After much delay, I return to this project. I have decided that since the next few states will encompass many great New Jersey parks as well as Coney Island, I am showcasing 12 cards instead of 10 for each installment, and omitting the sideshow performer section for now, though that will return later, perhaps as it’s own entity.

We pick up in New Hampshire, and it’s once and future main amusement park attraction, Canobie Lake Park. The coaster that can be seen in this aerial view, is the Yankee Cannonball, still going strong after 86 years. The coaster was built in 1930 for Lakewood Park in Waterbury Connecticut, and was relocated to Canobie Lake in 1936. It’s being re-tracked this off season, so 2016 should be a stellar year. The coaster makes an unusual dogleg around the still existing parking lot, though the rest of the park, the area between the parking lots and the lake, which was mostly trees in this 1960’s view, is far more developed now.

Canobie Lake Park Aerial View 1960's

This next card shows that racial insensitivity wasn’t limited to states south of the Mason-Dixon line, with this card showing the Little Black Sambo merry go round in Story Land in Glen, NH. I’ve been to Story Land, and the place is family run, and by really nice folks. In their defense, Little Black Sambo was a popular story from when it was first published in 1899 until the 1960’s, when it’s racial undertones were impossible to ignore any further. Obviously, the ride is no longer in the park.

Little Black Sambo Ride Story Land Glen, NH

We enter New Jersey through Asbury Park. This nice 1960’s chrome view shows many rides and attractions, including the small roller coaster in the foreground, with three small kiddie rides behind it. The red roofed building houses the carousel, and the white building down from the carousel contained the Skooter rides, more popularly known now as Dodgems or bumper cars. The track in the water to the left of the card marked the area where you could rent self propelled swan boats.

Overview of Kiddie Land Asbury Park, NJ

The majority of the first installment will take place in Atlantic City. Firstly is a great view entitled “There Is a Boy for Every Girl, Atlantic City, NJ”. It was mailed in 1911, and it is a great example of the swimwear worn at the beach at the time. Notice that none of the women are showing any skin except for their heads and hands.

Early 1900's bathing costumes in Atlantic City NJ

This next card show a sand sculptor working on a sculpture of a lion on the beach in front of George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Pier. Tilyou was also well known for his Steeplechase Park in Coney Island. This sign was also advertising The Funny Place, a funhouse. Note the Ferris Wheel in the back.

Sand sculptor working on a lion in front of Steeplechase Park

Next is a card from the 1930’s of the famous Elephant Hotel, Margate City, part of Atlantic City. Built in 1881 out of lumber covered in sheet metal, the elephant was used for many things, but not an actual hotel, that was in the building adjacent. It was moved in 1970, and still exists today, and is colloquially known as Lucy, which is the name given to her in 1902 by a member of the family that owned it.

The Elephant Hotel Margate City

This next card depicts a strange, generally no longer seen phenomenon, known as the Steel Pier diving horse show. These jockeys would go up the structure seen on the card, and then jump off of them into a pool. They were the most popular at the turn of the century, but began to lose popularity after World War II, due to concerns for the animals. Some of these attractions had the horses jumping close to sixty feet. This card was mailed in 1941, right when these shows were starting to die out almost everywhere.

Horse Diving at the Steel Pier Atlantic City NJ

But not apparently at The Steel Pier in Atlantic City, where this multi view card shows the Diving Horse, an assortment of rides, the popular rolling chairs ride, powered by this time, though human powered like a rickshaw, when first introduced in the 1800’s, and a billboard with ads for Zaberers, a restaurant, and Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. The publication date on this card is 1972, nearly the end of horse diving on the Steel Pier. The Steel Pier tried to re-introduce Diving Horses in 2012, but were quickly rebuffed by animal rights activists, and the general public, who’s taste for such spectacle has waned. The Magic Forest Theme Park in Lake George still has a diving horse, but he walks up the ramp, and dives nine feet into a pool 14 feet deep without a rider, or external encouragement.

