Ned Johnstone's Chronicle On Growing Up With The Ghost Ship
    “Oh, look at the monster!” my mom said to me. We were walking across a bridge that arced over Kennywood’s lagoon. My eyes got a little wider and I squeezed her hand a little harder as I peered up at what looked to me like a huge spider crab with a skeletal human face silhouetted against the purple evening sky, guarding a ship wrecked on some very wicked looking rocks.

     As I watched, its head tilted back and forth almost inquisitively, as if it were trying to figure out what I was. Whether I might be worth eating. I had turned five years old a few months before that early summer evening and I don’t remember what I thought of Kennywood in general at the time, other than the fact that it was fun to watch the bright lights and the grownups spinning, laughing and screaming on all the colorful rides that seemed to me so big and scary. Also that I was scared of the ponies, one of which had made me cry because it seemed to me that he kept turning his head to look at me as I clung so desperately to the saddle horn. Four feet would be such a long fall!
      Over the next several years as I turned six, then seven, I inevitably got braver and ventured closer to what I could now read was the “Ghost Ship”. Of course I made sure my mom or dad was with me when I did. I wasn’t that brave! Now I could look under the overhanging roof. I could watch the little wheeled boats with the two-seater benches in them buzz along their track. In a set of doors that opened with a “crash!” to the left and out again way down to the right. I could look up and see the ancient, rotting fish nets hanging like filthy spider webs from the ceiling. Hanging amongst them were little grinning white human skulls. Toward the back of this portico area was what looked like a very old seawall made of moss-covered stone pilings. It extended most of the building’s length, with small cave-like recesses here and there. Beyond this, the open sea with rock jetties extending out away. This was actually a very detailed painting, rendered in various shades of stormy dismal gray that covered most of the building’s façade. You could see what looked like the broken masts of ships wrecked long ago on these outcroppings.
      On a raised platform beyond the weather-worn sea wall were two deep, dark caves. My mom pointed toward the one on the left--“See the old fashioned ghost?” That phrase would stay with me through the years, so simple and descriptive it was of what I was watching emerge from the cave on the left: A sheeted and definitely “old fashioned” ghost, gaunt and skeletal and blackened with age wheeled out of the cave in a simple plank boat. His bony fingers clutched the sides of his craft and his empty eye sockets gazed out past me--past us all--into eternity. He navigated to his left and disappeared into the other cave. A Flying Dutchman, he and his boat both rotted to the same color by the centuries, condemned to circle forever.
“Will they see him inside?” I wondered. “Probably something like him,” my mom said ominously. Well, not me! No sir! Not tonight! But I did try hard to see into the mystery as I stood just outside the railing and peered as intently as I could up the tunnel the little boats buzzed into before hitting the crash doors. Not easy. Two sets of doors it seemed. The first almost closed by the time the boat reached the second. But maybe…maybe…something? Something glowing with unearthly greenish light?
     Late one evening when I was maybe seven and it was almost time to go home my dad told me to pick one last ride. I was riding quite a few of the grownup rides now, and I was very brave. Even the ponies didn’t scare me anymore. I looked right back at them!
     “Can you take me…on the Ghost Ship?” There! I’d finally said it!
     “Oh, not tonight okay? It’s all dark and stuff jumps out at you where you don’t expect it. Another time, alright?”
     “Okay.” Safe. But oh, the next year… My end of year third grade class Kennywood picnic. My cousins came to join us at the park around lunch time. My cousin Cindy came running toward me. I was big and brave at eight. She was bigger and braver still at thirteen. She’d never dared the Ghost Ship either. Not yet. First thing:
     “Will you go on the Ghost Ship with me?” “Ummm…I…” But I really had no choice, did I? Any and all delaying tactics were only temporary. I didn’t eat much at lunch.