Armed with a camera and a sense of adventure, YouTuber RnK arrives at the gates of SeaWorld Ohio. For 30 years, the park was one of the region’s top attractions. Many locals still hold it dear. But the intrepid explorer is about to reveal what’s now hidden behind these walls. And it appears the park has succumbed to a rather sad fate.
It wasn’t always like this. Once, SeaWorld Ohio drew millions of visitors to this corner of the American Midwest.
Even after the park closed its doors, the site was used by other franchises. But in 2016 the shutters were pulled down for the final time.
Empty and abandoned
In the years since, the site has sat empty and abandoned, its exhibits and attractions gradually reclaimed by nature. Access is restricted, and most would-be explorers are usually chased off by security guards.
RnK isn’t deterred, though. And thanks to him, we can now see the crumbling shell of this forgotten park.
SeaWorld San Diego
Of course, SeaWorld Ohio was not the first of the marine parks to be built in the U.S. Back in 1964, the original location in San Diego, California, opened to much fanfare.
And two years later, the attraction caught the eye of Earl Gascoigne. He was the man in charge of the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.
Originally, Gascoigne had hoped to partner with SeaWorld to open a marine park close to Cedar Point. And while at first he failed to persuade George Millay, the founder of the iconic attraction, to get on board, he eventually found success.
A couple of years on, the SeaWorld brand looked to expand into Ohio, and the two men resurrected their stalled business relationship.
Back then, Gascoigne was managing Geauga Lake — an amusement park in Aurora that had been open since the 1880s. That historic attraction desperately needed a boost in visitor numbers.
And the new SeaWorld — to be built on a nearby plot of land — was just what the area and Gascoigne needed.
Later known as SeaWorld Cleveland because of its closeness to the city, this new attraction seemed destined for success. After all, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the region was home to some of the country’s wealthiest blue-collar workers.
And where better to build a park aimed at families with disposable income to burn?
So what happened to Gascoigne and Millay’s dream? And how did the ambitious SeaWorld Ohio end up as it is today — a haunting and abandoned shell?
Well, at first there seemed to be no indication that the park would meet a grim and depressing fate. When it opened on May 29, 1970, more than 5,500 visitors poured through the gates on the first day.
Exotic sea creatures
The result of almost two years of planning and a budget of $5.5 million, the park was truly a spectacle to behold.
Its landscaped grounds — covering 25 acres — were home to dolphins, walruses, and penguins as well as one of the chain’s iconic orcas.
It was a recipe for success. The park apparently exceeded expectations, welcoming more than a million visitors over the course of its first season.
And as the years passed, the attraction continued to grow, eventually expanding to more than 230 acres by the turn of the millennium.
A tragic accident
But the good years were still marred by tragedy and disaster. In 1996 a water-skiing show descended into chaos when a motorboat driver lost control and crashed into a crowd of spectators.
In the ensuing carnage, 22 people were injured — though thankfully no one was killed.
Then in 2001 SeaWorld Cleveland got snapped up by Six Flags. The amusement park franchise had already acquired the neighboring Geauga Lake.
Previously, the two attractions’ growth potential had been restricted because they were so near each other. Now, as they were both under the same ownership, it seemed the sky was the limit.
A new beginning
The two parks were combined as Six Flags World of Adventure, and they covered a staggering 750 acres in total. The original SeaWorld site became a section known as Wild Life, while Wild Rides had many of Geauga Lake’s original attractions.
A new waterpark dubbed Wild Slides was also opened on the site.
But the transition from SeaWorld to Six Flags hadn’t been completely smooth. The marine animals at the original park were not part of the deal.
Instead, the resident whales and dolphins were shipped off to other SeaWorld locations across the U.S.
And Six Flags sourced its own marine creatures, including a pod of three dolphins trained to perform a live show. The park also acquired its own killer whale, Shouka, from a facility in France.
A number of new rides and exhibits were added, too.
A staggering 2.7 million visitors passed through the gates in 2001. But even these impressive numbers were lower than the attendance figures its ambitious owners had targeted.
