There are those who cross the country to see Disneyland in California, others who wax enthusiastic over Six Flags in Texas, but there is also a whole generation of Kansas Citians who vow there never was a place of its kind equal to Kansas City's own Electric park.
The park of music, rides and thrills was named for the 100,000 electric light bulbs outlining buildings and rides, and after dark they turned night into day. Enthusiastic writers termed it the great white city of Brush Creek valley.
Prosaic old city maps of 1908 show this amusement park to be located at the extreme south city limits, at Forty-sixth street and the Paseo, and extending east to Woodland avenue.
The main entrance was at Forty-sixth and the Paseo, almost directly across the street from where Newcomer's chapel now stands. There a steady stream of open-air street cars deposited pleasure-seekers bound for the park. The car fare to the park was five cents from anywhere in the two Kansas Citys. The cars turned around at the park and returned on their regular routes, to bring back more loads of merry patrons. Admittance to the park was 10 cents. Then you were on your own.
Why was this old park so popular and so successful? Probably there were many reasons: A less sophisticated population to please, a need for entertainment, a convenient park location with reasonably good transportation, beautifully kept and landscaped grounds and flower beds, music by the finest available bands, with a comfortable pavilion and free seating for listeners, as well as the standard entertainment features - concessions, rides, swimming and lake.
Electric park was opened May 19, 1907, to a crowd of 53,000 by its owners of the Heim Brewing company and a earlier successful Electric park in the East Bottoms.
It should be noted that no beer was served, the city fathers refused a license to the Heim brothers for the park. Soon there proved to be such good returns from popcorn, hot dogs, peanuts, ice cream, roller coasters, shooting galleries, swimming pool and dance pavilion that nobody worried about beer. There was a slight retaliatory action by the brothers, however, when they made a one-cent charge on each glass of water.
There was a charge for swimming, but none for the famous night spectacle of living Statuary at the fountain in the lake. Here beautiful, shapely young women on a pedestal emerged from the fountain every hour of the evening, as if by magic, and held the crowd spellbound with their graceful poses, while flooded with colored lights that merged, blended and changed shades over their lovely forms.
This spectacle was perhaps the most widely known feature of the park. The owners had installed a $70,000 fountain in the lake with a device that elevated a pedestal out of the water, bringing the classic group up from the fountain's base (actually the women's dressing room). Of course, not a drop of water touched the women but it appeared otherwise viewed through the high encircling fountain spray.
After several breathtaking moments with the colored lights playing on the immobile group, the entire scene sank out of sight, only to reappear with new groupings and color.
Living Statuary was rivaled only by the fireworks, which were also a free nightly feature, and which shot high over the waters of the lake, with bursting showers of intricate color and design. On the Fourth of July the fireworks were especially elaborate, often falling in pictures of recognizable persons such a Bryan or Teddy Roosevelt.
The music pavilion and band shell were open afternoons and evenings and famous bands such as Sousa's Sorrentino's and Scariatti's were all favorites with the crowd.
John Phillip Sousa, the march king, maintained that the band shell at Electric park was the best he had ever played in. The size of the nightly crowds proved that they liked it too.
Near the music pavilion was the Geman village where food was available. There were picnic grounds for those who brought baskets from home. Roller coaster, scenic railway, tickler, penny parlor, ice cream parlor, giant swing, carousel, ferris wheel and the chutes, where the boat of the coaster ride ended in the lake, all were there to choose from depending on one's supply of nickels and dimes.
The miniature railway tracks ran a complete circle around the park, with a small engine puffing smoke as it pulled the long line of cars. The train operated only in the evening.
Ben J. Lewin of Parkville remembers hurrying to the park after school hours and working two hours to get up steam in the miniature locomotive. After the steam was up and the train loaded with passengers, he became condutor and collected fares from the long line of open cars.
Lewin held down this job for two years and was rewarded by being made engineer, in which capacity he served two more years. To this day he aspires to own such an engine.Much of the park burned May 28, 1925, and was not rebuilt. Part of the park continued to operate for years after the fire, but the spell was broken. Times were changing and the radio, motor car and movies were all competing for one's leisure hours.
