Sunday, December 31, 2023

National Museum of American History

Happy New Year! Though my grandparents live only an hour and a half from Washington DC, I have only been to the nation's capital twice. Both of these were summer days above 90 degrees, so we spent more time sheltering in the various museums instead of walking around the city. The first museum I ever visited in DC was the National Museum of American History, and it's still one of my favorites. This post is not a representation of all that DC has to offer, just a look at the theme park-related artifacts in the Museum of American History. But I don't want to come across as distilling such a serious and complex museum into the trivial topic of theme parks! I just want to showcase the most interesting aspects that are related to this blog's theme. :-)
The Herbert C. Hoover Building houses the White House Visitor Center and is the former home of the National Aquarium, but it is most notable as the location of the US Department of Commerce.
The Capitol Building is partly hidden by a cloud of humidity, but I mainly wanted to capture the Post Office building on the right. Built in 1891, I believe that its tower and general design are directly copied from Pittsburgh's Allegheny County Courthouse, which was completed in 1888 and sparked legions of imitations.
We have arrived at the museum!
I instantly bypassed every other (less important) artifact in the museum to visit Kermit the Frog and Sam. Along with Dorothy's Ruby Slippers, the original Muppets sit at the entrance to the museum's new "Entertainment Nation" exhibit.
The collection is obviously a sight to behold, with everything from Prince's guitar to Archie Bunker's chair, but I'll just leave you with a picture of this original Steamboat Willie sketch from 1928.
This 15-foot-tall stained glass window of RCA mascot Nipper was originally part of the RCA Tower in Camden, NJ. The building has been converted into condominiums but still features large windows identical to this one, so I believe this window is an original that was replaced. It appears that the building has had three sets of windows over the years.
Lincoln's tophat is something that everyone knows is in this museum, and I have to include a picture of it in this post. Lincoln wore this tophat on the night of his assassination.
Built in 1831, the John Bull locomotive is one of the museum's most treasured artifacts. It even made a visit to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition because it was still historic 130 years ago!
In 1981, the Smithsonian famously revived the locomotive once again, allowing it to claim the title of oldest operable steam locomotive in the world. Perhaps they will attempt that again someday...
The museum even included a small temporary exhibit on the Disney parks. No large artifacts were displayed, but I was still happy to see this.
The exhibit uses Disneyland and Walt Disney World to examine wider American history, culture, and values. These "map panes" flip over to reveal text on the other side, but they needed WD-40 bad!
This old Magic Kingdom map was displayed next to a vintage Disneyland Fun Map, and I love how Tomorrowland is startlingly sparse compared to the west side of the park. Soon Space Mountain would fill the void!
It appears that the curators allowed people to submit their old family photos for inclusion in the display.
I have a neighbor who visited Walt Disney World in 1976, and she still remembers all the details of America on Parade. Unfortunately, they failed to include the "People of America" and their oversized heads in this pennant!
The exhibit was mostly just ephemera, but there were a few pieces of artwork. Here is a World's Fair souvenir record and a complimentary ticket for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
The strip of Disneyland Railroad tickets is pretty neat, especially since it lists a never-built Holidayland station as a stop. I would have a hard time surrendering these detailed tickets for a ride on the Railroad! 
Out of view of this shot, the "Adventureland to Frontierland" ticket says "no shooting buffalo from train," and the "Main St. to Adventureland" ticket reads "elephants check trunks with baggageman." Adventureland Station?! I'm confused.
It is pretty amazing that we live in a time when a Splash Mountain poster from 1992 is worthy of display behind glass in the Smithsonian Institution.
Fess Parker's Davy Crockett coonskin cap is placed alongside a charming piece of Mary Blair concept art in this case.
I don't know how rare this ticket is, but it's a neat souvenir.
"Vice President Nixon" took a carefree joyride on the TWA Moonliner on August 11, 1955, less than a month after the park opened. That's kind of prophetic I guess! This display case also contained a model of the Moonliner.
Given the theme of the exhibit, this souvenir from the Hall of Chemistry was presented with a plaque explaining how Monsanto was thought of differently in the 1950s.
Every sign and label in the exhibit was presented in both English and Spanish.
The exhibit explores how Pirates of the Caribbean has changed over time, and it features this Marc Davis sketch that crystallizes what was different about the Pirates ride of 1967 compared to today.
I do not know who drew this sketch, but it shows Benjamin Franklin's print shop in the American Adventure at EPCOT, an element that apparently did not make it into the final version of the show.
Different examples of patriotic souvenirs were included in the display as well, as the Town Square flat retreat is a tradition at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
In any case, it was not the most impressive exhibit by any means (especially compared to everything else in the museum), but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of it.
Here's an example of how the museum overwhelms you with amazing artifacts: Davy Crockett's "ceremonial hatchet" next to a large axe used in the 1860 election. Other examples are William Clark's compass, Teddy Roosevelt's chaps, FDR's Fireside Chat microphone, and the pen LBJ used to sign the Civil Rights Act, all in the same display case!
To finish, here are some shots of the impressive America on the Move exhibition (sponsored by General Motors). You may have noticed that every picture so far in this post can be connected to the Disney parks in some way... :-)
The exhibit includes many lifelike static figures that I admittedly took for real people on a few occasions.
In some ways, it's a tad unsettling... but still cool!
There's even a mock-up of a station on the Chicago L in addition to many other tableaux. I hope you enjoyed this quick trip through the National Museum of American History, and know that there is so much more than what I chose to showcase in the post! Like the original Star Spangled Banner from 1814 (strictly no photos allowed)! It goes without saying that this is a museum that is definitely worth a visit for anybody.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Euclid Beach Park and the Last Midget Autopia

