Have I always loved carousels? You betcha! When I was a child growing up in Louisville, KY there was a fabulous family-owned amusement park called Fontaine Ferry Park, 1905-1969 (we kids all incorrectly pronounced it 'fountain', but then so did most adults). Oh the wonders you could find there! 'Hilarity Hall' with it's giant, animated, laughing 'Sam' and 'Sue' to greet you for the price of 25 cents. You could spend an entire day in that building with it's: 'Sugar Bowl' (everyone pile in, get spun around and try NOT to barf, please!); 'Turkey Trot' and other walkways to make you look pretty silly; the 'Barrel of Fun' where you'd try to walk through it while the giant barrel rotated rapidly and you'd finally get slung out of the other side; the giant 'Angel Slide' a gentle, humped slide; the 'Devil's Slide' with an improbable angle (you'd get up to the top of this giant slide and it would look like you'd just be dropping straight down it!); as well as many other fun rides inside.
Of course, Fontaine Ferry Amusement Park had it's gigantic 'Comet' wooden roller coaster (my uncle took me on it once when I was 8 years old; we BOTH thought we'd be killed before we could get off that splendid ride!), a huge swimming pool, 'Scrambler' ride, 'Tilt-a-Whirl', 'Bumper Cars', 'The Rocket', etc. for one's complete entertainment. There was also the Arcade with row after row of pinball games and various other arcade-style amusements. There was even a fenced in area for the 'kiddie' rides with smaller versions of the above-mentioned rides.
There was a place called 'Gypsy Village' where all the local bands would play on the weekends. Some of these bands were quite well known in this area but the Monarchs made it to #47on the national radio charts and to #1 in 17 regional markets in 1964 with their fabulous 'Look Homeward Angel'!!! (note: The Monarchs still perform in the Louisville area!). Can you also remember the 'Legends', 'Cosmo and the Counts', or 'Janie Moss and the Epics' (I still love her singing 'We Belong Together'!).
Oh the memories are coming fast now, aren't they? BUT, nothing compared to the live pony rides and the 3-row 1920 Dentzel carousel (or merry-go-round if you prefer). I wanted to ride the real ponies and the hand-carved horses FOREVER. Many a tear was shed when it was time to go home, I'm ashamed to say now, but mom's and dad's understood that this was sheer heaven for a child then!
Fontaine Ferry Park closed down on May 4, 1969 on it's gala reopening day of the 1969 season. An advertisement from Thursday, May 1, 1969 in the Courier-Journal newspaper read as follows:
Gala Opening for 1969 fun season, this Sunday, May 4 at noon. Gypsy Village opens at 8 PM. Tom Dooley and the Lovelights & W.A.K.Y. DJ Mike Smith. Dancing for the young crowd every Sat. & Sun. all summer. Big swimming pool opens, too! Big free stageshow every day 3:30 PM and 9:30 PM; "The Sensational Keppos", famous European circus troupe (thrills atop the tall ladders). Plus 51 big rides and attractions (Comet, Turnpike, Kiddieland). Day after Derby Day!
From the May 5, 1969 Courier-Journal paper:
YOUTHS ATTACK WORKERS AT AMUSEMENT PARK Undetermined number of Negro youths attacked and robbed several cashiers at Fontaine Ferry Park last night (05/04/69), did damage estimated at thousands of dollars to park facilities and caused park to close about 2-1/2 hours earlier than scheduled. About 25 policement had the situation under control shortly before 9 PM at which time the park was closed. Regular closing is 11:30 PM.
7 persons injured and after park incident roving groups of black youths reportedly smashed windows in grocery stores and at least one pharmacy in the West End.
The bulk of trouble at Fontaine Ferry began about 7:30 PM according to Jack Singhiser, Park President. Several thousand people were at the park then. Youths used wooden chairs to smash glass and bend bars in cashier cages and concession stands. Money taken from 7 park employees, he said. 2 park employees were treated at General Hospital and released. Rocks were being thrown at random. About 9 PM Lt. Col. Bert Hawkins asked radio and TV stations to broadcast an appeal to motorists to stay out of the area. Negro youths were in 14 to 18 year old bracket. 1 youth arrested for rock throwing also had a 22 caliber rifle in his possession. A popcorn stand near the entrance to the park was destroyed, it's windows broken and the equipment inside upended and twisted.
