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22 minutes | Sep 3, 2013
Echoes Of Laughter – Episode# 8 – Havin’ A Hand Slappin’, Foot Stompin’ Good Time At Opryland USA
It has been referred to as the “Home of American Music”, “America’s Musical Showpark” and promised “Great Shows, Great Rides and Great Times”. The park originally opened with 120 acres of rides and attractions. It opened on June 30, 1972 and remained open until December 31, 1997. At the parks peak in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the park enjoyed the attendance over 2 million guests annually. Welcome to Opryland USA. Opryland USA, which was usually referred to as Opryland was born due to the popularity of its namesake The Grand Ole’ Opry and the move of the Opry from its long time location at the Ryman Auditorium to its current location at the Grand Ole Opry House. But before we tell the story of the park, we’ll tell the story of The Grand Ole Opry itself… Stepping back it in time we go back to the Roarin’ 20’s, 1925 to be exact. The Grand Ole Opry started out as the WSM Barn Dance. What was WSM you may ask? WSM was an AM radio station owned by the National Life & Accident Insurance Company. The radio studio was housed on the fifth floor of their building in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. In October of 1925 the station began a program featuring “Dr. Humphrey Bate and his string quartet of old-time musicians”. A couple of weeks after the program aired WSM hired what would become their long-time program director and announcer George D. “Judge” Hay. Hay wasted no time, after coming on board he quickly recruited the seasoned 77 year old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson and then on November 28, 1925 and re-launched the WSM Barn Dance, and although the phrase would not actually be mentioned on air for another 2 years, that date is credited for being the official birth date of The Grand Ole Opry. During the 1930’s the popularity of the program led to many artists, who would later become country music legends, performing on the Opry as well as the length of the Saturday night show being extended to 4 hours. Being broadcast at that time at 50,000 watts, the show became a staple in homes in 30 states eventually becoming a national show when it was picked up by NBC Radio in 1939. All the time this was happening, the live audience of the show grew quickly leading the show to being moved from its original studio to larger and larger venues to accommodate the audience size. Eventually the audience grew to such a size that measures were taken to control attendance by charging a 25 cent admission charge. That, having little effect to dissuade attendance, led to the show being moved to the Ryman Auditorium. It was during the Ryman years that music legends such as Hank Williams (who was eventually banned in 1952 due to his alcohol problems), Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff, The Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Minnie Pearl and many others came to be frequent performers on the Grand Ole Opry Stage. The Opry’s growing attendance numbers due to its popularity along with deterioration issues with the Ryman Auditorium led to the decision to find a new home for the show. It was decided by WSM, Inc., the operator of the Opry that it would be relocated nine miles east of downtown Nashville, on a tract of land that was owned by a sausage manufacturer (Rudy’s Farm) in the Pennington Bend area of Nashville, it was also decided to build a theme park and hotel/convention center with the new Grand Ole Opry House becoming the crown jewel of the grand entertainment complex. Ironically, the theme park would open on June 30, 1972 prior to the Grand Ole Opry House debuting there on March 16, 1974. The park would receive its original name from WSM disk jockey, Grant Turner’s early morning show, Opryland USA, with its own name honoring the stars of the Grand Ole Opry. Although the Grand Ole Opry had always dedicated itself to mostly featuring traditional, conservative Country Music (with only a couple of exceptions); Opryland USA’s overall theme was more of a generalized blend of American Music consisting of bluegrass, gospel, jazz, pop and rock and roll with the theme carrying through not only to the rides but the shows as well. As a matter of fact the Rock N’ Roller Coaster was a opening day attraction. WSM’s bet paid off in a big way as the entire complex proved extremely popular and spurred its first expansion in 1975. In a move that would fit right in with culture of the park the “State Fair” area was created featuring carnival games, the Wabash Cannonball roller coaster, the Tennessee Waltz swing ride and the Country Bumpkin Bumper Cars. As would become the norm because of the parks limited size, the park would have to remove an attraction in order to add a new one. In this case it was the park’s buffalo exhibit that would disappear in favor of the new attractions. But the Wabash Cannonball roller coaster would prove to be one of the favorite rides at the park until it’s closure 22 years later. In a setback for the park for its 1975 season, not too long before the park was set to open the Cumberland River experienced a large flood that inundated most of the park with some areas