I wanted it to have been known that Hamilton, Ontario, Canada only had one real amusement park. At least one that actually stayed open. Sure, there were many travelling carnivals that unpacked their loads into mall parking lots for a weekend and then disappeared only to end up travelling to the next town. The annual Peach Festival sets up its shop every year during the summer in the same location since it genesis back in ’67 when the town of Winona, Ontario was nothing more than just a street. But there was only one amusement park that remained where it stood when the park owner opened the gates to floods of raving, ravaging tourists and locals alike; and that was “Realm of Fantasy”.
Opened in the late 70’s as a sort of Canadian Disneyland, the owner apparently chose to build his magnum opus in our city because he “found both Toronto and Ottawa to be too crowded for his tastes.” Hamilton wasn’t much better, but regardless, none questioned his decision and hey, Hamilton needed the influx of cash. Aside from a swift stabbing or a bullet wound, there wasn’t much Hamilton was known for, but this new amusement park was able to put it on the map. People from across the country and even from the United States flooded into “Realm of Fantasy” on its opening day and found the park to be exactly that; a Disney World wannabe that was the perfect escape from the droning day to day activities in a “Hamiltonian’s” life.
The park saw nearly six hundred and fifty thousand visitors yearly, which was apparently enough to keep the place afloat. However, it seemed that the winds of change were blowing strong in the year of 2002. The metaphorical winds gusted and in the year 2005, the park’s owner, Travis Piper took off with the funds he had collected from the park and left his magnum opus for dead. The orphaned park passed from owner to owner after Travis’ disappearance. None of them stayed too long before they departed the same way Piper did, although they had far lighter pockets. Before long, the park was abandoned, its gates closed forever, the attractions that once entertained and enthralled thousands of families now left to rot in a haunting state of disrepair. For whatever reason, the derelict reminder of a broken dream and a world of fairy tales and fantasy that wasn’t meant to be was never torn down and simply sat there, abandoned.
In the year 2013, I was absolutely enchanted by the idea of abandonment. I had no idea what it was that compelled me to seek out and explore the forgotten ruins of society, but something deep in the recesses of my mind did. I hunted down closed down restaurants in the poorer areas of town, explored the innards of a derelict train covered in graffiti behind a brand new Wal-Mart, and even found the remains of a hobo’s camp under a long forgotten stone and iron bridge near the beach in the east end of town. But when I caught wind of “Realm of Fantasy,” an abandoned amusement park located just slightly to the north of the “Devil’s Punchbowl,” a beautiful, serene and calming mountain peak (and an unfortunately popular location to quickly and efficiently commit suicide) everything escalated to a higher level of intensity. My heart sped up and my mind began to race at the thought of exploring such a seemingly perfect modern ruin.
Since I spent hours upon hours reading about abandoned amusement parks such as “Nara Dreamland” in Nara, Japan and “Holy Land USA” a semi-abandoned biblical-themed park in Waterbury, Connecticut, I desired only to gain access to their forbidden halls and take every picture my camera could manage to share with the world, but due to being a relatively poor young adult in a Canadian dump, my dreams would never become reality; until that moment that was. I had a hard time believing it! An abandoned amusement park right here in the city to be explored and have its secrets unravelled! I geared up into my exploration gear; simple black clothing, gloves, thick shoes and a flashlight. I hopped on my bike and followed the oddly colorful and enigmatic driving instructions of an ancient map that gave directions from the center of downtown to the park’s location I had found online. Since I already knew how to get downtown, getting from downtown to the park wasn’t a difficult task in the slightest.
After a long, strenuous trek up the derelict hills that lead to the Devil’s Punchbowl from the downtown’s smouldering, crowded core I had finally arrived at a massive field that stretched for miles in every conceivable direction. It was absolutely overgrown, tall grass and weeds that had grown so far out of control that they were fighting tooth and nail with the untamed grass for control of the earth they occupied. I stepped through the overgrowth and slapped at large weeds and pushed away grass with my arms that rose up to my upper chest; it had felt like long, stringy tentacles were trying to entrap me and hold me forever. Once I had succeeded in pushing my way through what felt like miles of overgrowth, I was able to stand on my toes and look over the top of the wild, untamed grassland.
