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A Two-Cent Day by Jean Swoboda

The highlight of every summer was the annual trip the kids on our block made to Riverview Amusement Park. Midway through the summer we would start talking about “the day.” A day would be set and word was passed around that plans were to be made. Several small grocery stores in the neighborhood distributed free admission tickets into the park. A couple of us would go around to collect enough tickets for everyone. No one was going to spend his or her precious pennies to just get into the park! The trip was always made on a Tuesday or Thursday because these were the “two-cent” days. On these days many of the rides cost only two cents. Some other rides cost a nickel or a dime and as much as some of us wanted to go on the higher and faster roller coasters, (though not me) our hard earned 10 or 12 pennies had to be spread out to cover the whole afternoon. There were plenty of two-cent rides to choose from.

My favorite ride was “Shoot the Chutes,” although I never could go on it in those days. It cost 25 cents and was too expensive for any of us. You entered a boat that glided down a covered runway and was lifted up to the top of a tall tower. The boat was held and then suddenly released to shoot down a steep track, bouncing into a pool of water at the bottom. It was the most expensive ride in the park!

In our plans for our day at the park, we would decide on the rides we would go on, laying out a route around the park. The first ride was the “Blue Streak,” a roller coater that was neither too high nor too steep. The next would be “Dodgem,” a car you would steer around a large area trying to avoid hitting others. Of course there were always some who liked to crash into other cars. This was before road rage so there was never any trouble, just fun. Then onto Aladdin’s Castle and then other very carefully chosen rides.

The park was at Belmont and Western on the north side of Chicago. We walked the two miles from our block at Belleplaine and Wolcott; no one would spend money on streetcar fare that could be better used for park rides. The walk never seemed long because we spent it in the excitement of anticipation making great plans as to what rides we were going to take. From a block away we could see the tops of the highest roller coaster and hear the screams of fright or delight as the cars raced down the steep drop. Our steps would quicken at that point, we would exchange reminders of where to meet should we get separated.

When finally in the park, we made the rounds of our previously selected choices. Aladdin’s Castle had a large faƧade of a leering Aladdin’s face. Entrance was through his mouth and down dark twisting passages. In some sections the floors heaved up, down and sideways, tossing us about. There was a maze of mirrors that reflected back distorted images of fat, short, skinny kids or having a large head on a small body or funny facial features which brought on hearty and innocent laughter seldom experienced in later years.

Ghosts and devils and other ugly scary figures jumped out at us making us jump and scream. Then on through a large rolling barrel we tried to walk through without falling and finally out a walkway like a porch, that unexpectedly blew up air jets that made skirts fly up. The watchers, standing outside would shout and point as the ladies tried to hold their skirts down. Long pants and shorts had not come into fashion in the 1930’s.

As we wound our way around the park we stopped and listened to the Carnival Barker calling out to people to come pay and see the oddities of nature. There might be strange plants or objects but mostly they were deformed people: a man with supposedly three legs or one with skin like an alligator, the fattest lady or tallest man in the world. This was all meant to shock and repulse. Today this morbid curiosity would not be acceptable. We wandered through the arcade. The games here were made to look easy and the prizes great but no one had money for them. After World War II every ex GI would stop at the shooting gallery to try and win his lady friend a stuffed dog or cat. He couldn’t miss; after all he had been a marksman on the gunnery range.

There was a man with a large scale and for a dime, one could sit in a basket like contraption and he would guess the person’s weight. If he missed by five pounds, the person won a dollar. The fortune-telling machine was also very popular. For a coin, one could select a question from a dropped down list, press a button and a Great Karnack like figure enclosed in a case dropped out a card with the answer.

The most famous ride was “The Bobs.” It was advertised as the only roller coaster in the world that had a hair pin curve at the bottom of a descent and reached a speed of sixty miles per hour as it made this turn. The train raced down the track, whirled around the turn and made a fast ascent up to what seemed like 100 feet. Everyone would be screaming, riders and spectators alike. Big boys were always willing to wait an extra turn in line so that they could sit in the first seat in the first car. It had to be a testosterone thing! I was an adult and dating my future husband before I would try this ride. He of course wanted the first seat in the first car.

When all was set and done, we made our way home. Even though we had had lunch at home before setting out for the park still we were hungry but of course had no money for a hot dog or lemonade. With just enough energy for the walk home, we got there in time for a good meal. After supper we would gather on someone’s front porch and talk about the great time we had. We vowed to do it again next year and planned every detail.

Originally Posted (Jul 02, 2002)

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