submerged by up to 16 feet of water. Fortunately, the park was able to recover from the flood quickly with the opening day being delayed only for one month, but on a sadder note several of the animals from the petting zoo did not survive the ordeal. Attendance continued to grow throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s partly due to the parks location and its ability to draw guests throughout Tennessee and several surrounding states being that there were no other comparable parks within a reasonable driving distance. Most other parks such as St. Louis’s Six Flags over Mid-America, Charlotte’s Carowinds, Atlanta’s Six Flags over Georgia and the northern King’s Island in Cincinnati were a 4 to 6 hour or more drive making them impractical for a day trip. As park attendance grew and attractions grew, it ushered in the need for a hotel in order to keep guests onsite for more than a day. In 1977 the Opryland Hotel, a large resort hotel, was built next to the park. Then in 1979 the Roy Acuff Theater next door to the Grand Ole Opry House in the plaza area and was the primary venue for the theme parks premier musical events and productions. In a shrewd business move the theater was actually built outside the park’s perimeter and while because of this you did not need theme park tickets to attend events, productions held there usually did require separate tickets from park admission and in most cases drew day guest’s from the parks to the events as well as the general public, thereby increasing the park’s revenue. In 1982, things changed for the Opryland complex in an abet, “Grand” way. The parent company of WSM, Inc., (National Life and Accident Insurance Company, later NLT Corporation) was absorbed by American General from Texas. Unlike it’s predecessor, who had benefitted from the advertising value and name recognition of owning and supporting the Grand Ole Opry, American General had no experience with or running an entertainment business and furthermore had no interest in running a theme park nor the broadcast business. It almost immediately set about the task of finding a buyer for all of NLT’s former entertainment assets and approached some of the larger entertainment and hospitality corporations such as MCA, Anheuser-Busch and the Marriott Corporations about the possibility of selling them all as a “package” deal. While some potential buyers were interested in individual parts like the theme park, the hotel, or the Grand Ole Opry itself; no one company was interested in buying them all at once. After a time, American General began considering that the only way they would be able to divest themselves of these properties would be to split them up into different entities. As fate would have it, just about that time Gaylord Broadcasting Company of Oklahoma City stepped in and bought nearly all of them lock, stock and barrel. The Opryland Complex, the WSM radios stations and it would have bought the WSM-TV station as well had they had not been at their limit of television stations that they were allowed to own by the government. After the purchase was complete, the name was changed to Gaylord Entertainments Company. In fact, Ed Gaylord, who was then heading the media empire was instrumental in Opryland’s acquisition. Mr. Gaylord, as it turned out was a huge fan of the Opry and spearheaded the effort to purchase it and keep it intact. As an added bonus, the acquisition also included then fledgling WSM cable network, TNN (The Nashville Network) and its production division Opryland Productions. TNN has since gone on to become a television network dedicated entirely to Country Music. For a number of years TNN’s offices and production facilities continued to be located on-site in Opryland as well as one of its shows, Nashville Now (then later Music City Tonight) was filmed in the Gaslight Theater within the park itself and the park was often used as a backdrop for numerous concerts and performances of popular country music stars. With Gaylord now owning and backing the park and the enthusiastic leader of the parent company as a fan, the future looked bright for Opryland USA…and for a while at least it would be, but the clouds were beginning to gather. With the purchase of the park now behind them, 1982 would bring more expansion to the park but with growth would come more growing pains due to the limitations of space. Future expansion from this point would mean that for every new addition to the park, something would have to go. In 1984, a third roller coaster arrived in the New Orleans area of the park. It was named “ The Screamin’ Delta Demon”. A second, yet more subtle park gate was also added adjacent to the parking lot as well for the 1984 season. As the 1980’s pressed on, the park would face an issue that it never really had to deal with before…competition. As I had mentioned earlier the park had faired well during the 1970’s and early 1980’s because, while other attractions did exist in Tennessee and it’s surrounding states, there we’re no direct competitors that equal to Opryland USA using te same model. But that was about to change with the opening of kentucky Kingdom in Loui
27 minutes | Jul 29, 2012
Echoes Of Laughter - Episode# 7 - Paying A Visit To The Bottomless Canyon And The Kissin' Rocks At Dogpatch U.S.A.
