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!
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!