[Ed: A few minor edits for clarity 9/20/17 11:47 AM PT]
The amusement park in the company town of Pripyat, just two or three miles away from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, was supposed to open on May 1, 1986 for the town's "May Day" celebration.
Surprisingly, the explosion and resulting fires at Chernobyl's Reactor No. 4 on April 26, 1986 didn't keep the amusements from opening.
In fact, the park opened a few days early, on April 27, though the local townsfolk didn't really know why.
They may not have even questioned it much—they may have just given in to their excitement and lined up for ride tickets.
The didn't know about the accident at Chernobyl yet. It would take days for them to receive official notice of the severity of it. By then they may have already evacuated, though the order was couched as "temporary."
Sure, there were some rumors about an "incident" earlier than that. Some Pripyat residents even perched upon the so-called "Bridge of Death" to watch the multi-colored fireworks light up the sky.
It was the only thing they could see, since nuclear fallout—namely, a cloud of radioactive material—is invisible.
Even when the people of Pripyat were finally told of the danger, some of them didn't believe it.
They eventually evacuated anyway—a move they thought would be temporary.
They left most of their personal possessions behind. Now, that clothing, furniture, and other personal effects are so radioactive, they've been buried as hazardous waste.
The abandoned amusement park is probably the most famous of the Pripyat ghost town's attractions, with busloads of "extreme" tourists shuffling around the bumper cars and other rides and attractions.
It's also one of the most heartbreaking.
Sure, nature has taken over—somewhat—with moss underfoot and tiny trees sprouting up through the drivers' seats.
But considering the fact that it's been 31 years, you'd actually expect more—at least, in a ghost town that's not radioactive.
Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be anything in place to preserve the site, other than enforcing the "no touching" rule among visitors.
Otherwise, the rides are left exposed to the elements—not only the lingering radiation that tends to collect near the rides and in the asphalt, but also the rain and snow that accelerate the oxidation (and actually exacerbate the radioactivity).
The swing boats have swung off their frame.
Don't even dare sit on a seat of the paratrooper ride.
Some say that no one has ever sat on these rides, but historic photos—and local experts—tell a different story.
Pripyat families got just a few days at the fairground, thanks to its early opening...
...when, in fact, they should've been already fleeing for their lives.
Perhaps the most recognizable monument to the Chernobyl disaster isn't one of the memorial statues places on the power plant campus...
...but the Ferris wheel, which rises above the abandoned amusement park seemingly above even the town's high-rise hotel and apartment buildings.
It's both a beacon and a warning—of where you are, of what's happened there, and what could happen again, anywhere, anytime.
It's a universally understood, visual representation of an invisible threat—one that ended up taking countless lives and ruining the lives of many of those who survived.
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