Before the days of Dollywood as we know it, in 1976, Herschend Family Entertainment purchased what was then Goldrush Junction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The Herschends quickly set about recreating their successful Missouri park in the Smokies. Soon, the Pigeon Forge theme park was rebranded as Silver Dollar City and built some of the other park’s most popular elements. This included the indoor roller coaster Blazing Fury which was quite similar to its Missouri counterpart, Fire in the Hole.
Blazing Fury at Dollywood, Fire in the Hole’s sister coaster, opened in June of 1978. Like Fire in the Hole, it was built in-house, not by some fancy roller coaster design team. And much like Blazing Fury, Fire in the Hole is an iconic indoor roller coaster in Silver Dollar City – which is why it is so sad that officials have recently announced that 2023 will be the grand finale for Fire in the Hole.
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Why is Silver Dollar City closing Fire in the Hole?
Silver Dollar City officials have announced that the original Fire in the Hole is boarding its last riders this upcoming season. The press release does not indicate what is ahead, but park leadership says they are keenly aware that the iconic ride holds a place in the record books of attractions of the world.
“More than 25 million guests have been entertained by the Fire in the Hole adventure since the attraction opened a half-century ago,” said Brad Thomas, president of Silver Dollar City Attractions. “Today’s riders include grandparents who remember riding when THEY were kids, and now they share the fun and unique experience with THEIR grandkids!”
Silver Dollar City in Branson will reopen for the season on March 11, 2023. This will mark the beginning of the end for any rider who wishes to ride Fire in the Hole.
The team members at Dollywood’s sister theme park are in the process of planning Fire in the Hole special events, parkwide fun and promotions, culminating at the end of December.
The history of Blazing Fury’s inspiration
To put it simply, Blazing Fury was inspired by Fire in the Hole, which was, in turn, inspired by real-life events in Missouri that likely wouldn’t have made sense in Tennessee.
So, our story begins in post-Civil War Missouri.
It’s a lawless era. Think “Mad Max Fury Road” mixed with “Back to the Future III.”
Into the void stepped outlaws like Frank and Jesse James. Guerrilla warfare, known as Bushwhacking, raged as disputes over land were settled with fighting.
Into this wild west in the Ozarks stepped a man named Nat. N. Kinney, a silver-tongued outsider who swiftly placed his 6-foot-6, 300-lb self on the front line of an effort to curb the anarchy.
Kinney and 12 others formed a vigilante group. The intention was to cut down the thieving and pillaging running rampant.
However, the townspeople christened them Bald Knobbers because they held their “secret” meetings atop a mountain bald to keep a lookout for spies.
What is a Bald Knobber?
The Bald Knobbers were members of the vigilante group. They initially wore a kerchief over their face and eventually graduated to odd-looking full-face hoods with horns and holes cut out for eyes and mouths.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bald Knobbers quickly grew in number, and the group lost sight of its original purpose.
Soon the Bald Knobbers weren’t simply driving out outlaws. They were driving out the competition and serving as a lawless group themselves, giving rise to the loosely knit organization known as the anti-Bald Knobbers.
In 1886, the governor sent in people to calm things down. As a result, a promise was elicited from Kinney to disband, which he did. But things had already gotten out of his control.
So how did these events inspire the roller coaster?
Well, let’s connect a few dots. The Bald Knobbers originally operated in Taney County, Mo. This is home to Branson, the future location of Silver Dollar City.
In addition, a giant cave, now known as Marvel Cave, was a known hideout for the group and is located in the amusement park.
When creating the ride, the Silver Dollar City team used the story of Marmaros, a tiny mining town that had sprung up near the cave.
The town, which in addition to apparently harvesting bat guano, was designed to become a tourist mecca. However, it failed in both mining and attracting tourists – unlike nearby Eureka Springs, whose economy was not based on bat droppings.
When the town of Marmaros was destroyed by fire, many blamed the Bald Knobbers. Honestly, this was not the worst guess. Others blamed a dispute at the tavern and others for outrage created when a Canadian businessman bought the cave.
The ride designers leaned on the sketchy history and made the Bald Knobbers the arsonists in the ride where the town is set ablaze.
The Bald Knobbers are blamed for setting the fire and are periodically stationed throughout the ride.
So why aren’t there Bald Knobbers inside Dollywood’s Blazing Fury?
In Pigeon Forge, you won’t hear the legend of the Bald Knobbers.
In fact, you get no reference to how the fire started at all.
But the similarities between the two rides are uncanny. In Blazing Fury, Molly says she’s about to jump, and Luther tells her he’s got a weak back. In Missouri, you’ll hear a slightly different line in the parallel universe:
“You come back in here and put on your pants!”
“I ain’t got no pants no more! The dang Bald Knobbers stole ’em!”
At Blazing Fury, it’s likely that park officials believed the Bald Knobber history was too obscure for riders in East Tennessee. We would likely only be confused by the references to a clan of masked vigilantes.
In general, it’s a bad idea to launch a theme park ride that needs a 700-word pamphlet of exposition to explain what’s going on.
Instead, we have a regular town set ablaze. The ride features firefighters coming to the aid of desperate townspeople, including a man in an unfortunate position in an outhouse and a woman desperately in need of a Tinder account.
To learn more about Silver Dollar City, visit them online.
Did you know about the pants-stealin’ Bald Knobbers? Have you been able to ride the Fire in the Hole ride in Silver Dollar City? Let us know in the comments!