Friday, December 29, 2023

Ford's Theatre vs. Ford’s Opera House, Washington, DC

Ford's Athenaeum was a theatre located at 511 10th Street NW, Washington, D.C., which opened in 1861. After a fire destroyed it in 1862, he rebuilt a new building on the same site and named it Ford's Theatre, which opened in 1865. 
Ticket Color Determines the Seating Section.
Ford's Theatre Ticket, Late 1860s.

The building is now named "Ford's Theatre National Historic Site."

The Two Theatres Owned By John Thompson Ford (1829-1894).
Ford's Opera House was a theatre at the southwest corner of 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC., which opened in 1871. Ford's Opera House closed in 1928 and was demolished in 1930.
Ford's Opera House, 1928

The brainchild of renowned theatre manager John T. Ford, the opera house opened its doors to the public on October 2, 1871. It was a magnificent structure, boasting a grand Italianate facade, a spacious auditorium with plush seating for 1,700, and a state-of-the-art stage equipped for elaborate productions. 
Ford's Opera House Stationary Header.

The opera house quickly became a popular destination for Washingtonians, offering diverse performances, from grand operas and operettas to Shakespearean plays, vaudeville acts, and even political rallies. Notably, the famous newspaper publisher Horace Greeley was nominated as the Liberal Republican presidential candidate in 1872.
As the years passed, the opera house faced increasing competition from other theatres and entertainment venues in the city. The rise of vaudeville and musical comedy further eroded its audience for traditional operas.

By the early 20th century, the opera house was struggling financially. Attempts were made to revive its fortunes by hosting silent films and other popular attractions, but the success was short-lived.

After a final performance on April 29, 1928, the curtain fell on Ford's Opera House for the last time. The building was eventually demolished in 1930 to make way for a parking garage, sadly erasing a piece of Washington's cultural history.

While the physical structure is no more, the legacy of Ford's Opera House remains. It was a pioneering venue that brought world-class entertainment to Washington, D.C. and played a significant role in the city's cultural life. Its demise serves as a reminder of the ever-evolving nature of the arts and the importance of preserving our cultural heritage.

John Thompson Ford worked as a bookseller in Richmond, Virginia. Ford wrote a comedy play poking fun at Richmond society. The farce was entitled "Richmond As It Is," and was produced by a minstrel company called the Nightingale Serenaders. It focused on humorous aspects of everyday life. This type of play is termed "observational comedy," which is exactly the type of humor that Jerry Seinfeld has used to established one of the most successful comedy careers of our era. He worked in management with the Nightingale Serenaders, traveling around the country. During his career, Ford managed theatres in Alexandria, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Charleston, South Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia.

Ford was the manager of this highly successful theatre at the time of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He was a good friend of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor. Ford drew further suspicion upon himself by being in Richmond, Virginia, at the time of the assassination on April 14, 1865. Until April 2, 1865, Richmond had been the capital of the Confederate States of America and a center of anti-Lincoln conspiracies.

An order was issued for Ford's arrest, and on April 18, he was arrested at his Baltimore home. His brothers, James and Harry Clay Ford, were thrown into prison along with him. John Ford complained of the effect that his incarceration would have on his business and family, and he offered to help with the investigation. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton made no reply to his two letters. After 39 days, the brothers were finally fully exonerated and set free since there was no evidence of their complicity in the crime. The government seized the theatre, and Ford was paid $88,000 ($1.7 Million  today) for it by Congress.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

President Abraham Lincoln's New Year's Events.

Abraham Lincoln's New Year's events varied depending on the year and the circumstances surrounding the country. From quiet family dinners during the Civil War's early years to more formal receptions with rising optimism as the war progressed, each celebration was shaped by the unique circumstances surrounding the nation.

Here's a glimpse into Lincoln's notable New Year's:
The Presidency Sure Took Its Toll On Abraham Lincoln.

New Year's Day 1863: This New Year's marked a turning point in the Civil War. In the early hours of the morning of January 1, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom for enslaved people in Confederate states. While not a public celebration, it was a momentous occasion for the nation and a significant step towards ending slavery.

New Year's Eve 1864: This New Year's Eve brought good news. General William T. Sherman captured Savannah, Georgia, as a Christmas present to the President. Washington erupted in celebration, and Lincoln attended a reception for his cabinet, where there was much jubilation over the Union's progress.

New Year's Day 1864: The war continued, but there were glimmers of hope. Lincoln held a traditional New Year's Day reception at the White House, welcoming well-wishers and diplomats. Though the mood was somber, there was a sense of determination to see the Union through to victory.

