Monday, January 16, 2017

Forest Park Amusement Park on Des Plaines Avenue & West Harrison Street in Forest Park, Illinois. (1908-1922)


The planning for the Forest Park amusement park began in 1905. Financier Oliver L. Brown had formed the Beach Amusement Company with the intent of building a magnificent resort on the lakefront; however, "the clamors of the people on the West Side for a summer resort of their own" convinced him to select a second site far from the lake: the corner of Des Plaines Avenue and West Harrison Street in what was then the suburb of Harlem. Brown was reported to have hired Franc R.E. Woodward, "the man who made White City Amusement Park famous." to direct publicity, and H.E. Rice, owner of the Globe Theater in St. Louis, to oversee construction; the New York firm of Kirby, Pettit & Green, Coney Island architects, would build the park in a combination of Moorish, Arabian, and renaissance styles at the cost of $1,300,000 The opening was set for May of 1906.

With all this activity sparked by White City amusement park, "Chicago," wrote Billboard, "might well be named 'The Park City.' And indeed, as Chicago parks expanded, so did Billboard's coverage of them. By 1906, Chicago's parks received as much ink in the magazine as Coney Island's, indicating their importance to the industry. Concessionaires and ride manufacturers flocked to the city, making it a booming American amusement business center. As Billboard concluded, "The year 1906 holds great promise..."

The New Year, however, got off to a rocky start for the area's newest proposed park. The site chosen by the Beach Amusement Company at 
Des Plaines and Harrison in the western suburb of Harlem was dedicated in November then surrounded by a high board fence in December. However, on January 3, 1906, the Evangelical Lutheran Ministers' Conference of Chicago met with opposing plans to build the new park next to the Concordia and Waldheim Cemeteries. They drafted resolutions of opposition to be read from the pulpits of fifty Churches in Chicago the following Sunday. They enlisted Alderman Albert W. Belifuss of the 15th Ward to take the matter before the Harlem village board. In the face of such opposition, plans for the new park stalled.

A new Forest Park Fair Grounds Amusement Company had been organized by area politicians and liquor interests. President James J. Gray was a former assessor and circuit court clerk; Vice-president Henry Maiwurm was head of the State Liquor Dealers Protective Association. Treasurer A.E. Winterroth was a Forest Park florist and local agent for the McAvoy Brewing Company; secretary and general manager Joseph Grein was a former state representative and Chicago city sealer. What these men didn't know about running a park would be provided by Forest Park's amusement director, Thomas W. Prior, fresh from Sharpshooters Park last season and White City Amusement Park the year before.

The new company leased the old Beach Amusement site, 22 acres with an option for 14 more, at 
Des Plaines Avenue and Harrison Street, adjacent to the Metropolitan (West Side) 'L' terminals and the Aurora & Elgin Railroad. The village of Forest Park was granted a franchise to operate for ten years. The park was to be constructed by May 30, 1908, at $1 million. $300,000 is from the Forest Park Fair Grounds Amusement Company, and $700,000 is from concessionaires.

Once again, the Chicago Lutheran Synod protested the building of a park next to the Waldheim, Concordia, and Forest Home Cemeteries as a "mercenary scheme showing no respect for the dead." On Sunday, February 23, all forty German Lutheran churches in Chicago adopted the resolution of protests. At the same time, however, Forest Park women were going door-to-door in the suburb, getting signatures on a petition in favor of the proposed park and condemning the cemeteries and churches as non-taxpaying "meddlers." This time, the Synod failed, and park construction went as planned.

The formal dedication of the park was held on March 22. Interest ran so high that special trains were added on the Metropolitan and Lake Street '
L,' the A&E, and the west side surface lines; 5,000 and 10,000 attended. In April, a local option referendum threatened to turn the new park dry. Anti-saloon (and pro-cemetery) forces in the neighboring dry village of River Forest saw the vote as a way of stopping the "doubtless... demoralizing influence" of the not-yet-open amusement park. Despite a concerted effort, the dry forces were defeated; one reason may have been a new paper, the Forest Park Weekly News, edited by "F. R. E. Woodward of the park's publicity department." as an "organ of Chicago brewers and the local saloon interests."
Main Entrance
Though construction was rushed to meet the May 30 date, the park's troubles were not over yet. On the night of May 28, less than 48 hours from opening, a freak storm hit the park, flooding the grounds in moments. With the main braces of the park's Giant Safety Coaster not yet in place, furious winds blew down the coaster structure, crushing the loading station of the Pneumatic Tube ride and a half-dozen smaller buildings.

The opening day was postponed a week to June 6. Several thousand people showed up, although the weather was still unfavorable, and much of the park was not yet ready. Among the dignitaries on hand was Robert R. McCormick, then President of the Sanitary District of Chicago and soon to be the publisher of the Chicago Tribune.
Forest Park Amusement Park was adjacent to and served by Chicago's third elevated railroad franchise awarded on April 7, 1892, to the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad Company (also known as the Chicago Elevated or simply the 'L'). It began its electrified rapid transit service in 1895. There was also a connection with the Aurora, Elgin, & Chicago interurban lines.
The park had arranged to get its electricity from the Sanitary District instead of a commercial power company, and local electric interests had tried hard to prevent this. At 11:15 o'clock' pm on opening night, there was a sudden flash, and the crowded park went dark. Lanterns were used to help everyone exit the park safely. McCormick suspected sabotage due to the "many threats and obstacles put in the way of the district bringing power to the park."
However, by the end of June, everything was running smoothly, and patrons from all over Chicago's West Side flocked to the new Forest Park. Its main buildings were designed in Art Nouveau style by E.E. Roberts, a famous Oak Park architect of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School, and thus its architecture was the most distinctive of any park since White City amusement park. Imposing was the park's entrance, between two towers, each over four stories tall.

