Sunday, January 05, 2020

I Remember Riverview

Dena, Babyface, and Me In front of Jackson Park Day Camp-1960
"When I was 9... Me, Dena, and Babyface (Momma's friend Frank's neice who was about 14) went to Riverview and got lost on our journey home. We walked from Chicago's far northwest side all the way to the far southside. Leaving the amusement park at around 3pm that afternoon, it seemed like we walked across the world from my young perspective. It was divine providence, I feel, that at approximately 12:00 midnight we walked past a gas station with a squad car parked and the officer was reading.
At a glance, as we continued to make our trek down 61st street to Babyface's house, I thought to myself "hmmmm, that sort'a looks like Daddy.." The officer casually glanced then continued to read his book when suddenly he did a DOUBLE-TAKE!! To my utter amazement, that officer turned out to be my father!!
He was beside himself (he and Momma were divorced by then) and put us three little lost waifs in the squad and took us home. Whew! He tortured my mother first though by calling her to ask where we were...Momma said she was so nervous and was pacing the floor wondering the same thing.
I think every child in Chicago from that era spent all their money and had to walk from Western & Belmont--and surely the angels guided us all safely home. Lord I miss Riverview and all the fun rides. The cotton candy and barkers...The FunHouse and Tilt'aWhirl. The day I heard they closed it down in 1967 was a day that my heart sank..and yes, Riverview may be gone, but it will surely--never be forgotten."--Edie Antoinette


Aladdin's Castle 


A Walk Down Memory Lane

Water Bugs Ride


1960 Riverview Park Chicago

Riverview at Night


You know where Aladdin's Castle was..
1. The "living room" is called the "front room".
2. You don't pronounce the "s" at the end of Illinois. You become irate at people who do.
3. You measure distance in minutes (especially "from the city"). And you swear everything is pretty much 1/2 hour away.
4. You have no problem spelor pronouncing "Des Plaines."
5. You go to visit friends or family down south and laugh when they complain about the traffic.

You know this was not the Greyhound bus station 6. You understand that no person from Chicago can be a Cub fan AND a White Sox fan.
7. It's "Kitty corner" not "Katty corner".
8. You know the difference between The Loop and Downtown
9. You eat your pizza in squares, not triangles, and you never refer to it as "pie"
10. You own celery salt
11. You understand that the primary is the official local election.
12. You have drunk green beer on St. Paddy's Day
13. Stores don't have sacks, they have bags.
14. You end your sentences with an unnecessary preposition. Example: "Where's my coat at?" or "Can I go with?"
15. Your idea of a great tenderloin is when the meat is twice as big as the bun, "everything" is on it and a slice of dill pickle is on the side.

You know "The Bobs" was not plural for Bob 16. You carry jumper cables in your car.
17. You drink "pop."
18. You understand that I-290, I-90, I-94, and I-294 are all different roads.
19. You know the names of the interstates: Stevenson, Kennedy,Eisenhower,Dan Ryan, and the Edens
20. But you call the interstates "expressways."
21. You refer to anything South of I-80 as "Southern or Central Illinois."
22. You refer to Lake Michigan as "The Lake."
23. You refer to Chicago as "The City"
24. "The Super Bowl" refers to one specific game in January 1986.
25. You have two favorite football teams: The Bears, and anyone who beats the Packers.
26. You buy "The Trib" and not the Tribune.
27. You know that despite being on the lake, there is no such place as the Waterfront.
28. You think 45 degrees is great weather to wash your car.
29. You picnic or ride your bike in the "forest preserve"
30. You cried when Bozo was canceled on WGN.

