Northeast Ohioans who grew up visiting amusement parks in the 1940s through 1970s will cherish the memories captured in this book, which includes Euclid Beach Park, Luna Park, Geauga Lake Park, Puritas Springs Park, White City, Memphis Kiddie Park, Geneva-on-the-Lake, and others.
Those boisterous, colorful, exciting meccas fulfilled the fantasies of entertainment-hungry Clevelanders. Each park had its own personality, its own alluring smells and sounds. At Euclid Beach it was the stately sycamores and the unforgettable odor of the lake and of damp earth beneath the pier. At Puritas Springs, the odor of warm oil on the chain of the Cyclone coaster. The chatter of Monkey Island at Luna Park, the sharp reports of the Shooting Gallery at Geauga Lake.
David and Diane Francis, authors of several books on amusement park history, including “Cedar Point: The Queen of American Watering Places,” draw on their own extensive archive and on the memories of fellow park buffs to create a vivid, nostalgic portrait of days gone by.
|Publisher:||Gray & Company, Publishers|
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About the Author
Dave and Diane Francis are the authors of ten books about parks and summer resorts, including Cedar Point: Queen of American Watering Places; Ohio’s Amusement Parks; The Golden Age of Roller Coasters; and Chippewa Lake Park. They are members of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the National Amusement Park Historical Association.
Read an Excerpt
Euclid Beach Park
After 1901, when it was purchased by the Humphrey family, Euclid Beach became what was known as a “Sunday School” operation. The Humphrey Company imposed strict rules of deportment on park guests and established a code of decency that set Euclid Beach apart from most other parks in the industry.
Alcoholic beverages were not sold at Euclid Beach, nor were they permitted on park grounds; and any person who was obviously under the influence of alcohol was turned away at the gate. The Humphreys had no tolerance for rowdy behavior of any kind, and they employed their own police to enforce park rules. Games of chance found no home at Euclid Beach, which, unlike many northern Ohio parks, never installed illegal slot machines. While Luna Park thrived by presenting sensational and titillating shows, the Humphrey Company turned its back on any entertainments that hinted at sexuality or were in any way gruesome or in bad taste. Euclid Beach went so far as to advertise that it would present nothing that would demoralize or depress and that park patrons would never be exposed to undesirable people.
By the 1920s, Dudley S. Humphrey II was acknowledged by his peers as one of America’s leading amusement managers. Despite this praise, few parks followed Humphrey’s policies and many park men criticized his methods. Most parks painted their buildings either a pristine white or some vivid, attention-getting color. In stark contrast, the Humphreys painted their park in a drab green that became known in the park industry as “Humphrey Green.” Parker Beach, the owner of Chippewa Lake Park, joked that “old Dud Humphrey bought a million gallons of that paint in 1910 and they’re still using it.”
Dudley Humphrey also introduced the controversial Humphrey Park Plan at Euclid Beach. Developed as a method of maintaining tighter cash control, the Humphrey Park Plan required that patrons purchase tickets that were then used for rides, food, and even souvenirs. Cash was accepted only at the penny arcade and the lakeside restaurant. Robert McKay, manager of Buckeye Lake Park, recalled, “The Humphreys never seemed to understand that rather than stealing cash, they [the employees] ‘palmed’ tickets and gave them to their family and friends.” Whatever the shortcomings of the Park Plan, the company sold tickets by the millions. In 1920, a postwar recession year with high unemployment, 22,488,602 tickets were dispensed to eager patrons.
The Humphreys also had some unique ideas regarding amusement park foods. Popcorn, popcorn balls, and candy kisses (a type of taffy offered in just one flavor) were the mainstay of Euclid Beach’s food service. To keep the park supplied, the Humphreys started growing their own popping corn in 1927. Peanuts were roasted and sold for a number of years; and, after the Kohr Brothers invented soft-serve ice cream in 1919, Frozen Whip was offeredagain, like the candy kisses, in just one flavor. For many years, the park’s beverage selection was limited to Vernor’s Ginger Ale, Hires Root Beer, and Phez Loganberry Juice. The park restaurant served a limited lunch and dinner menu, while the Main Lunch, near the Aero Dips roller coaster, offered hot dogs, boiled ham sandwiches, pies, doughnuts, and coffee. The more traditional park fare such as hamburgers, French fries, cotton candy, waffles, and candy apples didn’t appear at Euclid Beach until its last years of operation. But, even though the Humphreys stubbornly refused to change their food policy, few could argue with their success. In 1942, the park sold 58,467 pounds of hot dogs, or about 600,000 servings! Two seasons later, Euclid Beach patrons ate 8,329 pounds of boiled ham, 24,890 pounds of roasted peanuts, 10,540 pies, 112,404 doughnuts, and 243,000 boxes of popcorn, proving that hungry park visitors will eat whatever they’re offered.
