Amusement Park Games a/k/a the “Penny Arcade”

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I’ve previously written about amusement parks, focusing on the rides. The rides were only part of the fun times baby boomers and their families had at the park. In addition to the amazing food (almost exclusively junk, but the best tasting junk on earth) some parks also had swimming pools to enjoy. My parents liked playing bingo, but it was a little slow for me. I liked spending time in the penny arcade even though nothing ever cost a penny.

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There’s not a lot of research published about the penny arcade games that provided anything more than we already knew. I did however discover that Americans consume seven billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions provided that information.

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Amusement park games were “pay per play ” games of chance (not skill?). They cost between from a nickel to a quarter to play depending on the game. Most offered a small prize or tickets that could be accumulated to win larger prizes. The first popular arcade games were shooting galleries, ball toss games, and early coin-operated machines, like fortune-tellers and mechanical music players.

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As I reported in my earlier blog, the parks were in decline at the end of the 1940s due to the cumulative effects of the Great Depression and World War II. When we baby boomers exploded on the scene, the remaining amusement parks rode the boomer wave, and the arcade games kept pace.

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There were two terrific amusement parks near where I grew up in central Pennsylvania, and sadly, only one is still operating. About four years ago, I stumbled into an antique store in Duncannon, PA that occupied a two block long factory where Lightening Glider sleds were produced starting in 1904. Sled production ended in 1988 and the factory officially closed in late 1990. In April 1991, the buildings reopened as the Old Sled Works with 125 antique and craft vendors, a sled museum and a working penny arcade with many of the same games that I played at Knoebel’s Grove or Rolling Green.

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My “helpers,” Judi and Judy, visited that arcade to escape from the February snow, and took the photos I’m sharing in this blog. Please enjoy Judy’s photographic artistry with the games we played.

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Let’s Go To The Amusement Park

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Amusement parks in America have been around since about the end of the 19th century. Following the world’s fair in Chicago, Illinois, the first permanent enclosed entertainment area was founded in Coney Island in 1895. Coney Island was one of the first to charge admission to get into the park and to sell tickets for rides.

Prior to its opening, America’s first carousel was built in the 1870s followed by the first roller coaster in 1894.

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By the early 1900s, hundreds of amusement parks operated throughout the United States. In 1925, San Antonio’s original Kiddie Park opened and it’s still in operation today. After World War II, kiddie parks became a popular addition to the established amusement parks.

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Before World War II and following the Great Depression, the amusement park industry started to decline for a number of reasons, and the land, once filled with happy families, was converted to suburban housing and commercial development. One of America’s most influential amusement parks, Steeplechase Park, in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, closed in 1964 after sixty-seven years of operation. There are other older parks that continue to thrive today including, Kennywood Amusement Park (opened in 1898) near Pittsburgh, Cedar Point opened in 1870), near Cleveland and Hershey Park (opened in 1906) in central Pennsylvania.

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Since I’m from central Pennsylvania, I wanted to mention a few of my family’s favorite parks. Those would be Knoebel’s Grove, Hansons, Rolling Green and Dorney Park. Rolling Green closed abruptly in 1972 after Hurricane Agnes extensively damaged its facilities. Perhaps the most prominent feature of Rolling Green was its dance pavilion, especially the crystal ball that hung above that pavilion. Big bands, including Tommy Dorsey, Buddy Rogers and Fletcher Henderson, appeared in that pavilion.  We baby boomers used to go there during the summer for teenage dances.

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I found an interesting organization, the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA) that is dedicated to the preservation the heritage and traditions of America’s amusement parks. In the state of Pennsylvania alone, there once were 128 amusement parks. Sadly, only eight appear to be still open today.

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A subsequent post will speak about some of the arcade games we played at those parks.

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