Remembering Kennywood Park

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Remembering Kennywood Park

An Adventure of Fun, Embarrassment and Tragedy

By Richard Briscar

I was about nine years old and was spending one of my summers in Pennsylvania.  I was visiting Grandma and Grandpap Stoots in Connellsville and having a good time.  I spent most of my time with my cousins Ronny and Richard Stoots.  A word of explanation to those who don’t know us well: I bore the same name as my cousin Richard, so to differentiate between us, our family added our middle names, Vincent for me and Albert for my cousin.  At this time you might expect that they would call us Vincent or Albert, but we received no such respect.  I was Dickie Vin and my cousin was Dickie Albert.  Don’t laugh.

Well, that is how the Stoots family knows us ‘till this day, and that’s that.

One nice day Uncle Mike surprised us and said that we were all going to go to Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh on the weekend. We couldn’t wait for Saturday to come, because we knew we were going to have the experience of a lifetime at Kennywood Park.

Grandma started making plans, deciding what to cook, what to pack, what to wear, and all the other things one needs for an enjoyable picnic.  While reviewing what we kids would wear, Grandma realized that Dickie Albert and I only had long pants, no shorts to wear on what was expected to be a very warm day.  Ronny had shorts, so he was prepared for the trip in Grandma’s mind.  But she didn’t want me and Dickie Albert to suffer under the extreme heat, so on her shopping trip to McCrory’s she decided to buy us some shorts.

Grandma was so excited when she returned, and called out to us, letting us know that she had found some nice shorts for us.  She said that they were polo shorts and asked us to come into the house and try them on.  We went into the bedroom and she handed us the “polo shorts”, as she called them.  Dickie and I took one look at the shorts, looked at each other, and realized what a big mistake she made.  Almost in unison, we shouted “Grandma, these aren’t shorts, this is underwear.  We can’t wear this!” 

Grandma argued with us, telling us that the sign on the rack read polo shorts, so these had to be polo shorts.  The underwear was in a different section.  Then she told us to try them on.  We put them on, white shorts with little designs, with an OPEN FLY in the front.  We could not wear these.  People would laugh at us.  Grandma told us how nice they looked, and that we could use a safety pin to keep the fly closed.  We were saddened, to say the least, but we had no choice in the matter.  Grandma said we would wear the polo shorts, and wear the polo shorts we did.

Saturday morning came and we all piled into Uncle Mike’s car.  I can’t remember who went with us other than we three boys, Uncle Mike and Grandma.  Ronny was in regular clothes, and Dickie and I were in our “polo shorts”.  The only nice thing about our clothes was the two brand-new Cleveland Indians shirts that Mom had bought me before I left for Pennsylvania.  If we pulled those shirts down far enough nobody would see our shorts, but Grandma didn’t think it was appropriate so she made us tuck in our shirts.

We arrived at Kennywood Park, excited and anxious to try all the rides (well, at least the ones that weren’t too scary).  Then the inevitable happened.  The finger pointing began.  We heard someone say “look at those boys in their underwear”.  We were crushed, but Grandma told us to ignore those people and just have fun.

I must say that we did have fun.  We endured a few snide remarks but tried not to let it bother us.  We were kids, and kids knew how to have fun.  We rode on all the good rides, had some cotton candy, and did everything else that you would expect.

During the day there were frequent announcements about the featured event, a flying trapeze-high wire act that was to be put on later in the evening.  I don’t know the name of the act, but the troupe was well known, and would be performing at Kennywood Park!  We all looked forward to the show.  At show time the people were packed into the area where the trapeze and high wire rigging was set up, and the show began.  I remember someone riding the high wire on a bicycle, and then the best part of the show – the trapeze act. 

It started off well, but tragedy came after a few minutes.  The young woman who was the star of the flying trapeze missed the bar on one of her transfers and fell to the ground.  The show stopped. The ambulance came.  The crowd dispersed.  The next day we read in the Daily Courier that she did not survive the fall.  It was a sad ending to an unusual day.

I can’t end this story without a comment about Grandma Stoots.  From what I have written it would appear that she was grouchy and inconsiderate of our feelings.  But Grandma and Grandpap Stoots were the most kind, considerate and gentle grandparents anyone could have. I loved them dearly.