While the Humphrey family was single-handedly responsible for the success of Euclid Beach, they neither conceived nor built the original operation. The Euclid Beach Park Company was formed in 1894, and soon after, construction began on a plot of land eight miles east of Cleveland’s Public Square. The lakeside park officially opened on June 30, 1895, and reportedly entertained fifty thousand guests on July Fourth. The first manager, William R. Ryan, supervised a fairly small operation that included the new Dance Pavilion, a beer garden, and some shows. The park’s early drawing card was music. Jessie Hammerstrom, who was born in 1889 and visited the embryonic park, recalled that “Everyone went to Euclid Beach to dance and to listen to concert bands. They didn’t have many rides in those days.” Dancing was offered in the large ballroom, but concert bands were the biggest attraction. Ryan booked some major bands, including the nationally famous band of Frederick N. Innes. A virtuoso trombonist who was often compared to Arthur Pryor, Innes fronted one of America’s finest “business bands.” So popular was Euclid Beach in band circles that in 1897, H. Clark Thayer composed the “Euclid Beach Park March” in honor of the park. Thayer was the founder of Thayer’s Military Band in Canton and was also a personal friend of President William McKinley, thus gaining his band the nickname “McKinley’s Own.”
During the infant park’s second season, it evolved into a full-fledged amusement facility. Park manager Ryan contracted with LaMarcus A. Thompson to build the park’s first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway. Thompson, a native Ohioan, designed and constructed the world’s first roller coaster at Coney Island in 1884 and went on to become one of the most prolific manufacturers of Switchback Railways, Scenic Railways, and complete amusement parks. His Euclid Beach ride, which operated until 1903, was just 35 feet tall and 350 feet long, but it was the first roller coaster that most Clevelanders had ever seen. The 1896 season saw the introduction of a carousel, an observation wheel, and the Crystal Maze, an early walk-through fun house.
Since the park was located so far from downtown Cleveland, the company had a park pier built, purchased two 98-foot passenger steamships, Duluth and Superior, and initiated service from Cuyahoga River docks to the park. A round trip on the 800-passenger steamers cost 25 cents, which included admission to the park grounds. On days when management expected crowds of 25,000 or more, they chartered the steamers State of Ohio or Promise to assist the regular vessels. Steamship service to Euclid Beach lasted only through the 1900 season, and it was discontinued by the Humphrey Company when they took over in 1901.
As Euclid Beach added rides, shows, and a vaudeville theater, word of the park’s pleasant lakeside offerings spread well beyond Cleveland. On July 27, 1898, the Medina Businessmen’s Picnic and the A. I. Root Company chartered trains to take them to Cleveland, where they boarded the steamships for the trip to the park’s pier. Although the Medina Businessmen’s group had previously patronized Chippewa Lake Park, Silver Lake, and Cedar Point, curiosity about Euclid Beach enticed them to visit the new Cleveland lakeside resort. Round-trip steamship fare was just 65 cents for adults and 35 cents for children and included admission to the park. A full day of music, games, and amusements was promised, but attendees were duly warned that “. . . the last boat leaves the park at 8 p.m.” Thanks to favorable word of mouth, it wasn’t long before picnic groups were traveling to Euclid Beach from other cities, including Ashland, Mansfield, and Akron.
Before they bought Euclid Beach, the Humphrey Company, operator of popcorn stands in Cleveland, was one of the park’s early concessionaires. By 1899 the Humphreys had become disillusioned by the sale of alcohol, the rowdy behavior, and the objectionable shows at “the Beach,” and they closed their Euclid Beach popcorn stand. However, when the Euclid Beach Park Company failed after the 1900 season, the Humphreys moved quickly to acquire the property and institute their own ideas of park management. The new owners eliminated the gate charges, negotiated a one-fare price on streetcars to the park, replaced unacceptable concessions, and terminated the sale of beer. In addition, they publicly announced that any rowdy, intoxicated, or undesirable patrons would be denied admission or removed from the park.
The Humphrey formula worked. With some exaggeration, Dudley Humphrey announced that 1,500,000 people passed through the Euclid Beach Park gates during the 1901 season; and the popcorn stand alone registered sales of $10,000 (before 1899, annual popcorn sales at the park never exceeded $2,000). The stage was set, and the foresighted Humphrey family was poised to build Euclid Beach into one of America’s finest and most respected amusement parks.
