Washington Square - family eating water ice

Part of family summertime fun can be as simple as enjoying a Philadelphia favorite: water ice. — PHOTO: P. Woolsey for Visit Philadelphia

If you have not noticed, let me suggest that you take a peep at the calendar. You will see what some of my colleagues have been saying to me; this summer is moving along fast, very fast!

We are now in the middle of August and many of us are wondering where the summer has gone. A friend asked what I had done this summer and if I had done nothing, what are my plans for the rest of the summer. Well unlike the past I have done nothing and have no plans for a vacation or fun-related activities this summer.

This conversation with my friend quickly took me back in time to the many fun-filled activities in which I engaged with family members and friends as a youth during the summer months. I have not engaged in most of these activities for many years.

So, going back in time in this column to resurrect the fun I had during past summers was a special trip. It enabled me to embrace many of those good old summer days that I enjoyed and were very special, back in the day.

While I have many fond memories of my activities of past summers, no memory sticks out more than our family bus excursions to Coney Island, in a Brooklyn, New York neighborhood.

As a child, no summer fun activity was more exciting or more anticipated than a trip to Coney Island? For my siblings and me, Coney Island was the granddaddy of all amusement parks. The rides were more challenging than other amusement parks that were around, back then. How could I forget the parachute ride? The parachute ride consisted of a trip at least 10 stories up in the air and then a free fall, stopping a few feet from the ground.

Then there was the Steeplechase, a ride on racehorses that moved swiftly from one end to another. The giant sliding board was another favorite. Finally, there was the most frightening roller coaster of its era, the Cyclone. It was viewed as being scary and quite dangerous. I avoided getting on this ride, even as I grew older.

Then there was Woodside Amusement Park that was in the vicinity of Belmont Avenue and Ford Road. Some of you know this section as “Five Points.” More than 60 years ago, many of us had the time of our lives at this amusement park.

Do you have memories of riding the “open-air” trolley, from 44th Street and Parkside Avenue or from 33rd and Dauphin streets, through wooded Fairmount Park to Woodside Park? It was as exciting as the amusement rides.

Some of you may remember the funhouse, “It’s a Scream” with the large female mannequin that laughed and laughed as her eyes and stomach rolled from side to side and her arms gestured with a shaking motion. Do you recall that our parents paid for each ride from a strip of tickets that had been previously purchased? Each ride required a specific number of tickets. You may also recall that the lines were very long. Some of you may remember the motor boats, bumping cars, its Ferris wheel or the park’s famous roller coaster, “The Wildcat.”

I simply stood at the fence surrounding the roller coaster and listened to the screams of the riders as it plunged from its high points, back in the day.

While Woodside Park was a big favorite of many families desiring to experience summer fun in the past, a trip to Willow Grove Park, later known as Six Gun Territory, was viewed as a step up in terms of excitement. If you were around, back then, you cannot forget the number 55 trolley ride up Easton Road to Willow Grove Park? For anyone who is unaware of the location of Willow Grove Park, a trip to Willow Grove Shopping Mall today will answer that question. This park had many of the same type of rides that could be found at Woodside Park. However, some rides were unique to this park. The Toboggan was a big attraction. The park had a number of lakes, the largest covered an area of four acres and was used for boating, an electric launch and rowboats for those who wished to take to the water. Some of you will undoubtedly recall its roller coaster, The Thunderbolt. This roller coaster was far more frightening than the Wildcat of Woodside Park. Thus, I still stood at the fence surrounding this ride and listened to the screams of the riders, back in the day.

Interestingly, we had “big fun,” in our own backyard other than Woodside Park and Willow Grove Park. How many of you have memories of the Smith Playground that was at 33rd and Dauphin streets? Do you recall its cookout area that had a giant sliding board?

Back in the day, there were other summer fun activities for families. Something as simple as an outing in Fairmount Park or swimming trips to Gustine Lake or to League Island in South Philadelphia were options for families.

These trips had the additional benefit of bonding with family members while also having much fun. Not really in our backyard but across the river in New Jersey was another park that some Philadelphians visited. I never visited this park, but I have heard some of my older family members speak with fond memories of a ferry ride along the Delaware River that would take them to Soupy Island in Red Bank, New Jersey.

There was swimming in two large pools. There were also swings and large sliding boards. I am told that at noon, everyone would line up at the “soup kitchen” window for soup and crackers. Then there were the trips “down South.” For many of us, our only summer fun was a trip down behind “the cotton curtain” where our parents and grandparents once lived.

A number of you relaxed during the summer in Atlantic City and Wildwood. When we were not walking the boardwalks to get on rides and to purchase fudge candy, cotton candy, apple taffies and other goodies, we spent time on the beach. The beach was not for me. I avoided the beach in the past for the same reason that I do not enjoy going on beaches today; sand seems to stick with me and ends up everywhere once I arrive home. But, as a college student, like many of you, even though I was a Kappa Man, summer fun meant the annual trip to Atlantic City to participate in Omega by the Sea. We had big fun on “Chicken Bone Beach” and I mean big fun. Summer fun in the past also meant participation in those neighborhood games that many of us played. If you were around in the 50s and 60s, you may recall games such as Baby in the Air, Kick the Can, Blind Man’s Bluff, Wall Ball, Dumb School, hopscotch, double-Dutch and Hot Bread and Butter. But, as many of you may recall, the summer fun of the past always brought out memories of playing Half Ball. Of course, summer fun of the past cannot ignore the days in which we turned on the fire hydrants to wet our feet or to get under it completely to cool our entire bodies, back in the day.

Today, one still sees the Good Humor Truck in neighborhoods. It seems that these trucks were everywhere when I was growing up. More desirable, however, than the Good Humor Truck, were the snowball vendors that pushed their carts through our streets. There were also stores where water ices were sold. But those water ice vendors were associated with the fun that many of us had in the past. I can see the men pushing their mental scrappers over a block of ice, putting the ice chips in a cardboard, cone-shaped cup and then pouring some of their homemade flavors over the ice chips. This was clearly a summertime experience. I cannot leave memories of summer fun without touching on house parties. Yes, some of us have gatherings at our homes during the summer that we call cookouts. But, a nighttime, summer house party, in a basement with a red light was indeed special, back in the day.

Clearly, I will not get to do these things this summer. But, because of my memories and love of summer activities of the past, I am going to turn my thoughts to plans for next summer. I shall start by placing this column under my pillow, hang in on my refrigerator and also under my computer keyboard with the intent to experience most, if not all of these summer fun memories next year; those fund activities that I experienced, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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