Euclid Beach Park in Cleveland, Ohio closed forever on September 28, 1969, yet it remains a fondly remembered defunct park. Although its three legendary wooden roller coasters were lost to time, a few of its attractions live on today... including a vintage kiddie car ride that is the last of its kind left operating. Another survivor is the park's old carousel, which can now be ridden at the Cleveland History Center, not far away from the site of the old park.
The carousel was the nineteenth machine built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and as seen here, it operated at Euclid Beach from 1910 until the park closed in 1969. After a stint at Old Orchard Beach in Maine, it triumphantly returned to Cleveland and reopened in 2014.
The ride's figures are much larger than a typical PTC carousel. I forget the name of the carver who directed the creation of the horses, but he was known for his oversized figures which give the carousel life.
The arch depicted in the middle panel of this bench was the park's iconic entrance, and it amazingly still stands today, even being repaired after an automobile crashed into it in 2007.
The Cleveland History Center was holding a special event that paid tribute to defunct Northeast Ohio amusement parks in addition to Euclid Beach (unfortunately there are many). Several people brought memorabilia to display. Here are some items from Geauga Lake, which closed in 2007 and previously contained SeaWorld Ohio. The SeaWorld park was a separate gate until it was merged into Geauga Lake when Six Flags took control of the park. (It's a long story...) After Cedar Fair bought the giant park in 2004, the old SeaWorld side became a waterpark. Cedar Fair ultimately closed Geauga Lake after three years because it was a competitor to Cedar Point.
Impressively, someone still has an old Shamu costume from SeaWorld Ohio as well as Geauga Dog, the classic mascot of Geauga Lake!
The Raging Wolf Bobs opened at Geauga Lake in 1988 and operated until shortly before the park's closure. One of the ride's vintage PTC coaster cars has been restored by a local fan, and it was on display at the museum that day.
This old map of Geauga Lake is pretty impressive for a small amusement park that was not owned by a major corporation. My dad visited the park several times and recalls the old "Double Loop and Corkscrew too!" catchphrase in TV ads.
Another short-lived Cleveland amusement park was Luna Park, which was the sister to Pittsburgh's park of the same name. However, Luna in Cleveland lasted twenty years longer than in Pittsburgh, closing in 1929.
Another Euclid Beach attraction that can still be ridden today is the Great American Racing Derby, which operates at Cedar Point as Cedar Downs. I'm unsure if this horse is from a Derby Racer that operated somewhere else or if it's a replica.
Cedar Downs still operates more than a century after it opened at Euclid Beach, and it's a treasure as one of only two rides of its type left operating.
One of the museum volunteers was kind enough to show us the interior of the Euclid Beach carousel, and it's always cool to see all the cables from which the ride platform is suspended. Most carousel pavilions make the cables invisible because the roof covers them.
Not a detail was missed in the ride's restoration!
The volunteer operating the carousel had previously worked at Euclid Beach Park himself, so I'm sure things came full circle for him!
Note the large "PTC" insignia on the shield carved into the horse.
The ride still operates with its original band organ, which is always wonderful to see!
Another exhibit at the Cleveland History Center is this large car museum in the basement.
I was not expecting to find such an elaborate collection!
In any case, the Cleveland History Center was amazing and I recommend it to anyone visiting the city.
We'll finish out this post by looking at yet another Euclid Beach attraction that lives on today, the "Kiddie Turnpike" seen in this display board at the museum.
After a period of operation in Indiana, the Euclid Beach Kiddie Turnpike was added to Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pennsylvania in 1999. This ride is significant as the last "Arrowflite" car ride built by Arrow Dynamics left operating, made famous by Disneyland's short-lived Midget Autopia.
Known as Ricky's Racers (the park mascot is Ricky Raccoon), the ride is off-limits to adults. 
However, I was able to ride it several times as a child.
The cars have been repainted since I rode it as a kid, but they still look great.
Here's a video of the ride in action (click "full screen" for a bigger picture). The drive system has been modified, and the cars move at a more leisurely pace than they did in the past. 
I'm sure that very few people know this is the last ride of its kind left operating, but it is one of many classic western Pennsylvania amusement rides that deserve to be preserved.
Idlewild is still one of my favorite places with its beautiful tree cover and greenery. Here are a few pictures of the rest of the park, which sits in Pennsylvania's mountainous Laurel Highlands.
The Rollo Coaster was built in 1938 and is a perfect starter coaster for kids. It also has a really fun name.
Idlewild opened in 1878 and is the third-oldest operating amusement park in America. It originally developed along a railroad line that brought picnickers to the area from Pittsburgh, and this sign dates from those days. Although the railroad made its last run through the park in 1952, the park's miniature train still travels along part of the old railroad alignment.
Most of the park sits on the north bank of the Loyalhanna Creek, but several rides, including Ricky's Racers, are on the south bank. The bridge to reach that part of the park is well over century old and adorned with flower baskets.
I hope you have enjoyed this trip from Cleveland to the Western Pennsylvania mountains! If you're interested in seeing more of Idlewild, I edited together more of my pictures (and a couple of tributes to the park's defunct rides) in the video below: