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Hanson's Amusement Park
Chapter 1: Transitioning from the Picnic Grounds to Hanson's
Following the death of Alfred Wintersteen in 1935, Nettie Wintersteen sold her one-half interest in the park to John Hanson, effectively giving Hanson 100% ownership. However, the Wintersteen family retained ownership of the Merry-Go-Round and the Dodgem ride. Swimming races were popular at the Lake during the late 1930's. The races were usually sponsored by the Wyoming Valley Swimming Association and the WPA Recreation League, and the swimmers qualified for Amateur Athletic Association championship meets.
A three-mile triangular course began at the Picnic Grounds. After a one hundred yard swim into the Lake there was a right turn at a buoy for the long leg to Sandy Beach, then a turn at another buoy back to the Picnic Grounds. Two circuits around the course were needed to complete the two-mile distance. In 1938 the Mid-Atlantic AAU long-distance champions were the local team of Irving Roe, Jim Campbell and Elwood “Woody” Davis. They had won the title in the five-mile Lake Ariel champion- ships a year earlier. Other strong competitors from the area at the Lake races were Bob Jackson, Charles Stitzer and Andy Tryka.
The national AAU long-distance swimming championships were held at the Lake on July 29, 1939. The five-mile course began at the Picnic Grounds and ten laps were required around a long course in the Lake. Well-known Wyoming Valley swimmers in the event were James Campbell and Michael Cavanaugh, but the individual championship was won by Steve Wosniak of Buffalo, New York.
Near the end of the decade the Shoot- the-Chute, in disrepair, was removed from the beach. To replace the Chute attraction, Hanson introduced Hackercraft speedboat rides in 1938. A second speedboat was soon added. Several years later four twenty-two foot Chris-Craft speedboats offered a thrilling summer ride around the Lake. The well-remembered speedboats were named after the Hanson grandchildren: Bruce, Corry, Danny and Donnie Lee. The speedboats were based at the bathhouse and weekend crowds would line the dock for tickets .
There were a number of changes to the park in later years as new rides were placed in the park by concession owners. In 1944 Orville Walton added the Whip to the park, and two years later he built a new Miniature Railway. In 1946 the small Roller Coaster was dismantled and Walton built the Twirler in its place. In the same year J. L. Garrahan added a small Ferris Wheel to the park. In 1947 the Flying Scooter ride was added to the park by Michael H. Yozviak and James V. O'Donnell. In time, however, Hanson would acquire direct ownership of the new rides.
After World War II the drive-in theatre was a new attraction. Hanson's Drive-In was built in the rear of the park in June 1948, but operated only three years. Hanson's innovations also included a special section for young children which opened in 1950. Kiddie-Land included a number of mechanical rides: small boats, fire engines, pony carts, and a miniature whip. There was also the Starlight Express, a small children's roller coaster which ran for nineteen years.
Hanson's Video Gallery
Visit HarveysLake.org's special video gallery dedicated to Hanson's Park for images of many of the old rides in operation.
Since the 1935 sale of the park, members of the Wintersteen family operated the Merry-Go-Round and Dodgem. Until 1959 the rides were operated by Genevieve Wintersteen Fisk and her husband, Harold Fisk. Harold was a popular figure at the "brake" of the Merry-Go-Round; his father, Sidney Fisk, skirted the apron helping the children astride the horses and extending well-wishes to the riders.
In later years, Robert Wintersteen, well known for his civic services to the Lake community, managed the two rides, which later were operated by his wife, Mary Ann Wintersteen. For three decades Hanson's was a favorite park for the youth of the Back Mountain and Wyoming Valley. The forty foot diving platform challenged young braggarts and, of course, there was considerable youthful betting as to which of Hanson’s speedboats was actually the fastest.
The Coaster never failed to surprise even the most seasoned rider. The cars, jammed with gleeful youths, were slowly cranked to the top of the Coaster. At the top, the large blue Lake would wondrously appear. Then suddenly the cars would turn away and plummet down the Coaster's huge dip as the riders' screams drowned out the thumping musical tunes of the Merry-Go-Round. There was an immediate second, but smaller, dip, a quick rise to the top at the far end of the Coaster, and then a neck twisting hard left turn and drop through a series of smaller dips, all to the countless clack-clack clacking song of the Coaster cars vas they raced along the thrilling track. With an unexpected suddenness the Coaster cars were swiftly braked at the end of the run in view of an anxious crowd waiting on the platform.
Night rides on the Coaster were especially enjoyable. The park would be awash in colored lights with the Merry-Go-Round in the center of the park filling the summer nights with its banging music. From the Coaster indistinct sounds could be heard from the Bingo stand below as the cars crested for a brief view of the dark waters encircled by lights and the glow of Sunset on the far end of the Lake. Then the Coaster would crash away pulling the breathless riders through a ribbon of lights along its winding course.
For young children the Merry-Go-Round was the central attraction. The youngest children, held by reassuring parents, were usually seated on a colorful, stationary stallion; more experienced youngsters rushed for a favorite jumping horse. If all the horses were filled, kids would usually step off to wait for the next ride rather than sit on one of the carousel's ornamental carriages, which were reserved for "old ladies.” The outside ring of horses were favored for the opportunity to juggle an outstretched hand for the brass ring. Merry-Go-Round riders can always remember a youthful fascination with the booming brassy machinery in the center of the carousel as images hypnotically passed through the circle of mirrors above the organ.
In the years before the video games the Penny Arcade was lined with fascinating mechanical gadgets that tested the skills of small, youthful hands; the little pocket prizes have long disappeared from memory. A miniature gypsy in a glass case would drop the future down a narrow slot; in another case the mechanical shovel always dropped the best prize before it could be swung over to the chute. The shooting gallery games were slightly out of reach; a youngster teetered on tiptoes to aim a rifle at the jungle animals or gangsters that popped in view.
For many years a penny would bring a picture card of a movie star or western hero. In time, the arcade cards of the silent movie heroes, William S. Hart and "Bronco" Bill Anderson, were replaced for another generation by Tim McCoy and Buck Jones, until they, too, were eclipsed by Roy Rogers and Rex Allen. In later years, every boy wanted the elusive card of Lash LaRue, a curious cowboy anti-hero in black who fascinated a generation of "front row kids" before the Korean War. Of course, it took a brave youngster to gamble a penny for a card from the glass-paneled catalogue of burlesque queens. Then, too, there was the frightening challenge among friends over the "grip tester.”
For others the manly test was to evade the parental eye and to play the forbidden pinball machines. There was usually one attraction which offered everyone an unusual chance, through luck or skill to plot some harmless damage. The only penalty was the long line at the Dodgem. But a ticket only allowed a precious few minutes on the electric cars, and soon the floor would be cleared. When the attendant dropped the chain, a torrent of kids charged the rubber-ringed cars. There was only one way to really grab a car: run to the far end of the pavilion and slide the last few feet along the metal floor, fling a hand on the back of the seat, grab the wheel with the other hand, and jump in with a smug furtive glance at a favorite girl before eyeing the competition.
When the bell rang, the cars would begin to swirl into a raucous mass of Innocent menace. There were two theories about building speed as quickly as possible: some kept the accelerator " floored , " but others "pumped" the cars to full speed; It usually took half a circle to really move the cars along, and woe to the early cars hopelessly driven into a corner where an uncertain novice could be continually knocked Into spins by the circling horde.
Amid the bumpy fleeting laughter of the Dodgem ride, children could joyfully inflict painless aggression on nameless strangers, who were usually too busy planning their next crashing challenge to chase the annoyances of more amateur drivers. The Dodgem ride was always too short; it always seemed longer waiting in line for a crack at the wondrous cars.
The last major picnic excursions to the Picnic Grounds were sponsored by Coxton Yards, a railroad assembly connected with the Lehigh Valley Railroad. But the last Coxton excursions ended in the late 19401s. A few other excursions followed in the early 1950s; for example, the Pittston area Sunday Schools held a train excursion to the park on July 7,1951.
Park ownership descended to John and Shirley Hanson. Three decades after the "dance band" era had entranced the nation, a new musical craze, rock and roll, breathed new life into the Lake’s amusement centers. Local musical talent, providing weekend retreats for teenage crowds, were stationed at area parks Including Hanson’s Amusement Park. From the early 1960’s to the early 1979’s, dances featuring Iocal and national talent were regularly held in the second-floor dance hall above the restaurant. A weekend dance at Hanson’s could draw two thousand people to enjoy emerging national talent which included Chubby Checker, Bobby Goldsboro, the Supremes, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
The dark hall, built to serve the musical dreams of much earlier youth, jumped to the energetic beat of a stimulating but uncertain generation, many of whom lost themselves to the wonderfully deafening music. Hanson's dances were able to draw considerable local talent from the. Wyoming Valley; the most popular area attractions were Joe Nardone and the All Stars, and Eddie Day with both the Starfires and TNT. For another generation, Hanson's Amusement Park continued to attract young families to the grounds during weekends, but the week-day crowds of an earlier time were ending at area parks.
In time, beaches everywhere at the Lake drew fewer bathers as other diversions .attracted Wyoming Valley residents. Hanson's speedboats were eventually replaced by pontoon boats and as the expansive dock system was gradually lost to ice damage the large docks were not replaced.
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Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo