Memories Of Joyland Park In DuPont City

Photos courtesy of Rob Ryan

Editors Note:  This article was written years ago by Tom Steele.  Tom is now deceased.  I have tracked down a few of his friends in hopes of gathering some photos, which I will publish here at a future date if found.


JOYLAND PARK - THE BEGINNING

Fronting on the two-lane U.S. 60 for a distance of several hundred feet and stretching back to the Kanawha River maybe two or three times as far, the area known as the grove was for many years owned by the Tompkins family, who in 1844 moved about ten miles to the east.

Doc Hammonds leased the grove and for years raised both hogs and vegetables in the clearing near the river. He would sometimes put up his "No Trespassing" signs even though he must have known they wouldn't work. They rarely did, and many of us continued using the grove as a shortcut to and from school.

For years the property near the mouth of Burning Springs hollow was mostly just acres of trees separating our two towns. We had a grade school in Rand, but the combined DuPont Junior High and DuPont High Schools were in DuPont City, named after the large chemical plant about two miles to the east. That's where my father and many of the men in town worked. The schools and the company were what bound the Kanawha River towns from Reed to Quincy together, and the company will be long remembered by many of us who lived there for the jobs it provided and for the black powder it rained down on us night after night. "Better things for better living through chemistry" was DuPont's motto.

In the early 1960s the high school moved to its new home in the grove, which with all the trees cut to make room for the school had ceased being a grove. The campus now serves as home for DuPont Middle School. I graduated in 1958 before the school invaded the grove, but my memories go back even further.

Across from Rand Grade School beside Ma Green's little store was a vacant corner lot where the Gypsies moved their trailers in every spring or summer. Some set up shop in DuPont City. I always spoke to them, and sometimes stopped and talked. I liked the Gypsies and began my 50 year fascination with them and their nomadic way of life.

My sisters and I remember Doc Hammonds as gruff on the outside but soft on the inside with a heart of gold. He was a very religious man who would sit in the yard for hours reading the Bible. We lived across from the Hammonds for ten years or so, but had known him even earlier when he would visit Mr. Johnson, a lay preacher and neighbor at our previous address. Doc always plowed his gardens by horse, and in addition to the large one in the grove he always had a smaller one in the vacant lot beside his house. He would often leave a bag of fresh vegetables on our front porch without knocking; he knew we'd find it. He never seemed to do it for money or even thanks, but because that's what he felt neighbors should do.

Larry Conley lived near the grove and remembers it well. "Before the park moved in, Doc always had a bunch of hogs out near the river. He would have the neighbors save food scraps for them and he'd go around collecting it with his slop buckets." Conley left the area for a while and then came back and began a career in public service. In 1991 he retired as Belle's police chief after 27 years with the department, and is now in his third term as mayor.


Joyland Park

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 aging equipment.

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 adults.

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 world."

***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 North Carolina.

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 flexibility.

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.

 

 Very rare photos of some Joyland Park rides

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The wonderful photos above are courtesy of  Barb Judy Casto.  The little boy is her brother Ronnie Judy.
The first photo shows them sitting on a horse that was part of the famous"PTC # Sixteen" Carousel. ( See
more on this below)  The second photo shows Barb riding the smaller Carousel for little kids.  The boat ride
photo clearly shows the parks miniature train tracks in the background, while the Ferris Wheel can be see  in
the background of the bottom left photo.  




Joyland Park Horse

These two photos show one of the horses from the Joyland Park carousel.
The
carousel has been featured in Carousel News & Trader using information
from this webpage,  and this horse is owned by Barbara Williams.

Joyland Park Horse

Photos by Jordan Williams

The Carousel

Philadelphia Toboggan Company
The article at the top of this page mentions that the carousel was manufactured by a famous German
company, which is incorrect.  The carousel was in fact #16 by an American company, the "Philadelphia
Toboggan Company".  Carousels from PTC represent some of the finest examples of carousel art in
America. . PTC was founded in 1904, and made amusement park rides until 1941.  PTC manufactured,
or “re-manufactured”, a total of ninety-four carousels.  Most of the horses and other figures were carved
by hand.  The Joyland Park #16 was 46 feet in diameter and every horse was different and all hand carved.


The Joyland Park carousel started life in Cleveland Ohio. It was there from approx 1907 to 1909.  
After that park closed,  the carousel was moved to Muncie Ind. in 1909.  No one's sure how long it was
there, but it then turned back up on record in Cleveland in 1929.  From 1930 to 1954,  the carousel is
once again lost.  But in 1955,  it turns up at Joyland Park in DuPont City.  It was there through 1958
until the park closed  and was moved to Topeka Kansas.  It worked there from 1958 until around 1965
when the last move was made:  This time it went to the famous "Pirates World" in Dania Florida, 15 miles
from Miami.  Between 1965 and 1975, there were many storms and hurricanes in Florida.  These finally
took a toll on the park and Pirates World was closed.  In the process of cleaning up and clearing the land,
many things were simply burned as rubble, including  PTC #16.  Only a few pieces were salvaged,
including the horse in the above photo.                   Information supplied by Carousel News & Trader.









THE END OF THE PARK

Final note:  I can remember Joyland Park like it was yesterday.  My mom took me there several times,  and I remember it was always dark when we went... never daylight.   I also remember the day the child got killed by the train, although by the time that news trickled down to us kids,  it was a little girl who was run over instead of a boy. The boy in question was William Andrew Slate and he died June 16, 1957 at 7 years old.  He is buried at Ward Cemetery.



Joyland Park


Joyland Park


Joyland Park


Joyland Park

The thing I find interesting about this accident is that fact that Fenroy Lynch,  a well known Black man from the Rand area  (also known for many brushes with the law) was the engineer of the train on this day.  I know people who knew his reputation very well, mostly for bootlegging & gambling.   Be aware that I'm not placing blame on him for the accident,  just that he was an odd choice to be given such a job at the park in my opinion. I mention he was Black because he was in charge of one of the two most prestigous rides the park had to offer.  When all you ever hear about is racism,  it's interesting that he  was given such a sweet position (as far as the park went)  in 1957.



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