In Northeast Ohio, people love their amusement parks. They also love remembering the parks that are no longer here. Now, two men who, over the decades, have been preserving much of that heritage are opening their collection to the world. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia has a sneak peak at a museum that’s a walk down memory lane.
“We didn’t collect all this stuff to keep it from people," says Joe Tomaro, one-half of the Euclid Beach Boys. He and business partner John Frato have been collecting memorabilia from Euclid Beach Park, which closed in 1969. One piece is the 1922 Artisan band organ, which was at the base of the Rocket Ships at Euclid Beach Park. Now, it’s been restored after decades in a garage, and will be one of the centerpieces in the Euclid Beach Boys’ Event Center and Museum. Tomaro, like many in his generation, has fond memories of going to the park.
“No alcohol, no freak shows. It wasn’t a carnivalistic atmosphere. There was no admission charge. You could go there and for a few nickels, you could spend literally a whole day at the amusement park and forget about the troubles that were going on in the real world.”
Whenever they saw an historical artifact from that era being tossed aside, they snatched it up. That included going to auctions, looking for items that nobody else wanted.
“People came in there – they were buying the buildings, they wanted the superstructure of the building, and they were throwing out what we call the gingerbread: the signage, the ride things and things like that.”
Lots of gingerbread Over the decades, they’ve tracked down everything from the miniature Turnpike Cars to original signs to Skee ball machines.
“It got to the point where people started asking us, ‘Hey, we want to theme a party, we wanna do this.’ And we said, ‘yeah, sure, we’ll do this.’ And once that really started to take off, we decided that we’d go with that. It was a lot more fun than being in the towing business.”
Every summer, it’s not uncommon to see a large, silver-bullet-shaped Rocket Car zipping around Northeast Ohio. It was part of one of the most popular rides at the park. Euclid Beach Boys motorized it using an old truck chassis. They rent it out, along with the funhouse gatekeeper, Laffing Sal. They’re also part of the team that helped bring the Euclid Beach Carousel back to life at the Western Reserve Historical Society.
Bringing a mall back to life On Saturday, the Euclid Beach Boys’ Event Center and Museum will open to the public at Euclid Square Mall. The shopping center thrived until the 1990s, then slowly emptied out. In the past decade, the retail store fronts have been converted to a mix of uses, with a few stores and a couple dozen churches. Tomaro has stored the Euclid Beach collection there for years, since the mall was big, empty and inexpensive. And Tomaro says the large open spaces are perfect for the museum.
“Some people have asked, ‘Are you going to charge admission every time?’ We don’t know yet.”
A playground for everyone Euclid Beach Park survived for 74 years. Bill Barrow is with the Cleveland Memory Project, an online database of historical photos and information run by Cleveland State University. He says the reason the park lasted so long was because of a desire beginning in the 19th-century to get away from polluted, crowded cities.
“People who could find some way to get away from the city would tend to. The rich, of course, could afford the time and the money to maintain a lifestyle outside of the city in addition to an in-town house. The average person couldn’t do that. But they still had a need to get away from the pollution. So with the advent of mass transit in the form of horse-drawn, and later, electric streetcars. They could ride them out along the lake and just get outdoors.”
That ability to move people is also what led to the park’s decline, as interstates and cars made trips to places like Cedar Point more feasible. But one thing the Sandusky park did not have was a treat that Tomaro will start churning out this summer in Euclid.
“We were fortunate to get passed to us – through the Humphrey family – what we believe is the original Frozen Whip recipe.”
Sights, sounds and smells of summer The Humphreys ran the park starting in 1901 and the Frozen Whip helped put it on the map. It was a thick, vanilla-flavored frozen custard that’s been often replicated, but, Tomaro says, never duplicated. It’s one part of the Euclid Beach Boys’ mission to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of Euclid Beach Park.
“When this band organ starts running, you will smell the grease and the oil. That’s the stuff people remember as they were walking by the coasters. And you would smell the well-greased, oiled gears and chains. That was a familiar smell. That was a good smell.”
On Saturday, anyone who missed – or misses – Euclid Beach Park (as well as Geauga Lake and Chippewa Lake) can once again smell the grease of the Artisan pipe organ, eat a Frozen Whip or try another signature confection of the old amusement park, the Popcorn Ball, and marvel at 74 years of history.