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1. Once upon a time, you went to Kennywood by streetcar. In an open-air "summer car," you could lean out for death-defying thrills even before you got to the park. Pittsburghers had been picnicking on the Kenny property since the 1860s, but in the late 1890s, the Monongahela Street Railway Co. leased the land to create a "trolley park" to attract weekend riders. Pittsburghers hauled picnic baskets onto a #68 streetcar till the tracks were ripped up along what was Duquesne Boulevard in 1958. But Kennywood's status as America's best surviving "trolley park" was a crucial factor in its recognition by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1987 as a National Historic Landmark, a rare honor for any amusement park.
2. If you park in the upper lot, you can catch a summer ski lift known as "Kenny's Parkway" to get down to the front gate. This preps you for the scary-air-rides--later, it's a one-more-for-the-road finale. And it's free.
3. Since 1993, everybody has entered Kennywood through the drab concrete tunnel. Maybe its gray plainness is intentional and psychological, calculated to make the colors and noises ahead seem more inviting and enchanting? Yeah.
4. Welcome to Kennywood and the Turnpike Ride. This little-cars-on-a-highway ride was an unabashed attempt in 1966 to add some Disneylandish pizzazz to an aging park. Baby boomers love to recall the "old days" when the now-electric cars were gas-powered, and you could plow into the slowpoke ahead of you! Till the mid-60s, this was Laff In The Dark, built by the fabled Harry Traver Co. of Beaver Falls. In this classic "dark ride," you zipped and bumped through a dark building with lights flashing, monsters lunging and horns honking all around. The park's first roller coaster originally filled this corner, 1902-21. Designed by Pittsburgher Frederick Ingersoll (who influenced amusement parks around the world), this first figure-8 coaster had names from the mundane Toboggan to the sublime Gee Whiz Dip The Dips.
5. The Old Mill is. First built in 1901, it's a leisurely boat ride along a dark river, punctuated by odd little scenes (originally called "gorgeous grottoes") that have changed many times. The paddle wheel out front actually pushes water through the ride, which starts at its highest point and gradually flows downstream to the end. The water ride was completely rebuilt in 1926, but many still consider it Kennywood's oldest. It's had other name--like Panama Canal and Haunted Hideaway--but never officially the Tunnel of Love, although everyone knows, um, well (park employees know amazing tales of amorous antics here). Each gondola used to have hand-carved dragon heads on the front, but they've been chopped off and recycled (see #29).."
6. Be sure to notice the park's oldest restrooms (yes, landmarks too) in the handsome stone building originally referred to politely as the "ladies' cottage." It's got a nice front porch (where people used to rest in rocking chairs), but now the foot-massage-machine is around by the men's entrance.
7. The Penny Arcade (opened in 1910) used to have plenty that cost a penny: souvenirs, postcards, hand-cranked movies, fortune-tellers, games. Now you need quarters and have to search among squawking video games to find vintage machines.
8. Behind the Arcade, you'll find one of Kennywood's distinctive old picnic groves with tables, shelters and room for dancing on ethnic-picnic days when someone always seems to play the accordion. Maybe Kennywood's anniversary will revive the old tradition of building a giant birthday cake--100 candles!
9. Beside that picnic grove, where the ground dips down, people used to fill pitchers from the natural spring, known as Braddock's Spring because historians believe that, in 1755, General Edward Braddock stopped there with his army en route to Fort Duquesne. Chances are the young George Washington filled his canteen here, too.
10. Ah, the Jack Rabbit--an extraordinary roller coaster in a perfect location. Designed by John A. Miller (whom aficionados revere as the "Edison of Coasters"), the Jack Rabbit was custom-fitted to these hills and valleys in 1921. Its spectacular double dip (a "camelback") is now the only double dip on any coaster in the world. This is also the only Kennywood coaster that still uses manual brakes. And since the Jack Rabbit is essentially the same as it was in 1921, it also has a claim as "oldest ride in the park."