Folly, the Queen of the Carnival ─ Artist William Schmingen's statue of a female figure in full Mardi Gras costume, "with cap and bells and stick and bladder." stood just inside the entrance, welcoming visitors to Forest Park. The Grand Fountain originally stood in what was later converted into a flower bed.
Giant Safety Coaster
Giant Safety Coaster ─ Forest Park's greatest ride, also called the Chase Through the Clouds, was said to be the longest, highest, and steepest coaster in the United States. It was also billed as the safest, though there are unconfirmed reports that "passengers flew out of it more than once." 
Giant Safety Coaster
Designed by the Ingersoll Engineering & Constructing Company and built by Paul Howse's Coaster Construction Company, it justified the Lutheran Synod's fears about Forest Park ─ outlined in electric lights at night, the coaster ran right alongside the fence of Waldheim Cemetery; its screaming passengers could be heard from blocks away. 

The Pneumatic Tube ─ A unique ride invented by Joseph J. Stoetzel: the air was pumped out of a long, underground tunnel, creating a vacuum; the vacuum then pulled cars full of passengers through the tunnel at breakneck speeds. Seventy-five years later, passenger Edna Blank recalled:
"It was thrilling and scary. You got into your car in the above-ground station. You were all caged in and in nearly total darkness as you were blown or sucked through the tube by terrific blasts of air ... You'd be going so fast ... just when it looked like you were going to crash there was a spooky green light in front of you. Then the doors would suddenly burst open. Your ride was safely over."
Among the crew that built the Pneumatic Tube ride was a young construction man from Kewanee, IL, named Harry C. Baker. From this start in the amusement field at Forest Park, Baker would become one of America's top ride and park builders, a partner of legendary coaster designer John A. Miller, builder of Coney Island's fabled Cyclone (1927). 

Leap the Dips ─ Forest Park's second coaster, a figure "8," also designed by the Ingersoll Company, ran along the Waldheim Cemetery's fence.
Leap the Dips
The Rathskellar, Ballroom, Theaters, and Penny Arcade ─These buildings lining Des Plaines Avenue showed off E.E. Roberts' distinctive architecture for the park. Like White City amusement parks, Forest Park's Ballroom stayed open year-round. 

Penny Arcade
The Golden Gate ─ A large building whose facade was a massive painting of San Francisco ablaze; inside was a circular panorama of the 1906 earthquake, which patrons rode past on a slowly revolving floor.

Merry Widow Whirl ─ Essentially two side-by-side Ferris wheels. Each of the two wheels had 8 enclosed cars; each accommodated 4 adults. A metal tower between the two wheels supported a common axle.

Shoot-The-Chutes ─ The concrete rim of Forest Park's massive Chutes lagoon had a series of windows in it. The rim was the skylight of the Pneumatic Tube tunnel, which circled the Chutes lagoon.
Roller Rink ─ Forest Park caught the roller skating craze. A palm garden cafe and soda fountain in the middle of the rink was an oval, 1/8 mile long, with a 25-foot-wide skating surface.
Roller Rink
The ride came from Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow, the outstanding theatrical event of the previous year. Hundreds of items were named after the operetta and its wildly popular "Merry Widow Waltz," Merry Widow cocktails, corsets, dinner plates, hats, etc. This ride's motion may have reminded its maker of the 'whirling' of the waltz.

This was the first installation of this ride, which may have been manufactured locally. Before 1909, a second Whirl was installed at Riverview Sharpshooters Park, and a souvenir postcard was issued. On the back was a poem:  
Say! Have you heard of the Merry Widow and Whirl? The latest invention to please your girl. You'll find it at Riverview and Forest Park, You surely must ride on it if you're out for a lark. So when you go to those parks with your girl, Don't fail to ride on the Merry Widow Whirl. 
On the front of the card is a photo of the ride, probably taken at Forest Park; a ticket booth in Forest Park's Art Nouveau style can be seen in the picture.

Bandshell ─ "The Merry Widow Waltz" was probably played more than a few times here. Kryl's, Patsy Conway's, Fraser's Highlanders and Thaviu's were among the bands featured in the first season.  
Other attractions included Baby Incubators, a Double Whirl, a burro ride, and a Casino with a restaurant.

1909 –1914, THE FAST TIMES
In 1909, Paul Howse left White City Amusement Park to replace Thomas W. Prior as manager of Forest Park.

The fact that Thomas Prior left Forest Park after just one season was not surprising, and he had a history of short runs at Ferris Wheel Park, White City Amusement Park and Riverview Exposition Park. But Paul Howse left White City, a spectacularly successful park he had founded only four years earlier, and this marked a significant change in Chicago amusement parks.

Though White City amusement park had been his idea, Howse had always been a low man on its ownership totem pole, below Joseph Beifeld and Aaron Jones. And so, in the last two years, Howse had increasingly devoted his energies to his own Coaster Construction Company, building and operating rides in various parks around the country.
Times were changing. People, especially the young, were throwing off the restraints of the old Victorian Age, becoming faster and wilder. Thrill rides, like the automobile and airplane, were part of this change. Howse saw the change coming as early as 1906, telling Billboard: 
"The country over, inventors and managers are seeking new devices to amuse the fickle public, which is constantly crying for something new. Riding devices stand the wear and tear of years, but shows do not. In ten years the former have grown steadily in popularity, but shows 'play out' in one or two seasons. My guess is that in five years from today the summer park will have 80 per cent sensational riding devices and 20 per cent shows, whereas today they have 75 per cent shows and 25 per cent riding devices."
Howse's statement was amazingly prophetic for 1906. Over the next few years, watching the rise of Riverview Exposition Park, he also began to see problems inherent at White City Amusement Park. Interviewed around the time he jumped to Forest Park, Howse said:
"A number of parks have been designed and built by architects who have had no knowledge of the (amusement) park business and the demands of park patrons. These parks have been overloaded with buildings where rides should have been built. Not over two or three show buildings can bring any return to a park owner. His money should be invested in rides. All spaces should not be filled in merely to form a solid wall of one attraction after another. When a new feature comes out, the park should have a space for it without destroying previous investments."
Though Forest Park had been designed by architect E.E. Roberts, its buildings had been kept to a minimum, leaving lots of room for Howse's firm to build the huge Giant Safety Coaster in 1908. Now, as manager of Forest Park for the 1909 season, Howse did what there was no room to do at White City amusement park; he built two big new rides.