Then there was something in the distance. It wasn’t too far off but due to the sun I was forced to raise an open hand to my eyes to shield them. When my eyes had fallen upon it, I was completely overcome. I felt butterflies performing aerial manoeuvres in my stomach and my heart began to speed up. How I had failed to see it before I had no idea, but before me now, only about a hundred feet away were gargantuan cracked stone walls lined with black cannons on their ramparts. Two gigantic knights, overgrown and worn by the fierce Canadian weather and time stood guard before a monolithic drawbridge; the knights’ swords raised high into the air and their shields to their sides, awaiting a siege that would never come from an enemy that never existed. I rushed through the grasslands and trampled grass, weeds and whatever stood in my way into the dust to reach the enormous walls.
After struggling with nature I had finally reached the monolithic ruins. Up close I could tell that they were in absolute shambles, as expected of course; enormous cracks ran across the surface of the walls which, when I was only a few feet away from them, I could tell they were easily thirty feet high. Bricks were completely removed in some sections of the walls; they teased me with brief glimpses into the bowels of the Realm of Fantasy. I had begun to run my hands along the walls and felt bumpy, creeping moss beneath my fingers when I realized the sun had begun to set, judging by the illuminated pinks and yellows that danced across the sky like a painting on a canvas. That moment would be my time to make my daring entrance into the park.
I, quietly as I could, approached the drawbridge. As I had expected, it was drawn all the way up. Rusted, ancient chains no doubt held it in place. I examined my surroundings for an alternate way into the park for a few minutes. I checked over parts of the front walls in an attempt to find any bricks I could grip onto and use to climb up and over the walls, but to no avail; every surface I ran my hands over was flat. Cracked, busted up and weather-worn, but flat. I made my way around to the west wall, checked over every surface that I could physically check for bricks that stuck out even slightly, but found absolutely nothing. It was as if someone had come along with a sander and smoothed the stone down; it was unnatural. I growled quietly to myself, and, on the verge of admitting defeat, I had noticed something on the ground only a few paces away from me; or, rather, a lack of something; where tall grass should’ve been, there was nothing. I looked down at my feet and approached the anomaly. I found what appeared to be a single patch of fake, bright green grass, no bigger than a small carpet one would put in front of their bathroom sink. It was no wonder it had stuck out like a sore thumb! I tore away at the fake grass that was plastered to whatever was hidden beneath it until my finger struck what felt like thick wood. I tugged and tore away even more of the unnatural, almost sticky stuff until I discovered what the odd patch was hiding from me: a trapdoor. I felt anticipation and excitement welling up inside me.
Further examination of the trapdoor yielded results I didn’t particularly like, though. The trap door was padlocked shut with a large, thick albeit rusted steel padlock. A small black box where a logo probably should’ve been was worn away with only a few white scratches left as remnants of whatever company that logo may have been advertising. “Fuck,” I said to myself. I kicked the padlock in frustration and, to my surprise the sturdy-looking security device simply fell apart and broke into pieces as a result of the impact. Either I didn’t know my own strength or that padlock was older than it looked; I leaned towards the latter. My hands shook as I grasped the rusty metal handle of the trapdoor and pulled it up. I looked down into the depths of whatever the trapdoor contained and saw the first few steps of a metal ladder that descended into the deepest, inkiest darkness I had ever seen. I suddenly felt uneasy. The darkness was so, so, so consuming. I stood up, took a long, deep breath, and, summoning all of my courage into one simple action, I forced myself to place one foot onto the second step, then my other foot on the first. Slowly but surely I began to descend into the black depths of whatever the trapdoor was concealing from the world.
After what felt like minutes of descent, my left foot finally slapped against solid ground; my right foot soon did the same and I let go of the metal railings of the ladder. I had been right about the darkness, though; the only way I could even see my own hands in front of my face was thanks to the single beam of light coming from above. But before I could even possibly react, there was a violent gust of wind in the world above me, and the trapdoor, its rusty old hinges not being able to fight back, slammed shut, depriving me of my precious vision. “It’s for the best,” I thought to myself. “If someone comes along and see the trapdoor open, they’ll probably call the cops.” Thankfully, I wasn’t without hope. I pulled out my trusty flashlight and pointed its beam, a heavenly ray of light in a place without hope illuminated the path before me. I was eternally thankful for it.
