"'White City' Here: Work Begun Thursday on Great Amusement Park at Des Plaines
Avenue and Harrison St." Oak Leaves. 11 November 1905.
Next season Oak Park is to have a "White
City" at its very doors. The Beach Amusement company, which has
bought of E. A. Cummings the seventeen acres on the west side of Des Plaines avenue just south of the Aurora electric line, broke ground on Thursday for what
its promoters claim will be the most magnificent amusement park in the
world. A large party of Chicago, New York and St. Louis capitalists came
out in a special metropolitan elevated car and the first spadeful of earth was
removed with some ceremony by President Grosse of the village of Harlem.
The party included Oliver L. Brown of Chicago, president and manager; George P.
Benson, secretary and treasurer; H. E. Rice of St. Louis, one of the owners of
the Globe theater, manger and director of works; Joseph Biggs, superintendent of
construction, who built many of the world's fair buildings at St. Louis; F. R.
E. Woodward, director of publicity, who has served in a like capacity for the
White City enterprise during the last year; and representatives of the firm of
Kirby, Pettit & Green, the New York architects, after whose plans the park
will be built.
The Beach Amusement company was organized last year by
men who had conducted such enterprises at Coney Island and elsewhere, with the
intention of building a park on the lake front, but the site proved undesirable
and the Des Plaines river site is the result. It is said that the land
alone cost about $100,000 and that the plans call for an outlay of $1,500,000
between now and next May, when the enterprise will be open to the public.
The natural grove of oak trees will be preserved as far as possible, a lake will
be made in the center and the buildings will be elaborate and beautiful.
An immense electric rainbow, visible from Chicago, is one of the projected
attractions, from which idea the name of Rainbow park is being used temporarily
for the enterprise. The company has offered a prize for a name, however,
and the 20,000 answers will be opened and the name chosen soon.
This site has been selected because of the remarkable
convergence of transportation lines at this point, the Great Western, Illinois
Central, Wisconsin Central, Metropolitan, Aurora, Lake street elevated, Suburban
and four other lines of surface railroad, all reaching direct or by transfer,
within a block or tow of this point. The park will certainly rival the
White City and will be a great stimulus to the improvement of transportation
facilities for South Oak Park.
"Forest Park is Open: Amusement Enterprise Starts in - Lights put out by
Mishap or Miscreants First Night." Oak Leaves. 13 June 1908.
Last Saturday was the day of that long-waited-for
event in Forest Park history, the opening of the grounds of the Forest Park
amusement association, and the occasion was marked by the presence of several
thousand Chicago people, the number being grossly exaggerated in the Chicago
papers. The weather of the week has been rather unfavorable to the
enterprise and many of the concessions and special features have not been in
readiness for the public. Nevertheless the attendance since the opening
has been such as to encourage those interested and to give confidence of
The first evening's pleasure was marred somewhat by the
malicious or accidental short circuiting of the strong electric current that is
furnished by the drainage district for the lighting and operating of the
park. At 11:15, while there was still a considerable crowd in the grounds,
there was a sudden flash and then the whole scene was plunged into darkness. Had
the mishap occurred an hour earlier it must have caused untold confusion and
possible damage. As it was, lanterns were soon brought and all made their
exit from the park without accident.
President McCormick and a party of Sanitary district
officials were present at the time and, made suspicious by the many threats and
obstacles that have been put in the way of the district in its attempt to bring
its current to the park, hastily arrived at the conclusion that the short
circuit was the work of vandals, and the story was soon in circulation in the
city papers that three men had been seen under circumstances that lent substance
to the charge that they had been tampering with the wires near Hannah
street. It was said, too, that it was discovered that a chain had been
thrown across the wires and sawed back and forth until the insulation was worn
away and a short circuit effected.
Mr. McCormick immediately announced that he would
authorize an offer of $1,000 for the apprehension of the miscreants, and the
park management added another $500 to the account. So far, however, there
have been no results, except the speedy repairing of the trouble, and the belief
has gained acceptance in some quarters that the damage was purely accidental.
"Early Morning Fire is Very Dangerous." Forest Park
Review. 27 July 1918.
"Forest Park," one of the
largest amusement parks in the vicinity of Chicago was partially
destroyed early Thursday morning, when a roaring blaze licked up on
building after another and caused an approximate loss of $200,000.00.
