— all common sights and sounds at Frontier City.
People from all over visit the western-themed park to experience stomach-dropping thrills and family friendly fun.
The Oklahoma City amusement park was preceded by a number of parks that once spun and jolted riders of yesteryear, like Wedgewood Village Amusement Park.
“It's weird. I can't remember anything I did yesterday,” said Dave Aitken, 51, of St. Louis, “but I sure … can remember” Wedgewood.
Oklahoma City has been home to more than six amusement parks: Colcord Park, the state's first opened in 1902 and was later renamed Delmar Gardens closing in 1910; Wheeler Park, started in 1910 and became the Oklahoma City Zoo, and Belle Isle started in 1908 and closed in 1928.
But, the last three parks may be the best remembered – Springlake Amusement Park, Wedgewood and today's Frontier City.
“The first roller coaster I ever rode was at Springlake,” said Larry O'Dell, 42, with the Oklahoma History Center. “My dad took me on the Big Dipper; it scared me to death.”
Springlake was opened in 1924 by Roy Staton. The park's life spanned several generations. Many like James Matheny, 78, of Lancaster, England, grew up hearing his parents' fond memories of Springlake.
Matheny recalls seeing photos of his father showing off his diving and swimming skills. He said his father sometimes activated the “air spout” in front of the fun house as girls walked by or entertained crowds playing the piano at the dance pavilion.
“[We] enjoyed everything at Springlake,” said Matheny. “It was a safe place ... to roam and just spend a few hours outside.”
John Pannell and family in the 1950s would pack lunch and travel from Holdenville to Oklahoma City to visit the zoo in the morning and Springlake in the afternoon.
“I felt like I was in heaven,” said Pannell, 67, of Shawnee. “The memories I have of those once-a-year trips can't be beat.”
Many Springlake rides had previously been at Belle Isle and included a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, fun house and pool with slides. But the premier attraction was the Big Dipper, a large wooden roller coaster.
“I remember like it was yesterday, going up that first incline. I can still hear the clink, clink, clink of the chains pulling the cars upward,” said Rick Williams, 52, of Oklahoma City. “As soon as you reached the top, there would almost be a deafening silence immediately followed by screams and laughter.”
Springlake hosted many music concerts.
“I remember to this day, sitting on my dad's shoulders and watching the fabulous Johnny Cash perform,” said Greg Johnson, 50, of Norman. “I was 5 or 6 years old. Great memory of the Man in Black.”
Cash, Conway Twitty, The Who and others performed.
Springlake enjoyed 45 years of business, but not all of them golden. The park was plagued with numerous fires, but the most damaging event was a race riot in 1971. Hundreds of young people threw bricks and bottles after a teen fell off the Big Dipper. There were 30 arrests and numerous injuries. Despite ads ensuring the park's safety, attendance dropped.
In 1981, Springlake finally closed. Many of the park's admirers bought memorabilia at an auction. Former employee Danny Burchett, 69, of Oklahoma City said he keeps a sign from the Big Dipper on his living room wall, but that memento isn't his favorite.
“It was one of those busy days because the Righteous Brothers were there. I was on the microphone being silly,” recalls Burchett. Playfully, he asked his co-worker why the horde of girls would want an autograph from the singing duo, but not them. A “cute girl” named Carol broke away from the group and asked him for his autograph. “I wrote ‘Danny Boy' on the back of her hand.”
Danny said Carol, now his wife, still calls him Danny Boy today.
“I never drive down Martin Luther King without looking over where the Big Dipper used to be,” said Lana Henson of Springlake. “I remember riding the rides, and sitting on a blanket by the lake under the stars watching the fireworks. I miss it still.”
Henson said as a young child she swam in the “kiddie pool” and recalls being in awe of the Big Dipper. Her sixth-grade, end-of-school party was held at Springlake, as was her 18th birthday party. Before Springlake closed, Henson took her children there to experience it.
Today the Springlake site is home to Metro Technology Centers, which includes the park's history on its website and displays a few park artifacts on campus.
“It was just an obsession,” said Aitken, who operates a website dedicated to Wedgewood Village Amusement Park. “I'd stay until they had to come and take me out because, at the final clock, I'd go hide.”
Wedgewood opened as a driving range and golf course at May Avenue and NW 59th. Owner Maurice Woods noticed children didn't have much to do while their parents enjoyed the range, so he installed children's rides. He expanded and relocated the park to Northwest Expressway and NW 63rd. The park's name came from combining the names of two golf clubs.