New Year's Eve 1865: Tragically, this would be Lincoln's last New Year's. Just five days later, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

New Year's Day 1865: Lincoln's New Year's Day reception was particularly joyous, with the war nearing its end. He delivered a hopeful speech expressing his confidence in the Union's victory and the nation's future.

The Civil War overshadowed Abraham Lincoln's New Year's celebrations throughout his presidency. However, he also used these occasions to express hope for the future and to rally the nation behind the Union cause. His dedication to the country and his unwavering spirit are what we remember most about Abraham Lincoln, even in the midst of difficult times. 

It's rumored that Mary Lincoln may have baked Abraham's favorite dessert: Gingerbread with an Apple and Brown Sugar Topping.

Copyright © 2023 Dr. Neil Gale. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Hope Shines in Chicago Amidst the Great Depression's Shadow.

Christmas in 1930s Chicago during the Great Depression starkly contrasted with today's festive holiday. The Windy City, once a bustling industry hub, was gripped by the harsh realities of economic hardship. Unemployment hovered around 50%, breadlines snaked around city blocks, soup kitchens overflowed, and families huddled in cramped, unheated apartments. Yet, amidst the despair, flickers of hope and resilience illuminated the season.
Chicago men wait in a soup line during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Christmas, in its essence, is a celebration of hope. And in the bleakest days of the Depression, that hope was more precious than ever. It was the hope for a better tomorrow, a job, a warm meal, a future where families could be together again.

A City of Contradictions:
Glittering department stores on Michigan Avenue displayed lavish Christmas wares, a cruel reminder of the unobtainable for many. Meanwhile, soup kitchens overflowed, and makeshift shelters emerged in abandoned buildings.
People rallied for jobs and in support of unions in Chicago in 1930.

Christmas spirit, however, refused to be extinguished. Families decorated trees with handmade ornaments crafted from paper chains, popcorn strings, and painted pinecones. Homemade carols filled the air, sung by carolers bundled in threadbare coats.

The hardships fostered a sense of community. Neighbors shared meager meals, bartered skills for goods, and organized charity drives. Churches, Synagogues, and charitable organizations became lifelines, offering food, shelter, and a sense of shared humanity.
Mayor William Hale Thompson posed next to baskets of Christmas cheer for the poor at Polk Street and Marshfield Avenue in December 1930. The baskets were donated by Joseph Savage and the 25th Ward Republican Club.

Gifts of a Different Kind:
With jobs scarce, time became a precious commodity. Families cherished moments spent together, playing games by candlelight, sharing stories, and listening to the radio.

Necessity became the mother of invention. Broken toys were mended, clothes were patched, and discarded materials were transformed into Christmas decorations and gifts.

Christmas, above all, offered a glimmer of hope. Despite the bleak present, people clung to the belief that better times were on the horizon. They sang carols of joy, prayed for brighter days, and held onto the promise of a new year.

The Christmas of 1930s Chicago was a testament to the human spirit's enduring strength. In the face of unimaginable hardship, Chicagoans found ways to celebrate, connect, and hold onto hope. Their story is a reminder that even in the darkest times, the light of compassion, creativity, and community can find a way to shine through.

Copyright © 2023 Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 17, 2023


Schützen Park, Chicago. (1879-1903)
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Schützen Park, also known as Sharpshooters' Park, was located on the banks of the Chicago River between Belmont Avenue and Roscoe Street, with the main entrance on Western Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
Sanborn Fire Map from 1894 - Western Avenue was the western border between former Jefferson Township and the City of Lake View - both annexed to Chicago in 1889.
Details of Schützen Park/Sharpshooters' Park Sanborn Fire Map from 1894.
German veterans from the Franco-Prussian War, who served in Fredrich the Great's "Jaeger Rifle Corps." held target practice there every Sunday afternoon using paper targets and toasting the winners with steins of beer.

It all started with a man named Wilhelm A. Schmidt who, during the late 1800s, wanted nothing more than to open a modest "Sharpshooters' Park." Schützen Park (Schützenverein in German: Shooting Club) did well until 1903, when Schmidt’s son, George, returned from school. Upon returning from Europe, George told stories of the parks he had seen, which boasted fantastic Ferris Wheels, Carousels, and more. He argued that these rides would attract people from all over. With monetary help from a lawyer named William Johnson and a banker, Joseph McQuade, his vision quickly became a reality. After that point, the park became known as “Riverview Sharpshooters' Park” and was home to three rides. 

