Two cars of the Rocket, one of the oldest and scariest wooden roller coasters in the country, jumped the tracks today, flew 30 feet through the air and smashed into a shack, sending orange fireballs billowing into the air.
Pretty girls, standing nearby smiled and the townsfolk cheered.
"Was that print, fellas? Was that a print? " exclaimed Richard Miller, who has managed the Ocean View Park, one of the South's oldest amusement parks, for 24 years.
"It was a thrilling shot, simply wonderful," said John Furia, a Hollywood producer.
Three motion-picture cameras, one filming in super-slow motion, captured today's conflagration as the pivotal scene in a $2 million ABC television disaster movie called "Amusement Park."
When the movie company leaves town sometime next week there won't be an amusement park left in this city. The roller coaster that has been the park's landmark since the 1920s will have fallen victim to the cinema.
In the next three days, a special effects man who blew up a building a week for five years for the "Emergency" television series will supervise the demolition of the roller coaster, a scrambler ride, a tower that used to hold miniature airplanes, the arcade and the main sign out front that advertises the 80-year-old park as a "Fun Spot."
According to the movie script, the derailment of the roller coaster cars and the collision with what is supposed to be a protective shack for an underground gas line sets off "a sudden cataclysmic EXPLOSION.
"Amid screams of terror and panic, the ruptured gas line shoots out jets of fire that touch off secondary EXPLOSION all around the park," the script says.
ABC is paying the family that owns the park and the city of Norfolk a handsome (but undisclosed) amount of money to destroy the 20-acre, beach-front resort that in the past 20 years has gone from beingone of Virginia's most popular amusement areas to what many local residents now say is a hangout for hookers.
The main passageway into the garishly painted park smells. Rust decorates a partly collapsed aracde roof. There haven't been any snakes in the serpentarium for 10 months. If ABC hadn't offered to pay to burn the place down, the city of Norfolk, which takes possession of the park next month, would have had to do the demolition itself.
While sound technicians, special effects crewmen and movie extras rushed around the park today, many residents of Norfolk who knew the park in its early days came to take their last photographs of the hulking, whitewashed roller coaster named Rocket.
Bernard L. Woodard, 71, came to the park for the first time in 1920 when he was 12. He took a 5 cent streetcar ride from his parent's home.
"In those days the park was a new toy. There was a fancy merry-go-round and a tunnel of love. In the restaurant a man had to wear a coat and the women carried parasols. They dressed like you see someone in New York," Woodard said.
During World War II, when thousands of sailors passed through the Norfolk naval base, the park was crammed on weekends with men in white who ogled the women, Woodard recalled.
But after the war, the park had to start booking novelty acts to attract crowds. There was Capt. Leo (Simple) Simon who came up from Florida, starting in 1949, to blow himself up with two sticks of dynamite. "He'd get into this coffin-type thing, set off the dynamite and come out staggering," said park manager Miller. News accounts at the time indicate that Simon was hard of hearing.
Another act was that of a woman named Pat Havilan, who nine years ago was buried in the park for two months, breathing and communicating t;rough a special shaft. There was general alarm for her safety during a large rainfall, but she was slipped a garden hose for breathing purposes in the event that her grave became flooded.
The novelty acts, however, failed to attract the familes that were scared away by prostitutes who began working the Ocean View area in the mid 1950s, and were later pulled away by the nearby giant amusement parks - Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens.
Playboy Productions, which is making the movie for ABC, heard last summer that the amusement park was going to be destroyed to make room for new development. "It was too good a deal to pass up," said producer Furia, who has produced several television series, including "Kung Fu."
The plot of the movie, which features Mike ("Mannix") Connors and Martin ("mission Impossible") Landau, is a typical disaster fare. A hurricane somehow causes a "mysterious seismic shift" that loosens a brace on the roller coaster. The cars are derailed by the faulty roller coaster track, and they crash into the shack, causing an explosion. The cast of the movie runs from the flames.
The destruction of the park, not the movie's plot, will be the big draw for a television audience this fall, according to Furia. So, to blow the place up with style, Playboy Productions hired James W. Beauchamp, a special effects man who has been destroying buildings, airplanes and boats for five years.
When he arrived here three weeks ago, Beauchamp went down to Tidewater Explosives and bought $11,000 worth of dynamite naphthalene ("for orange fireballs") black powder bombs, plastic explosives and "primacord" - an exploding fuse that burns at 22,000 feet per second.
"This is fairly dangerous work here because we are blowing up real things," said Beauchamp, who is charging ABC $80,000 for his work. "Normally we use lightweight material - balsawood and breakaway glass."
Because the amusement park here can be destroyed only once, unlike easily replaced movie sets, the shooting of today's derailment and explosion could neither be tested nor botched.
Beauchamp spent three days figuring out where to apply a chainsaw to roller coaster support beams and where to reposition the tracks so the derailed cars would hit the shack of explosives.
The two cars, each weighing 1,750 pounds and carrying sandbags as passengers, took off today at 10 a.m., made a three-quarters loop of the tack, and at 30 mph flew right where Beauchamp said they would fly.
"It is just plane geometry," Beauchamp said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Technicians watch as flames and smoke spew forth when roller coaster cars hit shack with explosives.; Picture 2, Debris flies as exploding charges destory the old Rocket roller coaster. UPI; Picture 3, Another blast, one of several, rocks the wooden supports of Norfolk's old roller coaster. It was all done for a $2 million movie called "Amusement Park." AP