The fire is thought to have originated in
the boiler room of the skating rink, and rapidly spread to adjoining
buildings. A great throng of people, attracted by the long
blast of the fire whistle, and by the glare of the flames, hurried
to the scene and rendered every possible assistance.
Feeble water pressure prevented the Forest
Park department from rendering effectual work. A call for help
brought the Oak Park department here within ten minutes of the
discovery of the blaze, but their work was hampered by lack of
juice, resulting from the burning of the power house and lighting
station of Sanitary district of Chicago, which prevented an
effective battle with the flames for nearly two hours.
Valves were finally reached and opened and
more water drawn from Oak Park, thus making it possible to keep the
flames from reaching the beautiful big ballroom, the pride of the
The destruction of the swimming pool and
skating rink is the greatest loss and will be keenest felt.
Among the buildings destroyed or damaged,
so as to be out of service, aside from the rink and pool, are the
Sanitary District's sub station; a new big freak show that was to
have opened for business on Thursday afternoon for the first time;
the skeeball alley; the "Terror of the Ocean"; the
"Leap and Dips" and about 400 feet of the "Giant
Coaster." The roof of the Japanese tea room was slightly
damaged, while the bowling alley, the chop suey restaurant and the
ice cream parlors were damaged by water and smoke.
The population of Forest Park was divided
into two distinct classes, Thursday, after day break-those who
attended the big blaze and those who peacefully slumbered through
the attendant confusion. Those who were awake wore superior
airs and obligingly elaborated on the night's venture.
Not a little amusement was occasioned by
the report in Chicago papers telling of the heroic rescue of
"Daisy," the Shetland pony belonging to the Heinze
family. Marga, the eldest daughter of Paul Heinze, the manager
of the park, is credited with having led Daisy to safety at the risk
of her own life. Daisy was saved, and Marga is pleased-but
Marga regrets that some one "beat her to it."
She enjoys the distinction of being a
heroine, however, and smilingly told a representative of the Review
that she had obligingly posed for a photo with her arms around
Daisy's neck, which picture appeared later in one of the Chicago
Many and sensational are the rumors as to
the cause of the fire. Every thing from a German plot to a
vengeance plot has been offered as a solution to the mystery.
Mr. Heinze stated to the Review that while he doesn't suspect any
plot, he is going to ask for a full inquiry.
The Public Service company, the Chicago
Telephone company, and the Sanitary District people were busily
engaged in making repairs at day break Thursday and the park opened
as usual at 1:00 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day.
There was no insurance on any of the
Mr. Heinze desires to extend thanks to the
Forest Park Fire department, the Oak Park fire department and to the
many citizens who rendered invaluable assistance.
Macy, Madge "Looking Back a Bit: The Forest Park Roller Coaster"
The Forest Park Review. 26 September 1973.
My first visit to Chicago was in 1908,
sixty-five years ago. I was eighteen then and visiting from Des
Moines. The things that impressed me most were the huge downtown Marshall
Fields, the 16 story Monadnock Building (a skyscraper!) and the roller coaster
at the Forest Park Amusement Park.
This was the first carnival I had ever seen with
electric lights instead of gasoline torches. There was a deafening noise
from the throngs of people, laughing and calling, from barkers and shills, from
bells and gongs and every conceivable noisemaker. The tantalizing smell of
hot buttered popcorn, the peanut shells underfoot, the red and white boxes of
Crackerjack, and the hot dogs drenched in mustard added to the festivity.
There were newly invented ice cream cones, leaking, melting, sticky. I ate
my first cotton candy, a blob of beautifully colored air bubbles.
I will never forget the roller coaster. It stood
alone, huge, very high, as tall as a three story building it seemed. The
curving, dipping course was outlined in electric bulbs. The framework
seemed like golden laths criss-crossed against the sky. It was
magic. We stood patiently in line with a hundred others before we got our
seats in the little cars.
The long ascent began, climbing higher and higher until
we could see over the park, the village, then the lights of the far away
city. We whirled and rattled and bounced around the curves at great
speed. I enjoyed the short dips and the quick recovery. And then
came that vast drop. Down, down we went, almost perpendicularly. How
could those little matchbox cars hold to the tracks? I thought we were
descending into a maelstrom, a whirlpool, and as my stomach reached the ground
long before I did, I thought of being rushed down into hell.