One was a Steeplechase ride, a coaster with wooden horses straddling the rails instead of cars to sit in. Patrons rode the horses the way they would on a carousel. The horses were chain-lifted up an incline, then released to glide over an undulating, curving course like a roller coaster. With six parallel tracks, the gravity-powered ride was a fair imitation of a horse race; the steed with the most weight would move fastest and be the winner. This, of course, was an inducement for couples, even threesomes, to ride a single horse pressed daringly close together, naturally increasing the ride's popularity.
The signature ride of George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park at Coney Island since 1897, Forest Park's Steeplechase was the only one ever built at a Chicago park. A half-mile long, it was built between the Chutes Lagoon and the Giant Safety Coaster by the Steeplechase Construction Company, a new firm founded by PauI Howse.

The second big ride built by Howse's new company was the Grand Canyon roller coaster, at first called the Rocky Mountain Ride. Part scenic and part thrill coaster, a la Riverview Exposition Park's Royal Gorge and the Grand Canyon were unique in that they were the only three-rail coaster ever built at a Chicago amusement park.
Grand Canyon Roller Coaster
Using the same principle as the city's 'L' trains, the Grand Canyon drew electric power from a third rail the entire length of its track. Like the 'L,' a motorman in the front seat controlled the coaster's speed, and he could make it slow down or go deadly fast, taking a back curve at full speed. For this reason, third railers were among the most frightening roller coasters ever built, with the worst safety record of any ride in history.
Sometimes, though, the experience was more farcical than fearful. Not dependent on gravity like other coasters, the Grand Canyon's last hills were as high as the first. On stormy days, when rainfall cut down traction, the Grand Canyon's cars "couldn't make the last hills on the first try. Then the motorman had to back up and take a full power run at the rise ─ perhaps several times before it could be topped. That way, the customers got more mileage and thrills without additional cost."

The Grand Canyon was credited to Howse and Charles J. Scheel, the former manager of White City amusement park's Scenic Railway, who had co-designed Howse's Figure-8 at Chicago's Luna Park amusement park. Figure-8's other designer, White City's chief mechanical engineer Arthur Jarvis, may have also had a hand in Howse's new rides at Forest Park. Jarvis left White City at the same time as Howse to build rides for other parks and several at Coney Island and England at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition. In 1923, Jarvis became the general manager of Coney's Luna Park and built its famous Mile Sky Chaser coaster in 1925.

Howse and Scheel were also said to have 'built' Forest Park's new Carousel. However, as with White City Amusement Park's Carousel the year before, they bought a machine made by the Dentzel company and built the pavilion to house it. Further drawing on his White City experience, Howse added the Reign of Fire to the park. Complete with the usual streetcars, fire engines, and daring rescues of young women from burning buildings, Reign was described as a "Red-Hot Fire Show."

"Red-Hot" also this season was the Human Roulette Wheel, a spinning device invented by Coney Island's George Tilyou that allowed men and women to get tangled together in a mix of laughter and physical contact. 
Every Chicago Park installed one in 1909, including Forest Park. Like the Steeplechase, "popular because it defied conventions" with its chance for close, physical contact and the foolhardy thrills of the Grand Canyon third railer, the craze for the Human Roulette Wheel signified a new and reckless abandon in the air in 1909. A sign that the Victorian Age was dying and that much 'faster' times lay ahead.
Madam Francis - Scientific Palmist and Astrologer. 


Forest Park's slogan this year was "Go Where The Gos Go": ads and billboards showed the Gos, an imaginary family, enjoying the park; employees portraying the Gos were on hand at the park and made promotional appearances around the city.

For all this publicity, there were only a few new attractions to promote this year. Borrowing from Riverview Exposition Park, a new "mammoth" swimming pool was opened. Borrowing from White City amusement park, its star attractions were Margaret and Elsie, "Queens of the Deep Blue Sea." Bullfights were presented by toreadors brought up from Mexico. Happily, the bull was roped and thrown, cowboy style, and was not killed. Broncho Buster 'Texas Hills' and his Wild West troupe demonstrated the 'hanging' of a horse thief. The William Morris Agency was responsible for booking the park's vaudeville theater.
All these new attractions were shows, which seems strange, given manager Paul Howse's belief that parks should concentrate on rides instead. Perhaps it wasn't so odd after all. At the end of this season, Howse quit Forest Park.

Forest Park featured Link's Posing Beauties, Mlle Mercino Del Pino, the ''sensational Spanish snake dancer'', and the Mystery Dance of Serina, the barefoot Greek.

The former assistant manager, M.A. Bredel, replaced Paul Howse as manager this year. Replacing the Go family as the costumed characters from last season, the park introduced Mutt and Jeff, cartoonist Bud Fisher's famous comic strip creations. The characters met the public in 'receptions' twice daily, in the afternoon for children and in the evening for adults.

New at Forest Park this year was the Mouse Trap, which was renamed in later years to the Iron Maze. In October, Fleming Perrin, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, used it for scientific research. College students tried to make their way through the maze in "Experiment II," a study of the human learning process, which began in 1909 at the University of Chicago's psychology lab. The results of the Forest Park experiment were published by Princeton University in 1914.
Replacing the Infant Incubators and the Reign of Fire show from last year was a tanbark arena seating 1000, and I featured such acts as the A.K. Ranch and Real Wild West. Another new attraction was Alligator Joe and his 3000 live alligators and crocodiles, which range from three inches to 30 feet long.

Billboard noted that the Chase Through the Clouds giant coaster was "doing the largest business in its career." now that it had been "thoroughly overhauled." and "made as safe as money and engineering ability will permit." Reports of people flying out of the cars may have been accurate after all.

The magazine also reported that the miniature railway, along with Forest Park's bowling alleys, billiard tables, race track game, and candy wheel, was owned by Sylvester Ferretti, co-owner of the wrestling concession at Riverview Exposition Park this same year.
Miniature Railway
There had been raids on gambling dens in the suburb of Forest Park that spring on July 15. The Oak Leaves newspaper reported gambling was "Wide Open" at the amusement park. The paper also alleged that pickpockets were roaming the park, and the police and village officials were in cahoots with the thieves.

This year, a lot of money was spent on reconstruction, remodeling, painting, and decorating at Forest Park. Last year's manager, M.A. Bredel, became Secretary of the park company; former secretary Joseph Grein, after an unsuccessful run for bailiff of the Municipal Court, became the park's new business manager.

