Kings Dominion amusement park is quietly dropping the Confederate-themed name of its iconic roller coaster, Rebel Yell, and isn’t saying whether the decision is tied to the continuing debate over Civil War symbols.
A Southern heritage organization, while more concerned about preserving Confederate statuary, is, nonetheless, unhappy about the move.
In a post Friday on the Kings Dominion blog, public relations manager Katelyn Sherwood said that, because of a “revitalization,” the wooden roller coaster, which dates to the park’s opening in 1975, was being renamed Racer 75.
The change, part of a broader rebranding, was not mentioned until the fourth paragraph of a nine-paragraph post announcing new names for four attractions — two rides, a gift shop and restaurant.
The park, which reopens next month for the 2018 season, sits off Interstate 95 in Doswell, about 20 miles north of Richmond — the capital of the Confederacy for most of the Civil War.
The roller coaster’s new name is an amalgam. It combines a reference to the year the ride began operating, the style of the coaster and the acronym of an organization of roller-coaster hobbyists, American Coaster Enthusiasts.
Sherwood wrote, “Rebel Yell will become ‘Racer 75’ as a nod to its 1975 entry into the park as well as giving recognition to ACE, the American Coaster Enthusiasts, (rACEr 75 — get it?!).”
Asked if Rebel Yell was being dropped because of sensitivities over Confederate iconography and fears of offending visitors, Sherwood said in an email Saturday:
“We’re constantly evaluating elements of the park and we plan updates in existing areas when we invest in new products in the vicinity. Our new multimillion-dollar hybrid coaster, Twisted Timbers, is the centerpiece investment in this section of the Candy Apple Grove area.”
On the Kings Dominion Facebook page, the announcement quickly geenerated comments — some describing the name change as a welcoming gesture, others criticizing it as an off-putting retreat from history.
The name change came two days after the defeat this year in the Virginia legislature of proposals leaving it to local government to decide whether to retain or raze Confederate statuary, much of which was erected in the early 20th century as symbols of white supremacy.
The preservation of the monuments is an article of faith among Republicans, just as taking them down is among Democrats, including Gov. Ralph Northam, a descendant of Confederate soldiers and slave owners.
“Like many things that relate to the Confederacy, it’s become an anachronism,” Charles Bryan, a native Southerner and former president of the Virginia Historical Society, said of the roller coaster’s Rebel Yell appellation. “I’m not particularly offended by it.”
The ride’s discarded name apparently was inspired by the shrill battle cry of Confederate soldiers that was intended to intimidate Union troops.
Bryan said it was adopted by Southern forces on the urging of their commanders, some of whom served before the Civil War on the frontier, where American Indians hollered to frighten their adversaries during combat.
Edwin Ray of Richmond, an officer of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was disappointed with the Kings Dominion announcement. He learned of it on his return Saturday from a birthday-anniversary tribute to Jeb Stuart at the Confederate cavalry officer’s grave at Hollywood Cemetery.
“We’re disappointed that they are falling in step with the political correctness bandwagon,” said Ray, the organization’s first lieutenant commander and a retired research librarian at the Library of Virginia.
“It’s difficult to overcome all of this. Change for the sake of change is frustrating.”
Referring to the debate in the General Assembly over Confederate monuments, Ray said, “We’ve got that other battle to fight, and we can only put out so many fires.”
Ray’s paternal and maternal great-great-grandfathers fought for the South — one survived the war; the other died of measles while on furlough.
The ride’s name was not unique, as there was a Rebel Yell roller coaster that operated in decades past at the former Lakeside Amusement Park in Salem.