Multi-Iamge view showing Diving Horse in 1972

These next three cards are my favorites from my Atlantic City collection. The first shows the Human Roulette Wheel, also known as a Joy Wheel in the UK. The person sitting on the absolute center of the device is the only one who is able to stay on the wheel as it starts to spin and gain speed. This shoots the people off the wheel, towards the rather ominous, and injury inducing short wall with metal fence, as well as previous riders. A sign in the center above the ride advertises ice cream cones for 5 cents.

Human Roulette Wheel at The Funny Place Steeplechase Pier Atlantic City NJ

Next is the Razzle Dazzle at The Funny Place, Steeplechase Park. This low tech ride used human power to get a large circular bench that people sat on, to rotate up, down and around a central pole. Oftentimes the folks who were providing the muscle would hang off the bench by their hands as it would go around. Click on the link below the picture to see a short 14 second video of one of these rides, known as The Hoop-La in Coney Island.

The Razzle Dazzle The Funny Place Steeplechase Pier Atlantic NJ

Hoop-La ride at Coney Island

Our last Atlantic City card is this great overview of Steeplechase Pier, showing a coffee shop front left, a frankfurter restaurant front right, which also made fruit smoothies, apparently, and the rides behind the sign, including the carousel, Whip ride, and Dodgem or bumper cars ride, as well as another circular flat ride.

Overview of the entrance to Steeplechase Pier, Atlantic City, NJ

Our last card this installment comes from Clementon Lake Park in Clementon NJ, near Camden. I have ridden this wooden coaster, known as The Jack Rabbit. It was a fun ride, though the hand stamp the park gave you was so thick, you had to be careful what you touched!

The Jack Rabbit roller coaster, coming down a hill at Clementon Park, Clementon, NJ

Come back next time for another installment on New jersey, including the late, lamented Palisades Park.

 

This month we finish our time in Massachusetts, and continue west to Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, and Nebraska. First in Massachusetts we stop in the mid-state industrial city of Worcester. Creating the eastern border between Worcester and Shrewsbury is Lake Quinsigamond. As with Whalom Park in Lunenberg, The White City in Worcester used the natural appeal of a large body of water to draw a crowd, and added amusements and other activities to get them to spend their money. Though all the postcards say the park is in Worcester, it actually was physically in the suburb of Shrewsbury. I’m certain this was to trade on the better known Worcester name. This first card is special as it was released prior to the parks opening in 1905. A note written on the front lets the recipient of the card know it will open in May. These pre-opening cards are nice examples of advertising for an upcoming attraction. At this point in history, you could only write an address on the back of the card, so it’s not unusual to see writing on the front of cards from this era.

White City Worcester Pre-Opening Card

This next view of The White City is a nice close up of riders enjoying their trip on the scenic railway. This type of card became popular during this era of the undivided back postcard. The space at the bottom took away from the image, but was popular anyway, as it gave senders a place to write a note without marring the view on the front of the card. The White City was another trolley park, and it suffered through the Great Depression, finally succumbing to economic realities in 1960. For those who know that area, The White City Shopping Center near the now defunct Spag’s was where this lost amusement park was located.

White City Worcester Scenic Railway

This next card is a wonderful view of riders enjoying a low energy ride on a figure eight roller coaster, circa 1910. This type of coaster is nearly extinct, only Leaps The Dips in Altoona, PA remains as an example. In this close view, you can see how there are wooden sides near the tracks. The ride is a series of figure eights, with small hills. Maximum speed on a ride like this was probably only about 10 MPH. It wasn’t until the underwheel, that locks the car to the track, was invented that coasters sped up to today’s extremes. When the car returns to the station, a brakeman in the station will pull a large lever, which squeezes the boards on the side against the car, slowing it to a stop. These are known as side friction roller coasters. Since these rides were so popular and so common, this exact card comes with different names of parks on it. This card is from Wenona Beach, Bay City, Michigan, but I have seen this same view with at least three other different park names displayed on it.


