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An old mill is a type of amusement park ride where unaccompanied boats float on guideways and traverse through dark tunnels. These themed dark rides originated in the late 19th century and are known by a variety of names, including tunnel of love and river cave. While generally considered a gentle ride, a variation of an old mill featuring a climactic splashdown ending, similar to the modern-day log flume, is known as a mill chute.
Tunnel of love
In early incarnations of old mill attractions, riders boarded two-passenger boats that floated along guided tracks through dark passages. Many were either a relaxing, romantic rides encouraging cuddling, or they were themed as haunted attractions where couples would cling to one another. The darkness provided a degree of privacy, and the frightening scenes offered a socially acceptable excuse for physical contact during an era when public affection – holding hands, hugging, and kissing – was considered inappropriate.
The appeal of such rides wore off as socially-accepted norms over public affection became less conservative and strict, including a reduced stigma for unmarried couples to engage in physical contact. Many were either rethemed as children's attractions or torn down completely.
A "mill chute" is a variation of the old mill, featuring endings with steep drops that often splashed or soaked riders. The primary difference between an old mill and a mill chute is the steepness of the drop at the end, hence the name "chute", which is milder in old mills or non-existent. Both types can feature the same-styled grottos and caverns. While old mills began rising in popularity during the late 19th century, the mill chute variation did not become prominent until the 1920s. The mill chute is considered the predecessor to the modern-day log flume ride.
The river cave variation emphasizes decorated caves and tunnels that feature different themed scenes of lighting, sounds, props, animatronics, or other visual effects. Boats on these rides would drift along on a gentle current, commonly generated by a paddle wheel. This type of amusement ride became popular at amusement parks across the UK and the US in the mid-20th century. The concept of the river cave is also very similar to those of the early scenic railways, which attempt to be both educational and entertaining.
Once a popular feature of many amusement parks around the world, river caves have become increasingly rare and can only be found in a few locations. Despite their popularity in the mid-20th century, the rise of more modern thrill rides in the latter half of the 20th century led to their eventual demise. Declining popularity resulted in the dismantling and destruction of aging designs with mechanical wear.
|Old Mill Ride||Sea Lion Park, Coney Island||1895||1902||Paul Boyton||[a]|
|Old Mill / Hard Headed Harold's Horrendously Humorous Haunted Hideaway / Garfield's Nightmare||Kennywood Park||1901||[b]|
|Old Mill||Rocky Glen Park||1904||Circa 1913||Frederick Ingersoll|
|River Caves||Blackpool Pleasure Beach||1905|
|Shoot The Chutes||Rocky Glen Park||1906||Circa 1913||Frederick Ingersoll|
|The Red Mill||Luna Park, Coney Island||1907||1944||[c]|
|River Caves||Pleasureland Southport||1908||2004||Helters Ltd||[d]|
|Ye Old Mill||Minnesota State Fair||1915||[e]|
|Ye Old Mill||Kansas State Fair||1915|
|Old Mill (Shooting the Rapids)||Seabreeze Amusement Park||1920||Circa 1940||John A. Miller|
|Ye Old Mill||Iowa State Fair||1921||[g]|
|River Cave||Dreamland Margate||1924||1984|
|Tokio Canal||Rocky Glen Park||1924||1950||John A. Miller||[h]|
|Boat Chute||Lake Winnepesaukah||1927||Carl O. Dixon||[i]|
|Journey to the Center of the Earth||Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom||1927||1992||[j]|
|Mill Chute / Lost River||Hersheypark||1929||1972||Philadelphia Toboggan Company||[k]|
|Old Mill||Rye Playland||1929||[l]|
|It's a Small World||Disneyland||1966||Walt Disney Imagineering||[m]|
|Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros/El Rio del Tiempo||Epcot||1982||Walt Disney Imagineering||[n]|
|Ye Olde Mill||Olentangy Park||1904 (original) 1918 (rebuilt)||1911 / 1937||Aquarama Company (original)||[o]|
- Table notes
- The park was closed in 1902 and later reopened as Luna Park, with renamed and rethemed attractions.
- Known as the world's oldest operating old mill attraction, the ride has been renamed and rethemed several times, to "Around-the-World" in 1954, "Hard-Headed Harrold's Horrendously Humorous Haunted Hideaway" in 1974, and "Garfield's Nightmare" in 2004.
- Redesigned in 1913
- Originally located at the first Pleasure park in Southport, it was moved to Pleasureland in 1922.
- Opened by John Keenan in 1915, Ye Old Mill is the fair's oldest attraction. The fair purchased the attraction for $80,000 from the Keenan family in 2018.
- Remodeled in 1987
- Restored in 1996
- Was a part of Nallin-Jennings half of Park in Moosic, Pennsylvania. Sometimes spelled as "Tokyo"; Name changed to "Glen Canal" some time after World War II; Was built underneath the Pippin Coaster (1924-1950). The ride was destroyed May 24 1950 after a massive fire also took the Pippin, the Fun House, and Ben Sterling’s Penny Arcade (who owned the other half of the park).
- Oldest Mill Chute ride in the US 
- Themed "Journey to the Center of the Earth" in 1960 by dark ride designer Bill Tracy, the ride featured illuminated scenes of trolls, giant spiders, snakes, and miners.
- Originally designed by renowned coaster designer Herbert Schmeck, the ride was rethemed in 1964 to the "Lost River" by Bill Tracy. The attraction was destroyed in 1972's Hurricane Agnes.
- Remodeled by Sally Corporation in 1989
- Originally premiered at the 1964 New York World's Fair before being relocated to Disneyland. Other similar installations opened later at other Disney Parks in 1971, 1983, 1992, and 2008.
- Only one with indoor boarding
- Originally was going to be called "Aquarama," but changed to Ye Olde Mill. Destroyed by a fire in July 1911 and rebuilt in a more northern part of the park in 1918 and operated until the park was sold after its 1937 season.
In popular culture
In the 1928 film The Crowd, a tunnel of love is featured in which the sides are voyeuristically pulled down at a place where couples are likely to be kissing. The 1951 Alfred Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train features a tunnel of love ride that becomes the scene of a murder.
The tunnel of love was a favorite source of amusing scenes in Hanna-Barbera television series such as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo, among others, often in a chase sequence gag in which rivals or combatants are shown entering the ride, then exiting in a romantic embrace. The tunnel of love has also appeared in Disney cartoons, in which a jealous Donald Duck storms the tunnel by foot and ruins the ride for a rival suitor and Daisy Duck.
In 1980, Dire Straits released a single entitled "Tunnel of Love" from their album Making Movies. In 1983, Fun Boy Three released the song "The Tunnel of Love" as part of their album Waiting. Bruce Springsteen recorded an album called Tunnel of Love in 1987 and a song of the same name.
A 1990 episode of the TV series 21 Jump Street was called "Tunnel of Love".
A tunnel of love is seen in a 1996 episode of Hey Arnold! called Operation Ruthless. A tunnel of love is also seen in a 2008 episode of The Simpsons called "Love, Springfieldian Style". A tunnel of love is seen in a 2010 episode of the show American Dad! called "May the Best Stan Win" and a tunnel of love is seen in a 2011 episode of the show SpongeBob SquarePants called "Tunnel of Glove".
In the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, an alternative future story published in 1986 that features the Batman supervillain Joker fighting with Batman in a tunnel of love and manages, after putting the superhero into a fit of rage, to frame Batman for murder of the Joker.
The video game Left 4 Dead 2's level Dark Carnival features a Tunnel of Love at the fictional Whispering Oaks Amusement Park. A tunnel of love is a location in the browser game Poptropica's quest titled Monster Carnival, available online from 2014 to 2020, and currently available via Steam.
- Hoffman, Laura J. (2014). Coney Island. Arcadia Publishing. p. 46. ISBN 9781439645611.
- Magan, Christopher (September 1, 2012). "State Fair's Ye Old Mill: As timeless as a first kiss". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved July 15, 2015.
- "Ye Old Mill". Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation. 10 February 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
- "Operating Classic Amusement Park Rides".
- Smith, Ellis (October 25, 2012). "Lake Winnepesaukah to invest millions in 5-acre attraction". Chattanooga Times Free Press. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
- Spoto, Donald (1983). The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-31462-X. p. 346
- "Tunnel Of Love: brucespringsteen.net". Bruce Springsteen. Archived from the original on 2010-06-11. Retrieved 2010-05-18.