Historical Facts about ...
Amusement, Theme & Water Parks

The first Ferris Wheel stood 264 feet high, had 36 pendulum cars which carried 60 passengers each (total of 2,160 riders), weighted 1,200 tons and was powered by two 1,000 horsepower engines. The Ferris wheel was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, and was opened to the public on June 21st, 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition.

Ferris contracted the construction of the Ferris wheel to a dozen steel companies, since it was so large that no single steel company could produce it. It was produced for a cost of $350,000 (in 1893). The Ferris wheel was so popular that it's cost was recovered within a few weeks, at the exposition.

High atop the Palisades cliffs, located within the New Jersey boroughs of Cliffside Park and Fort Lee, once stood the home of the famous Cyclone roller coaster, the Tunnel of Love and the world's largest salt water pool. The place was called Palisades Amusement Park and it grew to be one of the world's most famous fun centers, achieving national prominence through a national advertising campaign as well as the Freddie Cannon song, "Palisades Park".

At the famed open-air theater, top entertainers of the day performed for record crowds. The names of performers on the stages of Palisades reads like a Who's Who of musicians; Benny Goodman's Big Band, Cab Calloway, Les Brown & His Orchestra, Harry James, The Dorsey Brothers, Fabian, Chubby Checker, The Shirelles, The Chiffons, Leslie Gore, The Jackson Five, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, The Four Seasons, Bill Haley & The Comets, Bobby Rydell, Dion, Jackie Wilson, Neil Sedaka, Tony Orlando, Frankie Avalon, Little Anthony, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Young Rascals, The Loving Spoonful, The Fifth Dimension and many more.

Palisades finally closed its doors on September 12, 1971 but the memories live on in the hearts of the countless people who were touched by its magic. A new book, Palisades Amusement Park: A Century of Fond Memories (Rutgers University Press) contains hundreds of photographs and tells the entire history of the Park that captured the hearts of millions of fun-seekers.

© 1996 Palisades Amusement Park Historical Society

By Stephen Kent Goodman
© 1997 Sound Traditions Publishing

Of all the sounds associated with happy childhood memories at merry-go-rounds and amusement parks, none are more vivid nor pleasantly and immediately recalled than the sound of the merry-go-round organ or calliope.

In the days before electronics or speakers, the only way to create the sound of a band without hiring real human players was to automate loud organ pipes (which make their sound from air blowing through them), actual drums and percussion like bells and xylophones and make them play together by mechanical, rather than electronic means. The invention of the player piano in the 19th century did much to develop band organs, which were called "military band organs" that provided music for carousels and skating rinks, because they sounded as loud and as full as an actual military or brass band, the most popular type of band in those days.

The first instruments used a huge, pinned cylinder, like a gigantic version of the tiny metal pinned cylinder found in music boxes, but most were built with paper roll players (like a player piano had) from 1910 to the time of their "obsolescence", in the early 1930s. A calliope was actually an organ with only one sound to its pipes- a loud whistle or flute sound. Most were air blown, although the first calliopes were actually blown by steam, having been used on steamboats and using steam from their boilers. A few were also played by paper rolls, but nearly all could be hand-played, like a piano. The leading American manufacturers were The Rudolf Wurlitzer Co.; North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works; Artizan, and The Tangley Co. (calliopes only). Most of these happy instruments were destroyed when their usefulness ended and replaced with speaker systems. Fires, floods, natural disasters and vandalism claimed many more over the years. The few remaining are in the hands of appreciative collectors today, mostly restored to their former glory. A very few (like the WurliTzer model 165 in Maryland's Glen Echo Park or the band organs at California's Knott's Berry Farm) are still playing in amusement parks or on merry-go-rounds. If you like the sound of these instruments, or like the kind of music they play and want a source of recordings, I'll be happy to email a list of what I know is available. Please email me, Stephen Kent Goodman, at [email protected]

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