The Rocket Slide
nostalgia and history surrounding a long-gone piece of Carson Park equipment
Sometime in the spacey 60s, sections of a steel rocket arrived in Carson Park from one of the big shot playground vendors at the time. When it was originally assembled, it had two slides – one departing from an upper level and one from a lower, according to then-Superintendent of Parks & Recreation Phil Johnson. It was 25 feet tall.
The “mid-to-late 80s” saw the first step in the rocket slide’s eventual demise, as the lower slide was taken out due to a structural problem. “The Consumer Products Safety Commission was developing guidelines that initially kicked evaluations of playgrounds into gear,” said Johnson of the era. The remaining slide, high and mighty as it was, was clearly doomed: its rails were a thin three inches compared to the now-standard six. “There was no entrance platform for the slide,” added Johnson. “No rail to hold onto. It was rusted out where it was interfaced with the platform … you could wiggle it.” So they closed off the opening with more vertical steel bars, and it stood as a bare rocket (on a spot of grass isolated from the rest of the playground equipment) for another two years, but the community sensed its fate. “I’d get calls periodically saying, ‘don’t take the rocket down!’ ” said Johnson. At the same time, the city was concerned it wasn’t being used for its intended purposes (or age group). “It wasn’t a play structure anymore … just a monument to our own youth.” The safety violations were now numerous: the vertical climber offered no “protection” around its openings, and you could drop down to the ground from the towering top level.
So in 1994 to 1995, when it came time to re-grade and reestablish that site to accommodate events, the old metal monster was humbly retired. “We gave it to Max Phillips – a metal salvage/recycling place,” said Johnson. “Individuals, schools, churches were asking for it, but morally, we couldn’t sell it. If it’s not good enough for the public, why pass it on if it’d pose the same risks?” At the same time, he acknowledges, “Of all the pieces of equipment, the rocket had the most memories associated with it … a lot of the play value went away with the new guidelines.
We loved the rocket. As soon as we got to Carson Park we’d race to the rocket and push and shove to be the first one to the top. I loved the big giant angled climbing slide thing that used to be at Carson Park, too. Except on really hot days that thing burned.” – Genny Felix
“There was one at Riverview, too! I loved climbing up to the top. We’d hoard it and not let any boys or younger girls up past the second level during our fake club meetings.” – Jesse Lyn Petke
“I used to visit Eau Claire as a child and the rocket was one of my clearest memories. I spent the first year of college in Eau Claire trying to locate it, only to find out it was gone ...” – Clara Schmitt
“I loved the rocket. All the warnings from my parents to ‘Stay away from that death trap’ just made me want to play on it that much more. I was devastated when they took it down.” – Danika Brown
“It seemed like the tallest slide in the world, and there were always kids far braver than I pushing past me on the stairs to get to the top. I clung to the metal bars and cried. I remember the paint was flaky and dry.” – Emma O’Brien
“I remember climbing to the top with my best friend while playing tag-like games during YMCA camp. It was the best spot to see everyone else running around, but once they found us, we had to bail down the slide quickly or be trapped at the top.” – John Kaiser
“That rocket was awesome! Remember thinking we could fly to the moon in that thing!” – Katie Meyer
“That rocket was THE reason I went to Carson Park. The day they took it down, part of my childhood died.” – James Kust
“It smelled metallic and the paint was chipping, but it was just so high that it captured my imagination. Its exterior was encircled with red-and-blue vertical metal bars … the top tier was a secret hideout of sorts where the adults couldn’t really supervise, like a ready-made fort.” – Kinzy Janssen
“Parents couldn’t or wouldn’t go up there to get us kids, so they had to wait until we were ready to come down.” – Jennifer ‘Lium’ Williams
“I remember that all the cool kids went up to the third and highest level. Hoisting my chubby kid’s body up the little ladder and through the little hole in the floor was something my self-esteem could barely handle. The first level was for sissy little kids, so in the rocket’s social class system, I was on level two. And I have been ever since.” – Mike Paulus