Re: Playland Memories from a Whitney family relative owners of Playland

05/02/04 - posted by david hammarstsrom

Your messages evoke so many rich Playland memories!

My father's family worked over there. My Uncle Smitty (William Smitt), some of you may know, managed the Big Dipper, and once told me the Whitney's had real problems at first installing the fun house slides, and he offered to fix whatever the structural problem was. He also tuned up the merry-go-round and other various organs. He was dubbed "the ghost of Playland" by Herb Caen. A kindly man whom, whenever in later years my Mom took me, my brother and sister down from Santa Rosa, where we then lived, back for a day at Playland, would invariably make the trek to a hall closet, reach up and secure a long strip of free tickets for us all.

My dad, I was told, installed (or maintained) electrical scare devices on the Laugh-in-the-Dark and the Dark mystery, and was a general part-time electrician for playland. Through the war years, we were serenaded daily by the rackety roar of the coaster trains just across the street. Sometimes on my way home from school, I'd see my dad inside the Dipper, hammering nails into make-shift boards and waving to me and my sister.

Remember the old house that once stood in the shadows of the now restored North Windmill? we were rasied in it. My grandfather from Sweeden had kept the windmill going, and also was an artist. My dad took over, tending to the grounds. My Mom likely met him at Topsy's Roost. Two weeks later, they were married. Hasty, yes, but had it not happened, I might not be sharing these memories!

Favorite Playland memories: the time my uncle allowed me to ride the Big Dipper about eleven times before hinting it was time to get off; That fabulous fun house -- a great one even till the bitter end when the park looked like a trasy hand-me-down carnival to oblivion. The slides we ran up endless boards to reach, and the whizzing thrill sailing downhill to the uncertain stop. The greasy machinery smell and the crackling static of the Dodge 'Em Bumper cars. That old crazy house, where, inside, the illusions made you feel the rooms were all off kilter and you were walking up and down walls; Chute-the-Chutes, in a small boat, placidly wandering around a bend, then suddenly plunging into frantic darkness -- wow! The It's It, the old Tumble Bug (I think that's what it was called); the surreal cold fourth of July's on that frigid chilly sand across the street -- before I had any idea there were such a thing as warm weather. Salt Water Taffey; the epic dark-ride atmosphere of the Laugh in the Dark.

Let's not forget the magnificent Suttos, even in decay -- entered down a wonderfull long stairwell to a frilly Victorian mansion of lost glorious yesteryears. The Ice rink, and the oddball P.T. Barnum attractions.

Nor should we ignore the late great Skateland-at-the-Beach, and the rush of fresh Ocean fog that greeted you upon exit, then up the street to the pie place, where we laughed our heads off. What a civic tragedy that Playland should ever have been torn down. Credit that oh-so-progressive city that knows how. Look what sits there now. In boring sterile concrete, the very opposite.

Oh, what a bizarre & enchanted childhood!

I can almost hear Laughing Sal cry...

David Lewis Hammarstrom
Oakland

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