Luna Park Ghost Train Fire & Closure (1979)


by Bianca Mulet

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Luna Park circa 1964

Most people identify Luna Park as a fun-filled, family-friendly amusement park overlooking the iconic Sydney Harbour. Unmistakable, the park’s famous giant smiling face greets visitors as they enter the park, which was modelled on New York’s own Coney Island. Built in 1935, Luna Park was an immediate and ongoing success, its thrilling rides, bright lights and exuberant atmosphere attracting the likes families and thrill seekers looking for a fun time out. Each night screams of joy and laughter reverberated around the Harbour, indicating the park’s triumph in providing endless entertainment for visitors young and old. However joyous cries were cut short upon one catastrophic event in 1979.

At around 10:15pm on June 9, clouds of thick black smoke began to billow out the doors of the hugely popular Ghost Train, evoking panic among the 35 passengers aboard the ride. Devastating fire soon swept through the tunnel, engulfing the entire building in flames and tragically taking the lives of six children and one adult. While it took only an hour to get the flames under control, poor staff management and low water pressure is said to have led the ride to its eventual crumble to the ground. There is speculation that those who perished left their seats looking for an exit leading some to theorise that they’d have survived had they stayed in their seats, though there are accounts of seats returning on fire.

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Firefighters trying to get the blaze under control.

Word of the tragedy spread quicker than the fire itself, leaving the owners no choice but to close Luna Park’s gates immediately, leaving behind a playground rife with a ghostly shadow of loss and despair. The event is known today as one of Sydney’s most peculiar urban legends as no conclusive evidence has solved the mystery of how and why the fire initially broke out. Investigators drew attention to the neglected recommendations made by North Sydney Council and the fire department to amend the building’s sprinkler systems and escape exits two years earlier.

Inevitably rumours soon began to circulate, the most significant surrounding charismatic crime figure Abe Saffron – a figure of Sydney’s underworld and suspect of seven other blazes – who allegedly instigated the fire as means to take over Luna Park’s lease. In 2007, Saffron’s daughter admitted her father’s involvement in the fire, noting that the notorious criminal had a keen eye on buying Luna Park, yet of course did not intend on killing anyone. However prosecutions were never settled, as there was very little evidence to prove the speculations, and a certain suspected corrupt police official continued to lead investigations towards the “electrical fault” assumption.

The park re-opened five years later under new ownership, but the myth and mystery continued to emanate surrounding the fire. While the re-established fun vibe of Luna Park has since overridden the fading memory of that dreadful day, a chilling ambiance continues to resonate with the spot where the Ghost Train once stood.

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One story surrounds a woman named Jennifer Poidevin, whose husband and two sons tragically perished in the fire. Deciding last minute not to ride the Ghost Train, Poidevin opted randomly for ice cream instead before turning around to find her family had already hopped on board.

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Jennifer’s eldest son who perished with mysterious masked man.

In a sinister twist of events, earlier that day Poidevin took a photo of her eldest son with a strange man adorning a horned bull headdress. Unassuming of his bizarre attire during the entertainment-filled day, the family thought nothing of the figure, who disappeared back into the crowd shortly after. It was later discovered that no one could identify the man in costume, with sceptics drawing creepy aesthetical links to a mythological villain associated with lighting fires and child sacrifice.

The site of Luna Park and its contents were sold or bulldozed soon after, leading to numerous development disputes, opens and closures until its most recent re-opening in 2004. While a plaque has been erected in memory of the Ghost Train Fire victims, the mysterious event continues to induce a haunting spirit over the beloved Luna Park.

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Image credit: Ramshah Shariff

 

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One Comment

  1. Maureen Hall says:

    My dad was one of the fireman there that day, it really affected him. I was very proud he was my dad

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