You know this was "The Silver Flash", not the "EL" 31.You know what goes on a Chicago style hot dog.
32.You know what Chicago Style Pizza REALLY is.
33. You know why they call Chicago "The Windy City."
34. You understand what "lake-effect" means
35. You know the difference between Amtrak and Metra, and know which station they end up at.
37. You have ridden the "L."
38. You think your next-door neighbor is a cousin to Tony Soprano.
39. You can distinguish between the following area codes: 847,630,773,708, 312, & 815.
40. You have at some time in your life, used your furniture or a friend's body to guard your parking spot in winter
41. You respond to the question "Where are you from" with a "side." Example: "West Side," "South Side" or "North Side."
42. You know the phone number to Empire Carpet!
43. You know what a garache-key is! 


Date Opened: 1904 Date Closed: 1967

Location: by Western and Belmont Avenues, the Chicago River and Lane Tech High Remains at site: None
Notes: Riverview was one of the greatest of all amusement parks. Riverview Park: Its Role in a Changing Metropolitan Area
U.S. History June 4, 1999 

The 74 acres bordered by Western and Belmont avenues, the Chicago River, and Lane Tech High School were known affectionately as "Riverview" to at least three generations of Chicagoans from as early as 1904 to as recent as 1967. Riverview Amusement Park was (sometimes disputably) billed as "The World’s Largest Amusement Park" throughout its 64-year popularity. For some people a trip to Riverview was a rite of passage; for others, it was a familiar weekend excursion, but for most people who went there, a trip to Riverview was a significant memory not soon forgotten. As Chicago natives, my parents and my grandparents can attest to the significance of Riverview. My grandmother’s eighth grade graduation trip was to Riverview, and she has fond memories of the four summers she spent as a cotton candy vendor there. My parents also have vivid memories of trips to Riverview. The story of Riverview Amusement Park is one remembered by many.
German Sharpshooter Park, as the area that would become Riverview was known as during the late 1800’s, was a shooting range and picnic grounds owned by the wealthy Schmidt family. Wilhelm Schmidt later put in swings and some rides for the ladies and children and Riverview was born. Soon after its opening in 1904, Wilhelm’s son George began to expand the park with ideas he had picked up in Europe from parks such as Tivoli Gardens. One of these ideas was Riverview’s famous 70-horse carousel, commissioned from a group of Swiss-Italian carvers employed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and installed in 1908. Riverview’s popularity grew during the early 1900’s as a ballroom and a roller rink were built for entertainment during the winter season. The Riverview Boosters Club, started in 1919, sponsored events such as an Armistice Day Party and membership drives throughout the early twenties.

The "roaring" attitude of the twenties had its effects on Riverview, as well. During Prohibition, the many beer-drinking German patrons of Riverview found the park’s picnic grounds continuing to flow freely with beer, even with some interruptions from federal agents. Chicago political machines also made good use of the popularity of Riverview during the 1920’s. Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson sponsored free childrens’ days at Riverview and paid the Western Ave. streetcar fare during the summer. "The park also became a focal point for the developing rivalry between the O’Bannion and Capone gangs," states Al Griffin in Chicago History. Riverview became even more "roaring" in 1926 with the addition of "The Bobs" roller coaster. "The Bobs" was an 11-car coaster with an 85-foot drop, long billed as the most fearsome roller coaster in the country, as well as the fastest on record. Built at the gargantuan (for the 1920’s) cost of 80,000 dollars, "The Bobs" carried 1,200 passengers per hour and drew some 700,000 riders each season. "The Bobs" remained uncontestedly the most popular ride at Riverview throughout its existence.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s hit Riverview hard, as it did most entertainment industries. During the early 1930’s a devastating fire burned down one of the earlier fun houses, called the Bug House, and sections of the Derby Racing Coaster. Even without excess cash flow, Chicagoans continued to find ways to go to Riverview as is evidenced by George Schmidt’s introduction of the foot-long hot dog during the thirties. Most visitors to Riverview opted to eat at the Bowery rather than in the restaurants during the Depression years, so Schmidt began selling the foot-long as something filling yet inexpensive. It’s easy to see why Riverview’s motto became "Laugh Your Troubles Away."
The years during World War II brought more changes to Riverview. The American National Socialist Party held its annual picnic and rally at Riverview in 1939. Thousands of Nazis postured and marched and hailed Hitler on the amusement park grounds. In contrast to this, Riverview became a popular place for returning servicemen and began to thrive again after the lag during the thirties. The postwar baby boom of the late 1940’s and 1950’s brought greatly increased prosperity to Riverview. "In the old days we’d have families of only one or two children. Now they come with four or five or more," stated G.G. Botts, Riverview vice president, of the baby boom’s effects. During the fifties, one couple that met at Riverview insisted on being married on the Pair-o-Chutes ride, and even found a minister to do it. The downside to this increased popularity was the rise of other amusement parks that presented stiff competition for Riverview. In 1948 there were only 420 amusement parks nationwide; in 1958 the number had grown to over 700.
 The movement of more and more African Americans to Chicago heightened racial tension at Riverview during that time period, as well. One of the midway games that started out as a "Dunk the Bozo the Clown" game in which contestants threw balls at a target that would release a man into a tank of water turned into "Dunk the Nig**r" during the 1940’s. African American men were hired to sit in the tanks and taunt white passersby, who often would throw the balls at the African American in the tank rather than at the target. The title of the game was later changed to the more politically correct "African Dip" and was eventually closed by Schmidt in the late 1950’s after much pressure from the NAACP. By the time the game closed, "the men who lost their jobs were reportedly making over three hundred dollars a week in what was considered to be the highest-grossing concession in Riverview’s history." The game left a lasting effect, as well. It allowed ethnically diverse Chicagoans to define themselves as "white" and to develop a sense of racial solidarity that "obscured the particulars of their own ethnic backgrounds." This development served to further segregate the city. Fights sprang up more frequently at Riverview after this, and by the 1960’s Riverview required its own police force.

The closing of Riverview at the end of the 1967 season was a shock to many people. As Riverview was still bringing in 65,000 dollars on a good day, it seemed hard for people to attribute the end to economic reasons. But in truth, the Schmidts were probably offered a deal that they couldn’t pass up. They had installed a Disney-esque Space Ride in 1963 that cost 375,000 dollars and was reportedly losing money. Also, real estate prices in that downtown area were rising rapidly and the union labor and private police and fire departments, not to mention yearly repairs on the aging rides, cost the park more and more money. For whatever reason, the park was purchased by a LaSalle Street investment firm on October 3, 1967 for an estimated 6.5 million dollars and promptly demolished. Only the Merry-go-Round and several smaller souvenirs were saved. After storage in Galena, Illinois, the Merry-go-Round was purchased in 1971 and is now in Atlanta at Six Flags Over Georgia. The distortion mirrors from Aladdin’s Castle fun house are reportedly at a dance club in Palatine. The area that was once Riverview is now home to a DeVry Institute of Technology, a police station, and a shopping center.
There were many inside facts about Riverview that employees learned while working there. My grandmother, who sold cotton candy there as a teenager, remembers a lot about the park that the average visitor never found out. For instance, the park hired plants to walk around the midway with prizes, enticing people to play the games. Employees got to take the pre-opening test rides and enjoyed such thrills as the Bobs and the Chute-the-Chutes for free. Also, Riverview didn’t have a set closing time, but depended on the flow of the crowd to tell them when to close. Vendors on the midway watched for the lights of the Hades fun house to go out to know when to start shutting down.
Riverview Amusement Park had a lasting impact on the city of Chicago. Most importantly, it allowed people of different ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds to interact with each other in an otherwise ethnically segregated city. During its 64 years in existence it was said to entertain over 200,000,000 people. It played important roles during Prohibition, the Depression, World War II, and the baby boom of the fifties and sixties. Helen FitzMaurice says in The Chicago Tribune, "Riverview, like a fading Viennese beauty, held on to her air of old world charm, even when time and the electronic age so ruthlessly forced their way upon her. I am glad that those who were responsible retired her before every vestige of her charm was gone." Even if Riverview and its impact are sorely missed by Chicagoans, its closing was sadly appropriate. In the age of "The Raging Bull" and "The Viper," "The Bobs" and "The Chute-the-Chutes" would seem out of place and belonging to another age. As society looks for more daring risks, technology must follow. Despite being in the shadow of the increasingly technological aspects of today’s amusement park entertainment, Riverview will stand out in many peoples’ memories for the good times they had there and in Chicago’s history for its important social impact on the city.


Riverview - Part 2 (The History)

A Short History of Riverview Park

The area around Western and Belmont Avenues in Chicago was settled largely by German immigrants in the late 1800s. The Der Nord Chicago Schuetzenverien, a spin-off group of the Kriegs Verein of Chicago, a group of Prussian War veterans, purchased the acreage bounded by the Chicago River and the above avenues in order to use it as a shooting range. They later changed their name to the North Chicago Sharpshooters Association. The 22 acre park was dubbed Schuetzen Park by the Germans, and Sharpshooters Park by the locals, who began asking the private club if their grounds could be rented for picnics.

Around the turn of the century, the Sharpshooters Association dissolved and two members purchased the land. They were Wilhelm (William) A. Schmidt, a baker, and his partner George Goldman. Schmidt and Goldman operated the park as a picnic ground until 1903, when Schmidt's son George returned from school in Europe. He suggested to his father that they add rides to the ground, in the style of some of the European parks he'd visited.
Wilhelm Schmidt
George Goldman
George Schmidt
William Johnson
A local lawyer, William Johnson, and a Pittsburgh banker named Joseph McQuade(no photo available) supplied additional financing in 1904 to turn Sharpshooters Park into a full-blown amusement park. The new park was dubbed Riverview Sharpshooters Park.
During the first couple of years, the major rides were the White Flyer (a figure-8 shaped roller coaster), and the Aero-Stat, better known to Chicagoans as the Strat-O-Stat.

History - 1907

Grand ViewNear Entrance
While the park was successful right from the start, the money to really expand the park into Chicago's premier amusement park came when Nicholas Valerius and Paul Cooper came into the company in 1907. That year alone, $550,000 worth of attractions were added to Riverview including the classic front gate, the Hellgate ride, and two roller coasters.

The first coaster was named the Top, because it was spiral-shaped like a top and the coaster trains revolved around it. As the trains went around it, the whole coaster structure wobbled like a top. The second coaster was the Velvet Coaster, named for its gentle dips.

In a new section of the park called Fairyland, Riverview built one of its signature rides, the Shoot-the-Chutes. Note in the picture at right, the Aero-Stat has not yet been moved from the front of the park to its later position next to the Chutes. This ride was immensely popular, and on busy days you could expect to wait a long time for a ride, with no re-rides permitted.
Velvet Coaster

History - 1907/1908

At the rear of the park, paralleling the river, Riverview began construction of the Marine Causeway, also known as the River Walk. During 1907, very little was on the Causeway, but during the 1908 season, Riverview added the sensational attraction, Battle of the Monitor & Merrimac, which was a re-creation of the famous Civil War naval battle. Also added in 1908 was a magnificent 5-row carousel, one of the largest ever built!
Monitor and Merrimac
Aero-Stat and Carousel
The Pikes Peak Scenic Railway was also added in 1907. See picture below.

In 1908, Riverview added two more roller coasters, the Aerial Coaster, which wrapped around the Monitor and Merrimac building, and the Royal Gorge Scenic Railway. The Aerial Coaster, also known as the Pottsdam Railway, can be seen above on either side of the Monitor and Merrimac.
The Royal Gorge Scenic Railway is below at right.
Pikes Peak Scenic Railway
Royal Gorge Entrance

History 1909-1919

In 1909, the park built its first Racing Coaster. The Derby, engineered by famous designer John Miller, was incredibly popular right up until its destruction by fire in 1932.
Derby1911 Blue Streak
Throughout the rest of the teens, Riverview built at a frenzied pace. By the close of the decade, they'd built FOUR more roller coasters, the original Blue Streak, the Gee Whiz (aka Greyhound), the Jack Rabbit, and the Cannon Ball. The Blue Streak came first in 1911, followed by the Gee Whiz in 1912, the Jack Rabbit racing coaster in 1914, and the Cannon Ball in 1919.

