It was Memorial Day May 30th, 1906 that an amazing place opened to the public for the first time. A mystic city by the sea, Wonderland Park in Revere, MA. The brainchild of business men John Higgins and Floyd Thompson, Wonderland was to be the biggest, grandest amusement resort the world had ever seen. It had spectacle, entertainment, shows and rides, and it cost it’s investors over one million dollars to open. It was situated a mere two city blocks from Revere Beach, the country’s first public beach which was then a pristine stretch of sand and surf, featuring amusements of it‘s own.
Let’s take a journey into Wonderland, shall we? Using photographs and postcards as reference, I have created a schematic of how the park was laid out. We’ll be entering via the Beaver Street entrance, since we, like many patrons have strolled up from the beachfront to enter the park. There are several nice bird’s eye views of the park, but all of them are drawings, and none are accurate. Several different ones even contradict each other. Take the two examples here. The first seems much more accurate, as the Chutes ride (flume-like ride center left) and Fire and Flames exhibit (the smoke rising middle right), are correct , but the area at the foot of the Chutes ride is indistinct, and not indicative of how it actually looked.
In the second, the Fire and Flames is erroneously placed behind the Chutes ride, and the circle of buildings (center front) never materialized.
The map I’ve drawn is not to scale, and is as accurate as the information I had available to me allows it to be. There are several acts and attractions that I have seen advertisements for that I have no idea where they’d be located in the park. Also several attractions were changed or modified in the time the park was open for business. It is an approximation of what a trip through Wonderland might have been. The bold letters represent where we are on the map at any given time. I hope you enjoy your journey.
A We start at the upper right corner of the schematic at the Beaver Street entrance on the map. Note the ornate entrance gate and added glitter to the card.
B As we enter the park, we curl left onto the midway. On our immediate left is the circus tent which holds the Ferari Trained animal exhibit, extolled on the card as “The Largest, Grandest, Most Complete Show Of It’s Kind in This Or Any Other Country”.
In this next view, Ferari’s animal show can be seen on the left, with the turnaround of the scenic railway behind it. To the right of the tent is a souvenir photograph building, then there is Princess Trixie Queen of the Educated Horses. The crowd gathers around to watch the airships ride.
C A better view of the Princess Trixie show front, and the front of the funhouse called the Third Degree. This funhouse contained wooden slides, uneven floors, moving stairs, and other attractions that would make a modern day ambulance chaser drool.
D This view shows the Airship ride, touted as being the largest in the world. Behind is the Third Degree and Princess Trixie exhibits.
E To the left of the airships was the Arcus ring, where circus artists like acrobats and trapeze artists would stage several shows daily. From left in this view can be seen, the scenic railway building entrance the airships, the Third Degree, a Palmistry shop, The tower of the Nautical gardens (not in Wonderland, but on the beach), and the beginning of the Japanese exhibit.
F Next on our tour is the Japanese Village, complete with it’s own Mount Fuji replica, made from the soil that was removed to create the central lagoon and basin of the Shoot the Chutes ride.. At this time in history, exhibits like these, which depicted different cultures and different peoples from around the world were common.
Here also patrons are seen climbing on the Royal Arch.
I am also including a non-postcard piece of ephemera, called a cabinet photo. This would have been taken by a photographer in the park, to be picked up (and paid for) by the subjects at a later time. It shows a dandy family dressed to the nines, in front of the Japanese village with Mount Fuji in the background.
G After touring Japan, we take our best girl (or boy’s) hand in ours and we take a ride on Love’s Journey, New England’s first tunnel of love, where the cars would wind slowly through a maze that was sometimes light, sometimes dark, and an ending where the riders were showered with confetti. Remember, many early amusement devices were designed to put men and women in closer physical contact than they’d be able to usually in public. There is a card of just Love’s Journey, but I have not found one to add to my collection. Also visible in this card is the Fatal Wedding, and Children’s theatre which entertained the little ones with clowns and acts like Gillet’s Dog and Monkey Circus. In 1908 the Children’s Theatre was replaced by Pilgrim’s Progress a walk through fun house attraction featuring clowns, tilted floor rooms, barrels of fun and such.