In 2004 Six Flags gave up on the Ohio attraction, selling the site to local operators Cedar Fair instead.
In hindsight, this spelled the beginning of the end. Reopened without its marine exhibits, much of the former SeaWorld site was closed off to the public when the attraction was relaunched as Geauga Lake in 2004.
The following year, a section of it was redeveloped as Wildwater Kingdom — a 17-acre water park.
Previously, the site’s tanks and pools had been strictly for animals — but now slides and wave machines were installed to entertain human guests.
According to reports, there were even plans to add a swim-up bar so patrons could order refreshments without having to get out of the water.
But the water park was not enough of a draw to make up for the loss of SeaWorld’s animal attractions. Throughout 2004, just 700,000 people visited the two parks.
And in 2007 the Geauga Lake section was closed down, leaving just Wildwater Kingdom as a standalone concern.
Closed for good
For almost ten years, Wildwater Kingdom remained open, attracting a crowd of dedicated fans. Then, eventually, Cedar Fair called it quits, In September 2016 the park closed for good, writing the final chapter in the story of SeaWorld Ohio.
Not long after, some of the facilities were partially demolished.
SeaWorld Ohio has not completely disappeared, though.
And as the site has continued to crumble and degrade, it has begun to attract a new breed of tourist: urban explorers intent on documenting abandoned locations in various states of decay.
RnK All Day
One of these explorers is RnK — the man behind the YouTube channel RnK All Day. The keen adventurer made a name for himself by sharing footage of abandoned locations across the U.S.
And in 2018 he decided to pay a visit to the former SeaWorld Ohio.
This wasn’t RnK’s first visit to the SeaWorld Ohio site. He says in a clip uploaded in September 2018, “It’s been on my list for a little while now.
I’ve actually been kind of inside those gates and got chased away. I’ve kind of been on that street and got chased away another time.”
An Ohio road trip
It seems the location is guarded by security staff keen on keeping explorers from the doors. But that hasn’t stopped RnK from returning for another attempt.
According to the video, the YouTuber was enjoying a road trip through the area when he decided to have a final go at accessing the former SeaWorld site.
And this time, RnK can roam apparently undisturbed. Entering the park through a row of gaudy buildings painted in turquoise and purple, he notices signs that things have been stirring behind the scenes.
He says in the video, “Last time I was here, all these windows in the ticket booths were all broken — from, I guess, all the kids coming here.”
RnK’s footage shows, however, that the glass windows have been replaced. According to the YouTuber, there was a recent attempt to reopen the park, which may explain why the ticket booths have been repaired.
But as he ventures further beyond the walls, it becomes clear that any refurbishment plans must have been short-lived.
Time stood still
Wandering down a wide, empty walkway, RnK finds himself in a sinister world where time appears to be standing still. Weeds grow through cracks in the concrete, while broken fences ring the edges of dried-up habitats and pools.
These enclosures once held more than 3 feet of water — but now barely a drop remains.
Dirt and detritus
Exploring the park, RnK discovers abandoned exhibits that must once have drawn huge, delighted crowds. There are rocks and rivers where penguins and seals used to play.
Now, the concrete channels are clogged with weeds, and their appealing inhabitants have long since been replaced by the dirt and detritus of an abandoned and decaying site.
A shadow of its former self
In the video, RnK attempts to recreate the excitement of the past as he walks through the shell of the former park. “You can only imagine all the work that they had done here, all the big pools that they had to put in for the whales that they had,” he says.
“They had whale shows, dolphin shows, seal shows — all those kinds of things that you would see in a normal SeaWorld.”
RnK also calls into question SeaWorld’s morals, suggesting ethical concerns may have played a role in the park’s downfall. He says, “It’s a whole animal abuse thing and all that stuff, and I don’t really like SeaWorld in my opinion."
"I like the fact that nature can stay out in nature, and it’s not disturbed.”
