I think we’re all familiar with the horrifying photos that resulted from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Urban landscapes lying four feet underwater. Displaced families standing on the roofs of their homes waiting for help. A general state of hysteria and helplessness that this country rarely has to feel. No one needs to remind themselves of these terrible images in order to acknowledge their power and consider our minuscule place before the immense power of raw nature. However, the last post we did here on Feral Cities about an abandoned theme park resulted in absolutely ridiculous numbers, so here we go again.
When Six Flags New Orleans closed for the last time on August 21, 2005, it already had quite a checkered past. First opened under the name Jazzland in 2000 and operated for about a year and a half, the ailing park was purchased by Six Flags and reopened in 2003 with a more corporate-friendly moniker and a shiny new upgraded aesthetic. Cleverly themed lands, superhero roller coasters, a vague tie-in to the jazz culture of the surrounding New Orleans area – it was a theme park that had it all. Unfortunately, that upgrade did not include moving the park out of the enormous basin it sat in down in eastern New Orleans, so once the mighty Katrina came along, Six Flags New Orleans was a sitting duck.
The damage done to the park from the hurricane and resulting floods came quickly. Not only did the immense scale of the storm render it underwater to a depth of 4 to 7 feet almost instantly, the park’s drainage system was completely overwhelmed and failed quickly. Overflow from the nearby Lake Pontchartrain also added to the devastation, and anybody who’s ever swum in a lake knows we’re not talking about surges of crystal clear mineral water here either. Being partially salt water, it was corrosive and dirty, making any future hopes of rebuilding the park that much more difficult to imagine (and especially pay for). I guess it could have always been rebuilt as a water park, but not one that anybody in their right mind would ever want to visit. Or maybe a mud park. What’s a mud park? Never mind.
The park was almost completely destroyed, and Six Flags showed next to no interest in rebuilding. Key parts and attractions from Six Flags New Orleans were salvaged and moved to other park locations. However, Mayor Ray Nagin held Six Flags to their lease and all but forced them to rebuild with any insurance money they were able to recoup. A few ugly lawsuits followed (lawsuits centered around theme parks are never pretty), and in the following years, the park just kinda sat there while everyone involved fought over exactly what the hell to do with it. It was almost a mall, almost a resort, and even almost a theme park again. Unfortunately, nothing stuck, and Six Flags New Orleans has remained half-submerged in a beautiful desiccated limbo ever since.
In the following years, the dark beauty of the abandoned park has risen to the surface. Not only have several major motion pictures including ‘Jurassic World’, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters’ been shot in part on the grounds of Six Flags New Orleans, but it is also rumored that various film studios are in talks to buy the park and convert it into a film studio. In 2014, photographer Jason Lanier snuck into the park and explored it with a small photography and film crew. The short documentary film he managed to piece together is fascinating and beautiful, and his photographs are otherworldly. Beauty is often right where we least expect it, and this is certainly the case with Six Flags New Orleans.
Anyone who calls themselves a Disney fan is undoubtedly attracted to the dark and mysterious side of the global entertainment corporation, especially when it comes to the theme parks, while there are even Disney video games you can play, although if you prefer games like WoW Classic, you can go online to get wow gold for this game too. We all crave a peek behind the curtain, an opportunity to step into a shadowy corner where only the elite few are permitted to go. That dream has rarely materialized itself more clearly than in the abandoned Disney World expansion Discovery Island located in Florida’s Bay Lake. Purchased by Disney in 1965 and opened to guests as a wildlife observation facility in 1974, Discovery Island (then named Treasure Island) was sculpted and landscaped with nearly 15,000 cubic yards of soil, thousands of boulders and trees, and a wide variety of native plant life. Upon its completion and expansion, the island boasted an expanse of 11.5 acres and an impressive amount of wildlife including five Galapagos sea tortoises, the largest colony of Scarlet Ibises in the United States, brown pelicans, a flamboyance of flamingoes, an American bald eagle, and hundreds of species of native and exotic animal life.
