For a child in the 1940s and 1950s, there was not much to do away from home.
There were very few kid-friendly restaurants, and the main attractions at the community parks were monkey bars, swings and slides.
We learned if we took some of Mom’s wax paper to the park, we could get three or four rides down the old, hot stainless steel slide going very fast (as long as the wax paper stayed where it was supposed to).
We had all kinds of fun and never seemed bored with our day.
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That was until after my first trip to a piece of kids’ heaven, Riverside Amusement Park in Indianapolis.
Back in the day, many factory owners would furnish one-day admission to the amusement park for their employees and their families as a bonus. My close friend had an extra ticket and invited me to come along. It was as if a door opened to a world I had never known.
The Riverside Amusement Park first open in 1903, but it did not become a part of my life until the 1950s. I had no idea it even existed.
Riverside Amusement Park was bought and sold many times, with each purchaser adding or otherwise making changes to the park.
Lewis Coleman added bumper cars and two roller coasters (The Flash and The Thriller) in 1919.
Coleman’s son, John, managed the park from 1939 until the doors closed in 1970. John was a very patriotic person and ran many special military programs. During this time, admission charges were $1.50 on weekdays for people 12 and older ($2 on weekends) and $1 for children ages 6 to 11. Children 5 and younger were admitted free.
I was told the park had seven different roller coasters during its life.
Many of the rides were so exciting that when you walked through the entrance it was like Dorothy landing in Oz.
There was a Dutch windmill with boats that ran through the mill part of the building. Many enjoyed the circle swings and a trip through the walking glass maze.
My dear friend Judy Holland could not get past the pony rides; that is where she spent her day.
You had the White River that helped create a natural place for sunbathers and swimmers, and you could launch sailboats and canoes from its shores.
There was even a six-story dive tower, providing a place for young daredevils to show their stuff. The roller-skating rink was beautifully designed and packed almost every evening.
Some of the best years for Riverside Park were after World War II. Families were going places together — the automobile was allowing for outer communities to come visit the park.
I remember my school having a field trip for the eighth-graders: We were taken to Riverside Park for the day.
It was probably one of the most exciting days of my life.
Once we left the bus, a young man had asked me to ride the Tunnel of Love with him. I was scared to death but so excited. I had seen other couples go on the ride throughout the years and come out on the other end with big smiles on their faces. I had to keep telling myself to breathe. Being a gentleman, “my guy” helped me down into the boat and sat down next to me. His big strong arms went around me, and I was so ready.
Then all of a sudden his two best friends jumped in the seat behind us. They pushed our heads together and laughed and made fun. My guy removed his arm from my shoulder, and he scooted his whole body to the opposite edge of the boat. He would not even look up at me, and then everything went dark.
I rode in the dark Tunnel of Love sitting by myself. That was the last time he ever let his eyes meet mine, and I had to get off the boat by myself, while he went off with his two buddies.
At one time there were three parks in the same area: Riverside, White City and Wonderland Amusement Park. They were all competitors. White City and Wonderland were consumed by fire a few years after opening.
Increased cost of insurance, maintenance, new rides and competition from the emerging theme parks were the reasons by John Coleman gave for the park closing permanently after the 1970 season.
Orders were issued for the park to be demolished. All the rides were sold or demolished by 1978.
A housing development is now on the land.
For those of you who revisited Riverside Amusement Park in your memory, I hope you enjoyed the ride.
I look forward to looking back again next week.
New Palestine Main Street and Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.