The attractions owned by Paul Howse's old Steeplechase Construction Company were taken over by Forest Park's management this year. These included the Steeplechase ride, Grand Canyon third rail coaster, Merry-Go-Round, Mouse Trap, Fun Factory Funhouse, and the vaudeville theater.
Forest Park presented no significant new attractions for 1912. Instead, Alligator Joe returned with his 3000 reptiles, including Jumbo Joe, the "largest of the gators" claimed to be over 100 years old. Anna Harris, a local swimmer who had taken third place in the 1910 Chicago River Marathon, was the featured star at the park's swimming pool.

The game African Dip (also at Riverview Park) was soon replaced with the Diana game. It was the same as African Dip, but the Diana game used white women instead of Negro men. The object, of course, was that once the young women were dunked, their wet clothes plastered tightly to their bodies, becoming slightly 'see-through,' as well. A great money maker and very popular.

Hard-pressed to compete with Riverview Park and White City Amusement Park, Forest Park made significant changes for the 1913 season. The Steeplechase ride, the only one in the Midwest, was razed, and several thousand feet of the ride were reported for sale on April 5, 1913. The miniature railroad was also for sale, and other concessions were owned by Sylvester Ferretti.

These old standbys were replaced by some "20 New Attractions." including a Trip Thru Hell and a Trip to Chinatown, an Eden Musee wax museum and Chamber of Horrors, and, as at both Riverview Park and White City amusement park this year, a model of the Panama Canal.

Following Riverview Park's success with Dante's Inferno, the open-air arena that had replaced Forest Park's fire show in 1911 became a "Movie Airdrome" for 1913, featuring the latest Italian film spectacular, Quo Vadis. With all these changes, the suburban fun spot billed itself as "The New Forest Park."

The Forest Park Ballroom advertised itself as "Chicago's smoothest dancing palace." and devoted Tuesday and Friday evenings to the latest dance craze, the Tango. The Ballroom stayed open during winter, with another new fad, cabaret acts, in the grill room each evening.

Still, not all of Forest Park's entertainment was this sophisticated. On Sunday, August 31, "six known experts from the Stockyards" slaughtered live steers in a "Prize Beef Killing Contest." The next day, all the meat was served at the park's "Free Labor Day Barbecue."

After last year's "20 New Attractions," there were only a few new additions to Forest Park this year. Pasha Allah's Wonderland, an undescribed attraction that may have been a funhouse; the only Wild West troupe headed by a woman, Lucille Mulhall, a champion roper and rider; and a "Whale" or "Giant Fish." 78 feet long and 16 feet high. (It was a big year for giant fish. Riverview Park had one, too, but it was only 45 feet long. It was a guppy.)

However, Forest Park's biggest hit of the year was the new Tango Wheel, a revolving dance floor installed in the Casino. Couples crowded onto it throughout the season to do the Tango and the hesitation, despite the fact these dances had been banned by the General Federation of Women's Clubs in a convention in Chicago that June. The only Tango Wheel in the U.S. was a novelty brought from Europe by Paul Heinze, chief electrician and park superintendent. Heinze would be promoted to park manager the following year on the strength of its success.

Paul Heinze, Forest Park's new manager, was a local success story this year. Having moved to Forest Park in 1904 with his wife and one-year-old daughter Marga, Heinze was hired as the chief electrician when the Forest Park Amusement Park opened in 1908. His fortunes rose. By 1912, he had become the park superintendent and bought a better house in the suburb, one he called "the House of the Golden Heart." As the manager, Heinze moved his family again to new quarters in one of the park's front gate towers. Here, three more daughters ─ Clara, Edna, and Pauline were born, happiness tempered by a fourth birth, that of a son who survived only one hour.

As park manager, Heinze became one of the suburb's leading businessmen, Treasurer of the Forest Park Commercial Association, President of the Associated Charities of Forest Park, a school board member, and a charter member of the PTA. When America entered World War I, Heinze would also take leading roles in the local Loyal Citizens group and the Patriotic Community League.

His first order of business as a new manager was to increase attendance. Despite its proximity to the new Harlem Speedway, one of Chicago's first venues for auto racing (
Des Plaines Avenue and Roosevelt Road), Forest Park drew more "neighborhood devotees" than "wandering pilgrims."
Heinze added a significant new attraction, the Hiawatha Indian Village, a troupe of nearly 100 Iroquois who camped in the park and acted out a version of Longfellow's poem. In June, a group of cowboys joined the Indians for an "old-fashioned Wild West wedding." complete with a supposed traditional Western "chase for the bride."

Forest Park had a roller rink when it opened in 1908, but the concession was removed soon after due to poor management. With roller skating a revived fad, Heinze installed a new Roller Rink adjacent to the park swimming pool.

Other new attractions included a Motordrome, a free circus in the open-air Hippodrome, a miniature city, a giant turtle, a 'Funnyland' show, a mysterious palace, a trip to Pike's Peak, pony and goat tracks, the Bioplasticon (an early form of sound movies) presenting "grand opera." and a "Cooch" show, reported to be "doing well" in early August.

"Tango Teas" and a complete chicken dinner for 85¢ were features of the new Full Measure restaurant and cabaret, run by politician and former park manager Joe Grein.

To attract more women & children, Heinze offered them free admission (except on Sundays and holidays) and installed the "latest equipment" in the park's free playground.

On July 25, the park hosted a rally of the United Societies for Local Self-Government, a coalition of ethnic groups opposed to the growing prohibition movement, put together by an up-and-coming young politician named Anton Cermak. The featured speaker was noted defense attorney Clarence Darrow.

With Riverview Park and White City Amusement Park now running successful annual Mardi Gras, Heinze also decided to give it a shot this year. Forest Park's Mid-Season Mardi Gras, held for 9 days, starting August 21, featured nightly parades with 6 bands, 100 clowns, "serpentine battles." and 20 free acts, including the Fearless Greggs, "leaping the gap" and turning triple somersaults with speeding automobiles.

Special events were scheduled each night in the Ballroom (dance contests, masquerades), Grillroom (amateur nights), skating rink (races), and Grein's Full Measure restaurant.

