The park was developed by Johnny Denton
who owned Gold Medal Shows, a carnival that toured several states,
and I think another one that traveled under his name. The constant
setting up and tearing down eventually takes its toll on even the
best rides and equipment, and it becomes too costly to continue. In
Joyland he must have felt he could extend the life of some of his
Although Denton was the primary force
behind the park and surely had the biggest stake, he wasn't the only
one involved. Joyland was home to several colorful entrepreneurs during
its brief existance, including Bobby Cooper, Natie Brown, John Swisher,
the Picozzis, the Carters, and the Millers. Each of these brought
their own unique talents and offerings, but only Cooper, who was in
his mid to late twenties at the time, brought both rides and concessions.
Conley and I started working at the park
at about the same time, and we both worked full time that first summer.
"There were nine of us and we never had much," Conley recalls.
"Times were tough back then and there weren't many jobs around,
so I jumped at the chance to go to work for $3.00 a day." I worked
off and on at the park the next two seasons, but Cooper persuaded
Conley to go to work on a rail carnival for his sister in Canada,
and paid his way to Philadelphia to meet her. Conley recalls that
he spent "the next four or five years on the road, first in Canada,
then back in the states," and adds "I learned more during
that period on the road than I could have learned anyplace else."
By today's standards, the park would
be considered small, but at the time it was quite nice. There were
usually six or more full size rides, including the bumper cars, ferris
wheel, tilt-a-whirl, octopus, carousel, and the Joyland Railroad that
nearly encircled the park, plus one or two others that would be set
up from time to time depending on what wasn't needed on the road.
For a while there was even a portable roller skating rink. There were
also numerous kiddie rides including live ponies, and a roller coaster
that always seemed too large for most kids and too small for most
One ride that was truly memorable was
the 150-year-old German made carousel Denton brought down from Cleveland
for the grand opening on May 21, 1955. The Charleston Daily Mail's
Bob Jarrell, in his Roving the Valley article of August 5 that summer,
cited ride superintendent Arthur (Dutch) Ream in describing the ride's
36 horses, that some were "almost as large as a real pony. All
the horses have lifelike glass eyes, something you don't see nowadays
on merry-go-rounds." My younger sister Kathy recalls, "When
I think of Joyland, I always think of the carousel and this one particular
big white horse, my favorite. It was the most beautiful horse in the
***SEE ONE OF THE ORIGINAL HORSE'S BELOW***
I have no idea what the attendance figures
might have been, but the park was often packed and was particularly
popular with students and other young people. Gerald Terry, a real
estate appraiser with Goldman Associates, Inc. in Charleston, remembers
the free rides and sodas he earned at Joyland. "They had a policy
of rewarding students with free drinks and rides for each "A"
on their report cards. I always made good grades so I'd go and get
several free things." Darrell Daniels, news director at WQBE,
remembers the park as a great place to meet friends and hang out on
weekends, "I've got some wonderful memories of Joyland. As a
student I didn't have much money to spend, but it was great to be
able to get together with friends in a wholesome atmosphere."
Among Joyland's favorite offerings were
the concessions, including various snack bars as well as games of
both skill and chance, the largest of which was the daily skilo game
that became a mainstay. Bingo was illegal at the time, but the law
had been rather narrowly drawn, so at the park we played skilo. Why
the law was written so narrowly is not known, but for years a majority
of members of the West Virginia House of Delegates from Kanawha County
had last names beginning with A, B, C, or D, presumably the result
of our former practice of listing candidates alphabetically on ballots.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the
bingo law, one person who benefited was Natie Brown who owned the
skilo concession. I met Natie the first summer the park was open.
I had just finished the ninth grade and wouldn't celebrate my 15th
birthday until October, so the chances of landing what might have
been considered a good summer job were minimal. Like other kids my
age, I started hanging around the park the minute it opened. It was
exciting, and before long I had the opportunity of going to work for
one of the vendors, "Honest John" Swisher, his nickname
for himself. I hired in at $2.00 per day. The park jobs didn't pay
much, but at least they gave a lot of us a chance to learn some responsibility.
My sister Nancy worked in one of the ticket booths for a while that
first year before getting a job at a lunch counter in one of Charleston's
five and dimes.
John owned and ran a grab bag concession,
located in the middle of the midway in front of the main snack bar,
and everyone won something. "Hey folks, come on over. Fool ol'
Charley and win a doo-la-ly." First it's John's voice I hear,
then mine. It didn't matter that neither of us were Charley, the line
usually worked whether I was working the grab bag booth for John,
the duck pond for the Millers or any of the other concessions.
When Swisher wasn't at the park he was
most likely working a carnival or fair someplace, and if nothing else
was happening he could often be found selling men's hosiery down at
Dead Man's Curve. That was down by Dickenson Field where a near 90-degree
right turn connected the four-lane with the two. There was nothing
fancy about the hosiery operation, just the socks and the large cartons
they came in. He'd park the truck and set the boxes out. A couple
of crudely marked signs, and he was in business selling the seconds,
thirds, and irregulars he frequently brought up from the mills in
If things got slow, he might even grab
a stick and poke around inside a large empty carton as if there were
something in it. Those who stopped to investigate would often end
up buying something. It was hard not to buy from Honest John. I can't
remember his wife's name, but she was a real nice lady who helped
him a lot, either at the park or on the road with him, and although
I was quite young, having me there seemed to give them a lot more
I worked six days a week in that crowded
little grab bag booth, so full of the cheap aluminum jewelry and other
items bought from Mackie Supply, Natie Brown's wholesale supply company
in Charleston. Mackie was located on Virginia Street across from City
Hall where the United Bank Building now stands. A native of Philadelphia,
Brown moved to Charleston about the same time the park opened and
was involved from the beginning. He had been a highly rated heavyweight
boxer in the thirties and had the distinction of fighting many top
contenders, including Max Baer, Maxie Rosenbloom and Joe Louis. He
met Louis twice, losing by decision in ten rounds in 1935 and being
knocked out in four in 1937, the second fight being Louis' last before
winning the championship from James Braddock who had won it two years
earlier from Baer.
In Joe Louis: My Life, an autobiography
written with Edna and Art Rust, Jr., Louis had this to say about their
first meeting, "I wanted to make a good impression, but I was
nervous and overanxious. That March 28 was some trial for me. Natie
Brown was what you call a spoiler. He was trying to show me up, and
I could hardly get through his guard. I had him down in the first
round, but he stuck it out for the limit. He was clumsy and had an
awkward style that would make anyone look bad. I decisioned him in
ten rounds, but I didn't feel happy about it." Brown died in
1991 and Charleston lost a colorful sports figure.
Little is known about the Carters except
that they were related in some way to Cooper, possibly through Cooper's
wife, and they either owned or managed the main snack bar. One story
I remember hearing from either Johnny Denton or Mr. Carter - I think
it was Carter - was that at some time in the past they had experienced
a larger than expected crowd and ran out of hamburger. Lots of bread
he said, but no meat. Instead of panicking they just crumpled the
bread and moistened it enough to form patties, fried it in hamburger
grease and served it bread on bread with garnishments. They never
had a complaint, he added.
On several occasions I helped the Millers
who ran the duck pond. They were a wonderful old couple who seemed
relieved to be living at a slower pace than before. They once owned
several rides and made a lot more money, but as they got older they
seemed content. I liked them and they showed me some photos from their
glory days of old, but by far the most interesting of all the people
I met at Joyland were Bill and Ginger Picozzi. The Picozzis owned
both food and game concessions, and although I didn't know them well,
I must have worked in one or more of their concessions at some point.
I think I worked in every game concession in the park at one time
or another, plus I ran some of the kiddie rides.
I hadn't seen them in over 20 years until
about 1980 when I renewed the acquaintance. Bill was raised in the
Little Italy section of Cleveland and, according to Bill, Jr., a well
known Charleston sports and entertainment promoter, "Dad was
a promising boxer who was undefeated after 44 fights when he decided,
toward the end of World War II, to get married." It was his bride,
Virginia "Ginger" Latlip, who had the strong family background
in the entertainment industry dating back to the early 1900s.
Her father, "Cap" Latlip, had
set a world record by plunging 112 feet from a pole into a small pool,
and became a partner in Hall and Latlip Shows which traveled by rail
throughout the eastern states and Canada. They also toured at times
as either The Latlip Family or Latlip Attractions. The family moved
to Charleston around 1917 and have been residents ever since. They
were featured in a 1979 Goldenseal article, "The Famous Latlips,
Charleston's Premiere Show Family" (Volume 5, Number 2).
Until tragedy struck in 1913 in the form
of a train wreck, the show was so large it took 37 rail cars to transport
all the equipment and animals, which included horses, elephants, lions,
and tigers. The wreck resulted in the loss of a lot of valuable equipment
and several animals. For a while in the mid to late thirties until
the end of World War II, Ginger and her twin sisters toured as a trio
up and down the Atlantic Coast, and according to Bill, Jr., "performed
with Judy Garland and Bob Hope, and entertained at USO Clubs during
the war." After the war, Ginger married Bill Picozzi who she
had met five years earlier while performing in Cleveland. They soon
put together a full carnival and toured for a while, before deciding
to limit their activities to just a few concessions and rides
Now their children are carrying on. Connie
has devoted much of her time to dance and beauty pageant promotions
and recently returned to Charleston, and Bill, Jr. is busy planning
his next promotions. When asked what he liked best about Joyland,
Bill replied, "the train ride, I was eight or ten at the time."
When asked what Joyland has meant to him though, his answer is quite
different, "What I took from Joyland and being raised in a wonderful
show business family are those things that have allowed me to do as
well as I have - a lot of common sense, a good nose for business,
and values." Speaking of values, in 1993 the Charleston Gazette
carried an announcement about Bill and Ginger's golden wedding anniversary.
Bill died later that year, Ginger in 1997. I called them after the
anniversary announcement to congratulate them and had a nice conversation.
I'm so glad I did.
Johnny Denton's decision to use old equipment
at Joyland came at a price, and the park's reputation eventually suffered.
Breakdowns are costly, not only to revenue, but also to image - and
possibly even to safety. Ride operators sometimes had to double as
mechanics, and mechanics as ride operators, and the distinction between
the two at times seemed blurred, giving the park a "dirty"
look. This was not the fault of the workers; it was the hand they
were dealt. Toward the end of Joyland's stay at the grove, a child
was fatally injured when he stepped into the path of an approaching
park train. Coming on top of mounting problems, the accident possibly
hastened the park's closing.
My walk down memory lane has been a wonderful
experience and has made me very appreciative of the time spent at
Joyland. The sounds of the midway got in my blood as a boy, and I
can't visit a park or carnival without wishing for a moment that I
was barking from one of the booths "Hey folks, come on over..."
I learned a lot during those three years, most importantly that these
were good, decent, hard working people that I am proud to say I knew.
Things may not always have been strictly on the up and up, the ducks
with the lucky numbers may not always have been in the water, and
the grab bags with the biggest prizes may not always have been in
the box, but in the bigger picture, the one that really counts, these
wonderful people always brought a lot more smiles than frowns.