A Career of Amusement: Life on the Merry-go-round
Back in the day, most kids wanted to be president when they grew up. Or run away to join the circus. Vic Nolting managed to do both. Sort of.
The 1970 business grad grew up to become president of Coney Island amusement park, making him commander-in-chief of one of the region’s most popular playgrounds as well as one of the softest spots in Cincinnati’s collective heart.
And don’t even think of it as a job, he says. “It’s kind of a calling. Most everybody that works here are not just workers, but keepers of the flame.”
For most Cincinnatians, the flame that has attracted them to Coney for so many generations hasn’t been work but play as they sought the cooling refuge from the summer sun beating down on them in the park’s famous Sunlight Pool. It’s the center of the park’s attractions and the bulk of Nolting’s business.
But Nolting’s typical day doesn’t begin with turning on the pool spigot or making sure chlorine levels are up to spec. “When I arrive, I take a quick tour of the park and see what’s going on, see if all is right with the world. Then it’s back to the office. I kind of bounce back and forth all day long.”
Nolting’s earned his privilege of “managing by wandering around” after bringing Coney back from the brink of extinction. Because of its location along the Ohio River, the park regularly flooded, so its owners, Taft Broadcasting, decided in the early 1970s to all but give up on the park and develop Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. Rides were relocated and shows were shifted. The pool continued to operate, but Coney Island was all but forgotten.
In the mid-1980s, the park was sold and the new owners brought in Nolting to bring it back to life. “I got here in 1983 and we started renovating in 1984. By 1988 we had renovated the entire grounds. And we started to add rides back. Today we have 23 rides.”
The growth has, Nolting admits, made work like a circus sometimes. “In 2000, we had a millennium party and brought in Nick Wallenda who walked a tight rope over the pool before he ever attempted Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. We also had a trapeze act and Benny ‘Boom Boom’ Koske, the human bomb, who blew himself up three times a day.”
Still, even though his job has an amusement value, Nolting borrows a phrase from Joe Nuxhall when considering what’s next: “I’m rounding third and heading for home.” Even to the point of grooming his own replacement to ensure a smooth passing of the flame—although, he admits, it won’t be one-time headliner Santini Demon who set himself on fire, swallowed swords and made the insanity of amusement parks just another day at the office for Nolting.