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Growing Up at Riverview

"Growing Up At Riverview Park" by Rev. Fred R. Krauss

With the exception of my Air Force years, 1962 thru 65. I had the good fortune of spending beautiful days each summer at Riverview, The World's Greatest Amusement Park. Yes, I spent one last day at Riverview in the summer of 67, just a month or two before the park closed its gates forever.

My earliest memories of Riverview are from my childhood, beginning with the long drive down Western Avenue from our south-side home, and waiting anxiously for the top of the Pair-O-Chutes and the impressive white tracks of the Silver Streak to appear on the horizon. Then we knew that we were close, and the magic of the day had begun.

Riverview is filled with good memories for me. I remember it as a place of fabulous family outings, a magical kingdom where good friends could go for a terrific time, and eventually a romantic spot where I could take my favorite gal. My last trip, in ?67, was the year that I was home from college and working as a Day Camp Counselor. My last experience in Riverview was a Field Trip where I had the opportunity to share one of my favorite places with the eager and wide-eyed children of the Day Camp.
One of our outings to Riverview each year was on the day of the Schwaben Verein Picnic. The annual brat eating, shoe slapping and beer drinking event was held in the Riverview Picnic Grove. For us kids, it was the best of all possible worlds. We would leave early in the day and plan on staying until the park closed at night. We would move between both worlds that in some magical way became one for the day.

The first roller coaster that I ever rode was the Greyhound at Riverview. My dad took me on it, telling me that he thought I was old enough and that he knew that I would enjoy it very much. I did. In fact, at Sixty-two, I'm still a roller coaster fan. The Greyhound seemed to be everyone's "beginning" roller coaster. It was a long, relatively smooth ride, filled with enough excitment to let a growing young man know that he had accomplished something special. I still remember that first ride. It was very special indeed.
And then there was the Bobs. That was the last of the Riverview coasters that I tried. It was also the greatest. But for us young guys, you had to work up the nerve. It stood there as a symbol of approaching 'manhood' for us. It wasn't something an eight or nine year old should be dealing with. Once on it, though, I couldn't get enough. Younger people with their steel coasters that whip around, over, under, twisting, and upside down will never really understand it, but the Bobs was truly the greatest roller coaster ever built. It was an all wood coaster, with back curves and turns that were never duplicated in another "woody". It was rumored that when the weather was hot, the humidity up, and the grease on the wheels thin and fast, then the Bobs could reach an easy ninety miles an hour. Whether it ever reached that speed or not, there has never been a coaster built that can match it.
Another thing that made the Bob's great was that you weren't locked into your seat with those "gawd-awful" over the shoulder safety bars. They were open cars with nothing more than a hand bar that locked in place over your lap. In fact, this was true of all the coasters. The Silver Flash, the Blue Streak, and the Comet all had "cages" enclosing each car, but they allowed much more freedom of movement and excitement than any of the newer rides. The "cages' were designed more for esthetic value, to make them look more like miniature trains, then they were for safety.
O yes, there's an occasional 'bad' memory too. I will never forget the year that they installed the Rotor. What a fascinating ride. You would stand against the wall of this large, revolving barrel, and when the speed became great enough, the floor would fall out and you and your traveling companions would find yourself defying gravity, stuck to the wall, suspended somewhere between the floor below and the open roof above. This was the ride, and the occasion, that decisively proved to me that I could never ride in a tight, fast circle again.

I regret the day that I became "too big" to ride the Carousel. You know how growing boys are. Today, I would give anything for just one more ride. No, not down at Georgia's Six Flags, where the Riverview Carousel now stands; I mean where it really belongs, on the Riverwalk of Riverview Park in Chicago.
I think that it was around when we were ten year old or so that the rumor of a Black Widow Spider in the Tunnel of Love began to circulate. Everybody knew kids who knew kids who knew someone that got bit by the spider and died. Scary stuff, but it just made the ride more exciting. Probably very important at our age, since just riding in a boat wasn't very exciting all by itself.
Aladdin's Castle was also an important part of our Riverview experience. It was a fun house, but it was unique beyond all others of its day. The grinning image of Aladdin bidding you to enter his magical kingdom became one of the endearing symbols of the park. From your entrance through the maze of mirrors through to the rolling barrels and tilted rooms, it was a large, entertaining, and never to be duplicated package of unadulterated joy. At one point, on an outdoor balcony platform and staircase that moved you to the next section of the building, the designers had built in a series of high pressured air jets. The operators would wait for the gals to be standing or walking right over the jets, and they would release them, causing skirts and petticoats to go flying upward reminiscent of the Marilyn Monroe scene over an air grate in "The Seven Year Itch". Crowds would gather by the iron fence out front just to watch the show and gaze at the people for hours on end. Well, maybe not hours. But it was a great show.

Enough for now. I'll write some more as time and memory permit.

Rev. Fred R. Krauss
Sharpshooters Productions, Inc.

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