Legend has it that the wives complained about being left behind with the children in the scorching heat of the summer. Soon, families packed picnic baskets and went to the park with their husbands. To occupy the family's time, a shaded area had benches and tables set up, and free band concerts were played. Rifle practice was soon discontinued, though rifle ranges and shooting galleries (with real bullets) later became a permanent part of Riverview Park.

George Goldman and William Schmidt purchased the 22 acres of land after Schmidt sold his Sedgewick Street Bakery and his invention of the soda cracker to the National Biscuit Company in 1903. By 1903, there were 500 miles of streetcar tracks crisscrossing the city, making public access to the park possible from every point in Chicago for 5¢. A beer garden and some small food concession stands were soon added. Music, parades, band compositions, political rallies, games, and shows kept the park a lively center for cultural entertainment.

The children complained that there was nothing for them to do. So, the owners opened a free playground. There were now many things to do - a slide, a teeter-totter, and a wading pool. Soon, they added one large restaurant, a large bandstand, a Rhine wine bar, five other taverns, a large 100-foot by 50-foot dance hall, an ice house, more chairs, tables, and benches.

Riverview Sharpshooters' Park, Chicago. (1904-1908)

In 1904, there were 25 major picnics held at Sharpshooters' Park, ranging in attendance from 5,000 to 35,000 people. Riverview opened that year with the Sharpshooters' name. Ponies and goat carts were added to the park for the enjoyment of picnickers' children. The need for speed eventually made them obsolete. They were originally in the main area but later moved to an area they called “Kiddy Land”. Many concessions and games of skill became a part of the park, such as pop (soda pop) and ice cream stands, a shooting gallery, ball-throwing, cane games, and pony rides.

Riverview Sharpshooters' Park's competition was the White City Amusement Park and San Souci Amusement Park, both located on the south side of the city. Rides and attractions were being introduced at Luna Park, Coney Island, and other East Coast locations with great success. George convinced his father to lease six acres of land fronting on Western Avenue to two Eastern amusement park representatives for $7,600 a year for a ten-year contract.

The park opened on July 3, 1904, to the public with only three rides (owned by the Eastern representatives) plus some other concessions, all under tents. The use of electricity in illumination and spectacular shows attracted 32,000 people on opening day. The park closed the 1904 season with a profit of $63,000 with only 70 days of operation. All of the concessionaires made a nice profit.

The Riverview Sharpshooters' Park Company (the "Sharpshooters' Park" part of the name was dropped in 1905) was formed, but competition became fierce when a fence between the two areas was removed. (The park had expanded to 140 acres and blossomed with 100 attractions by 1910.) When the 10-year lease expired, the Schmidt family gained full control of the park. The family kept Riverview Park one of the most successful in the industry despite economic trials and tough times like the great depression.

The "Figure 8" was the first roller coaster at Riverview Sharpshooters' Park. The ride has 12 cars on a trough-like track on a timber frame. A steam engine carried the cars up an incline, and gravity brought riders back to the starting point. The cars were guided by side-friction wheels and propelled on four swivel casters. The coaster has a few mild four-foot drops on a short track and went six miles an hour it cost $16,000 to build.

The Merry-Go-Round was second in popularity to the Figure 8 roller coaster. It was a concession at Riverview Sharpshooters' Park, owned by the Eastern group. The "Morris Carousel" was described by the owner as having "very handsome figures in an octagon pavilion 100 feet across and 45 feet high." The cost of a ride was 5¢. (The larger "Fairyland Carousel" did not arrive until 1908) In the foreground is a glass etching souvenir booth.

The "Thousand Islands" was the third ride in the park when it opened as Riverview Sharpshooters' Park. It was composed of 1,000 feet of canals with a 28-foot high chute. The boats passed through the canals at a slow speed, then were brought to the top of the incline, where they rapidly descended into a pool of water. The boats returned to the starting point. A large outdoor water wheel operated by a motor concealed behind scenery kept the water flowing in the canals. Dark tunnels and scenes to startle the riders were added. The ride was nicknamed Old Mill, Mill on the Floss, Tunnel of Love. and The Mill. For 10¢, riders could steal a kiss.

Riverview Amusement Park, Chicago. (1904-1908)

Riverview Park was an amusement park in Chicago, Illinois, which operated from 1904 to 1967. 

William Schmidt, owner of Riverview, looks out over the park in 1967, the last season.

