How Eugene Mulvihill Built The Legend Of 'Class Action Park'

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Who Is Eugene Mulvihill? New Details On Action Park Founder And Subject Of 'Class Action Park' Documentary
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In 1979, a new theme park opened up in Vernon, NJ, on the grounds of the former Great Gorge Ski Resort. At the time it opened, it made history because the "water section" of the park — Waterworld — was one of the first modern American water parks. As a result, thrill-seekers would come from all over the Tri-State area — New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut — to try the rides and get the "theme park" experience first-hand.

But, as is often the problem with ground-breaking ideas, Action Park was not without its faults. The rides were poorly-designed, the staff was under-aged and under-trained, and — because it was a very different time — alcohol was often free-flowing. As a result of this confluence of ignorance, the 1970s-1980s hedonism, and the devil-may-care attitude of most Tri-State area residents of the time, Action Park was often the site of many an injury — and, unfortunately, many a death. Tri-State area residents would jokingly, and morbidly, refer to the theme park as "Traction Park," "Accident Park," and "Class Action Park." And the park would retain these titles in infamy until it finally closed its doors in 1996. 

Today, no remnant of the original Action Park remains: in 1998, resort developer Intrawest purchased the property and most of the surrounding area, redeveloped the land (and, thankfully, the rides), and called it Mountain Creek Water Park. Though the water park was rebranded as "Action Park" for a brief period in the early 2000s, the name was retired for good in 2016, and today, Mountain Creek Water Park welcomes thousands of guests that come in from all over the world (until, y'know, COVID-19).

Those who didn't grow up in the Tri-State area during these halcyon times can revisit the terror that many of us experienced first-hand thanks to HBO Max's new documentary, cheekily named Class Action Park.  At the center of the documentary is the story of Eugene Mulvihill, the developer of the original Action Park. So, we decided to take a look at the true story behind his rise — and ignoble fall.

Who is Eugene Mulvihill, the original founder of Action Park?

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Who is Eugene Mulvihill?

Like many New Jersey stories, Eugene Mulvihill's story is one of typical American "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" grit. Born in the working-class district of West Orange, NJ, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Lehigh University in 1956, with a focus in business administration. He went on to serve his country as a member of the Marines, before founding his own Wall Street firm, and then went on to co-found and develop the Ribi Immunochem Research Company, which specializes in developing cancer vaccines.

How did Eugene Mulvihill get the idea for Action Park?

Mulvihill's idea for Action Park came out of a simple dilemma: how was he going to monetize a ski resort he owned during the summer months? According to his son, Andy, his father envisioned a way for guests to enjoy the slopes without snow. "Gene didn't want to do the same old s---, where you just get strapped into something or it twirls around. He wanted to take the idea of skiing, which is exhilarating because you control the action, and transfer it to an amusement park. There's an inherent risk in that, but that's what makes it fun," he said. Thus, Action Park was born on July 4, 1978. America, y'all!

What did Mulvihill do when problems started arising?

Good intentions aside, the aforementioned poorly-designed rides caused severe injury and, in some cases, death. While many of the numbers today are steeped in legend, the verifiable numbers have determined that six people died between 1978 (when the park opened) and 1996 (when the park closed). But there's still no way of determining exactly how many injuries (whether major or minor) were suffered at the hands of those who attended "Class Action Park." Regardless, when the lawsuits started coming in, Mulvihill believed that the attendees were responsible for their injuries, and came up with a money-laundering scheme to avoid paying out insurance settlements. He founded a fake insurance company, which he called London and World Assurance Inc., and this fake company was at the heart of the money-laundering scheme. Ultimately, in 1994, he faced more than 100 counts of fraud, theft, and embezzlement. He pleaded guilty to more than a few charges — though not all 110 (count'em!) counts — and had to give up control of Action Park, but ultimately regained control shortly before the park closed for good in 1996. 

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What is Eugene Mulvihill's connection to Donald Trump?

According to Seth Porges, who was the director for Class Action Park, Eugene Mulvihill and Donald Trump were friends back in the 1980s. Porges looked at their friendship as a "case study" of sorts because even though Trump thought Action Park was "too nutty" for him (can you imagine?), he and Mulvihill ran all sorts of business schemes in the Tri-State area at the time, and according to Porges, birds of a feather flock together. "It’s hard to look at a character like Gene and not think of somebody like Trump. And I think that’s what makes it interesting. These guys were friends back in this era. One of them decided that he wanted to be Walt Disney, the other decided he wanted to be like Ronald Reagan. It’s like, what would have happened if Donald Trump had opened a theme park? I think that’s really what Action Park is," he said

Eugene Mulvihill died in 2012. 

On October 29, 2012, Eugene Mulvihill died at the age of 78 in New Vernon, NJ. His cause of death was not released. He is survived by his wife, Gail, six children, and sixteen grandchildren.

His son, Andy, wrote a book about Action Park.

Andy Mulvihill, one of the sons of Eugene Mulvihill, took to Reddit to announce that he'd written a book about the so-called "true story" of Action Park (since, apparently, he doesn't feel the documentary did it justice). The book is called Action Park, and he co-wrote it with Jake Rossen of Mental Floss. According to Andy Mulvihill, he worked at the park in his teens, and while he certainly acknowledges that there was a lot of "tragedy" at the park, there was also a lot of joy as well. 

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Class Action Park is streaming on HBO Max now. 

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Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, photographer, and publicist whose work has been featured in People, Teen Vogue, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, and more.