“It was absolutely bare property when we bought it,” said Jane Rodkin, 81, who was married to Woods.
A miniature train was added to the park, which also boasted of Oklahoma City's tallest roller coaster — The Tornado.
Williams recalls his first Tornado ride: “I remember screaming the whole way ... and being terrified; however, when we returned ... I begged to go again.”
Another popular attraction was the swimming pool.
“We were at the pool from the time it opened in the morning ‘til supper time,” recalled Carolyn Cornett Howell, 63, of Okemah. “In that day and age, if you could swim, then there was no danger in leaving kids unaccompanied for the day. That was where I wore my first two-piece swimsuit.”
Crowds also enjoyed the music.
Terry Judah, 59, of Yukon, remembers a summer 1968 performance by The Who.
“The place was absolutely packed,” he said. “We just went from ride, to ride, to ride. We had an absolute blast.”
While on a ride, Judah heard a huge explosion. “All of a sudden this guitar neck with the strings hanging off of it lands literally on the hood of this little car I was driving,” he said. “It scared me half to death.”
The debris was from The Who's closing ritual, which included destroying their instruments. Shaken, Judah let the guitar fall to the ground. He came to regret not keeping the memento.
Barbara Huckabay Crooks, 63, of Oklahoma City remembers seeing The Beach Boys in the restaurant at Wedgewood .
“Several of us girls were sitting talking to them,” said Crooks. “I got up ... and when I came back … [my friend] pulled my chair out from under me and I fell flat on my skinny behind. Thinking of the incident now, after 50 years, brings a smile to my face.”
With admission $1.75 per person, children “lived” at Wedgewood. For many visitors, the park was a second home, and for the owners, the employees were like family.
“It was more of a family-owned and run place,” Rodkin said, explaining her brother and his children worked there. She said Woods also helped two young employees through college and then law school.
Rodkin said 14-year-old Cherri Ingram was allowed to get a bank loan and start her first business as owner of the pony rides.
Racial tension led to the park's decline. Because it was segregated, the park was targeted for sit-ins and other demonstrations by local activists in 1963. Later, it became integrated.
Big name musicians like Johnny Rivers, Johnny Cash and Herman's Hermits kept the park afloat until 1969.
Aitken recalls being confused and “devastated” about its closure. “My dad called Maurice and made him explain to me why they were cutting down The Tornado.”
The park was open only 10 years, but remnants remain, like the pool, now part of the Wedgewood Village apartments.
“I delight in taking relatives ... to the parking lot of T.G.I. Friday's to see the old arched cement bridge that went from the parking lot to the main entrance of Wedgewood,” said Mark Long, 49, of Oklahoma City. “I can almost place myself back in time and see our family walking across the bridge in anxious anticipation of the fantastic day that was in store.”
Kaitlyn Vander, 13, says she likes the theme of Frontier City because “it's like our history — it's Oklahoma” and “they have really good rides.”
The park started out as Boomtown, a replica of an Oklahoma pioneer town, and was built for the state's semi centennial celebration. Jimmy Burge, leader of the committee that built Boomtown, decided to open an amusement park with the same theme.
In 1958, Frontier City opened along Route 66, now Interstate 35. The park featured a haunted farm, mine train, robberies and jails. Initially, guests entered the park for free but paid a quarter to watch the gunfight shows. For Stephen Ball, the gunfight shows have real significance.
“When I was 8 years old, I remember coming here ... and watching the gunfight show,” said Stephen Ball, 38, the park's current manager. He said after joining Frontier City's staff in 1991, he found “they had a bunch of old pictures. One of them was of the old gunfight show … I looked, and there I am in that picture.” Ball now has the photo on his office wall.
For 53 years, Frontier City has survived numerous ownership and management changes, fires and even tornadoes.
Terry Judah said his most memorable visit occurred in 1998 when a twister hit the park. “The people in the park ... rushed into the tornado shelter, but we were in the parking lot,” said Judah, who lay on the ground between cars near an embankment. “The tornado was ... incredible.”
The park closed for a week after sustaining $3 million in damages.
Today, newcomers like Kelly and Leslie Mahans and their daughter, Ashley, 3, are establishing memories of their own. They moved here from Texas a year ago.
“I like the roller coaster,” says Ashley, “it's scary.” The Mahans said their daughter is just tall enough to ride the Steel Lasso.
“The roller coasters they do have are just as good as bigger theme parks,” said Kelly, 33, adding they like the family friendly theme. “The kids' section is just as big as you would find at Six Flags in Dallas.”