Side Friction Figure Eight Coaster @ Wenona Beach MI

This next view is from Electric City in Detroit, Michigan. Located adjacent to the bridge to Belle Isle, this trolley park was in operation from 1906 to 1928. This view shows an overview of the parks many rides, including the Trip Thru The Clouds roller coaster, a Traver circle swing, what looks like some sort of funhouse or other inside attraction, and behind that the top of the Ferris wheel. Also a drink stand can be seen.
Electric Park Detroit, MI
Electric Park Detroit, MI

This last view in Michigan is from the Ionia, Michigan Fair. This fair is one of the nation’s largest, and longest lasting. It started in 1856, and is going strong today in 2014. This view is from the 1960’s, and shows the plethora of rides offered. Starting in the front right, there is a Zipper, a ride I have never been able to go on, then a ride I’ve seen called the crazy buckets, basically a round car that you can rotate while going around in a circle. Urp! A Round-Up, Double Ferris Wheel, and other spin and pukes can also be seen. A line of tents probably held games of chance and human oddities displays.

Ionia Fair MI Not for the weak of stomach!

Not being an emetic fan, let’s move on from the Ionia Fair, and onto Minnesota. With many smaller states, I only have a few or even just one card. I have just a few Minnesota cards, and this one is the best, a great action view of the Cyclone roller coaster coming down a hill.

Excelsior Park Cyclone Roller Coaster Excelsior, MN

We move south to Missouri, and to Schifferdecker Electric Park. This short lived park was only in operation from 1909 through 1912. Many parks incorporated Electric into their name during this period to trade in on the new attraction of electricity. For many people an amusement park was the only place they had seen an incandescent light bulb! I have seen many of these cards for sale, so the park’s demise didn’t come around by lack of advertising materials. These rides must have been interesting. I would imagine they were a less than gentle ride through several switch backs, and curves.

Two Wacky Coasters at Schifferdecker Amusement Park Joplin, MO

This next view shows the extents that park operators went through to theme the entrances to their rides to entice those not yet on the ride, to pry a nickel or dime out of their pocket, and give this new mechanical marvel a go. This entrance is for the Scenic Railway roller coaster in Electric Park, Kansas City, Missouri, a short lived park open only from 1907 through 1925. I love the intricate lattice work, and beautiful architecture on these old rides, a far cry from the utilitarian nature of most queue lines today.

Scenic Railway Entrance at Electric Park, Kansas City, MO

Moving to Montana is a nice real photo view showing the roller coaster at Columbia Gardens in Butte, Montana. It is my only card from Montana, and I have not found a ton of information about the park’s past, short of it being a botanical attraction at points in its history.

Roller Coaster at Columbia Gardens, Butte, MT

Our last amusement card this month is a nice view of riders on a small roller coaster that overlooks the swimming area. They are enjoying their day at Peony Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Peony Park was a water attraction for most of its history, adding rides in the 1970’s. The park closed for good in 1994. This is also my only postcard from Nebraska.

On the Roller Coaster At Peony Park Omaha, NB

From the sideshow collection this month comes a self made freak. One who was born without deformity or other maladies. In today’s world of ubiquitous tattoos, it’s hard to believe an age when a heavily tattooed person was so unusual that you’d pay to see one. Certainly today there are many more people with facial tattoos, and many more with total body tattoos, but in the Great Omi’s day this was unheard of. Born in 1892, the Great Omi had several tattoos, but enlisted a tattoo artist to give him the distinctive zebra like black stripes on his face and upper body sometime between 1927 and 1934. He exhibited himself most of his life, until his death in 1969.

The Great Omi

Our last sideshow card is of Susi, the Alligator Skin girl. Susi was an unfortunate victim of an extreme case of psoriasis, which resulted in her skin having a scaly, lizard like appearance. There were several Alligator people throughout history. I have only seen this one view of Susi, and there is scant information on her available.

Susi The Alligator Skin Girl

 

This month, we will again be strolling along the shores of the first public bathing beach in the United States, Revere Beach, Revere, MA. We will start at the southern end of Revere Beach Boulevard, and walk north. I will describe what we would see along the way, and when we’d have had to have been there in order to see it. Our first order of business will be taking the narrow gauge railway from Boston a few miles to the shores of Revere Beach. Upon exiting the train station, we walk east towards the beach and boulevard.