I reacted as sea sick people do: afraid they are going
to die, and then afraid they are NOT going to die. I clung desperately to
my companion, no breath left for screams. In our little car, my companions
yelled in a frenzy of ecstasy; I hoped only for the end, whatever it might
be. I suppose this great dip took only a few seconds, but during that
brief span I experienced a terror I have never since felt.
When at last we jolted to a stop, people piled out of
the cars clamoring for more tickets. But there were a few like myself, who
half-fainting, had to be helped to the blessed surface of the good earth.
My fears were well-founded. People really did fall out of those cars, and
eventually the large number of accidents caused the roller coaster to be
condemned and torn down. -- End
(Ed. Note: When it was in operation the, Leap-the-Dips roller coaster had the
steepest run in the world. After her visit, Mrs. Macy married and has been
in the Chicago area ever since. At 84 she is still actively involved in
church work, writing, volunteer work for the Veteran's Hospital and running a
Deuchler, Doug "Memories of the Forest Park
Amusement Park: From 1907 until 1922, this entertainment showplace
defined excitement with thousands of lights and a plethora of wild
rides." Wednesday Journal. 29 November, 1989.
Park Amusement Park was such a wonderful place," says 83-year
old Edna Blank. Now it's virtually forgotten, but in its
heyday it was more famous than its rivals, White City and
Riverview. "The park was quite large," Blank
recalls, "but it was very well laid out. There were
lovely flowers, shrubs and statues. Everything was so pretty
there and many of the rides became quite famous. I will never
forget when I first visited the park with my family. I was
only about six years old and we were still living in the city
then. We rode the el to the end of the line at Des Plaines and
got off just as it was getting dark. I still have vivid
memories of how dazzling it all was. All the roller coasters
and the huge entrance towers were all outlined in electric
bulbs. What a sight! Of course, this was about 1912 when
electricity was something new and special."
Everyone who remembers the large and
popular Forest Park Amusement Park, which was open between 1907 and
1922, usually comments upon the thousands of electric lights, which
could be seen for miles around. For the 15 years the park was
open, to many Chicagoans Forest Park was not a town. To them
"Forest Park" was a huge collection of rides and
The main entrance was at Des Plaines Avenue
near where the entrance ramp to the westbound Eisenhower Expressway
is now located. There were two massive five-story
"Chinese Towers" on each side of the long gateway building
which were lit up with outdoor electrical lighting - very unique for
the time. The south tower housed the "emergency
hospital" (first aid station) and the north tower contained the
park offices and an apartment. There two little girls who were
Edna Blank's childhood playmates lived with their father, the
general manager of the Forest Park Amusement Park.
The first floor of the long gateway
building which stretched the length of Des Plaines between these
towers contained both a roller skating rink and a swimming
pool. The second floor housed the dance hall.
"The big entrance gate on Des Plaines
made you feel like you were coming into a castle," says 85-year
old Barbara Pellman. "It was always so thrilling.
We lived on Circle so of course we just walked over, but the els
were always loaded with people when they arrived."
The entire amusement park extended for 22
acres between Des Plaines and First avenues, and was about the
width of what is now the Eisenhower Expressway. Dr. Frank
Orland of the Forest Park Historical Society says this site was
chosen because to city dwellers "that was way out in the wild
woods," but there was very good transportation. Few
families had automobiles at that time, but there were plenty of
streetcars, and the Des Plaines el station was right at the edge of
the park. This stop was the end of the line, just as it is
today, and the "turn around" was directly behind the
Various rides came and went over the years
and often were given new names; the roller coasters included The
Whip, The Grand Canyon and Leap-the-Dips, which was Barbara
Pellman's favorite. But the most infamous of all was a
fast rough ride called the Giant Coaster. It was the highest
and steepest roller coaster in the world, and it was reported that
passengers flew out of it more than once. But the Giant
Coaster was later billed as the Giant Safety Coaster, so it appears
that some attempts to improve safety were made following early
casualties. It's curving, dipping course was outlined in
electric lights. Edna Blank recalls that the first
"hill" on the Giant Coaster was actually the
steepest. "We were living over near Jackson and Beloit at
the time, and you would always hear the screaming if the windows
Unlike many roller coaster which were
dragged by an endless chain to the highest point on their framework
and then depended on gravitation for their propulsion, the Giant
Coaster boasted electrically driven cars with motormen. But if
it started raining the traction was not good and sometimes the
motormen couldn't make the hills on their first try. They
would have to back up and take a few more full-power
Another popular ride, The Wheel, would make
modern insurance agents blanch. This was a huge
circular-shaped, raised wooden floor that spun around at ever
greater speeds while its passengers would fly off with the
increasing velocity. Helen Luhman remembers that despite the
long dresses of the period, "after a ride on The Wheel a few
times, we'd to home with floor burns on our rear ends."
On the "Shoot the Chutes"
passengers rode in large, flat-bottomed boats which were released
from the top of a five story slide. When they splashed in the
huge lagoon at the bottom everyone in the front seats got soaked.
One of the most bizarre and exciting
attractions was called The Pneumatic Tube. This was a
huge-sized variation of the capsules used today for doing drive-up
banking transactions. "It was thrilling and scary,"
Edna Blank recalls. "You got into your car in the
above-ground station. You were all caged in and in nearly
total darkness as you were blown or sucked through the tube by
terrific blasts of air till you came out the other end across the
park. These long passages formed part of the framework for the
Shoot the Chutes. You'd be going so fast through the Pneumatic
Tube and just when it looked like you were about to crash there was
a spooky green light in front of you. Then the doors would
suddenly burst open. Your ride was safely over."
The entrance station to this enormous corrugated tube was still
standing until the 1950's when construction on the Eisenhower
Many old-timers remember that for a couple
dollars "a guy and his girl could have a big time" all
evening. Couples often had their photographs made on postcards
while posed sitting in a hugh silver moon. If patrons got
tired of the rides, for a nickel they could buy a stein of beer in
the Beer Garden or sit in the Picnic Grove and enjoy a
concert. The band shell was located near the north end of
Waldheim Cemetery where the eastbound Eisenhower- Des Plaines exit
ramp is now. The popular park band played everything
from excerpts from "La Boheme" and "The Second
Rhapsody" by Liszt to up-to-date ragtime and vaudeville hits.
"In those days parents never got baby
sitters," says Barbar Pellman. "The whole family
would go to the park together. My parents would have a beer or
some wine and listen to the band while we had sarsaparilla. A
lot of organizations would have basket panics and we kids would get
a lot of fee ride tickets on those days. My parents both
belonged to singing societies and we were so proud to hear them
The Dance Pavillion was often referred to
as "Dreamland" during the early years of the park,
possibly because of the contemporary tune "Meet Me Tonight in
Dreamland." Here both young and old would try out the
many new dance fads of the era, such as the "Turkey Trot,"
the "Hesitation Waltz" and the "Castle
Walk." During the First World War there were huge
celebrations at the ballroom for the first "boys" who
enlisted for service "Over There." Barbara Pellman
remembers masquerade balls at the dance pavillion with "great
"When we were kids," Edna Balnk
recalls, "we went to the amusement park all the time, but
especially Tuesday afternoons when they'd let all the grammar school
children in for free. We'd get there early so we could watch
all the chorus girls and various other performers rehearsing.
The park always provided plenty of live entertainment. The
concerts from the band shell were the best."
According to Dr. Orland, during World War I
the Casino building actually functioned as a U.S.O.-type hall for
the entertainment of the soldiers. "Until that
time," says Orland, "the showgirls were not allowed to
dance in 'shorties'. But with the war came the need to amuse
'the boys,' so such controversial costumes were
permitted." The Casino was also the site of many school
graduations between 1907 and 1922, says Orland.
There were numerous carnival barkers who
ran games of chance, too. Barbara Pellman says she especially
remembers a game called "The Chinese Bowling Alley,"
The prizes were hand-painted oriental dishes. "My brother
and sister and I all got together and played till we won our mother
a complete tea set," she says.
