Saturday, February 23, 2008

Down Memory Lane

Good heavens! I'm not that old. No, this photograph, from 1928, has sparked memories for me from the early 1970s (Okay, I'm a bit old).

The old-photo blog Shorpy (a personal favorite) has a few photos up today from the 1920's in Glen Echo amusement Park, just north of Washington DC and near Bethesda, Maryland, where I grew up. There is this one, of the roller coaster entrance, and one of the bumper cars, in 1924.

Later in life, Glen Echo was a National Park site where, as youngster, I volunteered along with many of my siblings.

Glen Echo started in the late 1800s as a National Chautauqua Assembly site.
The Chautauqua was an educational movement that sought to unify the Protestant churches by bringing people together for classes, discussions, entertainment, and physical activity. (From History, Town of Glen Echo)
It became a straight amusement park in 1899 and continued as one until the late 1960s when it closed after declining attendance and problems with vandalism. The park came under the control of the federal government in 1971 and the National Park Service started working towards recreating the Chautauqua ethos by establishing an artists' colony.

When I worked there, there were potters and painters, a children's theater, and performances of all sorts. I think I first saw the Muppets at Glen Echo Park; a group of puppeteers performed under the pavilion that once sheltered the "cuddle-up." There was a green frog; I think it must have been pre-Sesame Street Jim Henson and company. I also recall a lovely summer-evening performance by a symphony orchestra. I think they played Appalachian Spring.

A collection of slant-wall yurts was erected and used for studio space. My mother took pottery lessons. There was a shop that sold arts created at the park. My sister Margaret managed that for part of our time there. At one point it was in one of the yurts. There was a refurbished traditional carousel, several Mahaffies helped run that from time to time.

My job, at least the one I remember best, was sitting at a beat-up surplus metal government-issue desk near the entrance to the park and serving as a public information source. That's where my vocation as an information-pusher began. I was all of maybe 12 years old, pointing people towards the pottery studio, the theater, the carousel, or the bathrooms.

I first met my eventual brother-in-law Lou Church at that desk; he sauntered up one afternoon asking where we kept the white elephants. I knew then that he was a wise-ass and would fit well into my family.

At some point, I transferred my volunteerism to the children's theater that occupied an old arcade building in the Park. Somehow I went from information desk in the sunlight to running a follow-spot from the back of a darkened Adventure Theatre. That started my avocation for theater, performance, and eventually broadcasting.

But that is a distant memory for another blog posting. For now, it was fun to see a bit more of Glen Echo's past.

1 comment:

flather said...

No, you're not that old. I am! My favorite rides were the airplanes that I could make fly erratically by manually changing the direction of the tail and, of course, the carousel, but only if I could get a beautiful horse that went up and down. I never knew Glen Echo as anything but an amusement park. Great memory.

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