A LIFETIME OF ELDRIDGE MEMORIES
by Claire Rhodes

remember almost every aspect of the park. My earliest recollection was the rides in Kiddieland. I loved that little train. And I can still remember the day I realized I wasn't really driving the boats!! I graduated to the bigger rides after refusing to go back where the boats "cheated". I loved the kiddie roller coaster and whip, and couldn't wait to be able to go on the big versions of those, either. To this day I can still hear the sound of the Speedway Roller Coaster as it clunked its way up that first hill.

You didn't necessarily need money to go to the park. We would go watch movies, talent shows, aerial acts, clowns with breakaway cars. What fun (and free) ways to spend a sultry summer night. Life there could be as fast or as slow as you wanted to take it. Plenty of folks pulled their cars along the little creek and washed them on a Sunday afternoon. We would take picnics up to the nob and sit there in the shade of those big trees, sometimes followed by a ride around the lake on Jasper. They had swings in the playground that you operated with your arms - those were fun, but the monkey bars always drew the attention of my brother and me. And the fireworks!! Several times a year we would line Lackawanna Ave. to watch them. They were amazing.

Naturally, the rides were the big draw to us kids. The Spooks House terrified me at first - at least the idea of going in there did. I mean, did you hear those screams coming from in there????? Once I'd actually been through there, though, it was almost a cult like experience to go back and say all the jokes as you went ....Where's Herman? Here Lies Herman.... and that train at the end - I can still hear the whistle blow, see the train up ahead, feel that whoosh of air, and then the sound of those double doors opening up!!!

The bumper cars were a great favorite. We would really get into it, lining one up in our sights and broadsiding 'em. Of course, that was in the early days, before they just became "scooter cars" that you drove in circles. The merry-go-round was a favorite, too. You could get cooled off by the breeze, and it was relatively cheap compared to the other rides. Of course, we all had our favorite animals, and we'd circle around until we found one that we liked - always on the outside row. What a treat to get the gold ring!! And I marveled how the "big" boys who worked there could snap the rings back up with those long rods they used. I never did like the lighted board that replaced the ring dispenser. Just not the same.

When I was in my teens, both my parents worked there every summer. Mom worked in the gift shop. I remember the little cards on the shelf warning us to look but not to touch: "Pretty to look at, lovely to hold. But if you break it, then it's sold." Mom worked some of the indoor games - hoop toss, balloon darts and the like. Dad had several areas he worked in over the years: Skee Roll, the Shooting Gallery and my personal favorite, the French Fries stand. To this day, I still judge french fries by that standard. They were the best!! I also loved the cotton candy and candied apples, where Mrs. Merrill would always call you by name and tease you before you got your treat. You'd have to eat the cotton candy pretty fast or it would melt.

We knew most of the workers there by name, and they knew us because of Mom and Dad working there. On slow nights, we'd get free rides on the merry go round and the roller coaster...they'd send us up and we'd scream our fool heads off, attracting a few paying customers in the process. It was definitely a mutually beneficial deal. Every year we'd hear the rumors - the roller coaster has been condemned!! After they tore down the "baby coaster" we thought there might be some truth in it, but it never stopped us from riding on it, because who knew if this might be the last opportunity we got? But, we had plenty of opportunities, and the rumors just made it that much more exciting.

I wish every kid could experience the fun we had at Eldridge. It was a nice, family oriented and safe atmosphere, and I hated to see it disappear. But, with the rebirth of the carousel, there's new hope that we'll see Eldridge re-emerge as a family entertainment center in some form.


How about you? Do you remember Eldridge Park?
What was it like for you? Any favorite memories?
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