11. The lattice-fronted Racer was designed by the amazing John A. Miller in 1927. Its two trains race endlessly along an ingenious track that's really one long loop: Start on the left, end on the right. But then you've traveled only half of the track--you have to ride twice to go the full length. So when do you switch from left to right? And vice versa? Think about it.
12. Sploosh! Ever ride a big log along a flume? When the Log Jammer started "jamming" in 1975, it was the park's first million-dollar addition, designed to keep Kennywood in the big leagues with some snazzy theme-park power. Luckily it didn't infest the place with grandiose ideas, and, in its 23rd season, the Jammer has its own old-fashioned charm.
13. Congress may not extend Great Lakes status to Lake Kennywood any time soon; but, at night with lights reflecting, who cares that this great beauty is only 3-feet deep, filled every spring with water piped from natural springs in the hills around the parking lot? You can rent pedal boats now; but for years Kennywood had green rowboats, and on St. Patrick's Day 1936, the Pittsburgh Police came and borrowed them all to help rescue people during our city's worst flood. (See #42) At the lakeside park bench, there's Charles J. Jacques Jr., proofreading his new book of park history. More Kennywood Memories. Looking over his shoulder is, well, that's supposed to be me--video producer and map annotator--as usual taking advantage of all the meticulous historical research he's done on the park.
14. The old Lagoon Stage now serves as the boarding area for the wrap-yourself-and-fall-from-high-up-on-a-rope-swing ride known as the Sky Coaster. (This appeals to people?) Pay $15 extra, and you can get a video of your plunge. There's a story going around about a woman at Kennywood who was eating Potato Patch fries when a set of false teeth plopped onto her plate? They had popped out of an elderly gentleman's mouth as he screamed overhead on the Sky coaster. (A great urban legend if it's not true.)
15. The Kennywood Dance Hall once stood at the end of the bridge. The open-air, two-story structure hosted hundreds of bands from the Westinghouse Air Brake Band to Rudy Vallee & His Connecticut Yankees, from Benny Goodman to Jimmy Dorsey. In 1953, the building became the Enchanted Forest, a "walk-thru" kiddie funhouse; then, in 1964, it housed a dark ride called the Tornado. Three years later, it was remade as the Ghost Ship with a gruesome spider-skull out front. Then on June 19, 1975, Mount Lebanon's school picnic day, an electrical problem sparked a huge fire. The heat destroyed nearby trees and rides; but the park didn't close, and picnickers watched the spectacle from other rides. Firemen pumped water out of the lake but couldn't save the old Dance Hall..
16. Oooo, remember those shiny art-deco rockets that swung out over the little island? From 1940 till the early '70s, the Rockets were a glistening ride into the future as envisioned by Popular Science magazine. The end of the lake was filled in for the Garden Stage, and now the Sky coaster's launch tower looms overhead. Watch for falling teeth!
17. Kennywood has been famous for small-sized rides for small-sized kids since the 1920s. If you're not tall enough for big rides, come to Kiddieland and check out that Kiddie Whip and the wee funky-but-chic Cadillacs on the Little Turnpike. Where else can you find a whole world just your size?
18. Size has always counted at Kennywood. The current height markers are cutouts of Kennywood characters like Colonel Bimbo and Kenny Kangaroo; but in days gone by, Howdy Doody and that bald cartoon kid named Henry were the standards. Howdy and Henry were replaced briefly by peanuts characters, but when someone mentioned "copyright," the park came up with home-grown mascots in 1974.
19. I love the Auto Race. Or the Auto Ride. Or whatever you want to call these vintage metal cars on their big wooden track. The smell. The tiny driver seat with the wide bucket backseat. The greenery amid the track. It's classic. Like Laff In The Dark (#4) and the Turtle (#25), the Auto Ride was built in Beaver County by the Harry Traver Co., one of the most important ride manufacturers in the '20s and '30s.
20. My parents always took me on the train, but I never really enjoyed it. It's a dumb ride that Kennywood tries to jazz up with stupid dioramas (hillbillies and such). I know the original train came from the 1939 World's Fair, but I would ignore this ride totally except for the Laughing Lady in the ticket booth. She's an ugly, full-sized figure with a scratchy belly laugh, and she's fascinated me since I first saw her at Laff In The Dark (#4) when I was a kid. Scary but mesmerizing.