Tragedy at SeaWorld Orlando
“The fact of the matter is that killer whales don’t kill people unless they’re in captivity,” RnK continues, perhaps calling to mind the infamous incident at SeaWorld Orlando. In 2010 trainer Dawn Brancheau died there when a performance with an orca went drastically wrong.
Many believe that this accident — along with other animal-rights concerns — contributed to the downfall of America’s marine parks, though the SeaWorld franchise seems to have since turned the corner.
A former employee
Historically, however, few questioned the ethics behind parks such as SeaWorld Ohio, and the popular attractions were big within their communities. While filming, RnK encounters a woman exploring the lake on a kayak.
When he quizzes her, she reveals that she had once been an employee at the site.
Now, the woman returns to watch as nature reclaims her former workplace. She says, “To me, it’s not really ruining. It’s just rebirthing.”
Rogue greenery is fighting to overtake and consume the concrete structures at every turn.
Graffiti and rubble
In some places, RnK stumbles across relics from the park’s later incarnation as Wildwater Kingdom. But these broken slides and empty pools are merely shadows of their former selves.
Elsewhere, scrawled graffiti and nondescript piles of rubble add to the derelict and haunting atmosphere.
Yet RnK spots relics that hint at the attraction’s lively past. In one spot, a long string of Six Flags coupons lies gathering dust on the floor.
In another, dead leaves pile up in front of the counters of a long-abandoned food court. And throughout it all, peeling paint and overgrown weeds contribute to the feeling of decay.
The Japanese Village
One location isn’t quite as decrepit as the rest of the park, though. Opened back in 1970, the Japanese Village was originally the location for a unique interactive show.
Female divers known as Amas would demonstrate their skills in front of an audience, harvesting oysters from a large saltwater tank.
Afterward, it’s said, pearls from the oysters would be used to make jewelry available to buy within the park. More than 50 years later, the precious gems have long since disappeared.
But the pavilion that once hosted the impressive show still stands — and it’s in remarkable condition compared to the rest of the facility.
"Nature's just taking it back"
Moving on, RnK also encounters an abandoned penguin enclosure, complete with the ladder once used by keepers to access the pens. And a lake covered in lily pads and an overgrown section of walkway continue the theme of greenery reclaiming urban space.
“Just like the lady in the kayak said. Nature’s just taking it back,” the YouTuber remarks.
Then, towards the end of the video, RnK stumbles upon yet another abandoned enclosure — this one made up of towering fake rocks. He ponders, “I wonder what animals they had in here. It’s like a guessing game all around this place. What was this used for?”
Mostly, these questions have remained unanswered — although some commenters have filled in the gaps with their own memories of SeaWorld Ohio.
RnK’s visit comes to an abrupt end. As what he believes is a guard dog approaches fast, he exits the complex quickly.
But he still has time to conclude his video. And he has a poignant way of summing his experience up. “This place was absolutely ripped to shreds,” he says, “but it has some great history behind it.”
An eerie find
Perhaps RnK’s next stop could be the Wildlife Wonderland Giant Earthworm Museum in Melbourne, Australia? In 2012 that animal park closed down forever.
And while nearly all of the attraction’s inhabitants were ultimately recovered and rehoused, a single eerie relic was left behind. Six years later, a YouTuber discovered that last vestige of the park for himself. But what exactly did the adventurer unearth?
Well, Wildlife Wonderland – which is situated near Westernport Bay – was originally opened in 1985 by a real estate professional named John Matthews. Along with its giant worm display, the park hosted areas for koalas and wombats, a café, and a restaurant.
And the exhibits were popular. In fact, around 350,000 visitors flocked to the tourist attraction annually.
After the park became a success, though, Matthews sought to sell it on. And that’s exactly what he did, handing Wildlife Wonderland over to a group of Chinese investors at the turn of the millennium.
The facility would also go on to change owners once again before being shuttered altogether.
Closed for good
Ultimately, Australia’s Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) sounded the death knell for Wildlife Wonderland. According to the DSE, you see, the owners had evicted the park’s operator for attempting to run it without the necessary license.
And as a consequence, Wildlife Wonderland was forced to close for good in February 2012.
