I was thinking about the impact that Kennywood had on my days as a teenager. Having attended Serra Catholic High School when it was an all-boys school, we never had the opportunity to form any relationships with any young ladies within the four walls of the school. Of course, when we had a dance, game or other public event, it was a different matter entirely. However for the most part, even though we did not attend either Duquesne or West Mifflin high schools, most of the guys from Serra dated and/or “went with” the fine young ladies from our neighborhoods. And THAT my friends, was a very good thing!
With all of that said, Kennywood became an integral part of our “Young Love” love life. I suppose Kennywood served the same purpose as today’s shopping malls do for teenagers. It was the place where we would go to see girls, meet girls, and/or date girls with or without parental knowledge or permissions. I am VERY confident that the same strategies that guys had at Kennywood were shared by the girls as well.
Kennywood at night was a magical place. The lights, sights, sounds and smells provided a perfect environment for walking hand in hand with your latest “significant other.” Somehow, the smell of freshly tarred timbers along the walkways combined with the smell of freshly popped popcorn and the fragrance of the park’s many flowers created a mystical aphrodisiac or sorts for high schoolers. Perhaps it can be best described as “Kennywood Musk!”
When you had made arrangements to meet a particular girl at the park, the meeting place was always a particular ride, and one that was usually located very close to the tunnel at the park’s entrance. The Roll-O-Plane, The Old Mill, Laff-In-The-Dark, The Rotor, The Turnpike, or perhaps the Penny Arcade were some of the typical meeting places. If you were “going-with” a special girl, you never wanted to waste any time getting the evening’s tryst started. You would begin walking hand-in-hand or with your arm around your special girl’s shoulders, providing an incredible source of pride, honor and accomplishment. It practically made you feel like an adult!! If however, this was your first meeting with a girl, the protocol for the evening very differently and you would NEVER be so presumptuous to begin holding hands or draping your arm around her shoulder! Just the fact that the girl showed up for the evening was enough to sustain and encourage the young man to move forward with the date.
One of the more difficult parts or making your arrangements for meeting a girl or boy was doing so without cluing in Mom and Dad. I think this was especially difficult for the girl. Cellphones and computers weren’t on the scene, so the ability to discretely call, text or email that boy and/or girl wasn’t a consideration. Unless you were able to set-up an arrangement with someone who would somehow manage to get a message to the other person, you actually had to use the telephone. The phone was always seemed to be strategically placed in as “non-private” of a location as possible in most homes. Ours was located in our dining room, and of course, everyone could hear my conversations. The ringer on the old black desk phones was always set at ear deafening levels, so you couldn’t be discrete about getting a call, even if you tried. But I digress……
Kennywood, in my day, provided the best “cheap date” around! There were no admission fees, hand stamps, turnstiles, metal detectors, etc. to contend with. You simply walked, took the bus, rode with a friend, or drove the family car to the park and made your way through the tunnel under Kennywood Blvd. into the park. Whenever I visited the park in recent years, that very familiar echo that I heard while walking through the tunnel, created the same air of anticipation in my mind as when I was a kid.
Now that I have reached a certain “mature” age in my life, I suppose it’s ok to admit to some of the “guy strategies” that we employed when we were with a girl at the park. I am not deluding myself by thinking that these strategies were foreign for the girls we were with, however just like a well-rehearsed script, we all knew the parts we had to play. Allow me to explain……
Certain rides were chosen based on expected responses from the boy and the girl. Early in the evening, you had the “Chapter One”, or the “ice-breaker” rides. These were the rides that did not call for you to be in the dark, provoke arm-clinging terror from the young lady, thrust you into provocative situations such as hanging upside-down on The Rotor or watching skirts be blown upward on Noah’s Ark, or rely on centrifugal force to be able to “press flesh” with your special partner. Rides such as the Turnpike, the Merry-Go-Round, or the Silver Rockets that swirled above the Lagoon served as perfect ice-breakers. Usually, evening had not fallen, so you we were not under the cover of darkness and therefore unable to show much affection.
After the litany of “ice breakers” had been completed, you would then move on to the “Chapter Two” rides. These were the rides that relied on simple physics to allow you to get “up close” with your date. Young men throughout Duquesne, West Mifflin, McKeesport and the surrounding areas should be eternally grateful to the forces of nature for providing the vehicle to snuggle with another person without being “fresh” or “presumptuous.” Centrifugal Force rides were those that when ridden, forced the person sitting next to you to slide across the slick leather seats and press against you for the duration of the ride. Attractions like The Kangaroo, The Whip, and The Turtle provide the very best use of centrifugal force in the park.