Ball said such stories explain why Frontier City has survived its contemporaries.
“I personally believe there's a real magic to the property,” Ball said. “I think the character is probably what's kept Frontier City thriving … It's really captured the hearts of generations of people that came here.”
I was 11, headed to a new life I didn't particularly want and had survived crossing the flooded Mississippi and the race riot emergency rooms of Little Rock in 1959. Then, we rolled out of the old Dodge station wagon at Frontier City. That's the one place in Oklahoma that could have convinced four kids to embrace the Wild West. — Anne Prowell, 63, Alameda, Calif.
My best memory of Wedgewood was when (a friend) and I lied to our parents and went to one of those dances out there. Neither one (was) allowed to go. Linda left her coat and, of course, her mother had put her name and phone number in it. So, of course, we got caught. That is when my daddy told me that I should avoid a life of crime because I would end up in jail. — Linda Ford Mosley, 63, Rocky Mount, NC
When I was in the eighth grade, I went to Wedgewood Amusement Park and saw “The Who” with three of my friends and one set of parents. This was in 1966, I believe. I remember everyone just milling around and commenting on how wild the band was. They were throwing their guitars across the stage, holding on to the cords. My best friend and I wore our hair in “magnetic” rollers on the way up to the park from Pauls Valley and promptly fixed our “dos” when we arrived. We have lamented over the years that we didn't save our ticket stubs. — Marianna Burnett, 58, Wynnewood
As lame as this may seem — I remember a time at Springlake with a friend, as we were riding the Ferris wheel, it overlooked the stage at Springlake. At that time, Bobby Goldsboro was on stage singing — during that time he was sort of a big name. Springlake used to have the summer concerts! And before Frontier City — there was Wedgewood — it was smaller than Springlake, but just as fun! — Marsha L. Chapman, 57, Stillwater
As a kid, (I) had lots of great times at Wedgewood — (it) had a ride called the Wild Mouse — and also at Springlake riding the roller coaster. If memory serves me, it was called the Big Dipper. Also, in those days, Frontier City was so different from today. — Richard Ward, 60, Las Vegas
I remember the excitement of the first time on the Big Dipper at Springlake. As you left the boarding station, it sped through a concrete tunnel before going across the bridge to the first hill. It was really dark and the girls would scream as it went around the corner. There was also an old-style funhouse that you went through called “Laugh in the Dark.” At the end of the ride there were wooden chutes that you slid down into a large open floor. In the center of the floor was a spindle top that people would all pile on. The spindle would then start spinning, throwing people off. Great fun! Company picnics were also fun. We had a lunch and sack race emceed by Ho Ho the Clown! — Todd Pendleton, 47, Goldsby
Back in '81, I was a first-year teacher at Oklahoma Bible Academy. One of my responsibilities was sponsoring the freshman class. For their end-of-the-year party, they chose to go to Springlake. Back then, OBA was quite a bit smaller than it is now. I was also not very organized. I had gotten some kind of show of hand of how many students were going on this trip, and I was confident that they would all fit in one van, which I was going to drive. On the Friday before the Saturday we were to go to Springlake, I had my second date with the woman who is now my wife. I asked her to go along with me to Springlake the next day, which she agreed to. In the morning, we arrived at school along with more students than would fit in the van. Evidently no parents were available to go along because the only option that seemed available was for her to take about five girls with her in a rather boatlike Oldsmobile the school owned. My wife drove from Meno to Springlake with these freshmen girls peppering her with questions about our budding relationship. I knew when she went out with me again after that fiasco that she might just be the right one for me. — David Epp, 53, Sayre
When I was growing up, my family used to come up to Tulsa just about every summer. My cousin and I would gather up our coins and sometimes get money from the folks to go to Bell's Amusement Park. I remember one summer, my cousin had a large jar full of pennies. When we showed up at the gate, he turned out his jar of pennies and amazingly they took those pennies to let us into the park and buy our tickets to ride the rides. — Martha Knight, 55, Oklahoma City
When I was a little girl — I was born in 1958 — my grandmother worked for the Oklahoma Publishing Company. Every summer, OPUBCO would host a picnic for their employees and families. My grandmother would always get tickets for my parents and my sister and I. Thanks for the memories OPUBCO! — Lynne Rieken, 52, Oklahoma City
I am now 60 years old, but I remember as a 13-14-year-old going to Springlake Amusement Park. One of my favorite rides has always been the bumper cars. One day which sticks in my mind was when I had been on that ride about 10 times in a row. On my 11th ride of the day, the announcer said, “Everyone be sure and get car No. 12.” Looking all around the rink that day, I could not locate car No. 12. I leaned over the edge of the car as far as I could and saw with horror that I was car No. 12! Needless to say, my getting around the circle that particular session was very difficult. However, it also has to be said that it was one of (the) most exciting of the day. — Dr. Michael R. Gentry, 60, Cisco, TX