The Forest Park Fair Grounds & Amusement Company filed for bankruptcy in 1915. A new Forest Park Amusement Company was organized for the 1916 season. Heinze, A.E. Winterroth of Forest Park, and Thomas F. Graham of Chicago were the new incorporators. New directors included John Broderick, a state senator, as the President; William B. Malcolm, Vice-president/treasurer; and August Bunge, Jr., Secretary.

Manager Paul Heinze was busy this year as the new Forest Park Amusement Company announced $75,000 in improvements to the old park for 1916. A garage for several hundred autos was to be constructed opposite the main entrance. The park's north end was completely remodeled, the children's playground enlarged, and the space north of the Chutes lagoon used for a goat track & burro trail. A new picnic grove with a dance platform was laid out on the former site of the Fire Show. The grandstand, Motordrome, and one-half of the "Funny Land" building were removed to make room for new attractions.

New shows included an Alligator Fight for Life and Museum, the Crown of Thorns, a Funny Arcade, a Jonah and the Whale diving show, and a Crazy House.

A new Sea Swing ride, a kind of Circle Swing that dipped passengers into the water of a lagoon or pool, was installed on the "bathing beach" (probably the park's big swimming pool). It was mentioned that the Grand Canyon was to be converted into a racing coaster, but it is uncertain if this was ever done.

Keeping up with the war in Europe, the old Fun Factory was renamed "A Trip to the Kaiser's Lantern." The meaning of this name seems lost over time.

Creatore, Ballman, the Banda Roma, and Johnny Hand Band were among the bands booked by the park this year. Special "Sweetheart Nights" were held each Friday to attract young people, with prizes given away in both the Ballroom and the Grill room.

While Riverview Park and White City Amusement Park reportedly busily renovated their parks early in 1917, Forest Park held off until after the April 2 Primary, when the question of liquor prohibition in Proviso Township was again put to the vote. According to Billboard, the fact that Forest Park was a "wet" suburb with open Sunday laws (aka Blue Laws) had much to do with the park's success the previous year, when Chicago's bars, including those at Riverview Park and White City amusement park, were ordered closed on the Sabbath.

When the wet vote again carried Proviso in the primary, the park began ordering new rides in a flurry of activity. Former manager Tom Prior was reported negotiating to install one of his and Fred Church's new Great American Racing Derby rides; this would have been the first one of these rides outside of California. Similarly, Forest Park contracted for a Spiral Wheel while the first rides were built at Coney's Luna Park. An Aero Joy Plane ride was also reported to be installed.

Though construction of the Spiral Wheel was said to be underway in April, neither it nor the Prior and Church Racing Derby ride or the Joy Plane ride were ever installed. There may have been problems with the Spiral Wheel, and Riverview Park didn't get its model until August. As for the other rides, perhaps the orders were placed too late; negotiations fell through, and the steel shortage continued to be a problem. At any rate, Forest Park never obtained any of the rides mentioned above. Instead, the park finally got the Whip it had ordered the previous season. It remodeled two old attractions, the Grand Canyon coaster and two old attractions, the Grand Canyon coaster and the Hilarity Hall funhouse.

Even so, by June 16, manager Paul Heinze was expecting a record-breaking season. Martin Ballmann's band, playing his new war song, "Our Blue Jackets." performed twice daily in the concert grove. A vaudeville and musical comedy revue was staged nightly in the Grill room, which was heavily booked for dinner parties of 12 to 100 people. The Park Theater mixed movies with a live musical comedy featuring an "all-negro cast and chorus."
The Park Theater
Dance contests were held in the Ballroom, and diving contests were held in the big swimming pool. By August, the hundreds of windows in the Ballroom were "flung wide to welcome every breeze." The pool was crowded from 10 o'clock in the morning until 10 o'clock at night. For "those who live in the western suburbs and the western part of the city itself," Forest Park's pool eliminated the discomfort of the long, hot drive to the lakefront and back.

This year's promotions included Dan O'Leary, "Chicago's veteran pedestrian." He celebrated his 75th birthday on July 8 by walking 100 miles in 24 hours. The champion walker accomplished this by ambling 300 times around the park's 1/3 mile promenade.

A picture of "Mr. Raffles" was shown at the Park Theater during each movie's performance. Outside, Mr. Raffles wandered the park, carrying a bag of $100 in gold coins for the person who recognized him. (A similar "Raffles" promotion was held at Chutes Park in 1905.)

This year's increased effort to attract picnics resulted in bookings from many organizations, including a "Monster" Labor Day picnic held by Chicago's labor unions for September 3.

In March 1918, the company owning Forest Park was reorganized for the second time in as many years. Officers of the new Amusement Exhibition Company were park manager Paul Heinze, President; Thomas Graham, manager of the Giant Safety Coaster, as Secretary; and H.J. McGurren, superintendent of the Compensation Bureau, Chicago, as treasurer.

The new company put another $30,000 worth of improvements into Forest Park for 1918. With movie houses springing up everywhere, the old theater on the park's north side could no longer compete. It was torn out this year for a major new attraction, the Gumps' Mad House.

This was a $17,000 funhouse based on the famous Tribune comic strip Andy Gump, where the strip's characters, Andy and his wife, Min, were supposed to "hold forth." The attraction was personally designed by Gump creator Sidney Smith. Additionally, Smith drew posters for the park's opening and was said to be on the park's advertising staff for the season.

A female local Forest Park Review reporter toured the Gumps' Mad House and left an account of the 24 "goat getters" this funhouse offered for a 15¢ ticket. Chaperoned by "Woody." the manager (Milton Woodward, Sr., formerly manager of the park's Steeplechase ride), the reporter passed through the "ringers." climbed "sliding" stairs, then got a "hot foot" (an electric shock to the soles of her shoes). She encountered an undulating balcony, an alternating balcony, a crashing bumper, and rocking stairs. Gusts of air shot at her at regular intervals. Next came a falling stool, an electrified checkerboard, a "bull moose glide" and a "turkey trot"; a rocking floor, a revolving stool, a musical bench, a lung tester; a bumper seat, a "wiggle woggle." and a falling floor. There were two slides to choose from, the "Lover's Delight" or the "easy glide." concave and convex mirrors, and last but not least, a "joy wheel." Before leaving the Mad House, the reporter climbed a ladder to visit Roy Bloomfield, the man at the electric switchboard "responsible for the proper thing at the proper moment."

