Chapter VI - Coney Island
A short time after our trip to the Gulf of Mexico, Mom said that she was planning to take us on a picnic at Coney on "School Mate Day". A huge department store called "The Big Store" was one of several companies that sponsored a holiday at the amusement park through out the summer. These were referred to as, "Nickel Days." The Big Store called theirs "School Mate Day". All amusements, rides, and refreshments were just a nickel. Admission was free. The generosity of these sponsors made it possible for many very poor families to enjoy a fantastic picnic adventure that they were unable to afford otherwise.
The mere mention of a trip to Coney Island, on the "Island Queen", was enough to elicit squeals of delight from anyone under eighteen. We literally counted the hours that stood in our way. Finally, the last one slipped past, and it was "School Mate Day." Mother and the girls packed a huge hamper with all kinds of food - fried chicken, potato salad, bananas, apples, bread, lunchmeat and a big jug of lemonade - enough to feed an Army. Dad and Ruth had to work a half a day, but they would meet us in the evening. We all started off to the streetcar line, and caught the trolley to town. It was really crowded. Many people had to stand and hang on to a strap to keep their balance. When I saw all those people dropping dimes into the fare box, I knew right then what I wanted to be when I grew up - a motorman on a streetcar. He must get enough dimes every day to fill a wash tub.
The streetcar clanged, banged and jerked. Every time we went around a bend, the trolley wheel would jump off the electric cable. The motorman had to get out, and go around to the back of the streetcar. He pulled on a rope attached to a long rod that held the pulley wheel, and guided the pulley back onto the cable so we could go.
When we got to the end of the line, we heard strange music off in the distance. Mom said, "That's the calliope on the boat." If you weren't excited by that time, the calliope music really got your juices flowing. The closer we got to the boat, the louder the music became. The crowd of people waiting to get on the Island Queen was unbelievable. It looked as though there were several thousand people bunched up together without room to breathe. The little ones were being almost smothered in the crowd. The deck hands were scurrying about preparing to get underway. Then, the huge gangplank was lowered, and slowly swung to the edge of the wharf. The chain was removed from the gangplank guardrail and the anxious crowd of adults and children moved onto the boat like a herd of cattle.
The gangplank was returned to center of the prow, about five feet above the water. The Captain rang a bell, and gave the signal to get under way. One of the deck hands yelled, "Cast Off!" Then another deck hand removed a big towrope that anchored the boat to the landing. It was called a hawser. The paddle wheels started to turn very slowly, and the Island Queen backed out into the channel. The bell rang again and the paddle wheel came to a stop, and then started to turn slowly in the opposite direction. There was so much to see and do! Mom said we acted like wild animals released from a cage! The one-hour trip up the river seemed to fly by in five minutes.
The greatest thrill for me was the Engine Room. I was totally mesmerized by the huge green arms that slid back and forth, turning the paddle wheel. When the bell rang again, it started another flurry of activity as the deck hands prepared to land. The Island Queen eased gracefully up to the landing, ever so gently, and the gangplank was lowered once again. The crowd was as anxious to get off, as they were to get on. We all walked up to the shelter house. Then we selected and reserved our picnic table for the entire day, by piling our belongings on the table.
No one would contest the reservation of a table. The tradition of "First" was honored by all. Mom gave us our marching orders. Bill and I had to take Bob and Betty to the "Land of OZ", and let them ride several of the kiddy rides. Then we took off in all directions. Our first stop was the Arcade, where all the games had to be played. Then we went to the "Laugh in the Dark". Girls were screaming at the top of their voices. The jets of compressed air, concealed in the floor, were triggered to blow their skirts up around their necks. They squealed as they tried to hold their skirts down. Girls didn't wear jeans in those days.
Ruth and Dad got there in the afternoon, and sat around the table chatting with Mom until us kids started dragging back with a great deal less enthusiasm than we displayed earlier. As the day wore on, people started congregating down on the wharf, anticipating the return of the Island Queen. By the time it arrived, there were a hundred tons of exhausted people waiting for it.
The crowd was propelled onto the boat by the sheer force of numbers. Once on board, everyone was draped over any horizontal surface they could find that would support their weight. There was no sign of the excitement and jubilation that we experienced this morning.
This huge majestic riverboat was lit up like a Christmas tree! She glided down stream, quiet as an alligator. The only sound to be heard was the swish of paddlewheel blades as they dipped into the moonlight on the Ohio River.
School is out, our house was sold and we had to move again, but this time we were moving back to St. Margarets, and many of our old friends. The day they loaded the moving van it was hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk. It was over 100 degrees. I thought the move men were going to die from heat stroke. I'm sure they thought so too. The men were really exhausted when they finished unloading in the new house.
It was a little, white house on Windward street. I didn't see how we were all going to fit into such a small place.
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