Our first stop along the way is just south of Shirley Avenue to ride The Jack Rabbit roller coaster. This coaster was built in 1916, and survived until 1924. Remember in this age, each ride was individually owned and operated, unlike modern amusement parks. Rides came and went, sometimes very quickly, entirely dependent upon how much money they made. A ride which wasn’t profitable was a ride which wouldn’t be in operation for too long before being razed and replaced with a (hopefully) more profitable endeavor. Little has been written about the Jack Rabbit coaster, and this view of the ride is the only view I have ever seen.

As is obvious from the view, The Jack Rabbit was much like it’s contemporaries, a tame ride with gentle drops and curves. Under wheels, the wheels that grip the track from underneath, were not invented until the early 1920’s, so most coasters prior to that time were more gentle rides. It wasn’t until the under wheel system was invented that coasters were able to have sharp turns, and deep drops, as without them, such elements could potentially cause the trains to derail during the ride. Even then, no ride operator wanted his patrons to die onboard!

After getting off the Jack Rabbit, we walk just slightly north, and get in line to ride The Dragon Gorge, a scenic railway. Scenic railways were the predecessors of modern roller coasters, and had trains that would traverse gentle slopes (usually with an onboard brakeman), past murals of various scenic vistas (hence the name). Many amusement parks, including Coney Island, had scenic railways named the Dragon Gorge, and generally the entranceways of these rides were decorated with large, imposing dragons, made from wood, chicken wire, plaster, and paint. This view shows the one of the dragons, up close and personal.

Dragon Gorge Scenic Railway

This view, which shows the entrance, and tracks of the ride to the entrance’s left, is not marked Dragon Gorge, but rather Thompson’s Scenic Railway. This is the only card I have that doesn’t call it the Dragon Gorge, obviously an error, since, as we’ll see on our walk up the boulevard, there is already a coaster on the beach called Thompson’s Scenic Railway. Also this Dragon Gorge was built by John Miller, and not by LaMarcus Thompson, inventor of the scenic railway. You can’t really see the dragons in this view, except for the tips of their wings, but a quick glance at the structure makes it obvious it is the same ride.

Dragon Gorge Scenic Railway


This ride was built in 1916, and closed in 1926. By 1926 several more daring rides had been built along the beach, and the Dragon Gorge’s gentle hills and sights were no longer enough to draw the crowds. The Dragon Gorge was razed in 1926, and a new coaster was built on the same spot which it once occupied. If the public had felt the Dragon Gorge was too tame an experience, nothing could possibly have readied them for what was to come on July 9, 1927.

Noted roller coaster designer Harry Traver had built one coaster on Revere Beach (The Cyclone, about which we’ll talk about later), and wanted to build another. When the lot that Dragon Gorge sat on became available, he pounced, and began work on what was to be one of the wildest, most extreme roller coasters the world had ever seen. It was one of what was to become known as Traver’s Terrible Triplets, three almost duplicate roller coasters that opened in either 1927 (Revere Beach Lightning, Crystal Beach Ontario Cyclone), or 1928 (Palisades Park, NJ Cyclone). The Lightning closed in 1933, the Palisades Park Cyclone in 1934, and the longest lived of the triplets, the Crystal Beach Cyclone was razed in 1946. What made these rides, which only lasted 40 seconds after being released by the chain lift, so terrifying were the extreme angles, massive g-forces, steep grades, and sharp turns that these wood and steel monsters inflicted on their riders. Because there are more views available of The Crystal Beach Cyclone, and it is pretty much the same ride, I am including this view of that ride to illustrate the ridiculous first drop on these coasters.