As I shined my flashlight about the place, trying to get a decent mental image of where I was, I realized, by going from side to side and feeling two dank, wet stone walls about ten feet apart from each other, I was in a tunnel of some sort, perhaps a maintenance tunnel? I shined the beam towards the floor; it was made of dirty concrete. As I walked through the tunnel, I heard what sounded like droplets of water dripping into puddles from multiple places. Many would have been unnerved by the sounds of the droplets, but I was instead grateful that there was something to disturb the silence of the place. At one point, what might have been a rat or a mouse scurried by my feet, causing me to jump slightly as its feet pitter-pattered against the concrete floor. The creature looked at me inquisitively; perhaps it wondered what I was doing there in its domain, its big, glossy black eyes focused on no real part of my body. It then continued on its way; apparently it didn’t sense that I was a threat, perhaps it was simply too stupid to care.
Eventually, after some time of walking along a straight path, sometimes waving my flashlight around to make sure I hadn’t accidentally made a turn down a corridor or that I wasn’t about to step into a sinkhole, I arrived at another ladder. This one was just as rusted as the one that led me down into the tunnel, although, when I flashed my flashlight upon it, I was able to tell that this one lead up towards a steel lid as opposed to a trapdoor. I pressed my hands against the lid, put all the force I could muster into my arms, and shoved. The lid came loose, becoming airborne for a few moments before hitting the ground above with a disquietingly echoing “thud.” Rays of dim, dying light from the world above shined down upon my face and drowned out my vision as I began to climb from the depths. What I found could only be described as a desolate mockery of someone’s magnum opus.
I began to look around and examined my surroundings. It appeared I was in some sort of alleyway. Large, brightly colored whimsical houses dotted the path I had found myself in. The structures were weather-worn and covered in graffiti, their windows smashed in. Some of the messages scrawled by vagrants and insecure teenagers were legible, most of which were gang tags. Others were completely illegible, seeming to be random arcane symbols splattered on walls and roofs. As I kept my eyes and ears open I walked down the decrepit, seemingly ancient alleyway, noting the run-down state of everything around me. By that point, most of the rays of sunlight had died along with their source of origination and I was left in the dark once again. With only my flashlight to guide me, I made my way out of the alleyway and into what I could have only assumed was the main “hub” of the park. There was a rusty, filthy old system of fountains in the center of the area, connected to one large main fountain, adorned with a rusted, cracking angel blowing a trumpet atop its spire. The statue had long since become a perch for various species of winged vermin who paid no heed to the “no trespassing; trespassers will be prosecuted!” signs littering every available surface of the outside walls of the ruined fortress. They sat upon the angel’s wings and shoulders and stared out into the dusk in an act of some sort of silent rebellion.
My first act was to take a walk through the various forgotten attractions that littered the abandoned park. I took a short walk around the empty, admittedly eerie hub until I had come upon a large, cracked sign, faded by weather and time like the rest of the place. Upon it was an enormous map of the entire park. As I suspected, in the center of the map, there was a red “X” with the words “you are here!” plastered below it in an ugly blocky font that was an assault on the eyes. The first on my list, since it had been the closest to my location in the central “hub” was an attraction called “Funky Mirror Mansion.” I supposed that would have to have been my first stop.
I walked through the abandoned hub. Dirt covered the surface of the ground. Dustbins were overflowing with discarded wrappers. As I continued to walk, something slightly off in the distance caught my attention. It was an eerily sterile-looking white structure with windows that, like everything else in the park, were smashed in by vandals. Before my trip to the “Funky Mirror Mansion” could begin, I decided on visiting the white building. After a few moments of walking, I hoisted myself into the broken window and carefully avoided shards of broken glass that protruded from the concrete walls. Once I had mounted myself properly on the hollowed-out hole where a pane of glass once had been, I allowed myself to drop down onto the dirty white and grey tiles below.
Before me, in that empty, sterile room, were a few broken wooden benches, covered in graffiti, a few dusty old magazines, some of which appeared to have been systemically ripped to shreds by vandals, and a long, white service desk of some sort. Peering over the desk, I saw a number of computer towers, monitors, keyboards, and mice; all were irreparably broken and appeared to have been smashed in with blunt weapons, which would likely have been baseball bats. Some various papers and folders were spread across the desk. I flipped through one of the folders, which contained papers regarding some accounting business. As I innocently flipped through the papers, I heard something hit the floor behind me with a light “cllliiss” sound. I whirled around, with my fists in front of my face as I was instinctively ready to defend myself. But there was only a small bird there on the ground. The creature had brown and white mixed feathers, a small black beak, and black, beady eyes. It cocked its head at me before flying up a set of stairs I had neglected to notice. “Gee, thanks little guy.” I said with a grin. There would be more to explore.
I flipped through more folders on the first floor, finding nothing other than boring official documents with no useful information and pictures taken at what seemed to be family gatherings. After I was done poking around in business that wasn’t mine, I proceeded to the stairs that lead to the second floor, carefully avoiding pieces of debris scattered across the filthy floor. I peered up the steps and frowned at my discovery: there was a large desk blocking the doorway at the top of the steps. There were large holes in the exterior of the desk, about the size of someone’s foot; kids had likely tried to kick their way in. I wouldn’t be stopped that easily. I wasn’t about to be stopped by some vagrants’ makeshift attempt at securing their stash. I went to one of the walls adjacent to the sterile-looking service desk and saw a loose pipe hanging from the wall. If there were vagrants holed up in the upper floor, I would be armed and ready. I ripped the loose pipe from the wall, got a feel for the makeshift weapon, swung it once or twice to cut my teeth, and then strapped it into my belt.
Once I had arrived at the desk at the top of the stairs, I gave the piece of furniture a good kick. Although it successfully alerted anything in the park to my presence as the sound of the wood cracking, splintering, and finally breaking apart rang throughout the ruins, it did not budge. I clambered my way up onto the desk, something the teens hadn’t apparently thought of, and scaled it as best I could. I occasionally looked down at the surface of the long desk as I made sure my hands weren’t falling into a diseased needle or animal shit, and eventually made my way over it. I leapt to the ground with relief. As I examined my surroundings, I realized it was all for naught; there was nothing up here. The upstairs had been heavily looted. In one last desperate attempt to find something worth snapping, I shined my flashlight in one of the dark corners, and saw a sight that made my jaw drop from the sheer audacity. An old, ripped up mascot suit, probably worn by some underpaid young adult when the park was still active, lay crumpled, a bottle of booze clasped loosely in its hand and a rolled-up joint laying on its goofy felt-material grin; stupid fucking kids. The mascot resembled a porcupine, or perhaps a hedgehog judging by the spines on its back and its pointed black nose. Its dirty, mold-covered fur was a light shade of brown, and its big, dumb-looking eyes stared up at nothing. I chuckled at it, shaking my head and placing my open palm against my forehead before going back to where I came from, ascending the desk as I prepared to climb over it once again.
I exited the white building the same way I came in, and I now realized I was only being guided by murky moonlight. I switched my flashlight on and swung it around. Something was caught it in for a split second. I flinched, swallowed hard, and I somewhat reluctantly swung my flashlight back and caught it again. To my absolute horror, it was another mascot. This one looked like a cartoonish German shepherd. It had a bright red nose that glowed back at me beneath the light given off by my flashlight. It was standing upright, its chest rising and falling. I could hear loud, muffled breathing beneath the mask. Suddenly, the mascot, or the person in it broke into a run at me! I whirled the other way and began to run as fast as my legs could carry me. I ran, and I ran, and I ran as fast I possibly could through the park, my lungs heaving and my legs crying out for mercy. Only once I looked back only to see that it was gaining on me.
