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Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever gotten the feeling that what you were doing simply wasn't going to work out the way you hoped? How far down the path do you go on a project, relationship, or job that's sure to fail? Imagine it on a theme park operator's scale: How much time would you be willing to invest in a venture that seemed doomed? A year? Five? Ten? How much money? $20 million? $30 million? $40 million?

As part of our Lost Legends series, we've explored dozens of famous (and infamous) rides that are gone but never forgotten. In one of our favorites, we took a trip to Kings Island – a world-class park outside of Cincinnatti, Ohio – to explore TOMB RAIDER: The Ride. One of the most immersive, mysterious, and innovative thrill rides to ever exist, Tomb Raider was closed after barely a decade, in a way you have to read to believe. We recommend starting with that in-depth Lost Legends entry.

The lost tale of Tomb Raider: The Ride is haunting enough, but if you can believe it, today we're going to return to that same park to unravel the almost-unbelievable story of one of the most wild rides the world has ever seen: a cinematic sequel to a beloved roller coaster taken a step too far. Just two years before Tomb Raider, Paramount's Kings Island debuted SON OF BEAST, the tallest, fastest, and only looping wooden roller coaster on Earth. Imagine it: towering over the skyline, Son of Beast shattered records and nerves.

And like Tomb Raider, just a decade later the abandoned skeleton of Son of Beast stood 218 feet over one of the most visited theme parks in North America, destined to never operate again. What kind of bad luck saw two of the most impressive rides in the world last barely a decade? The story of Son of Beast is as wild and violent as the infamous coaster, and we want to make sure this most unusual of tales is preserved for future generations who simply won't believe how ahead of its time Kings Island was when it pulled out all the stops to shatter world records.

So, did the sequel stand up to the original? That depends who you ask... 

The park

Kings Island opened in 1972 as one of the first generation of true, purpose-built “theme” parks determined to borrow Disneyland’s formula for success: cinematic, themed lands radiating out from a central icon standing at the end of a lavish entry land, as seen in the opening year map. Replace Main Street with International Street, a towering castle with an even-taller Eiffel Tower, and Disney’s cast of cartoon stars with the animated cavalcade of Hanna-Barbera (The Flintstones, the Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, and The Smurfs to name a few) and you’ve got the gist of it.

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

Among its many opening day offerings, the highlight of Kings Island’s line-up was the Racer, a red-white-and-blue wooden coaster wonder. The classic ride is known the world over by thrill ride enthusiasts for its historic role in reigniting what’s often called the Second Golden Age of the Roller Coaster, ending a decades long slump in construction that had lasted since the Great Depression. (It may be just as well known for its starring role in a 1973 episode of The Brady Bunch entitled “Cincinnati Kids,” which was filmed on location at Kings Island and featured the family’s ride on The Racer as its most thrilling scene.)

Nearly 45 years later, The Racer is still around, thrilling guests. But it didn’t take long for the ride – once the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world – to be dwarfed.

Kings Island was determined to stun the roller coaster world again, and just a few years later, they did.

The Beast looms

Kings Island was always intended to be a replacement for Coney Island, a midway-style park dating back to the 1880s located right on the Ohio River in Cincinnati. Like many riverside midway parks, Coney Island was no stranger to flooding. But one particularly devastating flood in 1964 covered the park in 14 feet of water, prompting discussions that would eventually lead to the opening of Kings Island, where Coney’s rides could be safely relocated.

Fittingly, Kings Island was due to become home to a replica of the Shooting Star roller coaster from Coney.

But when designers took a good hard look at the rolling, forested hills they’d acquired in Kings Island’s 1,600 acres, the concept of cloning the Shooting Star was shelved. With practically limitless land and gorgeous terrain, a new idea emerged: to internally design and build a roller coaster through the dense forests east of the park following the natural hills and valleys of the terrain. The result was more than anyone could’ve imagined.

On April 14, 1979, The Beast opened. It was, of course, the tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster in the world, slaloming along the forest floor at 65 miles per hour, roaring through tunnels and darting along hillsides. Famously, the Beast is still isolated among 35 acres of forest, meaning that riders can’t see any of The Beast except the length of track they’re currently on. Fans rave about The Beast at night, when seemingly the only light for miles comes from the top of the ride’s lift hill above the trees. With a ride time of over four minutes, The Beast today is still the longest wooden roller coaster in the world, considered one of the best classic coasters on Earth.

What could tarnish the legacy of a world-renowned and famous roller coaster landmark? How about an offspring with a bad temper?

Elsewhere...

The Beast opened in 1979. Now, let’s flash almost two decades ahead and a state away. In 1997, a small family thrill park near Louisville, Kentucky went up for sale. The park – owned by a man named Ed Hart – was sold to a theme park operator called Premier Parks for $64 million. Premier Parks folded Kentucky Kingdom into its portfolio of parks that included Darien Lake in New York, Elitch Gardens in Colorado, and Ohio’s Geauga Lake.

But Premier Parks wanted to grow. In 1998, they purchased a down-on-its-luck Six Flags Theme Parks Inc. from Time Warner for $1.86 billion. With control of the Six Flags name, Premier renamed itself and its parks, and Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom was born. The new Six Flags was eager to expand its brand and build out its portfolio, and had particularly high hopes for the Kentucky park.