Crystal Beach, ON Cyclone a twin of the Revere Beach Lightning

As you can see on the above view, the first drop curves sharply to the right, traveling all the way to ground level, where the track is nearly perpendicular to the ground. The track then swings upwards to the right again, while quickly shifting for a very fast left hand turn downwards. The S-shaped track you see next to the tree in this view happens later on the ride. The only piece of straight track on any of these rides was the loading platform. Even the return run to the station had undulating track so the coaster train would shift side to side as it approached the end of the ride. This view also illustrates well how Traver could accomplish these angles and turns. By using a steel superstructure under the wood track. Like all roller coasters of it’s day, The Lightning was a wooden coaster, meaning that it’s track is made of seven layers of laminated wood with a thin steel plate laid over which the wheels would roll. Generally then, as today, wooden coasters have wooden superstructures, but Traver’s triplets used steel superstructures due to the incredible forces that the trains exerted on the structure. A wooden superstructure would have been torn apart by such forces.

Revere Beach Lightning

This view of the Lightning (notice the misspelling on the card) shows that the rest of the ride was nearly as perilous to one’s health as the first drop. So perilous was the Lightning, that a young woman died on it’s opening day in 1927. According to eye witness reports, she either jumped in fright from the train, or hit her head on a support while leaning out of the train (which would have been unlikely). After 20 minutes to remove the body, and determine that the safety lap bars were working, the ride was reopened. Imagine that happening today! Because of it’s reputation it was said that when a young woman found herself in an unwanted family way outside of marriage, people would remark “Take her on the Lightning!”.

Revere Beach Lightning

This last view of the Lightning is my favorite, as it illustrates perfectly just how extreme all the elements and transitions on this (and her sister rides) really were. As seemingly dangerous as it was, The Lightning was a very popular ride at the beach, though it drew more non-paying crowds to watch it, than it did paying customers to ride it. The 1931, and 1932 seasons were especially non-profitable, and the ride was dismantled in March of 1933 so that it would not be assessed any tax for that year.

So we now find ourselves stumbling in delirium after exiting the Lightning, and we walk across Shirley Avenue, continuing north along the boulevard to stop at a far more restrained ride The Over the Top, or Giant Coaster. Owned by the Hurley family, who owned amusements along the boulevard from the turn of the century into the 1970’s, the Giant Coaster was built in 1917, and was dismantled sometime in the 1930’s, though I cannot find an exact date. It was probably a victim of the Great Depression when spending money on such frivolous pursuits as roller coasters was out of the question for many folks. This first view shows the ride during the daytime. You can see the “Over The Top” name along it’s front, even though the card indicates it is the Giant Coaster.

Giant Coaster or Over the Top

This next view is the Giant Coaster at night, and illustrates how the clever post card salesman could, with a bit of artistic license, use one view to create a second view of the same ride at night time. I especially like how the headlights of the car have been added in, and how both the woman in front, and man standing near the car across the street have had their clothing color changed from white to red.

Giant Coaster or Over the Top at Night


After an easygoing ride on the Giant Coaster, we stroll further north on Revere Beach Boulevard to ride the Derby Racer. The Derby Racer was a racing coaster, where two cars full of passengers would race each other along side by side tracks. There are still many racing coasters in existence. The first Derby Racer was built in 1911, and was dismantled sometime in the early 1930’s. Like the Dragon Coaster, the original Revere Derby Racer had an elaborate entrance with a smiling, almost evil looking figure looking down upon potential riders, as seen in this view.

Facade of Derby Racer entrance


This second view shows the ride in action with two trains racing along the dual tracks.

The Derby Racer in action


In 1937, a second version of the Derby Racer was built on the same lot. This linen view from the 1940’s shows the second ride. Note the different entrance (where the Racer sign is on the right). I also like the notation on the bottom, many years before that sentence would take on a whole new meaning.

The second Derby Racer

After traveling through time to ride two different sets of Derby racers, we continue up the boulevard to ride the politically incorrectly named Oriental Ride. This scenic railway was built by LaMarcus Thompson, and was his second scenic railway on the beach (we’ve yet to ride his first). It was a bigger, more elaborate ride than the first, and obviously took riders past scenes from various Asian countries. It was located next to the Metropolitan Police Station (seen in this first view) which still stands on the beach. Below the postcard view is a recent picture I took of the Police Station.