At right top is the original Blue Streak coaster. Below right is the entrance to the Jack Rabbit.
1914 Jack Rabbit1919 Cannon Ball

History - Roaring Twenties

Riverview continued to roar throughout the Roaring Twenties. No less than FIVE additional coasters were built in this decade. The first was the Big Dipper (aka Zephyr & Comet) in 1920, the Pippin (aka Silver Flash or Flash) in 1921, the Skyrocket (aka Blue Streak & Fireball) in 1923, the Bobs in 1924, and finally the Kiddie Bobs in 1926!
Big Dipper
Skyrocket and Midway
Bobs First Drop
With the building of the Kiddie Bobs in 1926, Riverview would build its last coaster of the twenties. After the Great Depression began in 1929, Riverview would be unable to afford a new coaster. It would have to purchase one used in the thirties.
Kiddie Bobs

History - 30's & 40's

The effects of the Great Depression dramatically reduced the amount of money available for new attractions. To make matters worse, in April of 1932, workmen retarring a roof started a massive blaze that destroyed the Bug House funhouse, and heavily damaged the Derby coaster. The Derby was subsequently torn down, and the Bug House was replaced with a new funhouse, Aladdin's Castle.

Riverview had wanted to purchase a Flying Turns ride new from the manufacturer since its introduction, but was unable to come up with the funds to buy one. They were forced to purchase one used from the 1933-34 Chicago Worlds Fair after it closed. Riverview closed its large Kiddie Land, demolished the Kiddie Bobs coaster along with it, and moved the Flying Turns to the site. The photo shown here is an aerial view of the Flying Turns on the World's Fair midway.
Aladdin's CastleFlying Turns Aerial
In 1936, Riverview converted an old observation tower, the Eye-Full Tower (a corny pun), into a new ride, the Pair-O-Chutes. The Pair-O-Chutes was based on a parachute training tower invented for the military by Maj. James Strong. Riverview's was the first civilian tower in the US. Riverview's tower was copied by the 1939 World's Fair for their amusement zone, and that ride was later moved to Steeplechase Park on Coney Island. In 1939, a couple got married on the Pair-O-Chutes. For more details, see the book version of Laugh Your Troubles Away - the Complete History of Riverview Park.

Also during this time period, Riverview renamed the Big Dipper coaster to the Zephyr in 1936, and to the Comet in 1940. The Pippin coaster was renamed the Silver Flash in 1938, and the Skyrocket was renamed the Blue Streak in 1936.
Pair-O-Chutes WeddingPair-O-Chutes Wedding
With the coming of World War II, money and materials for new attractions dried up, but because people were unable to travel much due to wartime gas rationing, people did continue to attend the park in large numbers. During the war years Riverview only added a few carnival type rides, most of which had been purchased used.

After the war ended, people suddenly got the travel bug and Riverview's attendance plunged sharply. Consequently, few attractions were able to be added until the 1950's.

History - 50's & 60's

During the 50's, the park added the Showboat in 1957, and a Wild Mouse coaster for the 1958 season. The Blue Streak coaster (aka Skyrocket) was remodeled into the Fireball coaster in 1959 by removing the first double-dip drop and making the drop go about ten feet underground. The Space Ride was added for the 1963 season, which allowed the patrons to cross a section of the park through the air.
Space Ride
In 1965, the park demolished the aging Greyhound coaster, and replaced it with the new Jetstream coaster. A smaller ride than the one it replaced, it never paid off its cost due to the premature closing of the park at the end of the 1967 season.
In October 1967, it was announced the Riverview would not reopen for 1968. Chicago was stunned! After some discussion, it was decided not to hold a goodbye party due to the uncertain Fall weather, and the lack of ride operators, who had moved on to their off-season jobs. The reason for Riverview's sudden demise is simple. Greed. The land the park sat on was worth more than the park's revenue. It had nothing to do with racial problems or Chicago politics. For the full story, see the documentary video or the book version of Laugh Your Troubles Away - The Complete History of Riverview Park.