Though most people recall that the park was
never rowdy or dangerous, newspaper reports of the 1910s cite
"unbridled gambling and pick pocketing" along the game
midway. Many of the barkers employed a "shill," a
person who seemed to win steadkily and effortlessly. When he
departed laden with loot, "suckers" would be induced to
play the game in hopes of making a similar hall. The shill
would return his load of teddy bears and kewpie dolls at the rear of
the stand a number of times throughout the evening.
Every season there were new novelties and
attractions. One year there was a Wild West show. At
other times there was a giant turtle, some goat races, and
"Alligator Joe" and his "educational
alligators." For a while there was a spectacular
demonstration of submarine warfare called "Terror of the
Ocean" during the World War I years. A "Chinese
Exhibition" depicted "life in an opium den" and
showed the tortures perpetrated during the Tong War. Sometimes
during the day there would even be special exhibits in the
ballroom. Edna Blank remembers that around 1915 when she was
in the fourth grade she went there on a class field trip to see a
live display of "all varieties of chickens."
Another very popular attraction was the Fun
House, which was initially called "Gump's Mad House" after
a comic strip hero named Andy Gump. There was a hall of
distorting mirrors, a rolling barrel visitors had to crawl through,
and a spot where sudden air blasts would lift ladies' ankle length
skirts up as high as their knees.
The park also boasted a full-sized theater
called The Park and a steam locomotive that circled the
grounds. There was a freak show with such oddities as
"authentic hootchie-kootchie dancers;" Zita, the bearded
lady; a six-legged calf: Bo-Bo the "rubber man;" and a
"Hindu snake charmer." There were Gypsy fortune
tellers and palm readers whenever a Gypsy caravan was in the
area. Usually they would set up their camp in the then wide
open fields where Sears is now located at North and Harlem Avenues.
"There was lots of great food at the
park, too," says Barbara Pellman. "There was a Coney
Island-style hot dog stand that was a hang-out for teenagers.
Hamburgers were not very well known in those days. But
everyone bought lots of ice cream, cotton candy and carmel
In spite of its popularity, the Forest Park
Amusement Park's heyday came to an end in the early 1920s.
There were many reasons for its demise, including mounting pressure
and complaints from funeral parties in the adjacent
cemeteries. Undoubtedly the park's throngs of laughing,
shouting people, the constant bells, gongs, band shell concerts and
roaring roller coasters were extremely inappropriate for the
bereaved families who also disembarked at the Des Plaines
stop. In those days there was a special hearse car on the
elevated which would transport a casket and an entire party of
mourners to the end-of-the-line cemetery stop where a regular
horse-drawn hearse would complete the trip to the grave site.
"One of our favorite expressions when
we were kids and we would hear about the cemetery staffs
complaining," says Barbara Pellman, "was 'they're all dead
over there-they can't hear us.' "
"There was always a lot of trouble
from the cemeteries," says Edna Blank. "You can't
blame them. There was always such a racket at the park.
All the funeral processions had to pass right by."
Also, during the early 1920s the Forest
Park Amusement Park suffered some serious financial setbacks.
When the 18th Amendment created prohibition and the Beer Garden and
Casino were no longer able to sell alcohol, the park's profits took
a major nosedive. But most people say it was the big fire of
1922 which really finished it off completely.
"Many people said the blaze was set by
a disgruntled employee," says Edna Blank. "You heard
lots of rumors. But nobody knows to this day how it
started. But it sure was a spectacular fire! The flames
engulfed the huge oily wooden roller coaster framework and spread
rapidly. In those days the Water Works blew the alarm to
summon the volunteer fireman. Everyone knew that certain
signals meant various things. That night the repeated whistles
woke up the whole town and we could tell from the long blasts this
was a very big fire. We could see it from our house
because the skies were lit so brightly by the flames. Everyone
got dressed and ran to the fires as fast as they could. My
brother was in such a hurry he tore off his nightshirt and jumped
into his bathing suit. He didn't waste any time putting on his
"After the fire," Blank says,
"the rest of the park and its attractions were torn down or
sold, depending upon their condition. The huge, hand-carved
Merry-Go-Round, my favorite ride, was not badly damaged and I guess
it ended up in some amusement park."
A few years ago Cora Sallee of the Forest
park Historical Society heard from a theme park called Liberty Land
in Memphis, Tennessee, that the original 1907 Forest Park Amusement
Park carousel is "alive and well" and still a popular
attraction there. New Liberty Land postcards show this
magnificent old merry-go-round looking much the way it did in photos
from Forest park dating over 75 years ago.