Oriental Ride next to Metropolitan Police Station


Metropolitan Police Station in 2011


The third view shows the Oriental Ride in more detail. I couldn’t find a notation of when the Oriental Ride was built, but I know (from another card) that it was in existence prior to 1921. It too, probably fell victim to the Great Depression in the 1930’s.

A few steps north of the Oriental Ride was the first Thompson’s Scenic Railway, built in 1910. I like how the ride was designed to traverse into the “mountains”, where various scenes would be depicted in murals n the wall. The second view shows the elaborate trains of the scenic railway, as well as the proper dress worn by park patrons in those early days.

Thompson's Scenic Railway


Thompson's Scenic Railway close up of loading station


A few short steps to the north we stand in front of the imposing structure of Harry Traver’s first Revere Beach masterpiece, The Cyclone. Built in 1925, the Cyclone was considered one of the worlds greatest coasters when it was built, rivaling the Coney Island Cyclone for East Coast supremacy. Full of Traver’s trademark swooping turns, this first view of the Cyclone shows most of the ride in all it’s glory.

Revere Beach Cyclone

The Cyclone was the last existing roller coaster on Revere Beach, giving riders their last thrills in the summer of 1969. The beach had become a rather frightening place by those years, with gangs of hoodlums, and other nefarious characters making the boulevard less of a place for families to enjoy a day at the beach and on the rides. Several smaller rides existed throughout the early 1970’s, but by the time the Cyclone, partially burned, was razed in 1974, the reign of Revere Beach as the Coney Island of New England was over. Curiously, this last chrome view of the Cyclone, published sometime in the 1960’s is a far rarer card than the first view, which was published some time in the 1930’s.

Revere Beach Cyclone 1960's

With sadness in our hearts we walk the final stretch of the boulevard to ride the last coaster on our trip, the furthest from our starting point, the Thunderbolt. Built by Dragon Gorge builder John Miller in 1920, the Thunderbolt lasted only 10 years, being torn down in 1930. It looks imposing, but was a fairly gentle ride compared to the Cyclone, and it’s placement so far down the beach, also helped to make it’s existence a short one. Here is a view of the ride, and a second view showing the inclines on the ride from the inside. Note the airplane ride that can be seen in the first view is more prominently featured in the second.

John Miller's Thunderbolt Roller Coaster


Big Inclines on the Thunderbolt Roller Coaster

Our trip is completed, and we’ve ridden ten different coasters that existed on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean on Revere Beach. There were three other coasters that existed on the beach as well, but I don’t have any postcards of them, nor have I seen many images of them. They were all located in the same vicinity of the Oriental Ride. They were known as the Musical Railway, opened in 1906, closed ?, and the Pell Mell Coaster, open only for a year from 1915 to 1916. The final coaster that appeared on Revere Beach was an exception to the rule that early coasters were all gentle rides. This ride was known as the Loop the Loop coaster, built in 1900, and removed probably no later than 1905. I have several views of this type of ride at Coney Island but not of this ride at Revere. The reason why these rides were so short lived (the Coney Island rides were also gone by 1905 or so), was that designers used a perfect circle for the loop. On modern looping coasters, the loops are clothoid or tear drop shaped. This is because the forces on the necks of riders in a perfect circle loop are very great, and many riders experienced whiplash. Though I don’t own (nor have I seen) any postcards of this short-lived ride, I was lucky enough to purchase a admission ticket for it on eBay, back when things like this could still be had for a modest sum. This beautiful ticket shows the rides cars (each car was individual) with riders having a great time on the front. The back of the ticket shows the cars going through the circular loop. The string attached would be wound about a button to show the ride attendant you had paid your fare, and provided you with a nice souvenir. Very few of these tickets exist, as most were thrown away after a while. I have only seen one other example of this ticket in my years of collecting.

Front of Revere Beach Loop the Loop Coaster Ticket


Back of Revere Beach Loop the Loop Coaster ticket


That concludes this column on the roller coasters of Revere Beach, MA. Join me again soon for a trip through The Pit, Revere Beach’s masterful walk through fun house attraction illustrated by my favorite postcards in my collection. Until then, I’ll see you in the queue line!

