By Doug Ireland
SALEM — While Canobie Lake Park’s newest rides may be what thrill seekers crave, they’re not the most popular rides at the 112-year-old park.
That honor still goes to the Yankee Cannonball, an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster that’s graced Canobie since 1936.
“The Yankee Cannonball has been, and probably always will be, the most popular feature at the park,” Canobie spokesman Chris Nicoli said. “We’re excited to have the Equinox and Untamed, but the Yankee Cannonball is still the most popular.”
It’s the combination of exciting, new rides and traditional attractions that continues to draw thousands of visitors to Canobie each year, Nicoli said.
Canobie Lake Park is one of the “603 Reasons” readers said they love New Hampshire. The park opens for the season Saturday.
For the last month, the park’s several hundred employees have been busy training and getting the amusements and concessions ready, Nicoli said.
“It’s been fast and furious,” Nicoli said yesterday.
But snow earlier this spring put the park a week behind schedule, he said. A chance of rain this weekend presents another obstacle, Nicoli said.
“We have come a long way in the last few weeks,” he said. “Right now, we must get through Saturday and Sunday.”
There aren’t any new rides this year, but there are two new live shows. One is a tribute to Madonna, the other honors the pop music band One Direction, Nicoli said.
“It’s the one everyone is talking about,” he said of One Direction. “That group is huge right now.”
Ticket prices have increased $1 this year to $36, but tickets are available for $28 through Sunday. The park also offers special discounts, including free admission and lunch for parents on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Season passes are not offered because of the park’s capacity, Nicoli said.
Another addition this year is a concession stand that serves multiple varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches, Nicoli said.
But for longtime visitors to the park, it’s not the newer rides, shows and food stands that bring them back every year. It’s the rich tradition of Canobie that dates back to its opening in 1902.
For 42-year Salem resident Richard O’Shaughnessy, it’s the memories of bringing his five children to the park while they were growing up.
O’Shaughnessy, 76, now enjoys bringing some of his nine grandchildren.
“Each time I walk in, I say, ‘What a treasure this is,’” he said. “We are lucky to have it. They have always been good neighbors to the town.”
O’Shaughnessy has been coming to Canobie since the 1970s. He recalled the Bicentennial Ball, where everyone wore 18th-century costumes to celebrate the nation’s 200th birthday.
The ball was held in the Dancehall Theater. It’s the same place where Big Band era stars such as Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Harry James and Jimmy Dorsey entertained big crowds between the 1930s and 1950s.
They would be followed by Frank Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, and Aerosmith.
Douglas Seed, a 62-year-old Salem native and history buff, recalled visiting the park as a child in the 1950s. He worked there as a teenager for a few summers in the 1960s, earning 95 cents an hour.
Seed said still loves the park. It’s featured in two books about Salem, along with other local landmarks, that he co-authored with his sister, Katherine Khalife in 1996.
“Salem, N.H., Volume I” and “Trolleys, Canobie Lake and Rockingham Park” are part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series.
The park is a source of pride for Salem and its residents, he said. It’s been owned by the same three families since 1958.
“My fondest memories of Canobie are that it was like having our own amusement park,” he said. “We take that very seriously.”
Seed said loved the kiddie cars and The Whip, a ride which has long since disappeared.
The Yankee Cannonball, called The Greyhound back then, is also a favorite.
“You have to love Canobie’s roller coaster — everyone loved the roller coaster,” he said. “You never go to Canobie without riding the roller coaster.”
O’Shaughnessy’s fondest memories of Canobie aren’t the performances or even the Yankee Cannonball. It’s the antique carousel, a mainstay at the park since 1906.
“I always loved holding on to my kids and my grandchildren on the horses,” he said. “The Wurlitzer music and the horses are so beautiful.”
Other than that, O’Shaughnessy is content to remain on the ground.
“I’m a little too old for those now,” he said. “I love to sit back and watch.”