By the time that you had completed your list of “Chapter Two” rides, most new couples had advanced to the hand-holding stage. In most cases, night had fallen and it was now safe to offer your hand to one another. After all, you had just spent the last hour or so, pressed up against each other. So hand-in-hand, both of you would march off to the next phase of the evening, “Chapter Three” or a.k.a. the “You’re My Hero” Stage.
This phase called for evoking terror in your young lady of choice. This was a VERY important stage for the young man. It was the most “telling” chapter of the evening. The strategy was to place the couple side-by-side on a ride that could cause the young lady to make her date to be viewed as a hero in his and her eyes. Most girls from the area were accomplished thrill ride riders. They had grown-up climbing onto the “Henry” size rides with their parents or friends. That had long since passed the “I’m scared” period and had entered the “no big deal” period LONG ago. Truth be told, I am sure that ANY of these young ladies could out last and out ride many of the young men who they had now chosen to make feel like a hero. Now that a date was involved, with reckless abandon, girls became squealing little girls again who would cling to the arm of their date throughout the ride. It was if Dudley Do-Right was rescuing his girl, Nell Fenwick from an on-coming train after she had been tied down by Snidely Whiplash!!
The Racer, the Pippen and/or Thunderbolt, the Roll-O-Planes, and rides of that nature gave young boys and girls the perfect opportunity to cling to one another by choice and not by nature. As I indicated, this stage of the evening was the most telling. It allowed the young man to know if he should move onto the final chapter of the evening or not. A clinging girl as opposed to one who attempted to distance herself from him during the coaster ride meant “move forward young man!”
And so, we would arrive at the final part of the evening, Chapter Four! Assuming that Chapters One through Three had played out as they should, the couple was finally ready to move on to the “Up Close and Personal” rides at Kennywood.
The rides may have been inconspicuous during the light of day, however at night; they turned into “Lover’s Lanes” under the orange tinted, starry skies that loomed over the park. For instance, the innocent looking Ferris Wheel held a special treat for a romantic couple as they swirled through the evening air. This was especially true when they were in the car that stopped at the very pinnacle of the ride as the passengers in the car at the bottom were unloaded and new riders were seated and fastened in. The fella had to have his timing honed to perfection in order to steal a kiss before the wheel started turning again, but after just a few attempts, most guys managed this opportunity with an archer’s precision.
It was very important to land an opportunistic seat on rides in order to be able to steal a kiss or two. The last seats in the Silver Rockets over the Lagoon and the very back of The Kennywood Express Train were prime examples of ideal positioning.
However, the rides that were the preferred and obvious choices were Kennywood’s “dark rides.” Rides such as The Old Mill, Le Cachot, Safari, and Laff-In-The Dark provided the best opportunities for young boys and girls to take advantage of the romantic air that settled over the park each and every evening. The dark interludes in between each animated scene on the rides allow ample time for a couple to demonstrate their “affection” for one another. You never had to worry about anyone seeing you since they were most likely involved in the same endeavors! When couples would emerge from the dark rides, they would most like have a big smile on their face and be sitting side-by-side as closely as they could manage.
I know that this all may sound somewhat surreptitious and calculated, but it was all done in with the spirit and innocence of youth. It was as if Kennywood would purposely adapt the evening environment with the specific intent of creating as romantic a mood as possible. The music that would float through the evening air changed from the daytime carnival music to tender love ballads. Lights seemed to dim a bit as the evening progressed, changing from glaringly bright to romantically soft. Girls and boys were content to stroll hand-in-hand with their date in the company of other couples just talking and laughing and perhaps sharing a giant sized box of popcorn or tearing off pieces of a freshly spun cloud of cotton candy.
It is difficult to imagine a more enjoyable time of our youth. What a fantastic venue for good, clean fun for young people. Kennywood provided a safe and non-threatening environment for kids throughout the area. Parents were comfortable in the fact that their kids were spending the day or evening there, whether working or just hanging-out. Innocence abounded and outrageously vivid memories were made. I would bet that each and every one of us would still get that melancholy feeling in the pit of our stomachs as the voice of Kennywood announced the closing of the park and we would hear the familiar strains of “Nighty Night” by Alvino Rey. What a wonderful time of your lives. Chapter Four, complete!
They say for every boy and girl,
There’s just one love in this old world,
And I know, I’ve found mine.
The heavenly touch of your embrace,
Tells me no one will take your place,
Ever in my heart.
Young love, first love,
Filled with true devotion,
Young love, our love,
We share with deep emotion.
Just one kiss from your sweet lips,
Will tell me that your love is real,
And I can feel that it’s true.
We will vow to one another,
There will never be another,
Love for you, or for me.
Young love, first love,
Filled with true devotion,
Young love, our love,
We share with deep emotion.