For over two decades now it has at times not so quietly slumbered. The old, faded buildings now standing in silent vigil as if remembering a time when their colors were bright & fresh; when were surrounded in laughter and the smiling faces of adults and children alike. The grass grows tall here and the structures that remain are entangled with a variety of plants that now call them home. A place where the sounds of a merry go round, trains and other rides are replaced by the sounds of crickets at dusk, rain drops falling to the ground from tattered roofs and the occasional sounds of frogs & other creatures that now call the park home, But that my friends is not where the story begins or ends. No, this story starts with a man named Alfred G. Caplin... Al Capp He was born September 28, 1909 in New Haven, Connecticut of Russian Jewish heritage, Al Capp, as he came to be known, was the eldest child of Latvian immigrants Otto Philip and Matilda (Davidson) Caplin whose families had migrated to New Haven in the 1880s. At the young age of nine, Al lost his left leg in a trolley accident. Although shaken by the loss of his leg, Al refused to let the accident stop him and continuously acknowledged the disability the rest of his life, although usually in a humorous way. At 23, Al had moved to New York and became what was possibly the youngest syndicated cartoonist up until that time. On August 13, 1934 Al Capp launched what was to be by far his most well known creation, the comic strip Li'l Abner with eight newspapers and became an instant success. Amongst the contributions of the strip was the now traditional Sadie Hawkins Dances at schools and colleges across the nation, that are based off the strips Sadie Hawkins race where the girls chase the guys! While on the surface the strip was funny and amusing, it was Capp's underlying satiric messages on society, parodies of the corporate giants of the day, celebrities and fellow cartoonists that gave the strip its long lived popularity. Another popular creation of Capp’s was the creatures known as the shmoos. (By the way, if you are unaware of what a shmoo is, you probably aren’t alone as the real meaning of what a shmoo represents in the strip is still being debated to this day.) Superficially, the shmoo was a creature that lived to serve humanity to the point of self-sacrifice and was ever abundant. The creature showed if nothing else that we should accept what is given to us and just be happy. Yet it would be the Li'l Abner strip that featured characters from the fictional town of Dogpatch and whose lives centered on the adventures of the main character, Li'l Abner. A handsome and strong, if not very bright young man that was raised to be honest and brave except in the face of his girlfriend Daisy Mae, but it was the location that would bring the comic strip to life in a small community now called Marble Falls near Harrison, Arkansas on Highway 7. The Location It should be noted though that it was the landscape of Dogpatch, not the characters that drew in a real estate broker named O.J. Snow, who had been considering opening a rustic themed amusement park in the Ozarks. But the area that would become Dogpatch had quite a bit of history to it long before Mr. Snow came a knockin’. Let go back a bit to the 1830’s to when the Washington Monument was being planned. You see funds were short to build and complete the monument and a call went out to the States and Territories to donate commemorative stones that could be fitted into the interior walls. Arkansas was one of many places to answer the call. Mr. Peter Beller moved to Arkansas from Alabama in 1833. In 1834 he and the three of the Harp Brothers dug a 4' X 3' X 2' block of marble out of the hillside across from Dogpatch to contribute to the Washington Monument. The stone was hauled on a sled by a team of twenty oxen for approximately sixty miles across the Ozark and Boston Mountains to the Arkansas River. From there it was loaded on to a barge and was then sent to New Orleans. From there it was loaded onto a ship bound for the Potomac Basin. Sometime later, a second stone from the very same hillside was donated by freemasons from the area who wished the donation to honor the fact that George Washington was himself a master mason. Going back to Mr. Beller, sometime around 1840 he acquired the land that included nearby Marble Falls and built a mill there. For a time, Mr. Beller’s Mill steadily continued to grow successfully until the start of the civil war. Years later in 1870 a gentleman with the name of Willcockson built another mill here, and the town, which would bear his name for a time grew an the