PittGirl's Last Laugh: The New, Old-School, Noah's Ark

In 2016, our long nightmare is over. Kennywood is bringing back the whale and his squishy tongue.

The squishy tongue.

The shaking floor.

The spinning room.

If we were playing $100,000 Yinzer Pyramid, this is the part where any good Burgher worth his or her salad fries would scream, “THINGS IN NOAH’S ARK AT KENNYWOOD!”
Not to bore you with the complete history, but a long long time ago, a guy named Noah built an ark.

Fast forward to 1936, when Noah’s Ark was erected in Kennywood. The ride was completed a bit late because on St. Patrick’s Day in 1936, Pittsburgh flooded up to its brim.
A flood … delayed … the completion … of Noah’s Ark.

Fast forward to the late 1960s, when Kennywood renovated the attraction to keep things fresh — which called for “a structure resembling the head … of a huge whale.” A blue whale became the entrance to the ark, swallowing yinzer Jonahs whole. And the whale’s tongue became your favorite thing about it.

Pink. Squishy. So dirty. But squishy. If you close your eyes right now, you can easily recall how it felt to step from the cement onto the comforting squishiness of the tongue.
(Do you think I can get “squishy tongue” into this column 15 more times? You don’t? Well then, challenge accepted.)

While you may have thought the squishy tongue was rarely replaced — considering the state of ew! it was in each time you stepped your Hills-purchased Keds on it — you would be wrong. According to Nick Paradise, the best-named amusement park spokesperson ever, Kennywood actually replaced the squishy tongue several times a year.

Burghers loved the squishy tongue! “What do you love about Noah’s Ark,” you could ask kids and adults, and they’d cry, “The squishy tongue!” Nostalgia soon attached itself to the squishy tongue.

So Kennywood said, “People sure love that whale and its squishy tongue. TOO BAD!” They took out the whale and cut out his squishy tongue and replaced it with an elevator.

photo via flickr creative commons


An elevator. In an ark.

This was 1996. The year of the epic blizzard … that brought on flooding … flooding that interrupting the work on the ark.

Fast forward again. Gone was the old-timey feel of Noah’s Ark and Burghers were NOT HAPPY. We suffered the absence of the whale and the inexplicable presence of the elevator for 20 long years.

Now, in 2016, our long nightmare is over. They are bringing back the whale and his squishy tongue. I was given a tour of the renovations, and I can tell you they completely gutted the lower level. They went back to the beginning.

Genesis, so to speak.

Fast forward one more time. I was introduced to the man charged with rebuilding the whale. He was grizzled. Unapologetically smoking a cigarette. A sailor beanie on his head. Gray scruff on his face. Sun-toughened skin. He looked like a man who sailed a ship, or sunk a ship, or needed to see a man about a ship. He showed me the pictures of the first whale and said he was doing his best to stay true to it, save for raising the tail (yes, it had a tail hidden by shrubbery) to allow for a fun photo op and adding a water-squirting blowhole.

I walked into the mouth of the new whale. On my visit, the jury was still out on the best materials for the squishy tongue, so my feet were on chicken wire offering a fraction of the shock absorption of the squishy tongue of my youth. They showed me where the hippos would return. They spoke in a hushed whisper of a finale that would “bring back memories.”

Near the end of the tour, Nick Paradise mentioned Pittsburgh’s dislike for the post-1996 ark. I asked, “Are you from here originally?”


“So you know.”

Nick nodded meaningfully. He knows. Sure, Pittsburgh can be resistant to change, but mostly Pittsburgh simply places a great importance on its past. We cherish it. We never let it fade. You can build a whole new ride, but you cannot overhaul a beloved one and expect us to act as if an ark would ever have an elevator — and NOT have a squishy tongue.

​Kennywood learned its lesson, and I can’t wait to introduce my kids to the squishy tongue.

Squishy tongue. Squishy tongue. Squishy tongue.

That’s 15. Challenge met.  


Categories: From the Magazine, Hot Reads, PittGirl