 

Midway Postcard Gallery Volume 2 August 2010

This months gallery will be five more postcard images (called “views” in the field) from some long gone, and some still extant California amusement parks, and another sideshow performer postcard.

The first view is of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, CA. It is a chrome postcard from the 1960’s, and shows the awesome Giant Dipper roller coaster to the left, a Paratrooper ride in action on the right, and many park patrons enjoying their day. This particular coaster was built in 1924 by Arthur Looff. Arthur’s father Charles Looff was responsible for many of the greatest carousels ever constructed in the US. This classic ride can be seen in many movies, most notably in the opening helicopter shot of the great vampire film The Lost Boys, but also in The Sting II, Sudden Impact, and Dangerous Minds. The Giant Dipper continues to thrill riders to this day, and is one of my top ten favorite wooden roller coasters in the country.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Next is a 1940’s linen card showing the amusement park at the Great Highway and Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA. Those familiar with San Francisco will recognize the windmills at upper left which are still standing. They mark the end of what is now known as Golden Gate Park. Along the left side of the card you can see two roller coasters as well as many other amusement buildings holding rides and attractions. This view is taken from the Cliff House looking South.

San Francisco Amusement Area

Our third card is a view of the Dragon Gorge scenic railway at Ocean Park, Venice CA. Scenic railways were the predecessors of the modern roller coaster. Generally they were milder rides with small hills, and often had the cars pass by murals of various scenes inside the ride structure. To the left of the entrance you can see some coaster track. The very large dragons which guard the entrance of the scenic railway were made of wire, wood, paper mache and plaster, with a waterproof paint laid over to protect them from the elements. Judging by when these rides were popular, and by the dress of the people in the view, this card dates from sometime in the 1920’s.

Dragon Gorge Ocean Park CA[

Up next is a card from Venice Beach, Venice CA. It shows the park’s lagoon (also probably used as a landing spot for a boat ride similar to a modern Flume ride), as well as several attractions along the lagoon’s shore. These include from left to right two unmarked buildings (perhaps game booths or shops), followed by The Chicken Farm (game? Exhibit?), The Temple of Mirth, a walk through fun house, and finally Darkness and Dawn, an attraction which was more of a show that illustrated what happened to those vice ridden souls who dared tempt fate, and eternal damnation. This is an early divided back postcard dating from the 1910-1925 era.

Lagoon and Attractions Venice CA

Our last amusement park view is also from Venice Beach, Venice CA, and is a nice close-up of a ride that was once ubiquitous in amusement parks across the country, the Virginia Reel. As you can see, the Virginia Reel was a tub-like ride which held 4-6 patrons. Using a lift mechanism much like a modern roller coaster, the car was transported to the top of the ride (the unadorned track at the top of this view), and then careened down a series of spirals to the bottom, all the while spinning wildly as it descended. Quite a dizzying sensation, to be sure! I work with an older fellow who rode a Virginia Reel in his youth, and he proclaimed it one of the best rides ever, and confirmed it’s emetic potential!

Virginia Reel Venice CA

Lastly is another view from my collection of freak, or sideshow performer cards. This linen card from the 1940’s shows a family of little people known as the Doll Family (though their real surname was Earle). The Doll family consisted of (clockwise from left) Tiny, Harry, Daisy, and Grace. Harry and Grace may be familiar to movie fans as two of the stars of Tod Brownings 1932 masterpiece Freaks. Harry played the rich midget whom the trapeze artist marries with the intention of killing for his money, and Grace played his previous love interest, spurned for the trapeze artist. If you’ve not seen this film, I recommend it highly, as it is still powerful today with it’s frank depiction of the daily lives of many of the greatest sideshow performers of all time including Johnny Eck, the King of the Freaks, and Frances O‘Connor, the Living Venus De Milo.

Doll Family

GLOSSARY:
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 ( or views), 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 a 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. Alternatively, the may have the information burned into the negative. They are the rarest and most sought after postcards by collectors.

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