Sunday, August 22, 2021

Dad's memories of sledding and amusement parks

Snapshot from 1952: My Dad, John Alan Otto, on his fifth birthday with his parents, John Alexander "Pappy" Otto and Olive "Bambi" Otto. This was years before Dad could go out sledding by himself or walk to the amusement park or swimming pool by himself.


It’s so important to listen to, and record if possible, the lessons and stories our parents and relatives tell us. In a series of text messages on June 6, Dad conveyed the following about growing up in Easton, Pennsylvania in the 1950s and early 1960s:
Crazy world! There is no one out there setting a good example that might unite the divide in the USA demigods! Yet the problems within and without are many and so complicated. Average Americans need to step up to the forefront and say “I’m mad as hell and I can’t/won’t take it anymore.”

I knew the name of everyone in our neighborhood (18 houses) growing up. Everyone was simpatico. Life didn’t revolve around the BS on the evening news. We sat on our porches in the evening and watched the kids play in the street and mothers and fathers talked to other mothers and fathers about their work day and whatever. 

50+ years ago

Yes things have changed

In the winter after a snowstorm we would take our sleds to the top of Hackett Avenue and sled down the half mile to the bottom. Maybe one trip back up to sled again. The road was a mile from our house. Memories. Oh, it was steep. 30 degree slope. Speed racer. 

Hackett’s Creek Park at the top led to the back side of the hill down to the railroad tracks and Bushkill Creek. Not far away was the Binney and Smith Company, the original makers of Crayola crayons. I caught some trout in the stream next to their factory. Not far up the railroad tracks was the amusement park. Spent many a day in the penny arcade. Memories.
A few days later, I asked Dad to expand upon his memories of sledding and his memories of the amusement park he mentioned, which is historic Bushmill Park. He wrote back:
Sledding. Seemed like I always had a sled. Wooden. Handle/foot bars at front, with a rope for pulling it. Growing up we had snow most winters. The city blocked some hilly streets for night-time sledding. Age? 8 to 12.

The trek to the very long steep road leading to Hackett Park was about a mile to the top of the hill. It too was blocked off for sledding. But unplowed. Most cars didn’t attempt going up or down the hill. Maybe you would sled down the hill twice. It was a tuff walk to the top.

Bushkill Park. It was more than a mile from the house. So, I must have been 10, otherwise Bambi wouldn’t let me walk there alone. There was a shorter route by following the railroad tracks that paralleled the Bushkill Creek. The tracks passed by the Binney and Smith factory, where Crayola crayons were made.

The park had a penny arcade. Spent time there playing Skee-Ball. If your score was high enough, you got tickets. So you could use tickets to buy novelties. The carousel or merry-go-round was fun. You tried to get the brass ring as it went around.

The park had a swimming pool and sometimes I would swim there. I usually went in afternoons with Mom and Dad.

But I mostly swam at the city swimming pool on Northampton Street, because most of my friends were there. It was about a 10-city-block walk from the house. Went there in my early teens.

If I went to an amusement park with Mom and Dad, it was Dorney Park in Alllentown. Dad drove us there. They had a stage or bandshell. I remember seeing Soupy Sales there.
The Bar'l of Fun at Bushkill Park, 2017. Mr6507, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bushkill Park has an interesting history. It originally opened in 1902 and operated continuously until 2004, when Hurricane Ivan caused floodwaters from surrounding Bushkill Creek to rise and wreak havoc throughout the amusement park. On top of that, vandalism in subsequent years left the park in a sorry state. But it partially reopened in 2017, and its operators are working to renovate and reopen the damaged attractions. 

Wikipedia notes that the Bar'l of Fun funhouse, built sometime before 1935, is notable "notable due to the amount of untouched Folk art painted on the walls and on banners inside the building." 

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