The Village Green, an apartment project and shopping center, was built on the site in 1948. A nostalgic visitor finds it difficult to believe that so complete a change could be possible. Where would the bed of the lake have possibly been? Where were the sky-high steel supports where roller coaster cars hesitated a moment before the breathtaking drop?One wonders if Electric Park was just a dream. Perhaps it was, but if so it was a pleasant dream, a very pleasant dream. Kansas City Star, July 5, 1969
The Queen of Electric Park
When an Electric park feature recently appeared in The Star, the telephone of Mrs. Pearl Goelz, 3328 Claremont Street, Independence, began ringing before she had even picked up her own newspaper.
Mrs. Goelz's name was not mentioned in the story, but to many Kansas Citians of the park's era, Pearl Goelz--or Pearl Gale, as she was known then--and the living statuary of the fountain are one and the same, for she was chosen nine years in succession as Queen Electra of the park's Mardi Gras festival, and for nine years made a nightly appearance in the fountain pictures.
Mrs. Goelz and her husband, Henry Goelz, have been married 50 years, and it was one year after they were wed that she began her work at the park. Goelz was proud of his young wife, and he watched her with as much admiration as the hundreds of spectators who attended the nightly shows during the summers.
Posing with the living statuary was not a full-time job for Mrs. Goelz. For four of the years that she worked at the park she was an operator for the telephone company, and for four more years she was a stenographer with the Welch Realty company.
After all, she says, the park job just took 15 minutes at 9 o'clock. Henry always took me out and brought me back, except the years he was away at war, and often my father came out, especially Monday nights when the 'pictures' changed.
Mrs. Goelz likes to tell about the owner of the park, M. G. Heim, who bought the $70,000 fountain in Europe and refused to let anyone else operate it. He jealously guarded the secrets of its complicated mechanism.
Each night at the stroke of nine he rang a bell signaling electricians that it was time for the show.
M.G. Heim was a perfectionist, Mrs. Goelz says. Everything had to be perfect and everything of the best material available. My queen's costume and cape cost $3,000 one year. The dress was of multicolored sequins and the cape of red velvet with ermine trim.
Mr. Heim was strict, but kind and generous. There were four girls in the 'pictures,' and we received $25 apiece each night for our 15 minutes work--a lot of money in those days.
She also speaks highly of Mrs. Lillian Larkin, who planned, executed and directed the nightly spectacle.
She was very artistic and studied each year in New York getting ideas for next year's production, Mrs. Goelz says. She served as wardrobe mistress at the Schubert theater during the winter months.
She stayed in the base of the fountain during the performance and when a scene ended and we were lowered on the platform, she was ready and quickly draped and posed us for the next scene. The draperies were of chiffon or silk, depending on the 'picture.'
Mrs. Larkin also was a perfectionist, excellent in make-up and skillful in the quick transformation of the scenes. Properties and even pieces of furniture were sometimes used, which were quickly moved into place by her and the electricians. The entire program was only 15 minutes in length and seven different scenes or pictures were presented in this time.
To the spectators who had left the rides and concessions and gathered around the lake to see the show, the details of the production were unknown. It was the beauty of the girls, enhanced by the colorful, moving lights, that held the crowd spellbound.
Mrs. Goelz remembers especially three girls who worked with her through the years: Winifred Randall of Fort Scott, Kas., and Flora McCormick and Theresa Larkin, both of Kansas City.
From mid-August until the second week in September, when the park closed, Heim offered an extra attraction: The Mardi Gras. Queen Electra, waving her wand to 400 costumed attendants, opened the show by pressing a button which turned on the 100,000 electric lights.
Eight orchestras and bands in various parts of the park played for continuous dancing. The parade of 16 magnificent floats moved slowly along the boundaries of the park, each one with a special theme and queen.
At the closing of Electric park, a Star reporter wrote: "Everyone has heard of the Queen who slipped out of her palace at night to mingle with the populace in their carnivals. But a stenographer slipping away from her keyboard to be a queen at night is more of a novelty. Pearl Gale, who for the last eight years has been the constant nymph of the Electric Park Fountain and the Queen of the Park's Mardi Gras has been doing this for years."
But the curfew rings for all Cinderellas sometime and the dynasty of Queen Pearl will come to an end this September when the last car of the Big Dipper has dipped its last dip. The park is to be torn down and there will be no more queening for the girl whose face is known to thousands of persons in Kansas City and surrounding territory. Kansas City Star, July 19, 1969.