Action Park was an amusement and water park located in Vernon, NJ, that offered summertime memories for scores of yesteryear teens. Featuring physics-defying water slides, cliff diving, go-karts, and an alpine slide that ran down the side of a mountain, Action Park quickly became popular with local families and teens. In addition to fond childhood memories, Action Park was also a place for teen employees and their unchecked hormones to rage while chaos and destruction emerged around them.
Created by Eugene Mulvihill (AKA Uncle Gene), Action Park became infamous due to the dangerous rides and the injuries sustained by its guests. Going to the park became a rite of passage as kids of all ages sustained skin burns, dislocated shoulders, and even drowned on the many slides, rides, and attractions offered by the park.
In its heyday, Action Park was best described as a theme park that "allowed a 6-year-old to jump off a 20-foot cliff."
HBO Max's Class Action Park is a deep dive into the infamous "do-it-yourself" amusement park, interviewing former guests and park employees who offer terrifying new stories of "the world's most dangerous theme park."
The Park Was Run By Teenagers With No Adult Supervision
"Action Park felt like a strange social experiment. What happens when you take a bunch of riled up teenagers, a bunch of alcohol, a bunch of dangerous rides and you put them in a place where there are no rules," said filmmaker Seth Porges.
"Action Park was run by kids. The second you turned 14, you got your working papers and went to work at Action Park. Even the people in the lead supervisor positions. 'Oh, you've been here for two years? Here's a radio. You are in charge,'" said former employee Daron Fitch.
"You had 16- and 17-year-old kids with no prior management experience whatsoever literally managing a third of the park," said Bob Krahulik, a former lifeguard.
It was reported that kids as young as 14 were operating the rides at Action Park, despite the laws at the time.
The Rides Were Designed By Random People Or The Park Owner, No Engineering Background Necessary?
"Rides that came to Action Park would often come to Gene from people who had a wild hair and wanted to build a crazy idea they had," said Matthew Callan, a former guest.
"The certain number of Action Park rides were designed in-house by people who didn't have engineering degrees... and I was certainly one of them," said Ed Youmans, the former Park Operations Manager.
"It was people on the fringes of the ride design world. People who Six Flags or Disney wanted nothing to do with," said filmmaker Seth Porges. "These guys would track Gene [Mulvihill] down at amusement industry conventions."
"Then when each of these rides went into construction, Gene would change them. Drastically," said Youmans.
It was revealed that Mulvihill would always tinker with the designs and construction of the rides, making them more "extreme," more "fun," and essentially, more dangerous.
Despite The Obvious Danger, The Park Was Not Properly Insured
"Gene [Mulvihill] didn't believe in the concept of insurance. He thought if you got hurt, you should be responsible," said filmmaker Seth Porges. "However, he needed insurance to stay in business. It was part of the terms of his lease. So he had a workaround."
Mulvihill created his own insurance company based in the Cayman Islands called London & World Assurance, Ltd. He then used the company as part of a money-laundering scheme.
The scheme eventually ended in a 110-count indictment against Mulvihill, which included charges of conspiracy, fraud, theft, embezzlement, and tax evasion.
Mulvihill eventually pled guilty and was ordered to give up control of Action Park. Mulvihill was upset with the verdict and took action against the state by willfully breaking the lease agreements, antagonizing the state official landlords.
And it worked. New Jersey got so fed up that state officials sold Mulvihill the land, allowing him to run Action Park as he saw fit.
The Owner Would Pay Kids $100 To Test The Looping Waterslide
For years, the idea of a looping waterslide was thought to be a myth, except for the residents of Vernon, NJ, who knew the rumors to be absolutely true.
"One of the first things you saw when you entered the park was the infamous Cannonball Loop, which for years it was like a myth that the thing was ever open," stated Mark Johnson, a former security guard. "You looked at the thing, and it looked like it was out of a Bugs Bunny or Road Runner cartoon where they just made a ride."
"So the story is they build a loop and they throw some test dummies down. They come out dismembered, missing a head, missing arms. Okay, so [they] tinker with things. Change the height, change the angle, change the water pressure. Next step: Let's put some humans in this thing. Who we got? How about these teenage employees?" said producer/director Seth Porges. "So Gene is just waving $100 bills in the air. Any teenager gutsy enough to go down this thing will get one."
"I'm $100 richer because Uncle Gene gave $100 to test the Cannonball Loop," said Daron Fitch, a former park employee who rode the loop. "It was absolutely terrifying. All of the sudden you feel your feet go up, and as I go up, you lose contact with the loop for a second. Gravity just takes you."
"The loop was fun. And yes, it hurt," said Fitch.
It was reported that the first few people who went through the loop came out with their mouths bleeding. After adding more padding, the teenage test subjects emerged from the loop with lacerations.
As it turned out, teeth from prior attempts were stuck in the padding, cutting those who attempted the loop.