The summer of 1941 is etched in my mind. From that to this, it turned out to be part of my life:
Between my sophomore and junior year at North High School I was seeing a young freshman who with her mother helped her mother’s brother and wife run the bingo palace at Geauga Lake.
He also had a fun house on one side and Skeeball on the other. Across from the Skeeball, he had a horse race concession. He hired me and a close friend of mine to run the horse race concession.
I am not sure because of the passage of time, but I think it was on a Sunday when we arrived at the park, it was rather cool and overcast sky and a light rain. Because of the weather, there were very few people that early in the morning. The owner and help, and a few patrons were in the Bingo Hall watching the storm brewing on the lake. It looked like a funnel cloud circling it.
The owner began to worry as the whirling wind looked like it was leaving the lake headed for the midway. He told me and my buddy to close the horse race concession, and all those in the Bingo Palace to get under the tables.
As we brought the tarp down, the storm headed for the midway. The wind ripped the tarp out of our hands, it flew up into the air and we watched the highest part of the Big Dipper as it came crashing down on the Bingo Hall. Fortunately, the tables held up the roof, and no one was injured. The paper thought it was a cyclone.
The brother and sister’s mother was staying in a cottage across the lake, and driving to the other side of the lake we were unable to reach the cottage, as large trees were blocking the road. We went as far as we could, then by foot. There was a large oak tree resting on the roof and she was scared but unharmed.
Growing up in Aurora meant spending summer days and nights at Geauga Lake Park. In the ’60s, admittance was free and you would purchase ride tickets. Parents felt comfortable dropping their children off at the front gate under the Big Dipper coaster and picking them up later. The sweet smell of cotton candy, french fries, and funnel cakes made your stomach growl as soon as you entered. The game barkers called out, trying to entice you to try your luck and win a prize. “Everyone wins,” they clamored. They failed to mention you usually ended up with a plastic bauble worth pennies.
As you walked through the midway, the thrilling rides, like the Big Dipper, called out to you and dared you to hop on. I usually had just enough money for a few rides and spent the rest of the time meeting up with friends, or making new ones. Boyfriends and girlfriends enjoyed a ride through the Tunnel of Love on warm starlit evenings.
Geauga Lake attracted all kinds of people. A guy nicknamed Rotor Man rode the Rotor all day long, most every day. I often wondered what the centrifugal force did to Rotor Man. I am curious if anyone knows who or where Rotor Man is now.
In the ’60s, Geauga Lake promoted free concerts on weekend evenings. Great rockers entertained us down by the lake. Neil Diamond, Three Dog Night, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Sonny and Cher were just a few of the headliners. We sang out loud with those new young artists just on the scene dressed in bell-bottoms. I Got You, Babe! It was amazing!
Later on in my late teens, many of my friends and I worked at Kiddie Land. Fellow workers and I would rotate jobs operating the kiddie Ferris wheel, coaster, flying planes, mini boats and the dreadfully loud beeping cars and trucks.
After college and teaching a few years in elementary school, just for old times’ sake, I returned for a few seasons to work during Oktoberfest weekends at the park.
Although, the park is now gone, the memories of friends, love and fun will live on forever. This truly was a wonderful time in life!
I remember Geauga Lake Park from our annual family trips in the ’60s. We would always visit around my brother’s birthday near July 4th.
My favorite ride was more of a test of skill, and my two brothers and sister were experts at it. I was the youngest, but well trained. It was called the Flying Cages and I remember having my next older brother with me when we were older, but we may have had up to four of us in the cage when I was younger.
The idea was to throw your body from one side to the other, causing the cage to swing back and forth like a backyard swing. But if you were good at it, you could get the cage swinging enough to go up and over. We needed to coordinate our timing so that just as we approached the top, we would throw our weight on the other side to give the cage the ultimate momentum to swing back around for the next cycle. Same at the bottom.
After several minutes, the operator would apply a brake to slow down the momentum, and once that was broken, the swing would bottom out and the ride would be over. We took pride in frustrating the poor operator, because we would continue to swing up and over long after the brake was applied and the other cages were reloaded with new riders. Gravity always won, but we would rush to try again, to see how many cycles we could beat the brake. That guy must have hated us.
A great learning experience came one year when the park had to be evacuated due to a major lightning storm. We were all old enough that my parents weren’t with us. The parking lot was at a standstill when my oldest brother jumped out of the car and went to the logjam, directing traffic in a fair fashion.
This helped move everyone along until our car, driven by another of my siblings, got to the front of its line, and my brother jumped in and we drove off. In an emergency, no one cares who’s leading, just so someone does it. I used this technique years later at Blossom, with similar results. I suspect that if either of us had been greedy and just directed our lane over the other, problems would have ensued.
I also remember the Mouse as a truly terrifying coaster, not because it was especially fast or large, but because you would be rapidly jerked around by what I remember (falsely, I’m sure) to be many 90-degree turns.
A last lesson in the power of suggestion is that my oldest brother, who is now an engineer and has always been a genius in my mind, told me when I was small that on a Ferris wheel, the cars are coupled with an inverted U-shaped joint over the car’s axle, meaning that if you swing it too far when riding, it can fall off. Before too many years passed, I understood that this was ridiculous, but to this day, I am more frightened to ride a Ferris wheel than any roller coaster (and I loved riding all of them at Cedar Point for many years).
Knowing that it was stupid, I forced myself to ride the special Ferris wheel at Geauga Lake, the one with the enclosed cars that you could flip a switch and choose to turn upside down for whatever portion of the ride you wanted. It didn’t help; every time I turned myself upside down, I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable disaster when the car would fall off. Perhaps I’m too suggestible.