Looking north on Western Avenue, June 10, 1956.
Located on 74 acres in an area bound on the south and east by Belmont and Western Avenues, respectively, on the north by Lane Technical High School and on the west by the north branch of the Chicago River.
Unlike other parks, admission was close to free, and you paid separately for each ride. This approach appealed to the working class of Chicago and kept the park doing well for quite some time. 

In 1906 the park saw a noteworthy increase in space, adding 50 acres and about 500,000 dollars worth of rides. Riverview was growing from a humble family-owned park to the kind of place kids swooned over. 

In 1907, a new front gate was erected, followed by the addition of the Velvet Coaster, the Pikes Peak Scenic Railway, a racetrack, and a whole new section of the park called Fairyland.
Velvet Coaster.
In 1908, they introduced two new attractions, which stunned and amazed park-goers. The first was the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac, a recreation of the Civil War naval battle. The second was a 70-foot carousel, admired greatly for being hand-carved and painted by a group of Swiss and Italian craftsmen.
The Merry-Go-Round, installed in 1904, was a concession at Riverview Sharpshooters' Park owned by the Eastern group. It was second in popularity to the Figure 8 roller coaster. The "Morris Merry-Go-Round" was described by the owner as having "very handsome figures in an octagon pavilion 100 feet across and 45 feet high." The cost of a ride was 5¢. In the foreground is a glass etching souvenir booth. The larger E. Joy-Morris "Fairyland Carousel" did not arrive until 1908.
Riverview Sharpshooters' Park Merry-Go-Round.
Riverview's original E. Joy-Morris' new Carousel was installed in 1908. It was one of the largest ever built, holding five rows of 70 large hand-carved and painted horses by Swiss and Italian woodcarvers from the Philadelphia Toboggan Coaster Company. It was located just inside the main gate.
This wooden carousel horse was hand-carved and painted by Leo Zoller. The horse is black and white with a sculpted gray mane and tail and glass eyes. Sculpted feathers with red and blue tips are around his neck. A sculpted golden-yellow lion pelt with a head, legs and tail makes the saddle. Brown leather strap/reins attached at the mouth with metal hardware. The horse is in galloping pose with legs bent up towards the body (Height: 51 in; Width: 17.5 in; Depth: 70 in) 1908. The last horse was donated to the Chicago History Museum.
Winter saw the addition of a roller rink and ballroom often filled with jubilant jazz and courting couples. At this point, the park had grown to 102 acres and continued adding eateries, games, shows, and more. 

In 1909 once again, the park's name changed to "Riverview Exposition Park" and became a household name. The addition of new rides continued ever strong, introducing The Tickler, Expo Whirl, and Witching Waves in 1910 and the Metrodome in 1911. In 1913, there was yet another name change – and the final one   where the name was simplified to Riverview Park.
The Big Dipper, in the 1920s
The Big Dipper, in the 1920s
During the time of prohibition in the 1920s, Riverview was known as a speak-easy, as you could still find beer and liquor. Throughout the course of the decade, they continued adding more rides, including the most popular "The Bobs," with a nearly 90-foot drop.
That wasn't the only thing breaking records. George Schmidt also invented the famous foot-long hot dog around this time to be filling and inexpensive when things became hard during the Depression. During this time period, Riverview adopted the motto "Laugh Your Troubles Away at Riverview!"

Riverview saw prosperity throughout the 1950s, becoming a favorite to the returning servicemen of WWII. The late 50s also brought a new slogan, "Riverview Park - Just for Fun.
Riverview Park hosted a live radio show with Buddy Black called "Riverview Funtime" that aired on WGN-AM 720 in the 1950s.
The early 1960s were good years for the baby boomer generation. 
The intersection of  Belmont, Western, and Claybourn Avenues, looking west on Belmont. Note the Riverview sign. 1960
At the end of the 1967 season, Riverview Park advertised its opening date for 1968. Shortly after the end of the season, the park announced on October 3, 1967, that it would not reopen. There was much speculation about why. The park had been profitable until it closed. It was rumored that escalating racial tensions and de facto segregation in Chicago in the 1960s made the owners uncomfortable and less willing to keep the park open. 

In truth, however, Riverview Park likely closed for economic reasons. While it was profitable, the $6.5 million sales price was too good to pass up, and within a few months, Riverview Park was no more.