On the east side of the grounds, the old penny arcade was replaced by a new, all-metal, war-themed attraction called the Terror on the Ocean. Here, patrons watched in horror as a German submarine treacherously sank an unarmed hospital ship, then cheered as a U.S. warship ran the sub down to avenge the cold-blooded act. This marine melodrama was enacted, of course, by mechanical models in a water tank.

Forest Park's opening on May 22 was the most prosperous since its first season. Martin Ballmann's ballet review, "A World of Pleasure." featuring "20 or more young ladies." was performed free twice daily in the concert grove, moving to the Grill room in case of bad weather. The park employed 200 people and paid $2000 for its bar permit and amusement license.

Just inside the entrance was a permanent U.S. Recruiting Bureau attended by uniformed Marines, who drove through the park on a mounted cannon, giving talks and seeking recruits. Porter's Freak Animal Show was in its second season at the park. Max Goldstein, the former White City amusement park concessionaire, had a Kewpie (doll) wheel and five other games of chance. William M. Green of the H.C. Evans vending company had the season's hot new game, Kill the Kaiser. Patrons could knock the heads off life-size figures of "America's enemies." Not all were war-related: along with the Kaiser, von Hindenburg, and the Sultan of Turkey, there was also a figure of black boxer Jack Johnson.

By July 20, the park seemed to enjoy the same record season as Riverview Park and White City Amusement Park. Billboard reported, 'BUSINESS FINE,' Say the Boys at Forest Park"; the Ballroom, Grill, and Gump House were getting the most play. Manager Paul Heinze reported most concessionaires already assuring him they would book with the park again for the following year. Just five days later, a fire destroyed 1/5 of the park.

The blaze broke out at 3:30 on Thursday, July 25, in the boiler room of the park's heated swimming pool and rapidly spread to adjoining structures on the park's south side. It was discovered by a park policeman who hurried to the home of Paul Heinze in the front gate towers. As the alarm was sounded, Heinze's eldest daughter, 16-year-old Marga, rushed to the burning stable on the south part of the grounds and led her pet Shetland pony, Daisy, out, at risk of her own life.

At first, it was feared the entire park would go up in flames, as the fire, starting at the covered swimming pool, had cut off the park's water supply. With the Sanitary District's powerhouse and lighting station also among the first structures burned, the combined lack of power and water hampered firemen for nearly two hours. The fire departments of Oak Park, Austin, and other suburbs were summoned to help, and a crowd of residents hurried to the scene to assist, but with no water, they could only confine the fire, not fight it. Valves were finally reached and opened, and more water was pumped in from neighboring Oak Park; an "especially heroic effort" saved the Ballroom, first thought doomed.
Hot Coffee, Sandwiches and Chile Con Carne.
But the south end of the park was not so lucky. The fire completely destroyed the park's rink (with 5000 skates and a large orchestrion), swimming pool (with 8000 bathing suits), the Sanitary District substation, a significant new freak show scheduled to open that afternoon, a skeeball alley, 400-1000' of the Giant Safety Coaster, the Terror on the Ocean, and the entire Leap the Dips coaster. A Japanese tea room, a bowling alley, a Chop Suey restaurant, and two ice cream parlors were damaged by water and smoke. Almost unbelievably, it was reported that the fire was still raging at 7 AM while Paul Heinze announced that Forest Park would open as usual at 1 o'clock in the afternoon ─ AND IT DID! Visitors took great interest in the newest attraction, the massive area of charred remains, while the rest of the park operated as if nothing had happened. Heinze promised that all ruined attractions would be replaced or repaired by Monday, July 29, five days later.
Terror on the Ocean
Though it's unknown whether Heinze could fulfill this promise, Forest Park stayed open until the end of the season. Rumors flew that the fire had been German sabotage or, even more mysteriously, a revenge plot. On Friday night, August 23, 22-year-old John Sheppard of Elgin, spying on the Kill the Kaiser game, shouted, "Over the Top!." jumped the counter and smashed the dummies of the Kaiser and Crown Prince of Germany. Some things were back to 'normal' once again.

To bring back the crowds after last year's disastrous fire, manager Paul Heinze operated Forest Park this year with a free gate; no admission was charged except on Saturday nights, Sundays, and holidays.

The season started May 21, to the usual chilly "park opening" weather. With most of The Boys returning from camps and overseas, rain and cold weather failed to keep the crowds away on opening night. They found the park painted throughout, the Giant Safety Coaster and the Leap the Dips rebuilt, and such old standbys as the Pneumatic Tube, the Grand Canyon, and the Whip operating as usual.

New devices were in the Gumps' Mad House, as well as a 20-in-1 Platform (Freak) Show. In an enlarged bandshell in the center of the old oak grove, a new Open Air Revue featured a chorus line of "Broadway Beauties."

The "Ballroom De Lux" was overflowing each night with returned soldiers, sailors, and their girls. Operated by "Professor" Ralph J. O'Hara of Chicago's Madison Square Ballroom this year, no admission was charged to dance to "O'Hara's Famous Orchestra."
Starting June 20, Tuesdays and Fridays were again "Children's Days." with souvenirs and complimentary rides given to every child.

In July, however, the City Council heard a disturbing report from the suburb's building commissioner that the village architect had found the rebuilt Leap the Dips to be "unsafe"; the ride's manager protested, and action on the matter was deferred. The problem was evidentially corrected, as the coaster reran the following year.

In September, two fires of suspicious origin were discovered at the park. In the first, a packing box had been set ablaze and placed directly under one of the coaster structures; the second was a fire that started between the walls of the pool room. Fortunately, both were extinguished before damage could be done. The park was reported to be keeping a sharp eye out for "firebugs."

Despite such problems, the season of 1919 was perfect for Forest Park. Prominent in the village's Independence Day parade that year was a Victory Float designed by Paul Heinze and Gump House manager Milton Woodward. The float featured Victory angels in paper-mâché and "living angels" from the park's revue, wearing "petty skirts" of red, white, and blue, as well as several doughboys, a giant Victory eagle, and a battleship. The park also contributed a funny "water wagon," a Prohibition joke. The popular Heinze, his wife, and his daughters rode in the parade in their private automobile.