For anyone who remembers the now long-gone
Forest Park Amusement Park, a casual ride down Des Plaines avenue
can trigger vivid recollections of its special joy and magic.
It was a time when life seemed simpler and more carefree.
"That amusement park was my old stomping ground," says
Barbara Pellman. "I'll never forget all the good times we
Rice, John. "Coney Island of Chicago: Forest Park
was one home to the 'Great America' of its day." Forest Park
Review. 22 April 1998.
Forest Park used to be the
"Coney Island" of Chicago. Or, to put it in modern terms, we had
Great America in our own backyard. We had the highest and steepest roller
coaster in the world. We had water rides, underground rides and a carousel
with hand-carved horses.
Where was all of this frivolity located? Inside
the Forest Park Amusement Park, which was built on land now occupied by the Des
Plaines Avenue "el" station and the Eisenhower Expressway. The
22-acre park extended all the way to First Avenue, and it was a sight to behold.
When the park opened in 1908, it was ablaze in electric
lights and the entrance on Des Plaines Avenue, flanked by two "great
Chinese towers," made at least one patron feel like she was "coming
into a castle."
Inside there was a small locomotive to transport
visitors around the park, not unlike the miniature train at Kiddieland.
The train could take you to any number of thrilling rides, or to a casino, a
beer garden, a burlesque show...this was Disneyworld rated "R".
Crowds of train travelers from Chicago and tourists from around the world
flocked to Forest Park.
The idea for he amusement park came from men who had
been associated with the building of Coney Island and other amusement
parks. They chose Forest Park because of "the remarkable convergence
of transportation lines at this point."
The el line had been extended to Des Plaines Avenue
only two years before, so visitors could get off the train right at the park's
entrance. One million dollars was spent on the construction of the park,
which involved an "army of workmen."
Finally, in June of 1908, with much anticipation, the
park was opened to the public. Things did not go as planned that first
night, though, as a short circuit plunged the park into darkness and patrons
were guided by lanterns to the exits.
Otherwise, business went smoothly at Forest Park during
its early years. The Forest Park Review reported that "most of
the concessions are running and well patronized."
The newspaper also headlined, "Gambling Wide
Open." According to the Review reporter, "Unbridled
gambling, mixed with pick-pocket methods...which quickly fleece the unfortunate
"sucker" is going on at the local amusement park in such a brazenly
open manner as to fill the observer with amazement.
...Non-interference by the Forest Park police and village officials is evidently
part of the arrangement."
The reporter concludes that, while the park's publicity
department advertised good clean fun, con men were busily separating patrons
from their money. It's no wonder that some Forest Park girls, like Forest
Park Historical Society member Cora Sallee, were not allowed to visit the park.
But, apart from this dark side of Forest Park, there
were the blazing lights of the midway and the many trhill rides. The most
unusual of these rides was The Pneumatic Tube. It was a giant version of
the device used by customers at a drive-through bank. Patrons sat in a
caged car, that shot through twists and turns in total darkness underground,
propelled by forced air. The 3,000 foot trip was made in less than three
minutes. Many of the riders were relieved to emerge safely from the
above-ground station. The tubes for this ride were later unearthed when
the Eisenhower Expressway was built.
The Leap-the-Dips roller coaster may have been even
more thrilling. It looked very much like the American Eagle at Great
America. The big difference was the lead car in the roller coaster had an
engine and a motorman. Instead of being pulled up to the top by a chain,
the motorman drove the roller coaster up the incline and through the dips and
turns. According to witnesses from those days, not everyone emerged safely
at the end of the ride. Passengers sometimes flew out of their
seats. The large number of accidents eventually caused the coaster to be
condemned and torn down.
The park's water ride, "Shoot the Chutes" was
also similar to the ones at Great America, in the sense that passengers were
drenched at the end of the ride. Customers sat in boats that raced down a
five-story slide into a large lagoon. As usual, the people in front got
the wettest. For total immersion, the park boasted a spacious swimming
Besides the rides, the park had a venue for rolling
skating, a spacious theater, a ballroom and a penny arcade filled with
games. At the theater, productions ranged from band concerts and classic
plays to chorus lines of scantily clad women. According to the Review,
"Many of the shows have allowed the girls to appear sans skirts. With
the approaching warm days there is no telling how far they may go."
Another staged attraction, of a slightly different
sort, was "The Terror of the Seas," a recreation of a battle between
an American warship and an enemy submarine. After the sub heartlessly
sinks a hospital ship, the Navy runs the sub down and sends it to the bottom.
For those who preferred quieter entertainment, the park
had the wondrous Grand Carousel merry go-round with hand carved horses reflected
in large rectangular mirrors. After the demise of the amusement park, the
Grand Carousel ended up in the Libertyland theme park in Memphis, Tenn. where it
continues to carry 960 people an hour. The Grand Carousel is listed on the
National Register of Historic Places.
But all was not sweetness and light at the park.
Racial views of the time were reflected by the African Dip, a dunk tank that
appeared to soak only African-American victims. No literature exists
concerning this attraction but a photograph shows tow black men perched above
the barrels of water, with two white men hawking the balls.
These days, anybody who staged such an attraction would
need their head examined. And, amazingly enough, the amusement park was
used for psychological testing. Dr. Perrin, a psychologist from the
University of Chicago, ran his students through the Mouse-trap, a 12-sided human
maze that stood on the park grounds. Perrin would blind fold his students
and send them into the Mouse-trap which had its exit in the center. The
passages of the maze were lined by walls seven feet in height. Perrin
considered the subject had learned the maze when he could go from the entrance
to the exit three times by the shortest route. He gave credit to park and
its Mouse-trap in the paper he published on the "Study of the Human
Learning Process in the Maze."
During its years of operation, the
amusement park was a boon to the Forest park economy. The Forest
Park Review stated that, "Nearly all the mechanics employed
at the park are from Forest park, as are a large number of those who
will be employed throughout the season. During the season
about 200 people are on the payroll at the park, while the company
pays the village $2,000 for bar permit and amusement license."
Despite all of its wonderful attractions,
the amusement park began to deteriorate only five years after it
opened. The Steeplechase, a ride in which customers rode
horses down an inclined rail, was torn down and the miniature
railroad was sold. In 1928 an early morning fire caused
But the real decline of the park was not
due to physical causes but by a law that prohibited the sale of
alcohol. In 1920 Prohibition brought an end to the Beer
Garden, and at the same time law enforcement officials began
cracking down on casino gambling. Attendance began to drop.
The final blow to Forest Park's great
amusement park was a devastating fire in 1922. No one knew how
the fire started, though it was rumored a disgruntled employee set
it. Despite the efforts of volunteer firemen, the park was
virtually destroyed. Most of the attractions were torn down.
Some that escaped the flames, such as the
Grand Carousel, were sold. The property was purchased by Ward
T. Huston & Co., whose owner mysteriously, "could not
remember just when he became the owner of the land."
Forest Park's amusement park had
everything: from animal acts to Gypsy fortune tellers. In its
later years, it attracted a slightly rougher clientele than the
women and children who had first visited its wonders. The Review
reported various crimes at the park, including a vicious stabbing in
a gambling dispute. Fire, or no fire, the park's time had
clearly run out.
The Forest Park Historical Society has kept
the memory of the park alive with a large collection of photographs
and articles. Their dream at one time was that someone might
undertake constructing a model of the park. The Society does
not have the space to display such a model, so it would have to be
displayed at some other location in the village. But, the
first question is, would anyone be interested in making the
model? Let us know. It would be an appropriate way to
celebrate the amusement park that once put Forest Park on the map.
Above is a postcard of Forest Park's old carousal which was slightly burned in
the fire in 1922. It has been renovated and is now at Libertyland in
Memphis. In July of 1980 the Grand Carousal, as it is now called, was
listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The carousal was built in 1909 by William Dentzel of Philadelphia, son
of Gustav Dentzel, America's pioneer carousel builder. It was brought to
Memphis in 1923 and placed in the Fairgrounds Amusement Park. Designed in
the "Jester Head" or clown face style, this carousel is one of only
seven Dentzel carousels in the South and the only one in Tennessee. The
elaborately ornamented wooden horses are entirely hand-carved.