The idea behind the park was a simple one – allowing guests to observe many different varieties of animals in a close simulation of their natural habitats. It could be reached via a boat tour from the Disney World resort, and was initially given a pirate theme to accompany the Treasure Island moniker. In fact, before Disney even bought the property, it had been Blackbeard Island and inhabited only by a man, his family, and their pet crane, assumedly named Dr. Frasier. The pirate theme of its early days was discarded in 1981 when the island received an accreditation from the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, so a renaming and thematic overhaul to Discovery Island soon followed. No longer a pirate playland, the island then began a primary focus on its animal inhabitants, especially on the breeding of rare birds indigenous to the area. This was a proud moment for Disney, having spent the initial years of the attraction’s existence devoted towards conservation and animal preservation efforts. Those shining moments only lasted so long, however – the last known Dusky Seaside Sparrow died at the park in 1987, and the species was proclaimed extinct three years later. This was the beginning of the end of Discovery Island.
In 1989, various local and federal attorneys filed 16 charges against park curator Charles Cook and four other employees on animal abuse violations including vulture facility overcrowding, destruction of nests, and even the shooting of hawks and falcons with a rifle. Nearly 100 black vultures were obtained for display on the island, but the large predatory creatures did not take to their newfound captivity very well. They destroyed property, attacked other animals and visitors, and defecated on a large section of boardwalk inside the park. Disney declined to comment on the legal nightmare headed their way, but the effect of these allegations was proving to be nearly insurmountable. Disney somehow managed to maintain operation of Discovery Island for another ten years, but upon opening of the resort’s Animal Kingdom park, the island was finally closed 25 years to the day of its inaugural date on April 8, 1999.
Despite the failure of the attraction, Disney Imagineers weren’t done with the island just yet. A few years before the official closure of Discovery Island (credit to Disney for at least planning ahead), meetings were taken with Rand and Robyn Miller, creators of the PC game phenomenon ‘Myst’. Early plans and concepts were laid out for a next-generation interactive experience called ‘Myst Island’, in which guests would participate in a puzzle-based adventure that would traverse the entire island. It would be sold as a separate one-day excursion trip for Disney World guests, and would offer the opportunity to solve clues and riddles in exchange for a prize at the end, presumably something from park sponsor Dr. Scholl. Imagineers even sought to take on the fairly unpredictable Florida weather and supply a near-constant flow of mysterious fog to envelop the island at all times. Let’s just hope they didn’t plan to hide any vultures in that fog. In any case, despite enthusiasm about the project from both sides, Myst Island never came to be. The discussions of making a video game into reality fell apart due to financial reasons, and never made it off the drawing board. An attraction based on the ABC television show LOST was also discussed by Imagineers in 2009, but despite the wild screaming of my subconscious about this absolutely incredible idea, it never materialized.
A fascinating epilogue to the history of Discovery Island came in 2009, when internet blogger/self-proclaimed urban explorer Shane Perez and a crew of three friends decided to ignore rumors of alligators and brain-eating bacteria in the surrounding waters and swam to the island in the dead of night. They explored the also long-abandoned River Country water park en route to Discovery Island, and their findings were quite remarkable. Completely abandoned and overgrown (although very well-lit, for some reason – creepy!), Discovery Island was chock full of, well, discoveries. (Funny how much more fascinating nature can be when left to its own devices.) Hundreds of birds and small animals still roamed the premises, and the still-standing buildings were full of such oddities as abandoned cages, old photos of employees, dead snakes preserved in soda bottles, and the remnants of long-defunct veterinary facilities. They even came across a recent nest of baby vultures who took to hissing and charging at Shane upon their arrival. A little payback for their horrendous treatment years earlier was almost certainly in order. Rumors have even swirled about Shane Perez being banned for life from all Disney parks in retaliation for his actions, which, for the fans, would almost certainly be the harshest punishment of all.