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

Allegedly, Six Flags was poised to supercharge Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom by aggressively expanding to build a Gotham City area, re-branding two of the park’s existing rides into the DC Super Hero brand, building a new river rapids ride, and installing two brand new headlining roller coasters: a B&M floorless coaster with a half-dozen inversions and an Intamin launched impulse coaster with spiraling towers.

In other words, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom was going to be a contender.

A pre-emptive strike

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

Meanwhile, just a few hours north near Cincinnati, Kings Island had changed owners, too. As Six Flags moved toward ambitious plans for Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, Paramount’s Kings Island allegedly caught wind. Now under the control of Viacom and backed by Paramount’s brands and identities, the park simply couldn’t allow a rival just a few hours away to grow into a threat.

In 1999, Paramount’s Kings Island launched a pre-emptive strike against the radical growth of Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom with an aggressive $40 million two-year expansion plan that would give the park an entirely new themed "land." Built around the existing Congo Falls and Top Gun: The Jet Coaster, this new area was meant to resemble a bright, kinetic, fast-paced studio backlot where an action film might be shot. It was called the Paramount Action Zone.

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

The new Paramount Action Zone was stocked with loud, brash, bright rides perfect for the looming 21st century. In time for the land’s 1999 opening, it had added Drop Zone: Stunt Tower (the tallest gyro drop in the world, 315 feet tall with a revolving disc of 40) and FACE/OFF (above, an inverted boomerang coaster with flipped seating requiring that riders look right into the eyes of their friends as they race through three inversions forward, then fall backward through them again), all centered around a studio-style water tower (hosting an action-packed "impromptu" secret agent show) and a restaurant called Stunt Crew Grill, offering food for the on-set "extras" (that's us).

But Drop Zone and FACE/OFF alone would not win Paramount’s Kings Island victory against Six Flags' own plans for the region. If Kings Island were put a stop to Kentucky Kingdom's growth even before it started, it needed to go big... Very big. Perhaps appropriate for Paramount’s movie studio styling, their plan was wildly cinematic: a sequel. 

 
 
 
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Comments

Really good article. Son of Beast was one of my absolute favorites ever. It was a bit rocky, but it didn't throw you around in the seat near as much as the Beast, and I could ride it several times in a day no problem, where the Beast is once only unless you want your back killing you the whole rest of the day and the way home. I absolutely loved how the big hill wasn't an immediate drop, but you dip around and ride this very tall, thin rail of toothpicks before the real drop.

Excellent article! Interestingly enough, Beast was my very first roller coaster (aside from kiddie rides) that I ever rode, and Son of Beast was the first coaster with a loop for me. Let me say I was absolutely terrified, but it was an amazing experience. It might have been rough (that's an understatement, seriously that thing hurt), but man it was like nothing you've ever experienced before. RIP SoB!

I grew up visiting this park in the late 90s/early 2000s. PARAMOUNT'S Kings Island will always hold a special place in my heart, so i was naturally torn when Cedar Fair acquired and subsequently removed themes from rides that meant so much to me as kid. However, I am still able to visit the park. (I cant imagine the anguish of Cleveland/Aurora fans who watched Geauga Lake be completely dispatched from existence. But, the ability to watch Kings Island grow and expand as a child and make memories with my family is a gift that we as guests sometimes take for granted in the competitive realm of modern theme parks. We can bemoan the fall of attractions and rides from our youth such as SOB and Tomb Raider, but these places are special to each of us because of HOW we experienced them as individuals thru the lens of family, youth, growing up, and inevitable change in our lives. These are symbols of time, and snapshots of when life was still so fresh. We are lucky to have and share such experiences with the ones we love. Whether it is Six Flags, Disney, Universal, or Cedar Fair: We should be thankful to ever have such symbols as part of our lives. So i thank all of those involved in these great places to allow me a landscape to create memories that I will cherish forever. And a special thanks to Brian Krosnick who so elegantly researched and provided a way in his writing for us to reflect on these special places in our hearts and memories.

This ride was by far my favorite ride at K.I. I rode it on its opening day and in its last season running. It was rough but I don't think it was anymore rough than its "father". I cried watching it fall and almost bought a momento from its rubble. (who pays that kind of money for a toothpick) I will always remember SOB even when I ride the Banshee which is amazing also! R.I.P. SOB we miss you

I rode SOB with and without the loop. Heard all of the rumors, and heard the stories.

Being as Kings Island was only about an hour south of me, I went quite often.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this ride. The original will always be better, but whomever thought this up should get a hand shake and a smack on the head.

All I can remember is holding on for dear life, damn near pissing myself, almost in tears, and loving every minute of it. Was it worth the bruised ribs? You bet your ass it was. I was a bit younger then, still in middle and high school, so my size was an issue, bareley tall enough to ride, so I got tossed around like a rag doll. Everything was all fine and dandy on the first hill. Such a smooth, and quiet decent...at least until the G force of the (almost) 80mph drop slams your head down as you shoot upward almost vertical, and roll damn near 90° to the right, up and over and into the Rose Bowl, wondering "how did I get here...." it all happens so fast, by the time you get your bearings, your banking and being jolted to the right as the ride flings itself through the Bowl.
At this point you basically started to regret the decision you've made (for the 3rd or 4th time that day).

All said and done, you hurt... but your heart is pumping, and its an almost High feeling. Worth it.

Did I complain and tell myself No?....yes. I hated this ride and loved it at the same time.

I was really actually happy when they announced it would be demolished. It was just a huge accident waiting to happen. More cost effective to just cut their losses than deal with lawsuits.

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