for just one month before swift-acting regulators shut it down permanently.
Throughout the 1980s, Action Park was a hotbed of rebellious teenagers looking to test the limits of their bodies. Combined with the limitless alcohol and poorly-trained teenage ride operators, this turned out to be grounds for disaster.
Danger + Deaths
Accidents were an everyday hazard at Action Park that most park visitors acknowledged. But deaths were another matter altogether. In 1980, a teenage employee pushed the limits of the Alpine Slide after hours. When the brakes failed to slow him down, he was thrown from the ride and hit his head on nearby rocks. He suffered a massive head injury and died. Twenty-six visitors suffered severe head injuries from the Alpine Slide, while others broke bones.
Action Park’s Wave Pool, AKA The Grave Pool, was state-of-the-art. Patrons could enjoy the simulation of the ocean without all the salt and sand. However, the swimmers could not rely on the salt to keep them buoyant because the pool was freshwater. When the wave pool sent out random four feet high tidal waves into the crowds, they were not as able to jump or avoid them. Instead, the waves would overwhelm even the strongest swimmer. Lifeguards were stationed everywhere along the deep end, where near-drownings were common. In fact, it was said that an average of thirty people were rescued a day. The wave pool became the site of three of the park’s deaths.
In 1982, a man died when he flipped on the kayak ride and touched a live electrical wire submerged underwater. A few years later, another visitor had a heart attack on the Tarzan Swing, likely after landing in the freezing waters below.
A total of six people died at Action Park, but countless more were injured throughout the years. Despite the terror, the thrill and adrenaline kept visitors coming back. The lax ride operators allowed most guests to do what they wanted, and the ever-flowing alcohol was rumored to be accessible even for minors.
Understandably, after fears of injury and low attendance, the park closed in 1996.
The HBO Max distributed documentary, aptly named “Class Action Park,” is a fantastic ride through childhood nostalgia and the darker side of the park. Comedians guffaw over the trauma and delight they experienced at Action Park, while others share their tales of loss from poorly designed rides. The documentary leaves a festive yet honest look at the park — from the danger of the Alpine Slide to the rebellious nature of its young, frequent visitors.
The Park Today
In 2014, the park reopened under the name Mountain Creek Waterpark. It has some mixed reviews online, where some claim it is the half-abandoned shell of Action Park. Their commercials, of course, boast ride safety and employee training, but because of their controversial past, many guests have moved on to other amusement parks.
One thing is for sure: Action Park will continue to go down in New Jersey history as one of the most infamous amusement parks ever.