21. Oompah-oompah! Back here there was a grand old-fashioned band shell where musicians entertained picnickers all summer. Eddie Pupa's Orchestra played the last concert on opening day 1961, shortly before an electrical glitch set the shell on fire. The space-age Starvue Plaza replaced it in '62, and among the stars viewed were Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vinton, Lassie, The Lone Ranger and Fred Flintstone. It was demolished in the early '80s to make room for
22. The Raging Rapids. Finished in '85, this multi-million dollar mock-tubing-trip-down-a-raging-river ride has water only 18 inches deep, surrounded by boulders that are hollow fakes, but get really wet. I still love that young employees in a nearby tower get paid to control the soaker-geysers at the end. No one is safe. Is that "dueling Banjos" in the distance?
23. Let's face it: A roller coaster is a roller coaster, but the Thunderbolt is the Thunderbolt. It's actually an old coaster called the Pippin (another John A. Miller gem from 1924), which was redesigned by Kennywood's master builder, Andy Vettel, in 1967. Pittsburghers loved it immediately; but in '74, when it was praised in The New York Times as the "King of the Coasters," people allover the world began to make pilgrimages here. The first drop is a doozy--then it gets even better.
24. Oh, yeah, Kennywood used to have a matched pair of Ferris wheels. Put up in '59, they were "Eli wheels," the classic open-two-seat sort (like the one still at Idlewild), but all styles of Ferris wheels have their roots here in Pittsburgh because George Washington Ferris, a local engineer, designed the first one for Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Ferris remains the only ride designer whose name has been immortalized by his invention.
25. The Turtle is a sly old ride. It looks tame, but it may surprise you. Originally called the Tumble Bug, it was once a standard in many parks, but there are only six left operating in the world. Installed here in 1927, it's another local contraption built by Harry Traver (see #19).
26. Everybody loves French fries from the Potato Patch with all the spices and toppings. While we were shooting "Kennywood Memories" in '88, an amusement park magazine called these spuds "the best in America." We agree. (For unexpected toppings, see #14).
27. Ooo-lala! "Le Cachot" means "the dungeon" in French, but what crazy Frenchman named this ride? It's got a wacky spooky-castle-motorcycles them now, but it used to be the Safari, the Zoomerang before that, and, in ancient photos, you can see the Whip was here.
28. At the Sportland Building, if you've got a strong arm or any of the assorted skills needed for the Goblet Pitch, fascination or the Cat Rack, you can impress your date by winning a stuffed animal or maybe a household appliance. People who like a sure thing can dangle a line at the Fish Pond.
29. Kennywood chairman Carl Hughes always liked the big pagoda at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, so he commissioned this unusual refreshment stand in the mid-'80s. They don't sell sushi or eggrolls, but be sure to notice the Asian-looking dragon heads around the building. These red beasts were carved by the Philadelphia toboggan Co. (famous maker of merry-go-rounds) originally for the boats at the old Mill (#5). Kennywood loves to recycle stuff.
30. Kennywood loves a bargain, too. And the park got its magnificent merry-go-round in 1927 for just $25,000. A steal. The Denzel Co. of Germantown built this four-row Grand Carousel with 66 animals--50 jumping horses, 14 fixed horses, a lion and a tiger--for Philadelphia's sesquicentennial; but it wasn't finished on time, so Kennywood got a great deal. Carousel connoisseurs concur: It's one of the best in the world. And Kennywood has carefully restored and repainted all the animals for this centennial season. Take a ride on a great work of art.
31. Officially, this building is the Carousel Food Court, but park regulars still call it the Fountain because there once was a soda fountain in her. Before that, it housed the park's first two merry-go-rounds. When the park bought its third one (#30), it didn't fit here, so they found new uses for this old structure. Look up at the woodwork in the barn-like roof.