It’s said, though, that the DSE gave the operator plenty of opportunity to get the required license. And in 2012 department employee Ryan Incoll spoke to Australia’s ABC News about the matter, saying, “There were also a number of visits of our wildlife officers to the park to talk to the operator [and] to assist with getting that license."
"But he wasn’t in the place and didn’t obtain a license.”
Allegations Of Animal Abuse
In addition to those administrative issues, Wildlife Wonderland was also plagued in its later years by allegations of staff mistreating animals. At the time of the park’s closure, then, the DSE was apparently investigating these reports.
The 130 animals living in the facility, meanwhile, were transferred with the help of the RSPCA to Healesville Sanctuary – a zoo in rural Victoria that specializes in native wildlife.
Danger, keep out
Today, the entire complex lies abandoned, although it hasn’t been totally devoid of visitors in the years since it shut down. Haunting images of the decaying park have frequently circulated online, in fact.
And there are clear signs of squatters having set up in the bones of what was Wildlife Wonderland, too.
Exploring a ghost town
Then, in 2018 urban explorer Luke McPherson ventured into the park, where he filmed his journey through the abandoned rooms and exhibits. And in the nearly 29-minute video, it’s clear to see just how decrepit the one-time tourist attraction has become.
Dirt and dust have settled on almost every inch of the complex, in fact, with much having since fallen into disrepair.
Reclaimed by nature
Even the entrance to the facility has become unkempt, with outdoor ponds resembling something closer to swamps. And in the clip, McPherson approaches one of the buildings on the property only to be greeted by the sight of a dilapidated porch.
There, a sign points to the long-defunct wombat habitat, while debris litters decking that is surrounded by damaged fencing.
Covered in graffiti
McPherson then continues into the first room, which – according to a lopsided notice – was once a nursery for young orphaned wombats. But while a fur-like material continues to line the ceiling, the rocky walls are now covered in graffiti and lazy scrawls.
And while it’s altogether a sorry sight, it’s still easy to imagine the area having once been a healthy home for the animals.
Then, as McPherson and his companion delve deeper into the complex, they come across several more remnants of the old park. Photographs of its one-time inhabitants still line the walls of the enclosures, along with accompanying information for visitors.
And the rocks circling the enclosures could at one point have been stood on by curious kids angling for a better view of the animals.
The buildings that previously housed animals aren’t the only parts of the park that have fallen into disarray, however. As McPherson and his friend continue their tour through the complex, they come across a number of rooms that may once have contained offices, or perhaps living facilities.
It’s difficult to determine from the footage, as each room is a shabby, disorderly shadow of what it may once have been.
Furniture – from desks and shelving units to couches and wardrobes – also lies strewn around many of these spaces. According to McPherson, though, the current inhabitants of the fixtures are possums who appear to have made themselves at home in the facility.
But they may not be the only ones, as the large number of mattresses scattered throughout the abandoned sanctuary suggests.
Yes, there are hints of squatters having taken up residence in the abandoned park. In one room, McPherson finds discarded food packaging with a date of January 2017, while a fridge elsewhere turns up milk emblazoned with the month of April 2016.
So, while the urban explorers don’t actually come across anyone living in the park during their visit, it seems that people may have done so in the past.
But from there, things start to get a little creepier. In another room, McPherson stumbles upon a trove of discarded children’s clothes as well as a buggy, a hairbrush, and toys.
A magazine among the piles of items suggests that they were left in 2015 – three years after the park closed. Perhaps, then, a family were here at one point.
What was left behind
Yet that’s not even the strangest thing the duo inadvertently discover during their tour of the facility. Seemingly unbeknownst to them, McPherson and his companion will ultimately venture into an area that hosts Wildlife Wonderland’s only remaining attraction.
And it’s this part of their video that has subsequently captured the attention of a global audience.
Thanks to this incredible discovery, McPherson’s video has been widely shared across the web. In total, it’s racked up more than 14 million views and tens of thousands of comments since it was first uploaded.