In many ways, the war showed the village of Forest Park as a small town at heart and the Amusement Park as a kind of community resource. In October, a Welcome Home picnic and football game had been scheduled for servicemen in the neighboring town of Maywood, but cold weather canceled the planned "supper under the trees." Paul Heinze was asked as late as the morning of the celebration to use the park's Grillroom; light, water, and gas shut off for the season had to be turned on. Despite the short notice, 550 veterans from Proviso and River Forest townships were fed at the park by volunteer girls from the Patriotic Service League, followed by a dance, attracting crowds of several thousand more. President of Forest Park's charities, Heinze, donated leftover food to poor local families. It was announced that Welcome Home Celebrations would continue monthly until every Forest Park boy was home from the war.

On November 11, the first anniversary of Armistice Day, the Patriotic Community League hosted a Victory Dance at the park. Heinze was chairman of the Entertainment Committee; concessionaire Max Goldstein and his wife were on the Amusement Committee;' Milton Woodward chaired, and A.E. Winterroth served on the Refreshment Committee. The dance attracted the biggest crowd in the park's Ballroom and Grillroom.

The same could not be said for Forest Park. It suffered two crushing blows at the very start of this decade.

The first blow was the passage of Prohibition. From the beginning, the amusement park had been connected to beer and liquor interests; A.E. Winterroth, an official of the park since 1908, was the local agent for the McAvoy Brewing Co., and that firm had long sponsored the park's Rathskellar Grill Room and Casino restaurants. The village of Forest Park had a large German population that enjoyed their local 'bier gardens; both the village and the amusement park had reputations as "wet" oases amidst neighboring "dry" suburbs. Those suburbs had tried to vote the township dry in 1908 and again in 1917; both times, it was assumed the park would shut down if local Prohibition had passed. Now, Prohibition was a national law. Though the park stayed open, a significant loss of patronage resulted. Customers who had come to sip beer under the trees now headed for backroom speakeasies instead.

Then, in March 1920, Paul Heinze, the long-time manager of Forest Park, announced that he had resigned to take a new position as manager of Belle Isle Amusement Park in Detroit, MI. Already wounded from Prohibition (perhaps one reason Heinze chose to leave), this was another crushing blow to Forest Park. The Board of Directors quickly offered to increase Heinze's salary. In the end, though, the Belle Isle offer proved more attractive, and Heinze and his family left for Detroit that spring.

Forest Park's Board made a brave face, naming a new manager, Herbert W. Wright, but the season of 1920 seemed anti-climactic after Heinze's departure. Despite the addition of a new Over the Alps ride, concessionaire Bill Lewis' Venetian Swings (made by the H.C. Evans Co.), and new devices in the Gumps' Mad House as well as Slater Brockman's Garden Follies of 1920 with a chorus line dubbed the "Chic Chic Revu." There were few ads for the park in the Chicago papers and virtually no news in the local amusement columns or Billboard. This did not bode well for the park's future. It closed the season of 1920 with a Mardi Gras from August 15 to September 6, featuring Brockman's Revue and Ballroom director Ralph O'Hara's Clown Band.

After years of leasing the 12 acres on which the park was located, the Forest Park Amusement Company finally purchased the land at the end of 1920. In hindsight, the timing seems strange since the passage of Prohibition and former manager Paul Heinze's departure caused Forest Park to decline.

A fire broke out on Friday evening, March 18, in the park's North Gate Tower. Shortly after 6 PM, just when the Metro L was "very busy disgorging a great portion of (the village of) Forest Park's male population. Everybody came to watch the blaze. Confined to the upper part of the Tower, the blaze was put out in about an hour. It was said to be caused by crossed wires. The fire's damage was estimated at only $500-600. The Heinz's old Tower living quarters, now occupied by Ralph O'Hara, Ballroom manager, new park custodian, and his wife, were evidently spared.

But the fire was just the start of a problem-plagued season. In May, village Mayor Henry Kaul announced he would not grant an operating license "if the park is going to be run like last year." Illegal gambling was the allegation, with an "ex-park official" quoted claiming $4300 in graft had been paid by the park in previous years. The police chief stated "he didn't see or hear anything" in the park last year, but the City Council denied the park's permit to operate. At first, it looked like the park could not open on Wednesday, May 18. However, that very day, the Superior Court granted an injunction, allowing the park to open that night. Attendance and weather were both reported to be good.

Park attorney Charles Soelke, appearing before the City Council's next meeting, swore that the park would never tolerate any gambling. Mayor Kaul then switched tactics, complaining that the park's shows let girls "appear sans skirts if they desire." Soelke argued that short skirts were the current fashion, and the girls in the park's revue should be allowed to wear skirts as short as those worn by 'flappers' on Michigan Avenue downtown. (Bear in mind, the skirts in question were just below the knee!) Soelke finally prevailed, and the Council granted the park's license.

But the gambling issue was raised again the following month when sheriff's deputies raided the park on a Saturday night. Wheel of Fortune games were ordered to stop, though the wheels were not confiscated. Soon after, the local "Citizen's Protective League" demanded the village take action. This time, however, the mayor and Council backed off. The Forest Park Review hinted the reason was graft, describing the officials' attitude as "We have taken (the park's) money now, and we do not want to be unreasonable."

Perhaps due to all this, the park was still seeking concessions for prime spots as late as June 25, which is not a good sign. Though park ads were back in the Chicago papers this year, the only rides mentioned were old ones: the Giant Safety, Leap the Dips, and Grand Canyon coasters, last year's Over the Alps, and the Barrel of Fun (the Gump House new name). Billboard cites only one new feature, an airplane ride "where the old lagoon was." but this suggests that the park's old Shoot-the-Chutes had been removed. Everything points to the park being in decline.

Again this year, Forest Park's Mayor Kaul tried to prevent the suburb's amusement park from opening. At a City Council meeting in May, he stated he had opposed the park for the past 5 years. The park hadn't kept its word last year. In his opinion, there had been gambling there; the rides were unsafe. Furthermore, the park should never have been granted a license, as it was too close to the cemeteries on 
Des Plaines Avenue. 'Village Commissioner Fietsch commented that the people of the suburb were all for the park, judging by how they asked for passes. The license question was voted on. The mayor said no, and Commissioners Wendt and Fietsch voted yes. The license was granted for another year.

Forest Park opened for the season on Wednesday, May 11. There were only a few new attractions: a pony bridle path for kids at the west end near the Pneumatic Tube ride, a new ride called The Whiz, and new stunt devices in the Barrel of Fun.

In mid-July, the Ballroom manager, bandleader, and park custodian Ralph O'Hara were shot in a speakeasy in the nearby suburb of Cicero. (Cicero soon became notorious for its speakeasies, most controlled by the up-and-coming Al Capone.) O'Hara had gone there with a party of friends to "get some real beer." he said. At O'Hara's party, Miss Helen Gibson was also shot in the bizarre incident; after her wound was dressed at a nearby hospital, she hurried away.

O'Hara told the press the shooting was accidental. According to his story, he'd been carrying an automatic pistol in his hip pocket. At the speakeasy, he got into a scuffle, the pistol fell to the floor, with the safety catch off, and fired. The bullet entered his back, passed through his left lung, and lodged in his left side. But O'Hara did not explain how Miss Gibson had been shot through her left side; according to hospital physicians, it was not probable that both were hit by the same bullet.

According to the Chicago papers, O'Hara's wife did not visit him in the hospital; rumors were they were not living together. The press also revealed O'Hara's ties to a local labor racketeer (an associate of Al Capone's), "Big Tim" Murphy. O'Hara had been a business agent for the Chicago Musicians Union until the previous winter when the President of the Union had been slugged and beaten. He named O'Hara as the assailant. O'Hara resigned from the Union, only to announce a few weeks later that he was to be President of a new Chicago Musicians Club organized by Murphy as a rival to the Union. As for the speakeasy incident, the Cicero Police recorded it as an accidental shooting. There would be many of those in Cicero in the Capone days to come.

On Tuesday, August 5, a Chicago streetcar strike began at 4 o'clock am, with third rail trains refusing to stop at the Forest Park terminal in solidarity with the strike. The amusement park shut down until the strike was over.

A "Great Chicago-Cook Fair" had opened at the nearby Checkerboard (Air) Field for 9 days from August 26 to Labor Day, September 4. The beleaguered Forest Park now had to compete with the fair's 25 big shows and rides from the H.T. Freed Exposition Co., including a Big Eli wheel, Seaplanes, a whip, a merry-go-round, etc.

Forest Park closed its gates as usual that September. Though no one knew it then, those gates would never open again. 1922 was Forest Park's last season.

On April 21, 1923, the following year, the park's Board of Directors voted not to open Forest Park that year. Prohibition was cited as the reason for shutting down. As the Forest Park Review put it, the amusement park "gave up after a two-year diet of lemonade." Until the passage of the 18th Amendment, the park had been a paying proposition, but business the last few years had been poor, and 1922 had been especially disastrous. Then, too, the Directors admitted considerable difficulty filling Paul Heinze's place. Rides were being sold to other parks in St. Louis, Detroit, Little Rock, Beloit, WI, South Bend, IN, and elsewhere. The rest of the park would be razed, except for the Ballroom and other buildings fronting Des Plaines Avenue, which would be left for the meantime.

The following year, 1924, "Blind Victim." a 5 reel movie by Atlas Educational Films of neighboring Oak Park, was shot in the partly dismantled park, with 300 locals as extras. That July, old Forest Park ticket booths were taken to an aviation field nearby Elmhurst and used to sell people tickets for a "sky ride." H.V. McGurran, Secretary and treasurer of Forest Park, 1918-1921, had become Superintendent of Chicago's Municipal Pier.

That same year, 1924, the park grounds were purchased for $110,000, forty thousand less than the park company had wanted. It was widely rumored that the buyer, Carney, was merely a purchaser's representative. By 1925, the actual purchaser was said to be Chicago utility magnate Samuel Insull. The parkland was to be used for terminals of the Aurora & Elgin Railroad third rail line to a new suburb, Westchester, which Insull was building southwest of Forest Park. Since 1923, the vacant grounds had been frequently used for picnics, and the still-standing Ballroom was still used for dances held once or twice a week in the winter months.

In October 1926, the Gate Towers and the Ballroom were finally razed. It was announced then that the A&ERR had no immediate plans for the land, and no depot would be built for the electric line to Westchester as initially rumored. In 1929, the stock market crash and the ruin of Insull's companies put an end to any further plans he might have had for the site, not, however, before the park's old swimming pool, still used by local kids till then, was condemned as unsafe, and destroyed.

With the swimming pool demolition, it was assumed that the last trace of Forest Park Amusement Park had been erased. The land sat primarily vacant for two decades, through the Depression and World War II. Then, in the 1950s, it was announced that part of Chicago's new expressway system would be built through the old park site. As workmen excavated the location, strange concrete tunnels were found beneath the ground. A half-century after they had been built, the road crew had unearthed the authentic last remnants of Forest Park Amusement Park, the tunnels of the old Pneumatic Tube ride.

Today, the concrete canyon of the Eisenhower Expressway cuts across the southern half of the old park, many feet below where the Giant Safety Coaster, Leap the Dips, Shoot the Chutes, Pneumatic Tube, and Steeplechase rides once stood. The Forest Park terminal of the Congress-O'Hare Rapid Transit line occupies what had been the North Side, successor to the old Metropolitan (West Side) 'L' that once brought Chicagoans to the park. At the end of the line, the Rapid Transit still makes much the same loop the 
'L' did. Between the expressway and Waldheim Cemetery, a Commonwealth Edison power station stands about where the park's old main transformer station was.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. This is amazing - I had no idea there was ever an amusement park here.

  2. Every time I get onto the Eisenhower expressway I'll think that I'm driving through the entrance of the amusement park which was located at the exact spot.

  3. Having lived in the area while attending Dominican U, and again years later, this was surprising to read! But, so sad there are no reminders of this today.

  4. What a fascinating story! Though I grew up in Winnetka, and loved Riverview, I had never heard about Forest Park Amusement Park.

  5. I remember as a kid playing in the excavation for the expy and seeing those tunnels and wondering what they were. My father told me he rode that ride as a kid.


The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is RATED PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Advertisements, spammers and scammers will be removed.