The Damned Story: As the oldest continuously operating theme park in the United States, Lake Compounce in Bristol is well known as a spot where people congregate for summertime fun. From rides like the storied Wildcat and Boulder Dash to other attractions such as the water park and the lake itself, the park has a long history of good times and great enjoyment.
However, Lake Compounce also has a long history of tragedy and accidents, and not coincidentally, a reputation for being haunted.
For whatever reason, it seems as though Lake Compounce has been cursed from the very beginning — legend has it that shortly after John Compound (the Native American chieftain who the park is named for) traded the property in 1684 to a group of white settlers, he drowned in the lake “while trying to cross it in a large brass kettle.” (Hey, that's the story!) Another version has Compound killing himself when he realized he hadn't gotten fair value for the land, while yet another suggests his own tribe murdered him in retaliation for giving away their sacred ground. Whatever happened, it didn’t subsequently dissuade people from visiting the scenic lake, nor did it prevent eventual Lake Compounce owner Gad Norton from opening the park to the public in 1846 for picnicking and other amusements.
In the ensuing decades, the park grew steadily, adding more picnic and swimming areas as well as the state’s first 10-pin bowling alley and a ballroom. In 1911, a carousel was built, followed by a roller coaster in 1914. A few years later in 1927, the renowned Wild Cat wooden roller coaster -- a ride you can still enjoy to this day -- started thrilling visitors. More attractions were added, and the park grew in stature — during its heyday in the 1940s, famous big bands came to play Lake Compounce's Starlite Ballroom, including Tommy Dorsey’s band featuring a young Frank Sinatra.
The later half of the 20th century saw the park's business slowly fade, struggling and passing through the hands of multiple owners in the 1980s and 90s. It was finally purchased by Kennywood Entertainment Co. of Pennsylvania in 1996, and has enjoyed extensive renovations and expansions to become the family-friendly destination it is now.
You can read the park's official unabridged history here.
As you might expect with any decades-old amusement park, there have been fatal mishaps. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of documentation before the last half century, although there are vague stories about workers being killed in construction accidents and children drowning in the lake. In more recent times, however, there have been many all-too-verified events. In 1981, a 16-year-old girl fell off a moving roller coaster when she tried to stand up; in 1999, a 16-year-old park employee was struck and killed by the Tornado ride; in 2000, a 6-year-old boy drowned while riding the park’s Lake Plunge water slide; and in 2001, a 23-year-old maintenance worker was killed while working on Boulder Dash. And in a tragedy that hit too close to home, in 2004, a 5-year-old Shelton boy — who was in my son’s preschool group and we knew well — was killed when a tree branch fell and struck him (a sad, freak nightmare occurrence that still haunts me).
As you might expect with so many tragic events and such a long history, there are many stories of supernatural goings-on surrounding Lake Compounce. Dark shapes and spirits have been seen in and around the ballroom, strange music and the disembodied voices of revelers past have been heard, and there are reports of inanimate objects moving and lights turning on and off of their own volition. Nighttime security guards also allegedly have seen strange things after hours.
The good news is that despite the unfortunate tragedies and accidents, many people have enjoyed themselves immensely at Lake Compounce Amusement Park over the past 153 summers, and will do so again this year.
Oh, a final note: Possibly the most tragic death of all happened at the park on the night of July 21, 1989 — it’s the night that marked the extinguishing of the bright light that was Milli Vanilli as Rob and Fab were performing “live” on the stage at Lake Compounce when their record started skipping. The boys were quickly outed for being lip-synching frauds, and fell from grace faster than if they were riding Down Time. Girl, you know it’s true.
Our Damned Experience: Like many of you, we have been to Lake Compounce many times, most recently in summer 2008 -- and aside from the screams and shrieks of people on thrill rides, have yet to experience or see anything unusual or otherworldly.
If You Go: Lake Compounce is located in Bristol, and chances are if you've grown up in Connecticut, you've probably already been there!
If not, it's located just off of Route 229 in Bristol, directly across the street from the ESPN campus -- you can't miss the array of satellite dishes. The park is open daily from May through September (admission prices and hours vary), and then on weekends in October for the always-fun Haunted Graveyard, where the scares, spooks and spirits are fake . . .
. . . or are they?
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