On Saturday, Six Flags celebrated its 45th anniversary with a ceremony, 450 cupcakes for visitors, live entertainment by comedian Jeff Foxworthy and fireworks at nightfall.
Since June 16, 1967, when Six Flags first opened its gates as the Southeast’s first regional theme park, it has entertained millions of guests. Though Six Flags Corp., which has 14 properties in North America, doesn’t give out total revenue or attendance figures for its individual parks, the company had the highest earnings in its history last year with $350 million.
“As you can see, we have a great crowd out here today, so it’s easy to say things are going really well for us,” spokesman Brad Malone said on Saturday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, the park remembered the late W. Cleveland Smith Jr. in a brief memorial service. Smith, who died last September, was operations manager and then general manager of the park when it opened. Family members, including his widow, Sherry Shaw Smith, were in attendance.
According to Cobb Travel & Tourism, the 230-acre park in Austell is the top tourist destination in the county. Each year, Six Flags and its sister park, White Water in Marietta, employ approximately 2,400 seasonal employees.
“The taxes that are generated from people visiting the park and staying in the area are also a huge impact,” Malone said.
However, the economic engine that has helped fuel the county’s growth over nearly five decades was not originally planned to be in Cobb.
The theme park was expected to be built in Fulton County, as Mayor Ivan Allen and other Atlanta officials had announced with great fanfare in the summer of 1965, historian Dr. Thomas Scott wrote in “Cobb County, Georgia and the Origins of the Suburban South.”
According to Scott, Cobb officials, led by Commissioner Ernest Barrett, went to Six Flags’ headquarters in Texas and convinced corporate leaders there that south Cobb was a more ideal location with its cheaper land, existing infrastructure and the new Interstate 20 passing close by.
“The company promised to spend about $7 million dollars in developing the park complex, including motels and restaurants around the site, along with a number of exhibits, rides and trails,” Scott wrote.
Since that time, some local residents have expressed hesitancy about visiting the park, located in what they described in recent Journal website comments as an unsafe community. But Malone said he is unaware of the park being shunned by locals.
“We have a great local base, especially our season pass holders,” he said. “They come from Cobb County and around the area, especially over at White Water.”
Today, Six Flags boast numerous shows, games, eateries and 35 rides. Among the rides are 11 roller coasters, including the Dahlonega Mine Train, introduced when the park opened. Its tracks used to form the outer boundary of the original park, said Malone.
The latest coaster, Dare Devil Dive, is the park’s first “euro fighter” coaster with a top speed of 52 miles per hour and a 10-story vertical lift and first drop. It opened in May 2011.
“That’s not conducive to comedy – people screaming,” said Foxworthy while performing on stage Saturday in front of the Dare Devil Dive, with its screaming occupants whizzing by at intervals. “That’s like performing in an emergency room.”
An Atlanta native, Foxworthy recalled working as a youth at Six Flags, where he got to know a fellow employee who later became his wife. Foxworthy’s Original Grit Chips sponsored the park’s anniversary celebration.
“You’re such a part of this city,” he said of the park.
“We’re both from Atlanta. Both of our jobs are to make people laugh. The only problem is I’m not able to do it all day long and you are, so you’re better at it than I am. I just want to congratulate Six Flags on its 45th anniversary.”