32. The bit old restaurant building that's right in the middle of the park has been here since the very beginning. It was al open-air at first, and people brought picnics or bought food from the restaurant. People call it the Casino, but you'll also hear it referred to as the Patio or the Cafeteria. It's got the original beams and tin ceiling on the firs floor, and upstairs there's an employees-only cafeteria.
33. Kennywood's gardeners keep all the plants and flowers gorgeous all summer long. These natural decorations add a dignity and beauty to the whole park. Over here, you'll also see the stately old windmill, built in 1929 on the island where the rockets (#16) used to fly, then moved here, close by the other Old Mill, in '39.
34. In 1930, when the park opened a spacious Tom Thumb Golf Course, Americans were crazy for miniature golf. Kennywood moved the holes in 1977 to their current location (sort of beside the Steel Phantom), and the Grand Prix bumper cars are just one of the rides that have taken their place.
35. During the Depression, Kennywood also provided a little zoo action: a cage full of monkeys, free for gawkers. When folks got bored with the monkeys, the cage was dismantled but eventually recycled as the support structure for the fake-stone underpass on the little-cars ride in Kiddieland..
36. The Pirate Ship is one of those rides you either love or hate. It's also one of the sort of pre-fab carnival rides known as "flat rides" that make up a separate little midway in this part of the park.
37. None of the streets of Kennywood has a name--they're all referred to as "midways." But for this big 1998 season, Kennywood has added a new "Turn of the Century Midway," which fills a slice of idle space inside the Steel Phantom's track. You'll find sideshow classics like The Headless Lady, a flea circus, and a human cannonball named Bullet Boy. The par is setting up its collection of distorting mirrors, too, and celebrating its history with a new display of old photos. In this part of the park there was once a big funhouse with names like House of Trouble, Daffy Dilla and Hilarity Hall, until it became the home of the bumper cars called the Skooter in 1934.
38. Many of Kennywood's glorious old attractions are gone, but a few old ones were revived in 1995 as Lost Kennywood. You walk through a re-creation of the entrance to Oakland's old Luna Park, and you may feel the splash coming off the chute ride called the Pittsburgh Plunge. Kennywood carefully moved its old Whip here too, numbering all the old floorboards so they could be re-aligned exactly right. A classic "flat ride," the Whip also has a claim on oldest-ride-in-the-park status: There's been one here since the 1910s, but this 16-car model arrived in the late '20s.
39. When Kennywood built its giant (350x180-foot) swimming pool in the mid-1920s, it may have been the biggest in the world. It had a stately pavilion (where, for 10¢, you could just sit and watch), and a white-sand beach on three sides. Legend has it that Johnny "Tarzan" Weismuller, an Olympic swimmer from Winderber, used to swim here regularly. In 1953, when integration became a controversial issue, the pool became a boat ride but was reopened for swimming in '58. There had long been major problems with leakage and mine subsidence under the huge pool, and it was slowly sinking, so it closed forever at the end of '73.
40. The Pitt Fall debuted in 1997 as the world's tallest free-fall ride, and the line sometimes seemed as long as it was tall. The falling four-person seats are slowed and stopped by huge magnets. Careful you don't leave your stomach at the top.
41. In 1992, Kennywood really supported its claim of "Roller Coaster Capital of the World" when it added the computer-designed metal-tracked Steel Phantom. Its incredible drop from the top of the 225-foot-tall second dip, which zooms down through he Thunderbolt's track, is still the steepest, fastest hill on any coaster in the world. After that mega-plunge, the rest of the loops and twists are easy.
42. There used to be Noah's Arks at parks around the world. Now only two are left: one in Blackpool, England, and this one. Kennywood just happened to be constructing it on St. Patrick's Day 1936, when Pittsburgh's worst flood hit, but it's been high and dry on its own little Mount Ararat ever since. The legendary air jets that blew up women's skirts are gone, as is the spongy-tongued-whale entryway, but new special effects added in '95 make it one of the most technically interesting and up-to-date rides at Kennywood. It's a big rocking boat full of old and new things, a microcosm of this park, which is truly one of the most enchanting places in Pittsburgh. Or the country. Or the world.