And going viral has only helped to draw more attention to the abandoned, once-forgotten animal park.
Shock and awe
Among those comments were many shocked reactions – with a number expressing astonishment at what McPherson and his buddy eventually ended up finding. That said, the rest of the video also elicited some surprise from viewers.
One person wrote, for example, “[The park] closed, and [the people] literally just dropped everything and left. I can’t believe there was still food in the fridge and old family pictures.”
A sinister discovery
But while most abandoned attractions are at least a little creepy, there’s something particularly sinister awaiting the trespassing filmmakers. Indeed, when the duo first set foot on the property, they probably didn’t expect to stumble across one of nature’s greatest predators.
Yet that’s exactly what they find as they enter one room.
The great white shark
In the video, as the camera pans around, we see signs on the wall referring to “a mouthful of teeth” and “the Phillip Island giant.” Then, McPherson shifts his gaze upwards and exclaims loudly, “What the hell? Can you guys see that?”
Yes, floating in a tank of green liquid is a great white shark. And while the beast isn’t alive, its spine-chilling silhouette is still enough to strike fear into anyone’s heart.
Then, after seeing McPherson’s YouTube clip, Don Kransky headed to the abandoned wildlife park to see the shark for himself. And armed with “painfully expensive gas-vapor respirators” to protect himself and his friend from the formaldehyde, he immediately found what he was looking for."
“It was initially hard to make out the shark,” Kransky wrote for Vice in 2019. “But we let our eyes adjust, and its shape emerged, silhouetted by light pouring through a hole in the roof.”
And, as it happens, the formaldehyde hadn’t always been green; instead, it had turned that way as a result of damage to the tank. “It’s a big, murky tank because the filters haven’t been running,” one visitor to the center told the Phillip Island & San Remo Advertiser in 2019.
“You couldn’t get into the shark, though, because the glass is two inches thick... There are [also] formaldehyde vapors coming out of the Perspex lid. It’s an eyesore.”
Yes, the attraction had unfortunately fallen into disrepair. In 2019 McPherson said to the Seven Network, “The tank was huge and in bad condition, with a rusting metal frame and smashed panels of glass and trash thrown inside.”
As a result, he could only linger in the room for a minute or so before the noxious odor from the formaldehyde fumes became too much.
Putting Rosie down
Yet the shark – which has since been dubbed Rosie – wasn’t originally intended to be gazed at by tourists. Instead, the more than 15-foot great white had simply eaten her way into a pen of tuna in 1997, and so she’d had to be put down to protect the divers operating there.
In 2019 local historian Eric Kotz told the Port Lincoln Times, “The argument to kill [Rosie] was that five divers and several other companies working in the area were at risk.”
Putting her on display
Rosie was then stored in a freezer by the Lukin family, who owned the fishing nets in which she’d been caught. And shortly after, eco-tourism complex Seal Rocks Sea Life Centre – now known as the Nobbies Centre – expressed interest in purchasing the shark for display.
Ultimately, though, the owners decided that they didn’t want to take possession of the animal, leaving Wildlife Wonderland to step in.
A logistical nightmare
Perhaps unsurprisingly, transporting the more than two-ton creature to Bass proved problematic for the owners of the animal park. The endeavor was a huge logistical undertaking, in fact, necessitating the construction of an enormous steel frame to be placed inside a freezer truck.
Then, when the shark arrived at the state border, the South Australian government impounded the vehicle.
Missing persons case
According to Wildlife Wonderland employee Max Bryant, Rosie was confiscated owing to an ongoing missing person case. “A woman had gone missing on a beach, and they thought she may be in the shark,” he said to the Phillip Island & San Remo Advertiser.
“So, the shark was taken to the South Australian Museum where it was thawed and dissected. But the woman wasn’t found in it.”
A hefty cost
When the investigation of Rosie had concluded, though, she wasn’t put on ice again but inside a tank that had been created specifically for her. After that, she was cured in formaldehyde over a few months.
