I have the good fortune of not being able to remember the first time I went to Schlitterbahn. That’s because I went so often as a kid that now, years later, the trips all run together. I grew up on the north side of San Antonio, and it was a short enough drive to nearby New Braunfels in our old Suburban that a trip to the water park seemed to my mother a plausible daylong excursion, not nearly as daunting as shooting down to Port A or hopping on a plane to Disney. We went every summer, sometimes multiple times, and over the years I watched as the park itself grew from a regional attraction into a worldwide draw.
For this month’s Behind the Lines, executive editor Skip Hollandsworth talks about his August feature tracing Schlitterbahn’s decades-long rise to its current perilous position. “Schlitterbahn’s Tragic Slide” begins on August 7, 2016, with a gruesome death at its Kansas City water park that has resulted in the company and one of its founders, Jeff Henry, facing criminal charges. Who should be responsible, how much did Schlitterbahn test its towering water slide, and what did park management know about its dangers? Skip walks us through these questions and more.
At the center of the discussion is Henry, whose success over the years building incredible water rides has led him to be thought of as the Walt Disney of water parks. Henry hasn’t spoken much in the press, but he talked to Skip. Henry often said that his goal in life was to make customers of his family’s legendary water parks happy—“to put a smile on their faces, to give them a thrill or two.”
It was a beautiful vision. Until it went horribly wrong.