H A close up view of the Fatal Wedding attraction. This was a show which used mechanical and electrical illusions to transform volunteer couples from the audience into skeletons and back. The faux wedding ceremony was based on an ancient Egyptian legend.
I Here we have circled around the park to the main entrance and administration building. Note how much larger and more ornate this main entrance facing Walnut Street is compared to the Beaver Street entrance we came in.
J Next to the administration building is the Infant Incubators. These were exactly what they sound like they are. Because incubators were unproven, and expensive, hospitals didn’t jump on the bandwagon right away. Ingenious park owners decided to buy incubators, hire medical staff to man them, and helped prove that incubators were a valid method of caring for premature infants. Curious onlookers paid a fee to peer at the tiny babies, families were always allowed in for free.
K After we stop in for some popcorn at the stand next to the Infant Incubators we eat it as we stroll by the roller skating rink, and stare at Wonderland’s biggest thrill ride, the Shoot the Chutes. Much like a modern flume ride, you would get into a boat at the bottom, it would lift you to the top with a roller coaster style lift hill, and then you would plunge down the slide towards the water, where you’d skip along the surface (not getting wet, patrons then didn’t want to be soaked), and finally end at the end of the lagoon for debarking. Unlike modern rides, the flat bottomed boats did not ride on any kind of rail or track, but rather just slid down the slide into the water.
Much like the bird-eye view, some early cards are artists renderings and aren’t accurate. In the first Chutes view, note the red building on the right. This is the Hell Gate attraction, but since the artist didn’t know what it would look like, he drew a sculpture of a kneeling devil on the front, which was common at the time.
In the second photographic view, the building at right is the carousel, also marked K on the map.
L These next two views are overviews of the park from the top of the Chutes, first a printed card, and then a real photo postcard. Notice Mount Fuji in the center background of each. We entered the park to the left of Mt Fuji walked by the end of the lagoon, and down what is the right side of the card seeing the park’s attractions. After a quick run down the Shoot the Chutes ride, we’ll hit the carousel, and then the next big attraction…
M Hell Gate. Hell Gate was one of the main attractions at Wonderland, and was revolutionary for it’s time. As you can see by this view, the really cool figural devil found in the artists view of the Chutes is nowhere to be found here. The ride was a dark boat ride, where your boat would enter the building (a large octagonal structure), and be sucked into a whirlpool, which was actually a chute that would drop you down into the underworld. There the boat would pass several eerie, hellish displays of static and moving figures, until you would finally have an interaction with the devil himself before escaping unharmed back outside. It must have been quite thrilling in 1906, though probably quite tame by today’s standards.
N Next to Hell Gate was the amazing Wonderland Ballroom and restaurant. This huge building offered elegant dining on the first floor, and dancing to live music on the second.
O In between the Ballroom and the Thompson’s Scenic Railway was the Bewitching Orient. Advertised on it’s front, below the four minarets as “A Congress of Strange Oriental People”, it was an exhibit exploring the East, including caravans, bazaars, and dancing girls.
P Our final ride at Wonderland will be on the Thompson’s Scenic Railway. Precursors to the modern railways, scenic railways were much like roller coasters, except they had much slower speeds and smaller drops. They also usually employed an on-ride brakeman, and went in and out of buildings past murals of interest. The scenic railway probably did not exist as I have drawn it. I know that it went outside, then through a building, which I placed where it is placed in both artists birds-eye views. However, neither of those views shows coaster track near the animal exhibit, which is clearly there in the view showing the airship ride in action near where the Princess Trixie and Third Degree are. I also know that it was advertised (probably an exaggeration) as being three miles long. I wanted to include the known portion of the ride in my schematic, and that’s how I decided to incorporate it. The Palmistry building can be seen in the background more clearly than in the previous Third Degree card.
Q After an exhilarating ride on the scenic railway, we come around the corner to Wonderland’s premier attraction, The Fire and Flames. Originally displayed at the St Louis Exposition of 1904, the promoters decided to spare no expense in bringing the same spectacle to Wonderland. After paying your admission you entered a town square filled with modern multi-story buildings. There was a grandstand that seated 3500 people who watched as performers at first moved about as if everything was normal.