And through this period of time, Rosie’s stomach started to become misshapen, meaning she ultimately had to be packed with polyester fiber. All in all, then, bringing the shark to Wildlife Wonderland cost the park around $500,000.
Dropping in for a visit
The operation didn’t end when Rosie arrived at the animal park, however. The owners had to construct a new room for the shark, for one, before taking out the roof and using a crane to drop her in.
A concrete bunker also had to be installed underneath the building to account for any potential formaldehyde leakages, while the tank itself required perpetual filtering and monitoring.
Flocking to visit
Yet all of the time, effort, and expense that had gone into bringing Rosie to Wildlife Wonderland seemed at first to have paid off. The park began exceeding its regular visitor numbers, you see, with people flocking specifically to see Rosie.
During that time, she was the biggest shark ever to be preserved. And, naturally, she became the focal point for a full exhibit on great whites.
A massive job
Over the years, then, Matthews has had plenty of calls asking him to revive the shark display. However, as it was a logistical nightmare to bring Rosie to the park in the first place, moving her again would be a “massive job,” as he put it to the Phillip Island & San Remo Advertiser.
“It was a vibrant attraction, so I shudder every time I go past,” Matthews added. “I’ve never been back there since selling it.”
Not everyone has stayed away, though. In fact, in the wake of McPherson’s video, people reportedly started flocking to the site.
Despite warnings from local police to stay away or risk trespassing charges, vandals nevertheless encroached on the property and attempted to smash Rosie’s tank. And while the interlopers didn’t succeed in breaking through the three-inch glass, they cracked it enough to release some of the dangerous carcinogen within.
Although formaldehyde is generally in the air that we breathe, it’s at extremely low levels. As such, it’s not really a danger to anyone except those already most susceptible to breathing difficulties.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, though, high levels of exposure to formaldehyde have been linked to lung and oral cancers.
Still not a problem?
Contact with the substance can also result in conditions such as pneumonia and dermatitis. In enclosed or poorly ventilated areas, it can even kill through suffocation.
Yet with all that in mind, in 2019 an EPA Victoria spokesperson told news.com.au that it was “aware of the shark and tank and [did] not consider them to be hazardous.”
Meanwhile, as word of Rosie began to spread, concerned campaigners set up a Facebook page dubbed “Save Rosie the Shark.” And the ploy seemed to work.
In February 2019 it was reported that Wildlife Wonderland’s owners had arranged for the animal to be taken to Crystal World – a nearby center housing the world’s largest collection of crystals, gems, and minerals.
An extensive restoration
Crystal World is now adding Rosie to its Prehistoric Journeys Exhibition Centre, following an extensive restoration process to her damaged tank. That move was set in motion after Sharon Williamson, an employee at Crystal World, spotted the ferocious creature on her Facebook page.
And not long after, she began campaigning for her workplace’s owner to save the shark.
Saving her from landfill
“Otherwise, [Rosie] was going to go to landfill,” Williamson told the Herald Sun in 2019. “It was quite logistical, getting it out here and the emptying it.”
According to Crystal World director Tom Kapitany, Rosie was in surprisingly good condition, too – especially considering the fact that she’d been abandoned for years. And, now, the center is attempting to preserve the shark in glycerin for centuries to come.
No cost too high
“I told my staff, ‘Go and save her. I don’t care what it costs; just save her,’” Kapitany told the Port Lincoln Times.
“I couldn’t see such a beautiful animal, dead or alive, destroyed.” It seems, then, that the Facebook page did the job, according to its founder Trent Hooper. In 2019 he told the Daily Mail, “It’s such a great outcome. Australia rallied together to save Rosie and get her a forever home at Crystal World.”
Preserving her past
For Kapitany, meanwhile, saving the great white shark was about preserving her past. That includes the damage her tank suffered from vandals at Wildlife Wonderland, which will be left untouched.
So, after years of languishing in an abandoned park, Rosie will finally go on display once again, with no charge to visitors. And any money raised from merchandise sales is set to be donated towards shark conservation and study – a fitting continuation of this creature’s incredible story.