The Amusement Park of Your Twisted Dreams


Vienna, Austria – June 2012

Sundown at Prater amusement park. The lights of the various attractions flicker on as if in welcome.

My husband looks at everything with a bleary-eyed bewilderment. He wasn’t able to sleep last night or on the train from Budapest this morning. He grew up on a remote South Pacific island. The idea of amusement parks is an alien one. He stops in front of a ride called the Black Mamba. He stares up, mouth open in wonder, as a group of people are whipped viciously around and upside down. We are directly under them, and therefore targets for anything that might fly out of their mouths.

“Uh, we probably want to move to the side.” I pull on his arm.

He nods, and we move on.


The kiddie rides have shut down, and the arcades are eerily vacant. Teenagers begin to trickle into the park. Groups of girls and boys suited up in their coolest attire and attitudes. I smile. I used to be like them.

Every year in July, my hometown of Auburn, Michigan welcomes the Corn Festival. Carneys roll into town. Rides are assembled. People from all over descend upon the small town, mostly for the legendary beer tent.

In the mid 1980’s, I was one of the teenagers who congregated on the midway. We flaunted our tans and our disdain. We would duck behind the tents and take swigs of Boone’s Farm and MD 20/20 “wine”. Later, some would stagger behind the tents to barf.

I haven’t been to the Cornfest in over 25 years. I wonder if the same rides are there – the Zipper, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Rock ‘n Roll. The people I used to know are surely beer tent regulars. It would be strange to go after all of these years. My perceptions have been so distorted by the outside world.


Deeper into the depths of Prater, we come upon some sculptures. Contorted faces of infants peer up from a flower as a black-suited man approaches them with a watering can. Other figures  – banal and surreal – look on. I can’t decide if the scene is creepy or cute.

We turn down another alley. I stop in my tracks. The Hall of Mirrors. I walk up to it, slowly. The clown in the window leers back at me. A shrill, wheezing cackle emanates from the vintage speakers.

The giggle that it provokes in me is just as diabolical. The skeletal fingers, the purple Granny dress, the almost bald skull. Obnoxious and brilliant! How many coulrophobes is this thing responsible for?


I like clowns. There, I said it. It’s not that I think they’re cute. They’re mysterious. I want to know what hides behind the fervent hilarity. Because no one can possibly be that happy.

I want to go inside. I turn to speak to my husband. He is stretched out on a bench, snoring. I gently touch his shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s go. You need to sleep.”

As we walk away, I cast one last glance over my shoulder. I’ll be back.


24 thoughts on “The Amusement Park of Your Twisted Dreams

  1. I love this. You’ve really captured the strange surreal attraction of amusement parks. That Hall of Mirrors is so scary, particularly with the clown. I’d never go in!

    Amusement Parks have a creepy appeal. We used to go to an amusement park in my home town of Wichita, Kansas, called Joyland. The Haunted House frightened me so much that I kept my eyes closed most of the time and was just freaked out by the sounds as we rode through on a little train. I just googled Joyland and found that it’s still open. An animatronic clown with a cone hat just like your photo played a Wurlitzer pipe organ. If anything could give you coulrophia, that clown would!

    One of the last places I went that offered amusement rides was the Kansas State Fair. There was a Ferris wheel at the Victoria & Alfred waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, but I didn’t ride it. I need to find my inner child again and go on some rides, minus the creepy clowns.

    Here’s what I wrote about the Kansas State Fair.

    • The cool thing about Prater is that it’s a mix of vintage and modern. Definitely a feast for the eyes. I’m definitely going back and going on some rides, whether the husband goes on with me or just watches.

      Very fun piece on the Kansas State Fair. Thanks for the link!

  2. Fascinating rhythms. Vienna, the home of Mozart, culture, the Blue Danube, clowns and ferris wheels.

  3. I’m not afraid of no clown. 😉 Or am I? But other than that I love amusement parks and carnivals. The sense of wonder and fantasy all rolled together. I love it. I love the cheesiness of it all.

  4. I can feel the giggle *wink. 🙂 I love the energy when I go to such places… happy and so high. Reminds me to post photos of a place like this. 🙂

    • Thanks, Chris. So, you remember that grape-colored witches’ brew, too, eh? My preference was for Boone’s Farm, but you how it is – you take what you can get. 😉

  5. I love how you connect passages of time – there are layers in your stories, glimpses of two or three dimensions. Ah…it must be the amusement park!

  6. Your post always makes me think, there is always more to the story and to the photos, where the present and past interwoven with each other. Even the title is makes me feel so many emotions.

  7. This reminds me of the carneys that used to pull through every spring in the area that I grew up in–there was a horrible freak show of sorts and of course the *exotic* dancers-but I always found myself fascinated by the scenes and the people-Love the photographs too that accompany this post-I agree with another poster-your work always makes me stop and think about my own past and present colliding in the ways that they do-

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