My best memories were when my husband, Larry, and I were going to Springlake and seeing Bobby Vee and Bobby Rydell. We went there to see these two guys the most. We really enjoyed seeing them, and we still love their music. I think the cost to get in to see the music shows was about 75 cents per person. It was great fun. Another favorite memory was the summer of 1965. Larry and I were driving our “new” baby girl around in the car on a Sunday afternoon. Back then, that was a fun thing for us to do to just go out on a Sunday afternoon drive. WKY was the radio station we liked to listen to, and one Sunday afternoon it was announced the DJ was in some parking lot doing a mobile broadcast and he was giving away tickets to see Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, who were going to appear at Springlake. We were not far from the parking lot where the DJ was, and we won the tickets! The concert was a few weeks later, and Grandma and Grandpa Hayer took care of the baby while we went. We had a very good time, and, as always, there was a big crowd there, but the concert crowd was not like they are now. No pushing or shoving, and everyone was pretty reserved during the concert. Everyone stayed sitting, and everyone could see and hear who was on stage. Springlake was such a fun place to go — such great memories. — Shirley Hayer, 65, Moore
When we were in high school, my identical twin sister spent her summers working at Springlake. She worked in the puppet theater and sometimes walked around the park wearing that huge Mr. Springy head. But she loved it. I remember many summer days spent at the park riding the wooden roller coaster and snacking on corn dogs and snow cones! Thanks for reminding me of those carefree summers! — Leslie E. Brown, 47, Enid
Springlake was a family favorite when I was young. The Tilt-a-Whirl and the advanced version was the Calypso. I remember Dad saying the rides that spun like those made him sick. After I reached adulthood they had a similar affect on me. — Terry Galloway, 55, Edmond
When I was 12 or under, I went to Wedgewood to see the Captain and Rin Tin Tin ... It was so exciting to see a real TV star. It made my day. — Mike Major, 62, Grand Lake
I grew up in Hobart, in southwestern Oklahoma in the 1960s and we had Craterville Amusement Park at Lugert Lake, which is now Quartz Mountain. They had probably a dozen or less rides. We went there every Easter with my mom's entire family. They also had outdoor space where they had rodeos and car races. They brought in celebrities to those events. I obtained Little Joe Cartwright's picture and autograph at one of those events. Many great childhood and family memories were made at Craterville. — Recka Lane, 55, Oklahoma City
Having lived in the Oklahoma City area since the ‘50s, I and my family have spent many fun-filled hours in the various parks. As a youngster I went with my family to Wedgewood Village and swam for the first time in the giant pool. The driving range was the first place I ever picked up a golf club. I rode a pony for the first time at Frontier City; and as newlyweds I took my new wife to Springlake Park for our very first fireworks show as a couple over 4th of July in the mid-70s. — Terry Judah, 59, Yukon
I worked for The Oklahoman when we had our company picnic at the park in the ‘70s. I took my nieces to the park and they would have the best time. They lived in Ponca City at the time, and this was a big deal to them, as it was for me when I was their age. — Marcy Cudd, 56, Ponca City
My mother was the secretary to Maurice Woods at Wedgewood Village from 1965 to 1970. Then she went to work at Springlake. Did I have the dream kid-life or what? — Suzan Steed, 57, Oklahoma City
When I was in junior high, we would take our end-of-school trips to Springlake. This was in the late ‘60s. One of my favorite rides was the skylift that went over the lake. My church, St. Luke's UMC, had their summer all-church picnics at Springlake. I think we did this until the park closed. I remember going to the concerts also, seeing Roger Miller and Andy Williams with the Osmonds. My family always went to Springlake for the 4th of July fireworks. They were the best. — Raylene Colbert, 57, Oklahoma City
Wedgewood was my favorite place to go swimming. I remember going there quite often with my mom, her best friend from high school and her son who was about my age. The pool was huge and had excellent diving boards. I enjoyed the pool so much that when I moved away from home, I wanted to move to the apartment complex that now sits where the park was and the pool remains. — Rick Williams, 52, Oklahoma City
When I was in junior high school at Midwest City, our class went on an end-of-school party at Springlake. After a picnic lunch, we went on the rides. I remember four of us girls getting on the Tilt-a-Whirl. After a couple times around, we started singing "Popeye the Sailor Man." The more we sang, the longer the ride controller let us ride. After 30 minutes, he stopped the ride. We could hardly walk, since we were soooo dizzy. — Karan McDonald, Midwest City
Belle Isle Park, which opened in 1908, originally was owned and operated by the Oklahoma Railway Co.
