It took $12 million to transform a 276-acre dairy farm west of Downtown into the Southeast’s first theme park; that Magic Kingdom down in Orlando wouldn’t open for four years. But all the clearing and construction didn’t eradicate the red clay and scrubby pines of the Cobb County surroundings when Six Flags Over Georgia opened for business on June 16, 1967. That rustic flavor added to the verisimilitude of Six Flags Over Georgia’s prime attractions: the Dahlonega Mine Train roller coaster, which hurtled from a thirty-seven-foot peak, and the Tales of the Okefenokee boat ride, which took passengers past slightly creepy scenes based on Joel Chandler Harris fables.
Another prime attraction was the 1,000-seat Krofft’s Circus puppet show, an early foray by the brothers Sid and Marty Krofft, best known as the creators of such groovy TV fare as H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. The Kroffts would go on to open a competing amusement park, the World of Sid and Marty Krofft, in the Omni complex in the 1970s.
On that 1967 opening day, 3,325 people rode the rides at Six Flags, among them a young member of the marketing staff by the name of Spurgeon Richardson. His career at the park rose as steadily as the steep incline on the Great American Scream Machine; when Atlanta magazine covered the park’s twentieth anniversary in the May 1987 issue, Richardson was Six Flags’ VP and general manager.
The man whose mission was marketing the Mind Bender would later go on to tougher challenges helming the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. Asked to compare the two jobs, he said, “At Six Flags, I rather enjoyed giving instructions to the 1,500 teenagers we’d hire each year. At the ACVB, I learned to enjoy taking instruction from 1,500 member businesses.”
Richardson still loves to ride roller coasters, especially wooden ones. “I love that clickety-clack sound of a wooden coaster. My favorite is the Great American Scream Machine. I love riding it, and I love that name. I wish I’d come up with that. That was brilliant marketing.”
This article originally ran in the June 2011 issue.