From the May 6, 1969 paper:
SUNDAY RAMPAGE SHUTS FONTAINE FERRY Fontaine Ferry Park closed down May 5, 1969 permanently. Sunday marked 5 years to the day since the 63 acre park opened it's doors to Negroes.
Jack Singhiser, Park President, said Fontaine Ferry Park will not be reopened because of a "definite possibility of a recurrence" of Sunday's flurry of robbing, looting and smashing. Disturbance, said Singhiser, was "racial in nature". The 1969 opening day drew nearly 8,000 persons to the park just north of Shawnee Park on the Ohio River, heavily populated by Negroes while the park employes and many of it's patrons are whites. At least 7 persons, including 2 park employees were injured in the rampage.
The park's president and it's other 2 owners, Alfred J. Doerr and Mrs. Louis Rassieur, both of St. Louis, met late Sunday and decided to close the park. (Doerr and Mrs Rassieur had come to Louisville for the opening). A statement released yesterday, May 5th, said "The board of directors of Faintaine Ferry Park regretfully has decided to discontinue permanently the operation of the park. The roller skating rink, the Gypsy Village Dance Garden and the swimming pool will also be closed... We can no longer operate the amusement park successfully." Singhiser estimated the value of the park, including land, at $l.5 million. The park employs about 300 full-time and part-time workers during the summer and about 35 workers year round, he said. The park boasts 14 major rides, 8 "kiddie" rides, 2 fun houses, a roller skating rink, 31 indoor and outdoor bathrooms, a pony track, an 80 ft. by 200 ft. swimming pool and a restaurant and 12 refreshment stands. Singhiser said the park can comfortably accommodate 10,000 fun-seekers.
Mayor Kenneth A. Schmied and others visited the park yesterday (05/05/69) afternoon to survey damage and discuss the looting with Singhiser. The mayor said he asked Singhiser to reconsider his decision to close. "I think it would be a crime for a minority bunch of hoodlums to take away something that has benefited so many people for so many years", Schmied said.
The 54-year old Singhiser has been president of the park for 14 years and associated with it for 34 years. He is a former president of the International Association of Amusement Parks.
Fontaine Ferry Park, which was built in 1905 but boasts recreations roots dating back from the 1880's, has suffered from racial difficulties that span most of this decade. It was a playground for whites-only during most of it's existence.
In 1961 Negroes began demonstrating at the park's huge gate on South Western Parkway, demanding to share the fun inside. On May 4, 1964, a Louisville civil rights leader walked through the gates as the park's 1st official Negro patron - only to find that an 11-year old Negro boy had already entered and was enjoying a ride. Even then, however, the large swimming pool was kept segregated and blacks were turned away. In May 1965, after Negroes had gone to court to enforce the city's public accommodations law, the pool was also integrated.
From the Wednesday, May 7, 1969 paper:
Editorial - Unbridled West End kids hurt the whole community: One Negro is quoted as saying "Look how long it took colored people to get into Fontaine Ferry. And some damned fools ruined it in one night."
From the Sunday, May 11, 1969 paper:
The mayor launched brave efforts to get the park reopened and the Greater Louisville Chamber of Commerce has pledged it's help in this direction. "Why not put an amusement park downtown?" was discussed as an alternative if efforts to reopen Fontaine Ferry Park proved impossible. Shippingport Island, 1-3/4 miles long, was an exciting prospective site for an amusement park for downtown.
So, as Paul Harvey would say, 'The Rest of the Story': Fontaine Ferry Amusement Park never reopened. Three years later, in 1972, an amusement park called 'Ghost Town on the River' opened at the former FF site - it lasted 3 years. The site was tried again in 1975 with 'River Glen' - it lasted 1 season. And all that's left now are the memories, some happy, some painful, some both. But is that really the 'rest of the story'? Maybe not.......