Kennywood Park School Picnics

If you go to Youtube.com, you can view a video taken from the front seat of the Jack Rabbit. I haven’t been to Kennywood Park in decades, and it’s been even longer since I rode the Jack Rabbit. And yet, my stomach flipped just watching the video. That double drop gets me every time!

The weather here in Georgia has turned the corner. We’re having the typical Spring severe weather, but I think we’ve seen the last of the frost. Today is in the mid sixties and the sun is shining brightly.

As I recall, in Pittsburgh we wouldn’t see weather like this until mid-May. That’s about the same time as the signs would go up announcing the annual community/school picnic at Kennywood Park.

When I was in grade school, my first thoughts of Kennywood included the Penny Arcade and the Old Mill. They were the first two things we saw as we entered the park from the picnic area.

While many people rode the street car to get to Kennywood – believe it or not, Kennywood and other amusement parks around the country were built to get people to ride the street cars during the weekends – my family always drove. Perhaps that’s because we always took a picnic lunch to avoid paying the high prices for food at the park.

We’d park as close to the picnic shelters as we could; then everyone pitched in to carry the coolers, table cloths, paper plates, and everything else to a table, which, by the very presence of our stuff, became ‘reserved’.

I can’t imagine doing such a thing today. It’s a shame that we have to fear that our stuff would be damaged, stolen, or destroyed unless we left someone behind to stand guard.

Looking back, I doubt if the menu varied much from year to year. Mom made ‘ham’ salad – using jumbo bologna – and potato salad. Our beverage was usually Reymer’s Blend.

As soon as the table was taken care of, we’d be off to the park for a glorious day of fun.

Back in those days, we didn’t have to pay to get into the park. We bought tickets and each ride cost a certain number of tickets. Although my memory isn’t real clear on this, it seems to me that the first year or two that I went, the tickets were around a nickel apiece. I also vaguely recollect that most rides cost two or three tickets.

Representatives from Kennywood would visit our school each year a week or so before the picnic. The tickets were a bit cheaper if we bought them in advance. In addition, they usually gave us ten or twenty ‘complementary’ tickets.

As I said earlier, one of the first rides we’d go on was the Old Mill. As a very young little boy, riding in a boat through a dark tunnel – occasionally interrupted by a scene made up of statues in various poses – was really exciting. As a pre-teen, it seemed rather stupid. As an older teen – attending the park with a young lady – I finially recognized that the Old Mill was in fact the Tunnel of Love. Woo-hoo!

For whatever reason, during my early years I was inexorably drawn to the Penny Arcade. Perhaps it was the sounds of bells ringing and buzzers buzzing. Or maybe it was the neon lights above the various machines and games. Whatever, I’d go in and play Skee-ball until I’d won enough coupons to by my mom a nice gift – like a Dutch boiler made out of 100% pure tin.

Then I’d go through all the pennies I’d saved to buy cards with pictures of fighter airplanes or Western movie stars.

Finally, I’d head for the rides.

I’m sure Kiddie Land captivated me in my youngest days, but I was more than thrilled when I’d graduated to the adult rides.

The one attraction that I loved – and was long gone before people started suing every chance they got – was an old fashioned fun house. It had a little bit of everything: mirror maze, dark passages, and a floor that was really a trap door. When enough people reached that point, the floor collapsed and we found ourselves sliding down a wooden ramp that took us to the egress.

That building later housed “Laugh in the Dark” which forced us to ride a car that careened through much of what we once walked through. However, there was no trap door and no drop onto a slide. The car simply took us back outside where the attendant politely helped us out of the car and back to the end of the line.

At this point, I was going to let you view a video of Noah’s Ark which more or less replaced that original fun house. Of course, they eliminated all the really fun stuff that might cause someone to twist an ankle and sue.

For whatever reason, the videos of Kennywood refuse to be embedded in my blog. So, we’ll let everyone use his or her imagination to visualize the fond memories.

There are so many memories wrapped around Kennywood Park that I couldn’t begin to list them all here and still have time to do something else with my life.

I fondly remember the Scooters (bump-em cars), the Pippen (which is now known as the Thunderbolt), the Racer, the Jack Rabbit, the row boats, miniature golf, and the train.

I really enjoyed riding the train – even after I’d grown older and more adventurous – because of the wonderful view of the Monongahela River and one of the dams.

One of these years I’ll get back to my old home town and take the time to revisit the park that meant so much to me while I was growing up.

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7 Responses to Kennywood Park School Picnics

  1. Robert Nelson, says:

    Just discovered this blog. My fondest childhood memories are set in the Heights on Clairhaven St. I remember the theater very well, ths market and the shoemakes shop across fron the UP Church. Moved to McKeesport in the early 50s . Still miss the Heights. Went back a few years ago but you cant go home again. It is just not the same
    Would love to get back to see 1256 Clairhaven again but that wont happen. My family has a long history of life in the heights

    Robert nelson Newark valley,NY

    • jimsjourney says:

      That shoemaker was the best – even if he did lecture me about buying cheap shoes.

      • Robert Nelson, says:

        Life in the Heights. Where you called the grocery store next to the theater and Charlie C ershaw brought them to the house and put them in the ice box if you were not home. Not these days,

      • jimsjourney says:

        You may be a bit older than me. I remember a Bartlet’s store by the theater. Simpson’s was on the opposite side of the street next to Vater’s hardware.

  2. Robert Nelson, says:

    Bartlets was the store we got our groceries. I left in the summer of 53 when I had completed 4th grade.My grandparents kept the house a few more year.My uncle John Nelson lived on Elmont st inthe same house my mother was born in. I attended the ols Schaffer school. Can only remember 3 classmates. Virginia Yockey,Bruce Detrick, Nancy Story…Thanks for providing a place to drag up some fond memories

    • jimsjourney says:

      You must have been one year ahead of me. The people I remember – I think they were in your class – were Miles Borgo, Josephine Nemeth, Carol Miller, and Cathy Cunningham. I should remember more because they combined our grades in fourth and fifth and fifth and sixth grade classes.

  3. Robert Nelson, says:

    I have forgotten many names. I was so young. I remember very well the school trips to Kennywood. Street car to the park. Dad and grandpa meeting us for the picnic lunch you wrote of. We ate the same things you did. Right now I am hungry for some chipped ham and glass of Reymers Blend. I also want a a maricopa ice cream. Thanks for the reply..

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