My memory of Geauga Lake was in 1986. Being a young couple with three small boys, doing any outing was a very big event. We took our three young boys to Geauga Lake — Brandon, 6, Ryan, 4, John, 2. We packed up the van with all kinds of things, strollers, wipes, all the things you need.
Geauga Lake’s parking lot was quite large. We finally found a place to park, unloaded the van and proceeded to walk to the park. The boys were very excited, especially Brandon since he was the oldest.
As soon as we got in the park, there was a game where you would throw a dime onto a plate, and if the dime stayed on the plate, you would win a prize. Brandon was so excited to try it and we said sure, it’s just a dime, so we gave him a few dimes. He threw the first time, nothing. The second time landed directly in the middle of the plate and he won, jumping for joy. He couldn’t believe it.
We thought it would just be a small stuffed animal but to our surprise it was a huge 4-foot white teddy bear. My husband and I looked at each other in dismay — we thought to ourselves, now what? Being the good dad he is, he carried that 4-foot white teddy bear back to the car, then walked back to the park.
A picture of the fun memory hangs on our wall to this day!
Nancy and Russ Eger
My memories of Geauga Lake stretch way back. For years, our family would visit the park during the summer. I can remember many a Fourth of July there, watching fireworks over the lake. But the best memories were of visiting my great-aunt Grace.
Grace Durbin ran the waffle stand at the bottom of the second hill on the Big Dipper. We would go around the back of the stand and visit with her by the back door. Every 30 seconds or so, a coaster would zoom by, rattling the stand. Grace lived in the cottages on the north side of the lake. I remember they had outhouses in the ’60s.
Here is where the story gets strange. She had a son, Lloyd Durbin. Lloyd worked in vaudeville and he had a partner: Bob Hope. Lloyd was on the road with Bob when he ate a piece of spoiled pie. He contracted food poisoning and died. Of course, we all know what happened to Bob Hope.
Later in life, my mother wrote to Bob Hope and told him that Aunt Grace was getting up in years and wondered if he could write her a letter. The next time we saw Aunt Grace, she beamed about a letter she had received from Bob. He did more than write a letter; he told her she could come out to Palm Springs and stay with him for as long as she wanted. She never went, and my mother let on that she wrote Bob to encourage him to write to Grace.
My father worked the waffle stand one summer to make extra money. He also coerced our neighbor to work at the stand. After the summer, our neighbor Bob Kohlar had a great idea. He was going to get a trailer and sell waffles at county fairs. He quit his job at Republic Steel and had a trailer built. He eventually had three trailers he would send out to fairs and sell the same waffles you got at Geauga Lake. He did this till the day he died and his son still carries on the family business. If you go to a fair and see the red and white Kohlar’s French Waffle trailer, that is how it got started.
Rides I can remember from the early days were the Caterpillar, the Dodge-ems and the Fun House. There was a crazy ride right as you walked into the park that I cannot recall the name of. It had two steel cages that spun on long arms like pendulums. It looked dangerous to a 10-year-old and I never rode it. And who could forget the rocket ships. They gave such a great view of the lake.
I spent two summers during college working as a ride operator at Geauga Lake to help pay for my tuition. I operated the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Paratrooper, both rides that were located in what we called “puke circle,” as they spun in circles and quite a few people got sick on those rides! I loved that job even though I spent a fair amount of time every day cleaning up after the people who got sick. I sat in the sun all day back when getting a tan was important and talked to people all day! It was a no-stress job.
Sherri Bevan Walsh
My first memories of Geauga Lake Amusement Park were fear of the Laughing Lady at the Fun House and the Fortune Teller; I hated walking by them, and I always turned away and walked as fast as my toddler’s legs would move. I thought that they might be alive!
Great memories include the music of the carousel and the ballroom where people danced their cares away. I wished I could dance there.
When I was 6 or 7, my dance class was entered in a contest at the park. Because we had an hour’s wait before my group performed, my dad rented a boat and took the family out on the lake, saying we had plenty of time. However, a storm developed, and dad had to speed to get back before we got wet. I was afraid that my hair and makeup would be ruined or that I’d be late for my performance.
One time, we had a picnic near the roller coaster, before it started for the day. After eating, my dad decided to nap while mom took us on rides. He put pieces of paper under his lenses to block out the sun and he lay on a blanket. When we returned to the site, we saw dad jump up and begin to flail his arms and stumble. The roller coaster had started roaring down the steep grade and riders were screaming, waking up dad, who couldn’t see with the sun-blocking papers under his glasses! He didn’t realize that the noise was from the coaster, and he was confused about where he was. Finally, he took his glasses off, the paper fell out, and he could see how close he was to the “beast” making that noise! We laughed about that for years.
While in my 30s, I enjoyed another trip to Geauga Lake, as a chaperone for a graduating class at Tallmadge High School. Administrators, counselors, and vocational teachers rode many rides together, having as much fun as the students. A senior counselor then, I found my “inner child” on the Bug, Tilt-A-Whirl, Silver Rockets and Dodge-ems!
Linda L. Hayden
Thirty-one years ago, both my daughter and I worked at Geauga Lake. She was in the main gift shop and I was in the business office. My daughter worked at Geauga Lake during high school and college, and made many friends there.
I was working on the reception desk one evening with the door from the lobby into the office closed and locked. (Thank goodness!) A gentleman came to the window. When I asked how I could help him, he became very angry, and began to rant and rave about his car being broken into in the parking lot, and nobody would do anything to help him.
At one point during his tirade, I actually thought he would try to come in through the little window next to my desk. I pushed the panic button under my desk, and the park police soon arrived to deal with the man.
Another time, when the advertising featured the wave pool publicity, I answered the phone to have a caller say “I dialed 1-800-The Wave; are you waving at me?”
Readers share memories of Geauga Lake
The summer of 1941 is etched in my mind. From that to this, it turned out to be part of my life: