Strolling Through Kennywood’s Memory Lane

One of the many wonderful things about growing up in Duquesne was having Kennywood in our backyard. I’ve  lived in many different parts of the country and have met many people who grew up in the Pittsburgh area. If in the course of conversation we discovered that we both had grown up in the Pittsburgh area, we would always need to define “where exactly” in Pittsburgh. To this day, I always say I grew up about 10 minutes from Kennywood Park. Without fail, those words to any Pittsburgher will immediately bring a smile to their face.

As passionate and proud that I am about being a Duquesne Hunky, the same holds true for being a Kennywood aficionado. As a child and even now, as an adult, I still feel that Kennywood is one of the most delightful places in the U.S. There’s something magical that happens to me when I enter the park. There is sensory overload immediately upon entering. Although the Turnpike has made way for Kennywood’s newest coaster, Sky Rocket, that familiar “clacking” sound of the Turnpike Model-Ts would greet you immediately up entering. The Turnpike ride came into existence in 1966, but I’m sure many of you remember being greeted by  “Sally” at the Laff-in-the-Dark. Sally was the rather “big boned” animated hysterically laughing woman who was encased behind glass at the front of the Laff-In-The-Dark ride. I remember that when I was still Kiddieland age and size, she use to scare the “bejesus” out of me. I remember having a dream as a child that she escaped from her glass case and would chase me around Kennywood. Once I grew to Howdy Doody size, I conquered my fear and confidently strode past Sal and onto the ride.

Just beyond the Laff-in-the-Dark was the Old Mill. I have been researching the ride history of Kennywood and learned that the Old Mill was built over 110 years ago in 1901! The Old Mill has been rethemed several times since it first arrived in Kennywood. The first time it was converted was in 1906 when it became the Fairyland Floats. Its next metamorphosis occured when it was transformed into the Panama Canal in 1914, the same year the actual Panama Canal was opened. In 1956 it became the “Around the World Boat Ride” and remained as such until 1974 when it became “Hard Headed Harrold’s Horrendously Humorous Haunted Hideaway.” In 2004, Kennywood’s Grand Old Lady was once again changed and became “Garfield’s Nightmare!” According to the Kennywood Connection, the Old Mill might be changing once again in the near future. Regardless of the name, this ride has always been the ideal place for “making out” and was aptly nicknamed “The Tunnel of Love.” During the day, families rode into the Old Mill together, but by nightfall, the climate of the tunnel changed and young loves flocked to the ride to catch a few private moments. If those walls could only talk!!

From what I remember, just beyond the Old Mill stood a carnival game of chance. If I’m not mistaken, the object of the game was to knock down a stack of milk bottles with a baseball. Husbands, dads and boyfriends would plunk down their coins for a chance to win a prize. Although the prizes are now primarily stuffed animals, back when I was a kid, the prize was usually one of those glittery chalk statues. There were horses, sailor girls and other colorful choices depending on how well you did at knocking down the bottles. Unfortunately on that particular game, I never really was able to win much above some consolation prize of a whistle or some other cheap trinket.

Directly across from the milk bottle game was a large restroom. Now, one would not normally talk about “facilities” as a particularly memorable landmark, but this case is different. The restrooms had a large front porch, complete with rocking chairs. In addition, along the “lawn” at the front of the structure, wooden benches were lined up as a respite for weary parents and elderly patrons of the park. I remember this spot since it was where my mom would always wait as my brother and I used up any remaining tickets on the surrounding rides at the end of the day. We would run off to a nearby attraction and then return to Mom after we had ridden it. She’d parcel out just enough tickets for our next ride and continue to do so until we had finally exhausted all of the tickets or ourselves. At that point, we would always grab a box of popcorn from the concession stand and head home.

To the left of the milk bottle game stood one of my favorite spots as a child, The Penny Arcade. The penny arcade would hold my attention for the longest time. Although some attractions throughout Kennywood haven’t changed to any great degree since I was a kid, the Penny Arcade is almost unrecognizable today versus the pre-video game era. I would haunt the Penny Arcade with a pocketful of coins burning a hole in my pocket. Virtually every machine was mechanical, relying on gears, cogs, wheels, chains and our own strength in order to operate. Nothing was electronic as it is today, but it was none the less dazzling with the multitude of brightly colored and flashing incandescent bulbs on every game and outlining the walls and ceilings of the arcade itself.

There were so many fascinating machines that I was ready to drop my pennies into. Although I grew up with TV and Cinemascope movies, I would find the old nickelodeons mesmerizing. I’d drop my penny and slowly turn the crank to flip through the Kinescope photographs that simulated motion. There were mechanical Fortune Tellers to forecast your future, but truthfully, they always wore head scarves and reminded me more of a “stutta-bubba” wearing a babushka than a mysterious gypsy. I recall machines where I was able to drop two cents and get a photo postcard of a movie star. Granted, the assortment of stars was rather dated, but none-the-less, they were fun to collect. There was a machine that you could get a “lucky horseshoe” that had a penny in the middle of it and God knows, one could never have enough of those. An assortment of pinball machines dotted the arcade and one whole wall was devoted to skeeball. I remember there were machines that were even able to measure your “love level” and your “mood” using a series of lights. I guess it was like a vintage mood ring. When I think back, the games and machines in the penny arcade in the 50’s were about as “carney” and “hokey” as they could get. However, in masse, they created a fantasyland for this Duquesne Hunky. As a wee one, who was just about to leave  Kiddieland behind forever, to be able to enjoy the adventures the arcade had to offer was irresistible.

My recollections of Kiddieland are somewhat vague. Since I was dependent on my parents for trips to Kennywood, I didn’t know Kiddieland that well since we didn’t visit often. Usually, we only visited three or four times each summer; once for the Duquesne Catholic School Picnic, then there was Slovak Day, Croatian Day and finally, Fall Fantasy at the close of the season. There are three rides in Kiddieland that I remember enjoying. I used to love those little hand cranked cars that moved around the track by hand pedaling them. There was also the Kiddie Old Mill that had little swan boats that my Mom and I would get into and drift through different Nursery Rhyme scenes. Lastly, I vaguely recall a live pony ride. It was at the very back of Kiddieland near the pavilions. I don’t remember a lot of details about the ponies, but I am certain that the “ride” existed. The one ride that I can’t recall if it was in Kiddieland or not was the “Little Dipper.” I recall having to drum-up an incredible amount of courage to ride this attraction, but once I did, I was hooked.

As summer nears and the season rolls on, I’m definitely planning on posting quite a bit more about Kennywood. From the swimming pool to the merry-go-round, from the rowboats to the circus acts, I plan on hitting all the highlights! As always, we’d love to hear your memories, so please…. comment away! In closing, please enjoy Kennywood’s traditional closing song since 1941. It was recorded by Yvonne King and the Alvino Rey Orchastra and is titled approriately, “Nighty Night!”……..

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9 Responses to Strolling Through Kennywood’s Memory Lane

  1. Charlie Dale says:

    I have great memories of Kennywood Park which I visited at least 2 times a year, 1 of visits each year was always when William Penn Elementary picnic/Kennywood day. all thru the 1950’s the first place I would head to was the hand crank cars on rails in kiddie land. I don’t know when it went away, but I can understand since kids look at things differently today. I also enjoyed many other rides like the Twin Racers Coasters, Noah’s Ark (the shock on girls & ladies faces when the air blast came on, of course at that time most all worn dresses or skirts) was one of my favorite part of the ride, the large carousel and the music it played and the twin giant ferris wheels which I see now are gone for what ever the reason. These are just a few of the great ride I enjoyed at Kennywood Park.
    I have been on coasters in parks all over the US just to ride the newest, best and the greatest coasters up to about 19 or 20 years ago, but none have the character of the Twin Racers did. Now I’m to old (as in my 70’s) to chase Amusement Park rides any more. It’s to bad the parks do not have a non rider/observers priced ticket. Someday I would like to jsut go to Kennywood just to look around 1 more time before I depart this earth. I’m now living in south central Florida after my retirement. Sorry for an old mans ramblings.

  2. Scott Allan Oblak says:

    I remember going to Kennywood as a small child in an old station wagon! My Aunt and mom up front, my sisters and me and my cousins in the back! We parked in a mud parking lot by the pavilions!

  3. Jerry Summerly says:

    Kennywood brings many good memoirs as I worked @ the pool under Mr. Stiner my football coach in Jr. High. But just a different note as we had a couple of Irish girls that stayed at our home in White Oak approx. 6 years ago on a special student exchange type program and one of the girls is coming back and one of the places she wants see again is Kennywood. Once you are captured by being there its hard to forget the memories. Living in Duquesne, you never realized how good we had it and we should be thankfull for those good years.

    • Frank Mullen says:

      I would disagree, though as good-naturedly and in as friendly a way as possible, of course, about “never realizing how good we had it.” I did realize – I swear I did – how good I had it living in Duquesne, attending Holy Name School, being DHS’s “Duke”, (1962), having such a huge treasury of friends in Duquesne Place as well as at DHS, and working in Kennywood (I was the busboy in the employee’s cafeteria and, later on, the “Salad Boy” in the public dining room. Even after going away to college in Ohio; then, moving to NYC, I still realized I had been very, very fortunate to have been a “Duquesne Hunky.”

      Though I realize “No road leads to the past,” this blog of Jim’s is like an H.G.Wells “Time Machine” headed back there; on this time machine we can only look out from the machine and see the different events and places pass by for a few seconds. However, we cannot stop for a few moments to interact with people and touch things once again. Reading and interacting here, with Jim, we can see that, all along, our hearts have recorded it all, maybe not intentionally, but sealed it all in, nonetheless, for us to take a peek and remind each other of how lucky we all were. IMHO.
      FrankM, of 105 Miller Ave

  4. Jerry Summerly says:

    They were the good days as I worked at the pool . We had a couple of girls from Ireland

  5. Laurine E says:

    I always loved the ‘little whip’ often called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for the characters painted on the front of the cars. I loved Kiddieland much more as a child riding the rides than as a teen operating them. I used to drive my poor Grandpa crazy trying to decide which ride to go on next and then I always wanted to go “fishing” even though I never won a good prize!!! Those were truly the good old days!!

  6. Claudia Repko Misage says:

    I was a lucky person going to Kennywood all the time every weekend for sure. Picnics, carring the baskets of food and the kool-aid jug. The moms and kids would go early in the morning and spend all day there and come dinner time the dads would show up after either work are listening to a baseball game and they would help clean up and carry all the empties to the cars. We would always walk carrying all the stuff and they the dads would drive us home. I never remember my dad walking the bridge BUT the moms and kids always did. Don’t remember kiddieland that much, a little with my two brothers who were born in 1952 and 1953. Mom and her sisters would always sit across from the fishing pond and we kids would go running around riding one ride at a time then running back for more tickets and go on yet another ride. I must say the Pippin was my favorite.Getting a little older and going by myself to the swimming pool was the greatest. That was the biggest and most beautiful pool around. Much nicer than Blue Dell or Rain Bow Gardens or even South Parks. The Kennywood pool had a area that even had sand near the shallow end of the pool. The locker rooms were large and great and the island in the middle was hugh. The deep end was just large enough and oh the handsome life guards. Flirting and having fun and picking up guys from all over was great. Cannot believe how my mother trusted me, don’t know if I would trust my own daughter, if she was like me???!!! Thank goodness I had three sons!!!!
    I remember all you talked about and could go on and on. How about the fire works they put on—one year they shot up small parachutes and we caught them while watching them at my Aunt Jay’s house. She lived at the top the hill the first or last house on Harden Avenue. Does anyone elso remember those great fire works. I was never allowed to be there while they were going on in the Park because too many people and too many boys. So said my mom. Sorry to keep going on and on but I had such a great time growing up in Duquesne and Kennywood.

  7. John (Jack) Berta says:


    We all have such great Kennywood memories. The last time I went there was about ten or eleven years for a company picnic but school picnics were the best. You always went with a group of friends. Before we arrived at the park, the big decisions had to be made, like what to ride first and who rode with who. Through out the day you would meet other school friends to ride with a few times. The “Little Dipper” was a transition ride that helped you get the courage to take the next step to the “Racer” or maybe the “Jack Rabbit”. Or your friends would offer encouragement with “chicken”. The Little Dipper was located to the left of the “Train”. The “Ponies” were replaced by the “Log Jammer” and were relocated near or behind the “Scooter” after the “Swimming Pool” was taken out. A parking lot replaced most if not all of the pool before “Lost Kennywood” was installed. I sure hope our children and grandchildren will have such wonderful memories of their childhood as we do having Kennywood for our backyard or playground.

  8. Tom Lane says:

    I remember the first “big people” ride I got to on and that was the Rockets. You would walk over the little board walk in the lagoon and climb up to the platform before entering the silvery rocket ship. Then it spun around, quite slowly, but you got to look out over the bustling crowd of people. Later, I always thought of it as a wimpy ride, but that first time was fun. And the double dip on the Jack Rabbit and my favorite was the long dive into the valley on the Pippen, later the Thunderbolt. What a great park that was and is.

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