Friday, August 16, 2013


As I often do, I took the inspiration for today’s blog from last year’s entry for this date in The Writer’s Almanac. 

On this date in 1843, the amusement park known as Tivoli Gardens opened in Copenhagen, Denmark. It's the second oldest amusement park in the world; the oldest is in nearby Klampenborg. Denmark's King Christian VIII agreed to grant the charter to the park's founder, Georg Carstensen, after Carstensen pointed out that "when the people are amusing themselves, they don't think about politics." He designed it mainly as a pleasure garden, with flowers, cafés, theaters, and bandstands set in a lovely park setting. Today, almost none of Carstensen's original park remains; in 1943, Nazi sympathizers bombed it, burning most of the buildings to the ground, but rebuilding started immediately and the park reopened just a few weeks later.

In 2009, Tivoli Gardens became the first amusement park to operate entirely on wind-generated power. Nearly 4 million people visited the park last year.

I’ve never visited Denmark, much less the Tivoli Gardens, but form reading about it and seeing photos over the years I do wish I had.  I can say, however, that I have been to other amusement parks over the years.  None perhaps, even Disneyland, as splendid as the Tivoli in my mind’s eye, but fun none the less.

I was once to the now-defunct Freedomland in the Bronx, Great Adventure in New Jersey, and, once or twice to Playland in Rye, New York. (I just learned that Playland is owned and run by Westchester County – who knew? I’d say a government owned amusement park is a rarity.) I was, of course, to Disneyland once, but never to Disneyworld. But more times than I can count I was to good old Coney Island. I loved that place.  The stand-out memories are of wonderful hotdogs (yes, they are always better when you are out!), cotton candy, and of the huge Wonder Wheel (the name of which I had always remembered as the Virginia Reel, but that was another, different ride next door. I’ve been having that Senior Moment memory most of my life until I searched for pictures for this essay.)


I got to go to Coney Island go several times with the grade school church choir. We were the group in the higher grades who sang for most of the weekday funeral masses at church.  Seeing as how many of the adults in regular choir were at work, those of us kids with fairly good voices were taught the simple Gregorian chant and responses to accompany the mass. And we got out of school for an hour or so. The trip to Coney Island was our yearly reward.  Heck, just getting out of Sister Clarella’s class was a reward.

Steeplechase Park at Coney Island, with its now defunct but landmark status Parachute Jump was, depending on where I was in it, a wonderful place or a nightmare.  I loved the initial Steeple Chase Horse Race ride, but after that, and my memory here may be hazy because I hated it, you had to go through a series of funhouse surprises.  There were moving floors, upward gusts of air (we were delighted if we were wearing slacks) and a clown with an electric cattle prod.  Maybe that’s why I really don’t like clowns. Well, that and my knowledge of the reason why clowns have such big smiles. The Joker gives me the creeps – but I digress. 


Steeplechase Park also had the carousel - always reaching out for that brass ring! - and other neat rides and things to see, but the one I always wanted to go on was the Parachute Jump. No, no, no – the answer was always the same.  When I finally got to go on my own nickel I headed straight for the Parachute Jump. Well no wonder we weren’t allowed to go on it – it was a disappointment! We were just hoisted up for a look around – I was on the side facing the ocean, so there wasn’t too much of interest there - and then down we went.  Not a thrill-a-minute, to be sure.

I’m surmising that I’ll never get back to Coney Island to go on the Wonder Wheel, but every once in a while I can have a hotdog “out”, and some cotton candy now and then. Does it seem to you that you don’t get as much cotton candy on the paper cone as we once did? Or does distance lend enchantment? I guess it does, I guess it does.

I see that Golden Corral restaurants are serving cotton candy at their buffet.
Cotton candy and buffet?  Those two should never be in the same sentence.


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