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July 08, 2024

Two Parks in Two Days

By Dan Mulhollen

There were two area amusement parks well-remembered from the 1960s; Euclid Beach and Geauga Lake. I was fortunate in that I got to go to both on two consecutive days, a Saturday and a Sunday in late summer. My maternal grandmother worked for the Richman Brothers clothing company and they had their shop picnic on the Saturday at Euclid Beach on the shore of Lake Erie. My dad's Pennsylvania hometown had their yearly reunion on that Sunday at Geauga Lake, near the town of Aurora. This was due to the large number of former residents having moved to northeast Ohio by the time I was born. My dad, choosing to follow an older sister and move so he would not have to work in the coal mines and experience the joys that career entailed.

Euclid Beach was on the city's northeast side. By this time it was owned by a major vendor, the Humphrey Company, which made confections; popcorn, popcorn balls, and salt water taffy. The park was on the lakefront and had a pier jutting into the lake. It had a slow round oval ride called the Dippy Whip, Laugh in the Dark, a tame fright ride, several roller coasters, and “Laughing Sal,” a grotesque automaton who had a phonographic record player containing several minutes of a woman laughing. This was the source of many children's' nightmares.

Geauga Lake was an ever-evolving park, a good 45 minute ride from home. This was an oddly dull but pleasantly anticipatory ride, where seeing the peaks of the roller coaster showed we were almost there. Here, there were two Euclid Beach rides with different names: The Whip, and Surprise in the Dark, and mercifully, no Laughing Sal. It had a funhouse, an odd collection of a large slide, rotating barrel, trick mirrors, and an entrance with a moving floor and air jets, —according to popular legend this was to raise women's skirts—but this was the 1970s, and jeans were now common for both sexes. It had an older, oval-path Dodge-ems and a later anything goes one. The guy running the ride had a mix tape, the rockier portions of Zeppelin IV with Mountain's song Mississippi Queen added. Riding the Dodge-ems to the tune of Misty Mountain Hop was highly enjoyable. Like Euclid Beach, it had an Over the Falls ride, which could leave you either slightly damp or thoroughly soaked. The big roller coaster was called the Clipper during much of the times I remember, although it had also been the Dipper and the Big Dipper. I only rode that ride once, and got a terrific headache from the experience. There was a Little Dipper too—a fun milder coaster which was called the Comet Coaster the era when I rode it.

As stated earlier, Euclid Beach was operated by confectioner the Humphrey Company. They wanted the park to be “family friendly” and in their myopic view, that meant “white only.” Protest from civil rights groups and the Humphrey's unwillingness to change their policy of harassment led to their closing the park in 1969—although their snack foods can still be found in some well-stocked candy stores. Some of the rides were moved. The elaborate carousel was restored largely due to the efforts of local antique experts Ralph and Terry Kovel. It now resides in a specially constructed wing of the Cleveland History Museum (formerly called the Western Reserve Historical Society) and can be ridden for a small fee.

Geauga Lake had several owners who continued pulling out old rides for newer ones. By the late '70s this changed from usual amusement park rides to “thrill” rides subjecting the rider to all sorts of loops or corkscrews and G-forces alien to all but fighter pilots. It also spent time adding water park attractions. This was an area of contention as kids loved it but many adults frowned upon getting on a regular ride and sitting down a wet seat from the previous rider (although that experience is not mentioned by those with fond memories of the water park—which makes one wonder if *they were they ones leaving the damp seats).

Across the lake, Sea World existed and thrived for a long time. At one point the seal act had a huge elephant seal slide out to the electric guitar introduction to the Holly's song “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress.” Also memorable were Shamu's huge splashes—refreshing on a hot day. The two parks were briefly joined; this ended when reports of animal mistreatment became public and Sea World closed down. Geauga Lake was purchased by the largest amusement park in the state, seemingly to cut out the competition by gutting the park, not long after the purchase.

There were other parks before this time; Luna Park and Puritis Spring were popular but who closed by time I could have enjoyed them—the latter suffered after reports of a young guy reportedly killed while trying to impress women by showing off on their roller coaster The Cyclone—an odd beast, designed to use natural terrain—a steep river valley as part of the course. Parts of the track were still visible as of 10 years ago, and to this day, there is an alley near the park called Cyclone Lane.

Other than the Humphreys popcorn balls and salt water taffy, food at these parks was standard fare, although I was perversely disappointed that Sea World's “Whale Burger” was simply a large hamburger and contained no actual whale meat. Grills were allowed (tolerated?) at Geauga Lake and my family found a nice spot where the Clipper did a large 180-degree turn.

My father considered the two days a bit much—and expensive. He was glad when Euclid Beach closed down. He didn't mind my grandmother tagging along to Geauga Lake, years after Richman Brothers (and their picnic) and Euclid Beach had closed. One evening we were dropping her off at home when the radio (a somewhat adventurous late-60s middle of the road station) played this slow, nocturnal jazz piece. Thirty years later, I was becoming interested in jazz and started to play a Jazz CD I'd just purchased—and it was that song! Miles Davis' “So What.”

But memories are strange things. I have no idea why so many of mine involve music, and regarding Euclid Beach, there are actually people with fond memories of Laughing Sal. Go figure.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-08-07
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
09:42:46 AM
The two parks from my youth were Kennywood Park and Westview Park. I was surprised when I looked them up that they too were "Whites Only," something I was naively unaware of in my youth. Kennywood is still in operation, but Westview closed in the 70's.
Good article Dan. It definitely jogged some memories.
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