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As Kings Island turns 50, these sisters were the first family ever through the gates

people pose for a photograph
Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU
Kings Island Vice President and General Manager Mike Koontz with sisters Heather Lea Hitson, Taryn Harrison with granddaughter, and Tamara Hitson.

On April 29, 1972, the patriarch of the Hitson family from Anderson was urging his three daughters and son to hurry. They were planning to celebrate son Mark's birthday by visiting a new theme park called Kings Island on its opening day.

"Dad was like, 'You gotta get there early, it's gonna be a big crowd. Oh, my goodness, we're gonna have to be there early,' " Tamara Hitson remembers. "And nobody was here," she finishes with a laugh.

Suddenly, the sisters recall, people in suits came up to them, asked if they were a family and told them to meet them at the gate. A golf cart appeared to swoop them up.

"I thought we were in trouble," says Taryn Harrison, who was 12 at the time. "Then when we got in and didn't pay and they're still escorting us — that's like a kid going to the principal's office: Not a good thing."

They remember being greeted by a band and Hanna-Barbera characters and discovering a celebration, complete with a big ribbon.

"My dad had these great big scissors and he got to cut it," Harrison says.

"It was like magic," Hitson adds.

Kings Island 50 (22)B.jpg
Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU
Preparing to cut the ribbon again 50 years later.

Fifty years later on April 29, 2022, it was the sisters' turn to use the great big scissors as they cut the ribbon on the park's 50th anniversary celebrations. They say the place still has that wondrous feeling.

"I actually worked in one of the restaurants here on International Street when I was young. I remember every time I come here, all the rides I go on, all the walking, all the fun, and it's just — at the end of the day, there's some fireworks and it is just magic. Total magic," Hitson sighs.

Harrison agrees. She brought her grandchildren along for the anniversary festivities.

three-tiered white cake with blue trim and an Eiffel Tower topper reading, "Happy Birthday Kings Island."
Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU
You can't have a birthday party without cake.

"It's like keeping the tradition going. That's what Kings Island is — it's all about family and keeping traditions. This is when a family ... lets all the stresses go and everyone just has a good time. You can eat things that you like, you can have fun doing things you do. It's just what family values are all about."

Despite the day's chill, they planned to hit all their favorite rides, even the log flume — known in their family simply as "the log" because that's what a young Tamara called it. Just like that first day, Taryn says they'll all ride "the log" and she'll hide behind her sister, just as she always does, trying not to get too wet.

Family of 4 poses in front of a 50th anniversary sign with the fountains and Eiffel Tower in the background.
Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU
A new generation of park visitors pose for a quick picture as they prepare to make their own family memories.

Kings Island is celebrating its 50th anniversary all summer with special events, performances and merchandise. You can read all about the offerings on Kings Island's website.