Mary Foster (as Personal Representative of the Estate of Tom Foster) v. Frankie Taylor, Individually and d/b/a Jumbo Amusement Park
For decades, millions of vacationers have flocked to an out-of-the-way place on the coast of South Carolina known as Myrtle Beach, popularly known as the “Grand Strand.” Like other places along the winding coast of the Atlantic Ocean, Myrtle Beach has its stories. Stories of pirates, sunken ships, drowned merchants, and others including ill-fated women and children haunting the beach lend an air of mystery that simultaneously brings both fear and attraction.
During the post-World War II period of prosperity, Myrtle Beach was beginning to grow. Civic leaders realized that after the war, people would have more time and money for vacationing, so it seemed their best opportunity would come from developing the area as a tourist town.
Of course, a tourist town would be nothing without attractions for children and young people. One of the first businesses to take advantage of the vacation potential on the Grand Strand was the amusement park opened by Ronnie Taylor. His “Jumbo Amusement Park” was state of the art when it opened in 1946. The crowning glory of the park was The Flying Tiger. It was the largest wooden roller coaster in the country at the time, towering to 90 feet at the top of the tallest drop.
Thousands of people came - many to ride this fabled roller coaster. Among these visitors was a young couple, Drew and Ashley Cooper. Drew and Ashley were married in October 1976 and went to Myrtle Beach for their honeymoon. While they were at Myrtle Beach, they visited the Jumbo Amusement Park. Although scared of roller coasters, Ashley gave into cajoling and braved The Flying Tiger. Something went horribly wrong during the ride and Ashley was thrown from the roller coaster. Ashley plummeted to the ground and died.
Drew never left Myrtle Beach after Ashley’s death. In the weeks and months that followed, Drew was unable to deal with the sorrow of returning to the place they wanted to make their home, so Drew stayed in Myrtle Beach. October 31, 1977, the anniversary of Ashley’s death, was a solemn day. Drew spent the day wandering aimlessly up and down the golden beach. Late that night, however, Drew felt an urge to visit the park even though it was closed. Drew arrived at the spot where Ashley had fallen. In what seemed like a surreal moment, Drew looked up at the roller coaster. At the top of the roller coaster, Drew saw Ashley. Drew heard Ashley say, “I love you. Stay with me always.” And then Ashley was gone. Trying to make sense of the moment, Drew climbed to the spot where Ashley appeared, but there was no one there.
Drew took Ashley’s words to heart. The following day, Drew applied for a job at the Jumbo Amusement Park. Drew worked at the park for many years first in the snack shop and eventually as a security guard. Legends and stories often have lives of their own. And this one continued to grow because Drew never missed the opportunity to tell locals and visitors alike of the visions of Ashley. At midnight every Halloween, Drew would wait for Ashley at that same place at the park.
As years passed, generations came and went. The quiet, gentle beach Drew had come to know had turned into a fast-paced tourist attraction. As new people and attractions moved into the beach, things began to change. Ronnie Taylor owned the park for fifty-five years until his death in 2001. In the mid¬1990s as Ronnie’s health deteriorated, he turned the park management over to his only child, Frankie Taylor. Frankie tried various ways to stir interest in the park, but with little success. The public’s tastes moved away from the ocean front toward Broadway at the Beach. Faced with stiff competition and falling revenues, Frankie decided that the 2007 tourist season would be the park’s last. Jumbo Amusement Park closed on October 31, 2007.
A demolition crew was contracted to dismantle the park so that the oceanfront land could be developed. The dismantling of the park was scheduled to take about twelve months as Frankie tried to sell as much of the equipment as possible to other businesses. The Flying Tiger would be the last of the rides to be dismantled.
Sometime around midnight October 31, 2008, a teenager named Tom Foster died. His mother is now suing Jumbo Amusement Park, claiming that Tom’s death resulted from a fall from The Flying Tiger roller coaster. Ms. Foster alleges that Jumbo Amusement Park owner, Frankie Taylor, knew of the practice of local high school students sneaking into the park to walk the roller coaster in an attempt to see “Ashley’s Ghost” and had failed to adequately secure the facility.