The Shoot-the-Chutes

Every couple of months or so, we will examine a featured attraction at Riverview. Here you will be able to learn more about different attractions ranging from the smallest sideshow to the large coasters.
One of the favorite attractions at Riverview was the Shoot-the-Chutes, known as the Chutes for short. While many patrons rode this thrilling ride, few knew how old the Chutes really was.

It was constructed in 1907 as an outside concession by the former owner of the Shoot-the-Chutes at Chutes Park, Chicago. Once Chutes Park went out of business at the end of the 1906 season, he needed a new home for his ride. Rather than move his existing ride, the concessionaire built a larger, more elaborate one.
In the early years of the ride, it had a large sign on top reading, "Ride the Chutes in Fairyland". A large monster mouth surrounded the tunnel which all riders had to pass through to reach the elevator to the top.
After a rehab in the 1920s, the sign and the monster mouth were removed. The beautiful globe lights that lined the outside of the Chutes were replaced with more utilitarian looking goose-neck lamps running down the center of the ride. The ride was just as thrilling though!

Double Whirl ride

The Double Whirl ride was introduced at Riverview in the 1906 season. It was a locally produced product, being made by the Double Whirl Manufacturing Company of Chicago. It consisted of SIX Ferris Wheels that rotated around a central pole, while the Ferris Wheels rotated vertically at the same time. Each Wheel had six benches that could accomodate two people, so the ride in total could hold 72 people.
The rights to manufacture the ride were apparently later obtained by C. W. Parker, a noted builder of Carousels, Ferris Wheels, and other carnival rides. Parker's main factory closed in 1926, with various Parker products continuing to be manufactured by Paul Parker until 1955.

Aero-Stat & Strat-O-Stat

One of Riverview's longest-lasting attractions was the Aero-Stat. Originally installed near the front gate, it was moved to the rear of the park around 1908. The original cars were changed in the mid-teens to ones that looked like biplanes. In the 1930's the park installed cars that looked like rocket ships and renamed the ride Strat-O-Stat.
Aero-Stat 96Aero-Stat Patent

White Flyer Roller Coaster

One of Riverview's first attractions was the roller coaster named the "White Flyer". Built for Riverview's first season in 1904, it is a type of coaster called a "Figure-8" because the track design looks like a Figure-8 from above. This design was invented and patented in 1894 by E. Joy Morris, and apparently licensed to other builders as Riverview's was built by the Ingersoll Construction Company. Installed just inside the front gate, it had its first accident three days after opening, when a 25 year old man stood up and fell out of his car, suffering only a broken leg. The "White Flyer" is thought to have operated until the early 1920's.
Figure 8 Post Card
White Flyer Loading Station
The cars of this ride typically looked more like a traditional carriage than what we now think of as a roller coaster car. The photo below shows a car from the last surviving Figure-8 in the world, the "Leap the Dips" at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Stop by Lakemont and treat yourself to a ride back into the past!
Figure 8 side view
Lakemont Figure-8 car

The Flying Turns

After the closure of the 1933-1934 Chicago World's Fair, Riverview acquired the Flying Turns ride that had been featured on the amusement midway there. This thrilling roller coaster gave riders the feeling of being flight by running in a wooden trough instead of riding on top of track.
This popular ride lasted until the park's closing at the end of the 1967 season. A new Flying Turns based on the Riverview blueprints is being constructed at Knoebel's Grove Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania.
Flying Turns Aerial