prosperity of the mineral waters and healing springs that it became known for. But like all good things that too came to an end in the early 20th century. With the advances in medicine that inevitably came the town’s popularity dwindled. Then came Albert Raney Sr. He and his sons bought the land and changed the name to Marble Falls, he diverted the cold mountain spring water that the town was once so popular for into a trout hatchery, which they owned and operated for several decades. The Great Idea Now fast forward to 1966, the elderly Albert Raney Sr. listed his family's trout farm and surrounding land featuring its own canyon, a 55-foot waterfall and an adjacent (and already in operation) public touring cave named Mystic Caverns for sale. It was Snow who, after viewing the property, envisioned the Dogpatch themed park using the existing features of the property to imitate locations featured in the comic strip such as Onneccessary Mountain, the Bottomless Canyon, and Kissin' Rock, (handy to Suicide Cliff), West Po'k Chop Railroad, and the General Jubilation T. Cornpone memorial statue (the last of these three were built on site in amazing detail to look just as they appeared in the strip. Presenting The Great Idea To Al Capp Snow, with other business Leaders from the area formed Recreation Enterprises, Inc. or (REI) and set off to propose the grand plan of the park to Dogpatch creator, Al Capp. Capp, who had turned down previous proposals for such ventures, was inspired by the plan and shared Snows vision for the park. He ultimately approved the idea and became a partner in the project. By this time, Li'l Abner had inspired two film adaptations, a Broadway musical and had gained millions of readers so it seemed the perfect venue to compete in the theme park business. The over 800 acre theme park was set to not only be a reality, but in the minds of its creators, had the capability to become a major player in the theme park community. Both Al Capp and his wife made a three day trip to the Arkansas site for the ground breaking ceremony which took place on Tuesday, October 3, 1967. An interesting fact is that even before the groundbreaking, there were already a few attractions operating on the site such as trout fishing, a boat dock, an operating stage coach & trail ride, a honey shop and arts & crafts. A mere 7 months later on May 17, 1968, Al Capp was back on the site to deliver the dedication speech of Dogpatch USA. At first the park was begrudging supported by the local Arkansas residents of what was for a time called Dogpatch, Arkansas and resisted the park as a daunting reminder of the “hillbilly” stigma that still hung over the residents of the Ozark town, but at the same time they welcomed the hopeful influx of tourism dollars the park would bring to their below median income community. Opening Day Standing before a crowd of about 2,000 visitors on May 17, 1968, Al Capp uncovered the centerpiece of the park, the giant statue depicting the civil war hero of Dogpatch, Jubilation T. Cornpone, The park admitted a whopping 8000 people its opening day with an admission price of only $1.50 for adults and $0.75 for children. Little did anyone realize at the time that by1993 through a combination of fate, nature, and unforeseen circumstances, Dogpatch USA would be gone...but not forgotten. The parks design had been agreed upon by both O.J. Snow and Al Capp to hold true to the theme of the strip it was based on. Mr. Capp did not want the park full of monster; behemoth rides the zoomed around everywhere. Although competing in the same market, the park had almost the opposite focus of the Disney parks in that where Disney was always focused on exemplifying the innovations and latest technology, Dogpatch USA represented the simplicity of life and beauty of nature. Although the park had some rides geared to pull in the “roller coaster” crowd, most of the attraction of the park was geared around actually spending time with your family and enjoying a leisurely vacation. The Attractions Now, taking a virtual stroll back in time to the park let’s take a look at some of the attractions, shall we… One of the parks most loved attractions was the trout pond which carried forward the legacy of the land’s previous purpose. It was where visitors could cast a line in the always overstocked pond and for a fee, have their catch cleaned and cooked for them while they sat enjoying the parks surroundings. Dogpatch Caverns which had been around previous to the parks creation under the name Mystic Caverns. A second cavern was discovered by accident while renovating the original cave and was planned to be called “Old Man Moses Cave”. It has, since the parks' closure been called Crystal Dome. The caves hold the distinction to be the only attraction which has operated both before and after the park closed. The Frustratin' Flyer was a steel "Monster Mouse" coaster created by Herschell. It was installed in 1968 for the park's debut and it operated until 1991. A later victim of the failing park the Frustratin’ Flyer was sold between 1991 and 1992 season. Earthquake McGoon’s Brain Rattler was a toboggan roller coaster that was manufactured by Chance Rides. The ride is believed to have been part of the park when it was opened in 1968. In early brochures it was depicted as being a track w
72 minutes | Dec 11, 2011
Echoes Of Laughter - Episode# 6 - A Trip Back in Time Back To The 1964 New York World's Fair With Special Guest Bill Cotter
Mom, Dad are we there yet? I wanna ride the doll ride mommy, you know the one at the Pepsi Building. NO DAD we rode that last time cause sis wanted to. I wanna see the Dinosaurs and ride in the Mustang. All right children, quiet down now We’ll be there anytime now and your father will decide what we do first… How many times was this scenario played out in 1964 through 1965 if you happened to be in New York? On this episode of Echoes of Laughter both T. Mic and Bill Cotter will revisit the 1964 New York World’s Fair which was held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in the borough of Queens. They will discuss Bill’s personal experience of attending the fair as well as what was good and bad about how the fair came about, how it was operated, what made it a unique World’s Fair, it’s financial problems and what remains of the site today. The site had also hosted the1939/1940 New York World’s Fair. It ran during April 22 through October 18, 1964 and April 21 through October 17, 1965. The admission price for adults (13 and older) was $2.00 in 1964 but $2.50 in 1965, and $1.00 for children (2–12) both years. The theme of the fair was "Peace Through Understanding," and was dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe". The fair exhibits were unquestionably dominated by American Industry and third world countries that normally would not have a chance to participate in a World’s Fair. The reason for this was that the fair was unsanctioned by the BIE (Bureau International des Expositions) due to a variety of reasons including the fact that it was to be run for two 6 month seasons (The BIE only authorizes 1 – six month run). The fair site encompassed 1 square mile and was one of the largest fair sites ever hosted in the United States. Most of the corporate exhibits were geared towards space age technology. The theme was present in the architecture of many of the pavilions, such as the leaning wall of the GM pavilion, the IBM “Egg”, The Westinghouse and Ford Buildings were also futuristic in design. Though the fair was plagued with financial woe’s it still is remembered fondly by most of the public that attended it. In the variety of foods (such as the famous Bel-Gem Waffles), the wonder of people first seeing tomorrows technology in action and the hope of a utopian future as it was presented in abundance. Ah, the dreams of the past. And then there was the Disney influence… Walt Disney saw the fair as a great opportunity for his own company’s growth. Some of America’s top corporations benefited from Disney’s imagination and ingenuity in presenting their products to the public and Disney benefited in return by being able to use the financial backing from those very corporations to fund research and design for technologically advanced ride systems, shows, and (of course) Audio Animatronics… The rest shall we say is history. The 1964 New York World’s Fair significance is still very present some 48 years later and though there are very few physical landmarks that still survive on the site in Flushing Meadows Corona Park the gleaming stainless steel Unisphere still shines as brightly today for those who see it today as it does in the memories of those who still hold the experience of attending the fair in their mind and in their hearts from so many years ago…
31 minutes | Jul 24, 2011
Echoes Of Laughter – Episode# 5 7/24/2011 – Our 1979 Vacation To Florida – The Stars Hall Of Fame Wax Museum and The Mystery Fun House