With a successful season behind them, the Humphreys embarked on a major expansion plan for the 1902 season. Harry Traver’s new amusement ride, the Circle Swing, was purchased and installed near the lake (this ride later became the Rocket Ships and operated until the park closed in 1969). The World Theatre also opened that season, as did the rustic Log Cabin building. The Log Cabin started life as the Forestry Building at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. After the World’s Fair closed, the Humphreys bought and disassembled the structure, spending $17,248 to reconstruct it as the Log Cabin at the park.
After 1902, park improvements came at a rapid pace. In 1903, the Flying Ponies were installed, followed in 1904 by the Roller Skating Rink and a Figure Eight roller coaster from the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. A year later, the same company sold the park a new carousel (which was replaced in 1910 by a larger and more elaborate Philadelphia Toboggan carousel that resided at the park until 1969).
It was soon obvious that the Humphrey Company would build Euclid Beach around the “Queen of the Midway,” the roller coaster. With the old Switchback Railway razed and the Figure Eight operating, they sought out the latest and most exciting advancements in roller coaster engineering. In 1907, Euclid Beach made its largest investment to date. LaMarcus A. Thompson was recruited to design Euclid Beach’s Scenic Railway at a cost of $38,670.17. Large and impressive, the Scenic Railway included darkened tunnels that were particularly popular with young couples. Two years later, America’s greatest coaster engineer, John A. Miller of Homewood, Illinois, was engaged to design and build the New Velvet Coaster next to the Skating Rink. Later renamed the Aero Dips, this somewhat modest and mild coaster became a favorite with several generations of Clevelanders. Then, in 1913, while Miller was chief engineer for the Ingersoll Engineering & Construction Company, he conceived one of the park’s signature attractions, the Racing Coaster. Originally known as the Derby Racer, this huge coaster cost $44,195 to build; but by carrying 72 riders per trip, it quickly paid for itself. In July 1951, for example, the Racing Coaster entertained 80,126 riders.
Euclid Beach grew throughout the 1910s. Crowds increased dramatically, and the Humphreys continued to add rides and attractions that fit their plans for an amusement park. In 1918, the park sold 11,906,866 tickets, while the company payroll climbed to $101,089. A year later, ticket sales soared to 16,706,605, and payroll increased again by about 20 percent. All of this was accomplished in the face of stiff competition from a powerful rival: Cleveland’s Luna Park.
The postwar recession of 1920–21 appears to have had little impact on Euclid Beach as ticket sales and attendance continued to climb. The 1920s, however, were a decade of uneven prosperity. After reaching 22 million in 1920, Euclid Beach ticket sales fell to 13,666,454 in 1929. At the Skating Rink, attendance slipped from 90,549 in 1925 to 80,329 two seasons later. Nevertheless, the Humphrey Company continued to expand the park each season. A Mill Chute (later rebuilt as Over the Falls) was installed in 1920, followed by the landmark Thriller roller coaster. A new Dodgem was added, Kiddieland was expanded, the Bug was purchased from the Traver Engineering Company, and finally, the magnificent Flying Turns was added to greet park visitors when the 1930 season opened.
By the time the Flying Turns debuted, the entire amusement industry was feeling the impact of the Great Depression. Amusement parks, already declining in popularity, were devastated by the Depression. Of small consolation was the fact that most of the commercial recreation industry suffered the same fate. Movie theaters reported a decline of 25 million patrons per week, and some radio stations switched off their transmitters. Circuses folded their tents, carnivals attempted to sell their rides, and summer resort hotels were nearly empty. By 1930, 72 percent of America’s amusement parks reported significant declines in revenue. Just a year later, the number of parks affected increased to 85 percent. Between 1929 and 1930, parks lost 41 percent of their group picnic business. In 1931, Cincinnati’s well-managed Coney Island Park reported attendance figures that showed a 13 percent decline; also that year, Cedar Point’s parent, the G. A. Boeckling Company, recorded the last profit it would see for twenty years.
No matter how well run Euclid Beach was it could not cope with the effects of the worldwide depression. Ticket sales at Euclid Beach told the entire story. From 11,300,979 tickets sold in 1930, sales plummeted to 5,869,654 in 1933 (just 26 percent of the sales it had enjoyed in 1920). Grudgingly, the company learned to operate with fewer employees. The annual payroll fell from $233,488 in 1930 to $82,957 three years later.
