Kennywood After Dark, McKeesport’s Terry Lee and All Things Romantic!

A few days ago, a Holy Name buddy of mine, Bob Chermonitz, posted a comment to my blog and reminded me about some of the finer points associated with Kennywood Park.  Bob’s reflection dealt with using the Kennywood parking lot during the winter for sled riding. His description of those times included the fact that besides the thrill of sled riding, it became a great place to meet girls! I believe the more important point that Bob was making was how even in the winter, Kennywood was a Duquesne teenager’s little love nest.

When we were finally old enough to go to Kennywood by ourselves during the summer, we were restricted to daylight adventures only. My dad or a friend’s parent would eventually pick us up before sunset and we’d be at the table for dinner as usual. Still, that freedom of being able to go to the park with our buddies was like a rite of passage in Duquesne. It was great fun since we were our own boss and didn’t have to depend on Mom or Dad for tickets. We were able to repeat ride any attraction without having to listen to our parents asking why we wouldn’t try another ride. Best of all, we weren’t forced to ride what had become “lame or sissy” rides like the train, the merry-go-round or The Old Mill. There was no backing away from riding the roller coasters, especially if you were dared by one of your friends. We had reputations to uphold you know!

I was very content with many summers of solo trips to Kennywood with my buddies. However, in the Summer of ’65, things began to change for us. It was just about this time that all of my buddies and I decided that girls were not quite as disgusting as they had seemed in prior years. All of the sudden, they became a bit more interesting. It was during that summer that we began to allow girls to be part of our fun during our daytime trips to Kennywood. We were all surprised to see that they would ride any ride we would AND they didn’t always scream or cry or ask to be let off. Very interesting, and yet, only a prelude of things to come.

After that summer ended, things changed dramatically for all of us. The summer of ’65 had been the end of our grade school days. We were all about to embark on the adventures that remained ahead as we all entered high school that school year. It was a particularly tough time for me since I was going to be attending Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport along with my brother. A few of my grade school classmates would be attending Serra as well, but as fate would have it, we were in different homerooms and totally different classes most of the time. My mother had died during that summer in 1965, so it was particularly hard for me to leave my friends behind as they began to attend Duquesne High School. The truth is, except for a very few, our ties were broken as soon as our freshman year began. I guess time waits for no man.

Since I was now in high school, school picnics at Kennywood Park had become a thing of the past. I am sure that for all of my new high school friends and my old grade school friends, an amazing transformation had occurred by the time the Summer of ’66 had rolled around. All of the sudden, the opposite sex had become very interesting, in fact, delightful. Within the span of one short year, the thrill of riding the attractions at Kennywood with your buddies gave way to a much more exciting way to spend time at Kennywood…… AFTER DARK IN THE PARK!

Thank you to Jim Hartman from the Miffin Township Historical Society for making us aware of the following Youtube video!

Right at the approach of dusk, moms and dads would gather up their kids and begin the trip home after a long day at the park. If you were positioned close to the tunnel that led to the parking lot just when dusk was approaching, you would have seen parent after parent carrying their exhausted little ones out of the park. Occasionally, you’d see a tantrum from a defiant child which ended abruptly with a swift swat on the rear from Mom or Dad. The 7th and 8th grade crowd would also be hurriedly making their way out of the park in the hopes of catching a bus or walking home fast enough not to miss their curfew!

As Kennywood’s younger population exited for the evening, there was always a large influx of high school kids occurring at the same time. Groups of guys or girls who were eager to find true love that evening were on the prowl. Young couples, barely past puberty, would stroll in with hands held or arms draped over each other’s shoulders. As dusk quickly turned to darkness, Kennywood became a blaze with neon and flashing lights.

I recall meeting friends on those warm summer evenings and eventually locating that special girl I was supposed to meet there. There would usually be two or three couples who would decide to hang out together and spend a delightful evening riding the coasters in the dark, grabbing some popcorn or fries, or spending time at any of the game booths trying to win a prize for their special date. Those evening turned into sensory overload for just about everyone in the park. The bright lights, the sounds of the rides, the smells emanating from the many snack stands, the soft music that played and the soft touch of your special girl’s hand as you held it while taking everything in.