What Became of Riverview’s Rides and Attractions?
Unfortunately, most were smashed into oblivion shortly after Riverview Park in Chicago closed its doors for the final time.  Although the park’s owners held an auction just after closing, none of the 50 bidders wanted such attractions as the Pair-O-Chute Jump, the Space Ride, the Flash High Ride or even the world-famous Bobs roller coaster.
1967 Riverview Park Ride Auction Advertisement.
In its day, the Bobs was billed as the world’s fastest roller coaster, attaining a top speed of more than 60 miles per hour.  According to a 1953 article in the Chicago American, the Bobs was the most thrilling ride in America.

The Chicago Sun-Times recalled the Bobs in a feature article not long ago: “It was a mind-numbing, body-bruising, 120-second dash through twisted metal and rickety white wood; when it was over, you’d be battered and breathless.”

Nonetheless, it was unwanted at the auction, and shortly thereafter, it was demolished and sold for scrap, along with Riverview’s five other roller coasters — the Fireball, the Wild Mouse, the Silver Streak, the Comet and the Greyhound.  Chute the Chutes was also demolished, as was the giant genie’s head that grimaced above the entrance to Aladdin’s Castle.

Many of the smaller rides, like the Ferris wheel and miniature train, were sold to carnivals in different parts of the country.  A Chicagoan bought four children’s rides — The Whip, Kiddy Merry-Go-Round, Kiddy Bug and Kiddy Boat — for $2,800.

The only Riverview Park ride that survives to this day is the Carousel. It was restored by Six Flags over Georgia, just west of Atlanta, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Amusement Park Name History:
● Schützen (also: Schüetzen) Park aka Sharpshooters' Park, Chicago, IL. (1879-1903)              [Schützenverein (German: Shooting Club)]
● Riverview Sharpshooters' Park, Chicago, IL. (1904-1908)
● Riverview Exposition Park, Chicago, IL. (1909-1912)
● Riverview Park, Chicago, IL. (1913-1967)

Riverview Roller Coaster History:
NOTE: Riverview was known to rename a roller coaster after an accident occurred. 
">" = "Renamed to"

Aerial Coaster (1908-1910)
Big Dipper (1920) > Zepher (1936) > Comet (1940-1967)
Blue Streak [The Original] (1911-1923)
Bobs (1924-1967)
Cannon Ball (1919-1925)
Derby Racer (1909-1932)
Fireball (1959-1967)
Flying Turns (1935-1967) [purchased after the 1933-34 World's Fair closed]
Gee Wiz (1912) > Greyhound (1913-1965) > Jetstream (1965-1967)
Jack Rabbit (1915-1919)
Kiddie Bobs (1926-1934)
Pikes Peak Scenic Railway (1907-1911)
Pippin (1921) > Silver Streak (1938) > Silver Flash (19??) {Shortened to} Flash (1961-1967)
Royal Gorge Scenic Railway (1908-1920)
Skyrocket (1923) > Blue Streak (1936-1958)
Tickler (1906-????)
Top (1907-1916)
Velvet Coaster (1909-1919)
White Flyer (1904-1920s)
Wild Mouse (1958-1967)

Flying Cars 1954

The Flying Cars was a German-made ride built for Chicago's great Riverview Park in 1954. Riders were strapped into a small car inside a large rotating barrel. The barrel had a track inside for the cars to ride freewheeling. The cars were held onto the drum by a rail and floating clamp system. As the drum spins, the 1 person's car follows the track and eventually begins to go upside down. 
The drum steadily increases its speed, and the cars let it roll beneath their wheels as they follow the track. The cars' brakes are then applied to cause them to quickly accelerate up to the speed of the drum's surface, which is around 30 mph causing the cars to go 360°. The operator of Flying Cars would spin the drum for two minutes and then release the brakes causing the cars to come to a complete stop while the drum also slows to a halt. It sounds like fun! Unfortunately, someone failed to fasten their safety belt properly and was killed after falling out. That was the end of the Flying Cars.

Riverview Remembered by WGN
The Bobs Roller Coaster at Riverview 
Riverview Amusement Park (circa 1952)


On the left: The tower ride was called "Expo-Whirl," which was installed in 1909 as a large swing ride.
The "Expo-Whirl" Cars of the large tower swing ride.

Deirdre Capone personally sent me this photograph of herself at Riverview in 1956. She is Al Capone's Grand Neice. The twin Ferris wheels, the Dodgem station, and the Flash roller coaster tracks are in the background. Deirdre personally told me how much she loved going to Riverview.
ARTICLE: Removal of the "African Dip" Dunk Tank Game from Riverview Park in Chicago, Illinois.