Teen fun, 1920s style

October 03, 2006|by ALAN SOKOL

In spring, I wrote a story for Pulse about Funkstown in its earlier days some 90 years ago, and about the lifestyle of that era. You might remember the now-defunct Funkstown electric park, our local amusement park that vanished with the Depression.

During the summer, I interviewed a woman who is possibly the oldest resident in Funkstown. She said she first visited the electric park when she was about 11 years old.

Helen Spielman has lived in Funkstown for nearly her entire life and has lived to see a lot of local history. She also seems to remember nearly everything, and her accounts of life in Funkstown and Hagerstown in the 1920s are fascinating.

Willow Grove Park (the proper name for the Funkstown electric park) opened when Mrs. Spielman was about 11. She and her friends went there every chance they had. The park wasn't elaborate, but it was still amazing for this area in the Roaring '20s.


"At the entrance to the park, there was a pavilion that had a wooden floor and roof, and a bench where people could wait for the electric trolley to arrive to take them back to Hagerstown," Spielman said. "There were a lot of steps you had to walk down before you reached the road. (The road) was just wide enough for one car."

The whole park itself stretched about a quarter of a mile along Antietam Creek, so walking around and seeing all the rides must have been good exercise. People from out of town needed some type of parking, so a wooden bridge was built over the creek and a road was extended from Antietam Street back to a field as the park became more popular.

One of the reasons for the park's popularity was the fact that there was no fee to get in, according to Mrs. Spielman. The only fees were for the rides themselves. The boat swings cost a nickel to ride for as long as you wanted. These swings were about 20 feet long but only had two seats, one at each end. The other side of the creek had a roller coaster, a shooting gallery, sliding board, and, later on, free movies projected on the side of the hill.

The last feature, but certainly not the least, was the dance pavilion on the top of the hill. Mrs. Spielman said she and her friends would sit and watch people dancing in their formal attire.

Mrs. Spielman's life extended beyond the Funkstown borders. She took the trolley to Hagerstown to attend high school in the square and was given a quarter every day for the ride and her lunch. It cost 16 cents to ride the trolley to and from school, leaving her with 9 cents, which she usually used to buy a bowl of soup.

She said she often complemented her soup with a sandwich. However, one day she left a Limburger and onion sandwich in her locker and stunk the whole school up. She abandoned it in the locker, avoiding other students and leaving it to the custodian to clean up. It was a shame too, since Limburger was her favorite.

Another of Mrs. Spielman's childhood memories was the trip she made in her brother's Chevrolet to Ohio in the late 1920s. In those days, there weren't any freeways and most of the roads were gravel. So a trip that might take eight or 10 hours on the interstate highway today might have taken two or three days in the '20s.

But a trip like that would be filled with extra adventures such as flat tires and engine breakdowns, few maps and almost no street signs. Cross-country drivers were pretty much on their own.

Mrs. Spielman had an interesting childhood. She said she and her teenage friends didn't need video games or iPods to keep themselves entertained like kids today.

"Kids back then made their own fun," she said. This could be as simple as picking blueberries or throwing snowballs.

So, kids, rather than demanding the latest video game or cell phone skin, take some advice from someone who knows what life is all about. Ride a bike, take a walk in the City Park or climb some trees - with proper supervision of course.

It's a shame we can't visit Willow Grove Park anymore. It would be great to ride the swings and the roller coasters or go to the dance pavilion.

Those simple days might never be revisited. Perhaps we can save our historic treasures before they go the way of our lost Willow Grove Park.

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