I remember that it was at Kennywood that I first got hooked on the slow Doo-Wop sounds of groups like the Skyliners and The Flamingos and The Duprees. That music became part of all of our lives throughout high school. Songs like “High on a Hill” by Scott English became our anthems. McKeesport’s WMCK’s Terry Lee and his Music for Young Lovers became our hero and slow dancing guru! What a special time in our lives.  There’s no way that you can think back to those days and not get a smile on your face.  I happened to come across a website that you all might enjoy. This site still plays The TL Sound! In fact, Terry Lee is still doing broadcasts on this site. The site is simply called THE TL SOUND, click here to check it out!

THE T.L. SOUND

I have also found a number of favorite songs that immediately evoke memories of strolling through Kennywood with your date or even with a bunch of friends having a great time on any given summer evening. Take some time and enjoy a quick musical trip through The Park and some very special times in our lives.

I guess it really doesn’t matter which years you graduated from high school while living in Duquesne. I think you could easily insert songs from Sinatra or Nat King Cole, Johnnie Ray or Johnnie Mathis, or any of the Big Bands and still evoke the same kind of memories of Kennywood Park after dark. It certainly was a very, very special time of our lives. And to all of those DJ’s who kept the romance going on those summer evenings, allow me to close with a big Thank You Mr. DJ!

This entry was posted in Kennywood, Movies, Music, Radio and TV, Summertime. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Kennywood After Dark, McKeesport’s Terry Lee and All Things Romantic!

  1. Rich Racan says:

    Terry Lee, with his soft melodramatic and ever so reverberating voice was the highlite of many evenings in the mon-valley. The oldies he played and his “magic of the TL sound, music for young lovers portion of his show out of McKeesport” was a mood setting tone for a night of necking at the Kennywood dump or the “Ranch”. Remember those places. We all had to be in by midnight and the last songs he played (Our Winter Love, Thank You anyway Mr.D.J., and sometimes a Saxophone instrumental), gave you a head start to get your girl home and be in yourself because of your “fairy license” before midnight. Cool cars were a sign of the times cruising up and down Grant Avenue or McKeesport Blvd, and going to the Eat n’ Park at Homestead. We’d sit at the Eat n’ Park and wait for an out of towner to come by with a hot car and want to drag race. Getting in all our cars and going to Kennywood Blvd just up from the Rankin Bridge we’d line up the two cars and set the race off with a flick of a flashlight. My friend Mike had a Rambler Scrambler 390cu in super charged red-white and blue fast car that would blow the doors off anything. Yes those were the days and I thank the person that said it was a blessing to grow up in Duquesne during the 1960s. A time when life was so innocent. Even with the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Cuban Missle Crisis, JFKs death the his brother Bobby,Martin Luther King, and the racial riots, we all made it through somehow, at least most of us. Just by visiting this website gives me chills to hear that so many have such fond memories of the past in Duquesne and the surrounding area. My sons are 28, 31, and 34 and each one of them knows every bit of information about Duquesne and my childhood. They love every story and now take their friends back from Philadelphia to places like Jim’s Hot Dog on Skyline Drive, Kennywood, and especially Duquesne Place where we had the time of our lives. Wait until you take your grandchild on their first ride on the Jack Rabbit on the dip where they get lifted off their seat for just a moment and watch their face, you’ll never forget it and neither will they. I can still smell the popcorn from the stand next to the Jack Rabbit and taste a frozen Milky Way Bar from the refreshment stand at the Kennywood swimming pool. How about Hody Doody, where you taller than him or O’Henry. Thanks again for the menories everyone. And thanks again Duquesne Hunky for the website. You made me relive my life again.

  2. regis hightower says:

    Good Stuff!

  3. Bob Chermonitz says:

    In the summer of 1969 I was transfered to the Ghost Ship dark ride after a 3 week stint in kiddieland. Bernadette Lucus from HNS worked there, too. The ride was all black lights and dayglow paint inside. Walls only 5ft high and you rode thru a maze of sorts. What most of you don’t know is that after 3 mins your eyes adjust and you can see almost everything. That’s why the ride was less that 3 mins long. Above all of this was our “crow’s nest” which overlooked the entire track inside. One or two of us were posted to keep an eye out for any trouble. But usually all we witnessed was kisses and hugs? Yes, you young lover’s, we saw just about everything inside that ride!!!! But, unlike today, we couldn’t post any pictures on you tube. What an innocent time it was(?). Yes, by today’s standards. But if I only had a camera phone back then! 🙂

  4. Donna Perichak Gasper says:

    I worked at Kennywood summers -’71-74 in the refreshment stands and on the Grand Prix. That Nighty Nite sound -so stands out in my mind. The very last strains were the signals to slam down the shutters on the stands and we could run out of there. Although I was from West Mifflin, I remember the Duquesne kids at the time: Paula & Patrice Steimer, Julie Csahok. Jerome Gibas, now the park manager also started in this era and graduated with me from WMNorth (amazing I can remember these names as clear as day!!) We worked for Bill or Harry Henninger, escaped to the employee cafeteria twice a day (shifts were 9:30 am to closing – a long day). As this was our summer family, there were definitely strong bonds formed. I remember frequently going to the Woodland drive in at midnight after all day at KP in a Corvair.
    The best rides to run were always the ones where there was a chance money could fall out of people’s pockets! The least favorite of course were the ones where you spent all day with the hose cleaning up after folks would have enough spinning around.

    I distinctly recall working the cotton candy stand (shaped like a giant cotton candy) in front of Kiddieland. It was a one or two person stand at best. When the side windows were open, the breeze blew the fluffy sugar around and it would get EVERYWHERE. I would come home with sugar in my hair, in my nose, on my eyelashes. On one boring day, Jules and I made ourselves pink cotton candy wigs in the stand and wore them to entertain little kids until the bees convinced us otherwise.

    It all seems so innocent and surreal now. I wonder what it’s like now for the employees.

    A very memorable site Jim! Thanks for putting it together

  5. Paula Smith says:

    Amazing, manually operated rides and no one got hurt. It was a sweet and innocent time for all of us. I shall never forget it. Good stuff Jim!

  6. Lou Andriko says:

    Do you believe?

    I do!

  7. Dennis E. Andrison says:

    My Grandparents lived at the top of Miller Ave. and on Sunday it was customary to visit there, where the men folk and women folk would gather under the grape arbor and talk to each other in what we used to call “slovak”. Me and my cousins would take off and walk across the old oil soaked parking lot, through the tunnel and into that magic land called Kennywood……………….memories, pressed between the pages of my mind.

  8. Jim Hartman says:

    The original “pony rides” were located where the LOG JAMMER is presently located. This was in the 1950s. I am quite sure that the original pony rides were located where NOAH’S ARK today is located.

    The DIPPER was located to the left of the present day AUTO RIDE (next to Kiddie Land). The original RACER was located where KIDDIE LAND is presently located. It ran along the hillside and had a view of the river (basically where the train ride is today)….

  9. Jim Hartman says:

    In a previous post on Kennywood you had the Kennywood Park “closing theme song” I found the version that I remember from the 1960s (was the 1946 version) on YouTube. Here is the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0O_HYzCEzQ It is masterly done with night shots of Kennywood….

  10. Laurine says:

    I remember thinking that Terry Lee must have been the sexiest guy alive – that voice, those looks, that music!!! I have fond memories of KP after dark, too. Some of them are from working on rides and taking your collection box to the office and giving that big sigh of relief because now you could go home after a long day of ride operating. One of the toughest rides to operate were the Rockets. They were numbered and you were supposed to start the ride, count 3 loops and start braking (with a hand brake) so that the number 1 car was right in front of you when it stopped. Of course if some of your friends were on the ride begging for more loops, you would take the chance to let the Rockets go around 4, 5 or if you were feeling very lucky, even 6 times. You just hoped that the supervisor wasn’t watching and paying attention to how many times the Rockets went around. One of the supervisors was extremely strict and I remember hearing some of the people I was replacing and even some of the people replacing me getting chewed out royally for not having the #1 car right in front of where you sat as the ride operator. Those were the good old days. I remember wanting to ride the Old Mill with my girlfriends (we never thought it was lame!) to all of a sudden wanting to ride the Old Mill with that special boy you liked! Sweet!!!

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