The park housed a swimming area, fishing, pavilions for picnicking and rides.
After 21 years, the park was sold to the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. in 1928. OG&E allowed visitors to use the park for picnicking but soon disassembled the rides after acquiring the land, according to William Boone's book, “Springlake Park: An Oklahoma City Playground Remembered.”
Delmar Gardens emulated the attraction by the same name in St. Louis, where business partners John Sinopoulo and Joseph Marre previously had worked, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society's online encyclopedia.
The encyclopedia entry states the park was near the North Canadian River, now called the Oklahoma River, west from the corner of Western and Exchange.
Stories found in The Oklahoman Archives tell of how the Oklahoma City park had a swing, dancing hall, billiards, target shooting, theater, racetrack, swimming pool and a beer garden.
This early Oklahoma City attraction brought in visitors from all over the country, including Geronimo, Quanah Parker and Buster Keaton, who performed at the gardens with his family “at age three,” according to the book “Born Grown: An Oklahoma City History” by Roy P. Stewart.
Delmar Gardens' success was rocked by prohibition and the area's poor conditions caused by annual flooding that brought droves of mosquitoes. It closed its doors in 1910.
Wheeler Park is one of the longest-surviving amusement parks, known today as the Oklahoma City Zoo.
The park was established in 1902 by James B. Wheeler who donated land from his neighborhood development to the city for a park, according to The Oklahoman Archives. The park featured gardens, a skating rink and a miniature railroad.
Initially, it did not hold a zoo. Only after a deer was donated to the park did the park become a zoo. Most of the park's early inhabitants were donated by locals.
According to “Images of America: Oklahoma City Zoo” by Amy Dee Stephens, The Oklahoman was the first to refer to Wheeler Park as a zoo on Aug. 19, 1903.
Wheeler Park, like Delmar Garden, was near the North Canadian River and had issues with flooding each year. A flood in 1923 finally forced park officials to move the zoo animals elsewhere as the grounds were below 8 feet of water, according to The Oklahoman Archives. Zoo animals were held at the fairgrounds until they officially moved to Northeast Park. Many locals were upset with the move, as the trolley system that took them to the zoo didn't run to the new location. However, a new line to the area was later added.
Orcutt Park was opened in 1907 by Samuel Orcutt. Orcutt Park also had Tulsa's first roller coaster and later became Swan Lake.
Electric Amusement Park opened in the early 1900s in west Tulsa.
Crystal City Amusement Park opened in the mid-1920s next to Electric Amusement Park eventually absorbing it.
Lakeview Amusement Park opened and gave several rides from Crystal City a new home. The park was near the Tulsa Zoo's current location in Mohawk Park.
Sand Springs Amusement Park, another Tulsa park, opened in 1911 and lasted until the mid-1930s.
Skyline Amusement Park opened near Jenks in the mid-1950s and remained open until 1969 when it was sold to a Tulsa liquor distributor. The park was renamed Indian Nations Park and closed in 1970.
Bell's Amusement Park was opened in 1951 by Robert Bell in Tulsa's Expo Square. The park was forced to shut down at the end of the 2006 season when the county didn't renew its lease.
Craterville Park existed in what is now the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. The park was named for a meteor crater in the mountains. The park moved to a different location near Lugert after the refuge was established. The park closed in the mid-1950s.
Eagle Park opened near the now defunct Craterville site. While the park boasted the usual amusement park attractions, it also had more than 20 historic buildings, including Comanche Chief Quanah Parker's 1884 “Star House.” The park closed in 1986.
Doe Doe Park opened in Lawton in 1945. The park was the location of a segregation protest. On July 4, 1966, 200 people led by civil rights leader Clara Luper blocked the park's gates. Although segregation had been outlawed in 1964, the park remained segregated because it was a private operation. Fifty-five were arrested for trespassing. Doe Doe Park closed in 1985.
Dixieland Park in Sapulpa opened in 1927. Traffic from Route 66 kept the park alive until 1951.