I pushed my legs, my frantic mind demanding they work harder, and finally I exited the main hub and entered “Tea Town,” as the sign above me called it. At least I thought it said that; the sweat clouding my vision didn’t help matters. Instinctively I turned around saw I was alone once again. While I was lost, at least in the many twists and turns I must have made, I managed to lose my mascot suit-wearing assailant. It was probably some crazy vagrant or maybe a drunk teenager fucking with me. It just had to be. I propelled myself through the air like a rocket and dived into the nearest structure with broken windows, my clothes being ripped by stray shards of glass, but I didn’t care less. I ducked into a corner and simply sat there as I tried to slow my breathing down. As I scoped the place out, it became clear to me that it was, at one point or another, a candy shop. Jars, buckets, and bags full of rotten candy sat along the dusty old shelves. A white part of the dusty, darkened desk where purchases would’ve been made was clearly where the cash register would have sat before someone, probably one of that Travis guy’s lackeys ripped it out, presumably as soon as the orders were given to abandon the place, or perhaps vagrants just snatched it up. At one point or another during my stay within the old candy shop, I mustered up enough courage to exit the shop the same way I came in. Leaping from the windowsill, I briskly walked through Tea Town, now trying to find my way out of the abandoned Realm of Fantasy; I had enough exploring. Clearly, this place was more dangerous than I anticipated.
I spent some time, while walk-running of course, looking from side to side. Tea Town appeared to be nothing more than a series of shops, varying from shoe stores, to the candy shop I ducked into, to even a small independent department store! I was baffled by the choice to include such a thing in an amusement park, but, I wasn’t the designer for the place. Making my way through the winding maze made of tributes to consumerism, I heard the pitter-patter of feet slapping against the cobblestone beneath me; it was too close for comfort. I began to flee again, inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth to control my rapidly-beating heart. “Fuck off, psycho!” I shrieked as I darted down an alleyway between a coffee shop and what appeared to have been a toy store. Ducking behind a vandalized, rusty old dumpster, I held my breath. I peeked out from the side of the dumpster, trying to stay hidden, but I also wanted to get a good look at that goon in the mascot outfit, if it was even him.
By that point it could’ve easily been a security guard looking to bash my face in with his Billy club. Alas, however, it was no security guard. I saw that psychotic fuck in the mascot outfit look around from side to side, his head darting from one area to another. Even from my vantage point behind the dumpster I could hear his heavy panting. Not thinking, I accidentally allowed a short, exasperated cough to escape my throat. The mascot’s head shot my way, and he broke into another mad dash. My fight or flight instincts screamed at my mind to run, which forced my body into action. I could hear the leather soles of the mascot suit’s feet slapping behind me, the noise growing louder and louder. I turned around at once, and my heart rose into my throat; he, it, was within arms’ reach of me, his arms locking together, his hands grasping for me. I looked from side to side, and then noticed a door to some shop that was slightly ajar. In mere seconds a plan was formed. I got behind the door, grabbed its dirty brass handle, hoping it wouldn’t just fall off, pulled the door back, and then violently slammed it forward. I felt resistance and heard a loud grunt as the door made impact with the rushing mascot. I heard him hit the ground with a groan and I fucking bolted out of there.
I had no idea where I was now. I looked above me and noticed another sign, pointing to a “transition” to another area of this accursed park. “Land O’ Wonders,” the sign read. I continued to bolt as I heard the mascot man shouting obscenities and screaming inhumanly at me from what, according to my perception of sound, could only be about twenty feet or so away. This area of the park was considerably less packed and maze-like than Tea Town, which were both a blessing and a curse. I darted about and looked for some sort of sign that would direct me back to the center hub area, and therefore back to that trapdoor I had entered from. I found no such thing in my frantic rushing, but instead, a large, closed-down attraction. A sign made out of neon tubes that would have flashed brightly in disorientating patterns when the park was, well, alive above the entranceway read “A Small World.” The entrance to the ride was a gaping maw made out of artificial stones, possibly supposed to have been a cave entrance? My decision to enter the attraction was made as I heard the ranting and raving of the mascot man, who had at that point descended into mad shrieks and animalistic roars gaining on me. I ducked into the stone “mouth” and continued to stride as quickly as my body would allow.
I leapt clear over a long, rusty railing and into a body of murky, filthy water below. Hitting the water with a splash, I surfaced. My lungs fought for air and I wheezed heavily, my arms still managing to keep me afloat. As I began to swim, I saw white boats with foot-sized holes, which had presumably been kicked into them floating in the water. The moonlight from outside only lit the entrance of the attraction, and I was forced to swim in the dark, not knowing whether I was going to smash my head against a wall or a rock. I didn’t know how long I had swum for, but it must have been quite a while. My body was tired and my arms strained to keep my body afloat, but finally my feet were able to touch the bottom of this watery abyss once more. I struggled to run as I was more than half-submerged in stinky, filthy water. After walking for a few more minutes, I could see that I was about half-submerged. I flicked on my flashlight, thankful beyond words that it still worked.
I swung the device around, illuminating portions of the area around me. I saw dolls hanging from the ceiling from flimsy white wire tied around their waists, dolls on either side of the watery cannel I was seemingly confined to, their blank, soulless eyes glaring upon nothing at all. Some of them were placed around long-extinguished campfires, clothed in Native American/Canadian attire, others simply stood on platforms with the arms outstretched. Now aware of their presence, I pushed myself through the mucky, murky water faster than ever. I tried to tell myself they were just dolls; little plastic golems that couldn’t move because they weren’t fucking alive. Suddenly, as I continued to push through the water which was getting lower and lower as I walked, the lights of the attraction flickered into existence. The dolls tied to the ceiling began to spin around, the devices their stringers were attached to creaking and groaning in protest. Platforms the dolls on either side of the cannel slowly spun and creaked in revolt. The song which the attraction was named after began to play over what sounded like loudspeakers throughout the ride. The already eerie chanting had become outright terrifying, and I screamed “What the FUCK is going on?!” in rage, confusion and fear all at once.
I forced my legs to run once more, and as I turned the oncoming corner, hoping to see an exit or something, I felt my heart rise into my throat; my stomach churned and the blood drained my face. Up a small metal staircase was that fucking mascot man. He stood still as he played with a large ring with what looked like dozens of keys, allowing it to dance along his fingers. The dog head’s lifeless, beady eyes stared into my soul, and that goofy grin on its face seemed almost predatory. I was hyperventilating and wheezing. I felt my vision getting blurry and going dark; I had nowhere to run now. That mascot man, thing would catch me. If I was going to die, I was going to die in combat, an honorable death at least. As if he, it, whatever the fuck it was sensed my desire to fight, he broke into a run at me. In a moment of what could only be divine intervention, I remembered the pipe I had strapped to my belt. I pulled the blunt weapon loose and rushed at the mascot man.
One of the mascot man’s paws curled into a fist and flew like a bullet aimed at my chest. I dodged the attack and with both hands wrapped around the pipe, bashed the mascot man over the head with it. He fumbled, groaning in pain, his hands wrapped around the back of his head. I took the opportunity of weakness to slam the pipe over the mascot man’s back over and over again, each time the weapon hit, I heard metal not only strike the suit’s fur, but also a pained grunt. The mascot man stumbled, lost his footing, and fell into the murky water. I rushed him and kicked what I assumed to be his stomach violently; producing a loud, piercing muffled “FUCK!” from within the mascot’s head. I quickly stepped away, gripping the pipe in my hands, waiting for the mascot man to rise. To my surprise, he did, the wet, soggy costume hanging from his body. He ran at me, but his footing was unstable. Before he was able to grab me with his outstretched arms, I swung the pipe like a baseball bat. The sound of metal cracking against flesh and bone rang throughout the depths of the attraction. The mascot man howled in pain as he stammered backwards. I could see crimson red beginning to form on the costume’s head now, and I knew I had been successful in my attack. For good measure, I summoned my courage and rushed the stammering mascot man, slamming my pipe into his head over and over again. He howled in agony each time my weapon slammed into the now-dented costume head, which only fueled my rage. By the time I had finished with him, he fell back into the murky depths once more. I jogged back and observed, panting violently. I saw crimson red begin to merge with the murky brown of the water, and this time I knew he wouldn’t be getting back up any time soon.
The details of my escape are blurry to me at best, although I know I did escape, as I’m sitting here writing this. I’ve told no one of my experience with the abandoned amusement park, and I’ve recently learned that the fucking hellhole was demolished to make way for a shopping center. I say all the power to them. But let this serve as a warning. If you get the urge to explore an abandoned location, whether it be in Japan, Germany, or right smack dab in your own hometown, I implore you, fucking don’t.