Admission to the Skating Rink was reduced to 40 cents, but the flow of eager roller skaters had been reduced by 50 percent, and it seemed that nothing could be done to increase ticket sales. To add to the park’s troubles, founder Dudley S. Humphrey II died on September 7, 1933. It was left to Harvey, his son, to take over the reins of the park at the worst possible time.
I REMEMBER . . . Having grown up in the East 116th and Harvard Avenue area of Cleveland, I was sort of equidistant from Euclid Beach and Geauga Lake Park. Since I wasn’t really close to either of them, I would only get to go to them on special occasions such as school or factory picnics. Having relatives in the house that worked at the White Motor Company and Ohio Forge (and my mom at Leece Neville Company), I had the chance to go to the parks at least three times a year. Over the years the companies held their shop picnics at various parks. Another opportunity afforded itself when the schools held their annual school picnic at Euclid Beach.
Of the two parks, Euclid Beach had to be my favorite. It was the biggest, and had the most roller coasters and other rides. I can remember as a youngster going into the fun house with my mother, Sophie Szuch, and being so scared of things popping out at me that I closed my eyes and buried them in her skirt as I hung on for dear life.
I can also remember standing and watching the Flying Turns ride, which was my favorite coaster at the park. As the cars would go through the course you could see the whole structure sway from the weight of the cars going up the sides of the barrel-like course! I always waited for the structure to collapse, but it didn’t stop me from going on it.
Another favorite ride was the Rocket Ships. Having grown up in the 1940s, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were favorite comic strips of mine, and when those sleek chrome-covered rocket ships soared outward you felt as though you were Buck or Flash. Not too many years ago I saw one of those rocket ships that someone had converted into a motor vehicle and was driving south in on Interstate 271. I was exiting onto Interstate 480 West when I looked over and saw it go by. I almost went off the road because I was so excited.
Probably my most favorite ride at Euclid Beach was the Sleepy Hollow Railroad. It was undoubtedly the slowest ride in the park, but I just loved it when it went past the miniature village with its houses and vehicles. When the park closed, I believe that was the ride I missed the most.
My other personal favorite place at the park was the Penny Arcade. It was truly named because for a penny you could go in and play the claw machines to try to pick up prizes (that often were too heavy for the claw to hold) or collect the exhibit cards of movies, baseball, football, pinups, and other subjects. I always came home with a stack of them and still have a number of them some fifty years later. Same goes for the “Chinese Finger Traps”I’m sure I still have one buried away in an old cigar box.
You also cannot forget the eating treats. A trip to the park was not complete without eating custard ice cream in a sugar cone, popcorn balls, Belgian waffles with powdered sugar, and, of course, taffy. I remember standing there watching the taffy machines with the arms rotating as they stretched the taffy out before cutting it into nuggets and individually wrapping them.
On the trip to Euclid Beach, I would always look for the Commodore movie theater, followed shortly by the ice-cream stand on the south side of Lakeshore Boulevard. The ice-cream stand was built like an inverted sugar cone, and I knew that once I saw that we were close to the park. John F. Szuch
Surprisingly, rather than hibernate during the difficult years of the 1930s, the Humphrey Company forged ahead. Euclid Beach Park was maintained in first-rate condition, and a few new rides were even added. Euclid Beach never built another roller coaster, but it continually expanded and upgraded in other areas. A number of sensibly priced kiddie rides were purchased, and in 1935 the Surprise House fun house was added. Skee Ball alleys were installed along with a new Shooting Gallery. When the worst of the Depression had passed, new major rides began to appear: Cuddle Up (1937), Dippy Whip and Flying Scooters (1938), and Bubble Bounce (1939).
By the late 1930s, the crowds began returning, and prosperity was once again in sight. Ticket sales for 1945 were the highest since 1920. Unfortunately, after 1945 the park never again reported such high ticket sales. During the war years the park faced shortages of both manpower and materials. New rides were simply not available, and most maintenance supplies were in short supply. The park’s souvenir stand sold 43,000 balloons in 1937. By 1942, however, rubber was needed for the war effort, and balloons were not sold again until the 1948 season. Still, industry was working around the clock and war-weary families needed recreation and an excuse to divert thoughts from the war. Some parks, like Akron’s Summit Beach, even tried 24-hour operations in order to accommodate the schedules of plant workers.
In spite of the difficulties of operating an amusement park during wartime, Euclid Beach thrived. With the rationing of gasoline and tires, a streetcar line that made the park accessible to virtually every Cleveland resident gave Euclid Beach a decided advantage. The Big Band Era, in full swing during the war years, also contributed to a series of successful seasons. Although there was a time when military uniforms were prohibited in the Dance Pavilion, service personnel on leave were a daily fixture from 1942 to 1945. The ballroom’s long-standing segregation policy, however, was maintained and African-Americans had no hope of dancing at Euclid Beach.