Then as fire breaks out in one of the buildings, all 350-400 actors, stunt people and firefighters would spring into action.
Horse drawn fire trucks, armed by actual firefighters rush into the scene, running into burning buildings to save people and to valiantly put out the scorching, multi-building blaze. Twice a day this spectacle took place to enormous crowds. Unfortunately, the massive expense of the show, some $75,000 to operate for the 1906 season alone, doomed it to be a one season wonder, operating only for the 1906 season.
After two great seasons in 1906 and 1907, with more than 2 million visitors each year, 1908 saw attendance drop in half due to a poor economy. Wonderland still spent lavishly on top notch performers and free entertainment, but it became obvious that the average person could no longer afford to spend money on such frivolous entertainment. More and more, lower level performers and acts were booked, and the cleanliness of the park, once it’s hallmark, began to decline. It became obvious by the middle of the 1911 season that Wonderland would shutter it’s doors forever. It’s last day was Labor Day, 1911. As a final piece of ephemera, I have an admission ticket for Wonderland. I believe it was given in exchange for putting up posters with ads for Wonderland. I have two of the same but different colors.
Several rides continued to operate at Wonderland for a few more years, and eventually it was converted into a dog racing facility which it continued to be until dog racing was banned in Massachusetts. At that point it became a satellite horse racing venue, which it still reamins as today. A sad end for a once proud mystic city by the sea.
This article is the first of four installments on Revere Beach, Massachusetts, the focus of my collection. Though I collect amusement park rides views from places around the US and the world, my primary focus is on the cards of Revere Beach, the Coney Island of New England. We will next be exploring the roller coasters of Revere Beach, followed by an installment that is the reason I decided to write this series. I won’t spoil the surprise! Finally there will be a catch- all column at the end. The sideshow cards will return with the final catch-all Revere column. None of these Revere Beach columns would be possible without the use of the following references.
Revere Beach’s Wonderland: The Mystic City By The Sea by Edward & Frederick Nazarro 1983 self published
Revere Beach Chips by Peter McCauley 1996 self published by the Revere Historical Society
Memories of Revere Beach by Peter McCauley 1989 self-published
Pictorial History of Revere Beach Volume One by Peter McCauley 1980 self-published
Images of America Revere Beach by Leah A. Schmidt 2002 Arcadia Publishing
The type of card will often help one judge its age, as postcard manufacture went through several phases and changes over the years. The terms below will be what I use to describe cards, and will inform you what time frame those cards are from.
Private Mailing Card: 1850’s-1900 Marked on the back as such, only an address allowed on the back.
Undivided Back: 1900-1907 Most cards printed in Germany, address only on back of card, front may have space for message. All cards after 1907 are divided back, meaning both a message and an address may be written on the back
Early Chrome: Mostly German printed cards that have printing to the edges of a photographic image that’s been colored or a drawn image. 1900-1918.
White Border Cards: Mostly American printed starting 1918-1930’s. Generally inferiorly printed, especially the earlier ones, as American printing presses had not yet caught up with the superior German ones. Obviously World War 1 ended German dominance of the then very lucrative postcard printing market.
Linen Cards: These cards are characterized by a thin layer of linen that is glued over the paper prior to printing, giving them a non-smooth surface to the touch. 1940-s-early1950’s.
Chrome Cards: Postcards like you are used to today. Printed photographs on glossy stock. These date from the mid 1950’s until present, and are almost 100% of all new postcards made since the 1970’s. Chrome cards prior to the 1970’s are called Standard Size, which indicates the pre-1970’s postcard size of 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches. Almost all postcards printed since the 1970’s have been 4 inches by 6 inches or what is known as Continental Size. Since I do not actively collect continental sized postcards, all my images are of standard sized cards.
Real Photo Postcard RPPC: This is a card which is an actual photograph printed on actual photographic paper, generally made in limited numbers by small independent photographers. They may date from 1900 until present day, and can be dated approximately by the markings on the back. They are the rarest and most sought after postcards by collectors