Granite State of Mind, #129: Benson's Animal Farm, Hudson
New Hampshire kids of a certain vintage will recall the trek out to Benson's Animal Farm with equal parts nostalgic pleasure and a vague sense of disquiet. All the fun of ice cream and rides alongside the contagious depression of caged animals. (An aside - Hudson is one of those towns, like Salem or Derry, that feel light years away from the Seacoast, more Massachusetts than New Hampshire. North Conway feels closer than that 93-3 triangle.)
It was 1926 when owner John Benson opened his New Hampshire doors after running the amusement park down in Lexington, MA. He expanded in the thirties, adding a permanent wild animal circus, lions and tigers and bears (oh, my). His south-of-the-border connections remained intact, and a "Jungle Train" ran from Boston to the new park on Sundays, admission included in the fare. No word on whether Scott Brown rode the train back and forth, confused about where he lived. The park closed during World War II, reopened after, and promptly began a long, steady decline. Benson himself had died in 1943, and the park had been bought by Walter Brown and Raymond Lapham, who would found the Boston Celtics two years later.
There was a brief renaissance in the 1980s, which is the era we remember. Colossus, the quarter-ton silverback gorilla, the largest ever in captivity (who once ran for president in the NH primary. Insert own joke here). Creepy, Storyland-esque fairy tale-themed play areas. An inexplicable big statue of Mighty Mouse. Birds. People kept coming, but the place finally ran out of dough in 1987. It remained closed until 2010, when the town of Hudson reopened the area as a park. I imagine it as an unsettling place, haunted by the shades of animals and broken dreams. And maybe Scott Brown.