After my April 23rd post “Strolling Through Kennywood’s Memory Lane,” one thing is abundantly clear….. Duquesne resident’s love affair with Kennywood Park wasn’t changed or waned through the years. Bar none, every comment I received told of the fond memories everyone held of Kennywood.
I grew up with Kennywood. At different ages, the park meant different things to me. As a wee one, it was a place of wonder and excitement that I was introduced to by my parents. The thrill of the Kiddieland rides, the exciting circus acts on the Lagoon Stage amid the rowboats, or having a wonderful meal at the Kennywood restaurant. As I continued to grow as a child, Kennywood meant the growth of my independence. The annual Duquesne Catholic School picnics afforded me the best opportunity to exercise my freedom as I advanced from grade to grade. When I was advancing to the 2nd, 3rd or 4th grade, Mom was probably right by my side as I would flit from ride to ride. By the time I was advancing into 5th and 6th grade and riding all of the Howdy Doody sized rides, my mom didn’t necessarily walk me to every attraction. More than likely, she had planted herself with another mom in some shady spot in the park, allowing me to explore the park with another friend. Of course, since she was the ticket custodian, parceling out only a limited amount of ride tickets, I was forced to check in with her between rides. 7th and 8th grades meant that I was able to attend the school picnic with friends in tow rather than Mom. Complete independence! In those day before cell phones and the many forms of communication available, Mom still would be at the park, but this time with her own friends…. or so she said. Usually, within an hour or so after my early morning departure for Kennywood, my mother would arrive at the park ready to traipse with her friend. For being a relatively large park, it was amazing how often I would see Mom out of the corner of my eye. Come to think of it, I think I may have been being stalked!
As I made that transition from Kiddleland into the adult rides, I was spoon-fed the rides I was permitted to ride. At first, my mom chose rides that weaned me off of the “safety” of the Kiddieland rides such as the Old Mill, the Carousel, and the Olde Kennywood Railroad. Not exactly what I would describe as “thrill rides! Perhaps the only thrill associated with this group of rides was my mom’s determination to get me the best seat on the ride. I remember her running with me in tow to be sure I would get a carousel horse that was somewhere within the two middle rows of creatures. Since these were the only animals that would rise and fall with the ride, they were at a premium. It seems she never failed in her quest to get the best seat. The same held true for the Railroad train. Mom would rather wait for the next train than take a seat that would not allow me to be on either end. When it came to the Old Mill, the front seat was the only choice in her mind. It might have been a good thing that she never learned to drive an automobile. She would have been one heck of an aggressive driver!
As time passed I soon graduated to more “honorable” rides such as The Whip, The Turtle and The Auto Race. These rides provided just enough thrill to reaffirm that “I have arrived” feeling that I needed to experience, but tame enough to not cause me depart the ride in tears! Two of these rides are still in the same spot as when I rode them in my youth. The Whip is the only ride that currently has been relocated to a different area of the Park. Out of these three rides, the Auto Ride was my favorite. Deep in my heart I realized that I wasn’t really steering the car. However, this was one ride when any kid was made to feel as if he or she were in control. The very idea that my mother was riding in an auto, driven by ME, was almost too much to take! [Built in 1930, according to RideZone, the Kennywood Auto Race is the last remaining Traver Auto Ride in existence. The cars are electric powered and move quite fast. They run in a wooden trough and the ride is almost like a maze.]
The transition to the “grown-up’s” Whip was very easy for me. There was a Kiddie Whip in Kiddieland, so the concept of the ride was already understood. Of course, it took quite a few spins around the Whip’s track before I was gutsy enough to raise my arms and take the “whip” portion of the ride handsfree! Whenever I visit Kennywood, I still ride the Whip and have to smile to see the laughs, screams and enjoyment it produces at 93 years of age! [1918: The Whip is added. 1923: Kiddie Whip is among the first four rides in Kiddieland. 1926: The original 12-car Whip is replaced by a new 16-car model. 1975: Kiddie Whip is destroyed in Dance Hall (Ghost Ship) fire. A vintage miniature Whip from Massachusetts’s defunct Paragon Park replaced it.] When I first rode the Whip, it was located close to what WAS the Pippin (now the Thunderbolt) and adjacent to The Turtle. It was later moved to an area close to the pavilions and is now located in “Olde Kennywood.” Olde Kennywood is located in the area formally occupied by the Sunlight Swimming Pool.
The Turtle was always a big thrill for me to ride. I did some research and discovered that the ride made its debut in Kennywood in 1927. From what I have researched, it is still in its original location too. Aside from the roller coaster type dips, the biggest thrill for me came from sitting close to the entrance to the car. The only safety feature of the car was a loosely draped chain at the entrance that was fastened into place just before the ride started. I swear that I was going to fall out each time the Turtle car took a dip. Oh, the joys of youth.
Gradually, I mustered enough courage to ride the silver rockets that were perched atop a pedestal at the end of the lagoon. There was bridge that you had to cross in order to get to the ride, and then a set of stairs that took you to your final destination. The rockets always looked ominous to me. I would reluctantly climb aboard, knowing that for certain that the rocket was going to snap off the chairs that held it as it spun over the lagoon. I imagined that my rocket would be the one that would be sent flying out over the park and perhaps into outer space like Buck Rogers or Tom Corbett – Space Cadet! Today, the area is now home to Cirque Rocks, a live performance extravaganza that features acrobats and more. Years after the rockets were remove, I recall seeing one perched atop a sign in North Versailles. Close to the Great Valley Beer Distributors on East Pittsburgh/McKeesport Blvd., an auto repair business used the iconic rocket as draw for his business.
When I began to write about Kennywood, I never imagined that it would evoke so many memories and turn into a subject that could conceivably result in several postings. Yet, here I am after only 2 posts and I’m still barely out of Kiddleland! I sure hope you’ll share your memories with me as we continue to stroll through Kennywood together in the coming months. Keep the comments coming because its official……. KENNYWOOD IS OPEN!!!!