Soon after the war ticket sales at Euclid Beach began a long and painful descent that continued throughout the fifties. The booming postwar birth rate certainly benefited the park, but the true golden age of the amusement park industry was unquestionably over. Men who flew real fighter aircraft in combat were only marginally entertained by amusement rides that simulated flight. Furthermore, increasing numbers of automobiles gave Americans a newfound mobility, and the annual family vacation contributed to the declining popularity of amusement parks. The tragic polio epidemic during these years gave thousands of parents a reason to fear crowds; and many of them kept their children safely at home in front of the family TV.
Given their tenacious spirit it’s no surprise that the Humphrey Company continued to fight for increased patronage by making even more improvements to the park. From 1949 to 1957 they entertained baby boomers with annual additions of new kiddie rides. Euclid Beach was one of the few amusement parks to protect young children from both sun and rain by placing the kiddie rides in the shelter of the Colonnade.
In 1959, Dudley S. Humphrey III took over park management when his father, Harvey, died. Under Dudley’s direction, major rides were added, among them the Turnpike and the Antique Autos, installed in the Skating Rink in 1963 after roller-skating was suspended. The park’s last significant ride additions, a Big Eli Ferris wheel and a Tilt-A-Whirl, were purchased in 1966.
Throughout the amusement industry, declining attendance was forcing the closure of once-popular facilities. Many local parks, including Puritas Springs Park, Akron’s Summit Beach Park, and Vermilion’s Crystal Beach Park, finally gave up and padlocked their gates.
Still Euclid Beach held on tightly even as other parks around it closed. Ticket sales never again reached the incredible 19,989,057 sold in 1945, but nevertheless, the fifties were profitable for the Humphrey Company. Inevitably, though, declining attendance took its toll on Euclid Beach. By 1965, ticket booth sales were down to 11,356,919. Three years later Dudley Humphrey confessed, “Our expenses are outrunning our income. It has been that way for the past five seasons.” All hope for business recovery was lost. Furthermore, just an hour and a half to the west, Cedar Point was emerging as a superpark. Euclid Beach could not hope to compete, and the Humphrey Company entered into an option agreement with developer Dominic Visconsi. In June of 1968, Visconsi publicly announced that “Euclid Beach Park has only two more seasons to go.” While Visconsi made plans to convert the old park into high-rise residential housing, Euclid Beach limped sadly through her two final seasons. The park finally closed forever on September 28, 1969. Like the grand lady she had always been, Euclid Beach was impeccably maintained and operated to the very end.
After the park closed, some rides were moved to Streetsboro, where the Humphreys opened Shady Lake Park (1978–1982). The Bug cars were sold to Geauga Lake Park, and the carousel traveled to Old Orchard Beach, Maine. All of the roller coasters, the Over the Falls ride, and many buildings were razed. Several of the larger buildings, including the 1895 Dance Pavilion, were destroyed at the hands of arsonists. After Shady Lake Park was closed, the Humphrey Company continued to manufacture their famous popcorn, popcorn balls, and candy kissestasty reminders of cherished times spent at Euclid Beach Park, one of America’s greatest amusement parks.
I REMEMBER . . . Saturday, September 29, 1951 . . . Back at Public Square, I bought a newspaper and there was a big ad for Euclid Beach Park . . . it was the last weekend of the season and all rides would be 5 cents. So, we boarded a PCC car on Superior Avenue. No longer did they run to Euclid Beach Park, so we had to get a Route 44 bus to get to Euclid Beach Park. It was a very chilly evening, about 40 degrees, and I had on a leather jacket as we rode most all of the rides, including, of course, the Thriller, Racing Coaster, Flying Turns, and Over the Falls. We had a great time.
Last visit to Euclid Beach Park was in August 1969, but I did visit there several times in the 1960s. I was very impressed with the park as they had three band organs. The huge orchestrion played for the skaters. Of course the merry-go-round had a band organ, but the one I liked was the little one at the base of the Rocket ride that you could listen to while waiting to ride the Rocket Ships. Richard L. Bowker
[Excerpted from Cleveland Amusement Park Memories, © David & Diane Francis. All rights reserved. Gray & Company, Publishers.]
Table of Contents
Euclid Beach Park
Geauga Lake Park
Puritas Springs Park
Cleveland’s Other Parks
Memphis Kiddie Park
Cleveland Zoo Kiddie Park
For Further Reading