Here’s a story for you. It is of a young boy’s trip to Florida in 1979. The first real vacation his family ever took and was it one to remember and I’d like to share some of our story as well as the stories of three of the attractions that we visited that year that are no longer there to be enjoyed. Hi! This is T. Mic and this Echoes of Laughter will be a little different. It is a trip down memory lane and not just any trip but my own. To the 11 year old boy that I was in 1979, these places were wonders to me and my siblings at the time and they still hold a special place in my memory some 32 years later. My parents had taken our family to Florida that year on vacation. As a matter of fact, my family was a modest middle class family in the seventies and we had never really gone anywhere on a real vacation before except for a few overnight trips around our home state of Louisiana and a trip or two into Mississippi. This was our first real week long vacation and we were going to the Sunshine State for the first time! In this episode we’ll explore the Stars Hall Of Fame and The Mystery Funhouse. Both were once located in Orlando Florida. One we visited on our trip, the other we did not, but oh how I wish we had. We’ll talk about both attractions that succumbed to a ever more competitive tourist market and what these wonderful smaller attractions once encompassed. Put on your old bell bottom jeans, comb that mustache, and sport that dusty old silk shirt in the back of your closet…Were going back to 1979 and talking about more wax than you can shake a match at!
34 minutes | May 15, 2011
Echoes Of Laughter - Episode 004 5/15/2011 - Chippewa Lake Amusement Park Circa 1878 - 1978 Chippewa Lake, Medina County, Ohio USA
In this episode we will be exploring the origins and history of Chippewa Lake Park, once located in Medina County, Ohio on the shores of Ohio’s only natural lake; Chippewa Lake. From it’s early days in the late 1800’s through it’s 1978 closing and into it’s year’s of becoming a legendary urban ruin; you’ll hear all about this wonderful old park as we take a virtual tour of the park through time. The park had a long history of hosting famous musicians, dances, and park guests over it’s 100+ year history and despite it’s closing in 1978, it continued to draw visitors and explorers right up until it’s final demolition in 2009 through 2010. Join us on a journey of fun, laughter, nostalgia and discovery as we journey to and through Chippewa Lake Park. Please visit our Podcast show page for much more detail on this park at: http://audiosmaximus.com/wordpress/our-podcast-shows/echoes-of-laughter
68 minutes | Feb 27, 2011
Echoes Of Laughter - 003 2/27/2011 - 1984 Louisiana World's Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana and an interview with Bill Cotter
This episode features an interview with Bill Cotter, published author of several books on World Fairs, Disney Television, and co-author on several other books. T. Mic (show host) & Bill discuss the 1984 Louisiana World’s Exposition at length. They will take you on an audio journey through the fair, area by area, they will discuss some of the individual attractions as well a the pavilions that were located in the 84 acre site on the Mississippi Riverfront in New Orleans Louisiana. They also discuss the origins of the fair, its challenges, highlights, and where you can still experience a few of the original attractions from the fair that are still in operation today. The will also discuss a little on some attractions that were planned for the fair but never came to be. The 1984 Louisiana World is probably one of the least documented World’s Fairs online yet most people that experienced the fair still retain fond memories of it some 26+ years later.
65 minutes | Dec 5, 2010
Echoes Of Laughter - 002 12/5/2010 - Riverview Amusement Park 1903 - 1967
Echoes Of Laughter - 002 12/5/2010 - Riverview Amusement Park 1903 - 1967 This episode we are featuring Riverview Amusement Park. Once located in Chicago, IL this 74 acre amusement park, located on the banks of the Chicago River and bordered by Western & Belmont Avenues entertained millions of guests during its 64 season run. Once home to unique attractions and thrilling rides this once world famous, and beloved by Chicago-ans, amusement park's lights blink no more. In this episode we will have interviews with Mr. Ralph Lopez, the last manager of the "Shoot-The-Chutes" ride and modern day expert on the park. We will also interview John DeSalvo, a former Chicago native that grew up with the park only to lose it to Chicago's storied past at age 14. These gentlemen, from different walks of life, share their stories & experiences with us as well as their perspectives on why it closed and how Chicago could truly benefit from a similar park in Chicago in today's world. We encourage you to learn more about this wonderful old amusement park, to purchase memorabilia, and original souvenirs from the park by visiting Mr. Lopez's website at www.riverviewparkchicago.com.
52 minutes | Oct 10, 2010
Echoes Of Laughter - 001 10/10/2010 - Ponchartrain Beach Amusement Park, New Orleans, Louisiana 1928 - 1983
Echoes Of Laughter - Episode# 001 10/10/2010 - Ponchartrain Beach Amusement Park, New Orleans, Louisiana Welcome to Echoes Of Laughter Introductory Show. This is T. Mic and I will be your host on our journey through history as we explore the amusement & theme parks of yesterday. This will be a monthly podcast and will feature interviews and discussions with individuals intimately involved with these attractions and the people that enjoyed them. We’ll travel back in time to the heyday of these parks and emurse you in the experience of visiting these parks in a way that you will never have the opportunity to do physically today. On this episode we’ll visit the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. Once located on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, Louisiana. We’ll feature interviews with John DeMajo and Mike Loisel. Mr. DeMajo is a retired engineer and lived within viewing distance of the park for several decades and was a frequent visitor to the park. He shares with us his many experiences with “The Beach” from the 1940’s until the closing of the legendary park and some of the more technical aspects of the park from inside sources as well as his own knowledge as an engineer. Mike Loisel experienced the park many times as a child and teen in the later years leading to the parks closing as well. He shares with us some of his more memorable experiences as well as some insights on how todays youth could benefit from experiencing life from the way it used to be done vs. living life through the virtual reality of video games and indoor entertainment. The year is 1832 and the original Port Pontchartrain lighthouse begins operating near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. While this is not the “Milneburg” (often mispronounced as the “Milenburg”) lighthouse that still stands near the banks of the lake at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue on the current grounds of the UNO Technology Park, it is the beginning of a series of events that led to the creation on the beloved, and sorely missed Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. As mentioned, the current lighthouse that still stands as a lone sentinel and icon for “the Beach” was actually constructed in 1855 and was actually located several hundred feet out in the lake itself along with the caretakers home and another structure built on pylons and shined until 1929. It was located in Milneburg, a once popular early resort area on the lake at the terminus of the Ponchartrain Railroad line often referred to as the “Smokey Mary”. The “Smokey Mary” also provided access to the many camps that dotted the shoreline as well as the hotels, restaurants, roadhouses, shooting galleries, bathing facilities and fishing piers. It has been said that it was at Milneburg’s dance halls and bars that much of New Orleans’ early jazz was first heard. During the depression in the late 1920’s and early 30’s the WPA (the Works Progress Administration) launched an ambitious project to reclaim almost a mile of land on the southern shores of the lake. Sand was pumped from the bottom of the lake to forma a new shoreline located behind a concrete seawall. Enter Harry Batt, Sr., businessman, showman, and entrepreneur. He sub-leased land from the original owners of Ponchartrain Beach Amusement Park, located near the old Spanish Fort at Bayou St. John and he became it’s sole proprietor during the depression in 1934. Reletively soon after the land reclaimation project was completed Harry Batt, Sr. moved the park to it’s new location at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue in 1939 and a legend was born… Ponchatrain Beach became New Orleans’, and Louisianas’ largest and most popular amusement park. It continued to grow over the years with the addition of larger and more thrilling rides and attractions . The Beach served hundreds of thousands if not millions of people over its’ 51+ years of existence under the Batt’s family ownership. Of course the people of New Orleans constantly visited “The Beach” but it was also visited and known by residents from around the state of Louisiana, the United States and from around the world. The Beach closed it’s gates forever in 1983…but it will forever live in the the hearts and minds of those who loved it so…
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