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
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
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