...And That's My Opinion©

By Sandy Goldman

The Rogers Park Community Curmudgeon

When The Carnival Came To Town

Another in a series of Rogers Park yesteryears

(The last names of community participants have been omitted to protect their adulthood and to avoid embarrassing their children.)

It was 1968 and to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Rogers Park the Rogers Park Community Council (RPCC) decided to resurrect a lost tradition, the long gone Hi Neighbor Day Festival. This time it would be a three-day affair consisting of a carnival, an art show, a parade down Sheridan Road, a Jr. Olympics Contest with bikes awarded to the boy and girl champion (remember this was the sexist 60’s) and it would end with a Sunday night musical performance on Loyola Park’s ball field by St Jerome’s Teen Club under the direction of Father Hughes.  Maggie was the Chairman.  It repeated the next year with Bob as the Chairman. 

It was a gala weekend. It was successful and it was glorious. Anyone who was there will remember.

Only the carnival survived. It repeated for the next twelve years and once more in 1983 and almost always on Memorial Day holiday—sometimes seven days and sometimes ten days. People loved it—patrons and workers alike. The workers were community residents.  It was labor intensive but it was high intensity.

Carol personally called and organized 300 local people to work various time slots on various days. Some worked every day, all day. Carol’s phone call became known as the “Rite of Spring” call.  They came from all walks of Rogers Park…politicians, policeman, firemen, doctors, teachers, business owners, bankers, students, community leaders and every day citizens. The names of the regulars resonate in the halls of Rogers Park history: Fred, Jim, Harry, Jean, Lori, Penny, Sally, Bindy, Richard, Shirley, Polly, John, Forrest, Joel, Betty, Burt, Tom, Sue, Rick, Mary Avis, Patricia, Dave, Edith, Grady, Donna, Bea, Sheila, Homer, Ken, Norma, Nancy, Lee, Woody, Neil, Berny, Art, Paul (three of them), Patricia, Tobey, Mary Jo, Rich, Patrick, Carl, Maggie, Bob, Diane…everyone but the Mayor. But then, we did not ask him. There is however a very wonderful photo in my possession of Mayor Richard J. Daley presenting a proclamation declaring Hi Neighbor Day Weekend to the Hi Neighbor Day committee.  The list, of course, is much longer. I apologize to those not mentioned.  Some who volunteered still live in Rogers Park, some have moved away and others have passed away.

We all became part time “carnies”. We learned to run the games called “joints”. We knew the odds and we figured the leverage. The ride owner, who was called “The Iron Man”, would operate the rides but we sold the tickets. The “joints” (with some exceptions) were ours.

John, Pat and his kids took charge of the milk bottle toss, Don the dart game. Charlotte and Edith manned  the RPCC information booth. It became “HQ Central” and it handled both the roses and the brickbats. George ran the jar games, the Hooligan joint and the Pot of Gold in a row of interconnecting trailers with stools on the outside.  He became known as the King of the Pot of Gold. His pitch was pure finesse. Bill and his gang from the Public Trough (a long-gone watering hole) operated our very own invention, the Astrology Game. There were none better than Elisabeth, Jimmy, Sandra, Marv, Steve, Barb and Shirley at the Birthday Ball game – except maybe me!  Ken worked everywhere. There was also the basketball toss and the nickel pitch.  Dolores presided over the food wagon, dishing up hot dogs, polish sausage, Italian beef and whatever else she could/would conjure up. J.B Pizza donated slices of their superb product for resale. None better!

For several years Fred orchestrated the Hi Neighbor Day parade—the best community parade on the North Side. It was complete with a Marine color guard and the Great Lakes Naval marching band along with the bands from several north-side High Schools.  There were colorful floats from city departments, as well as community, industry, and business organizations and the Jessie White Tumblers and the Rev. Paul Hall’s Drum and Bugle Corps. People watched from both sides of Sheridan Road waving to the school kids—excited little ones and blasé teenagers—from our district—who rode on floats or walked on foot.  I’m not sure who was more proud, the parents or the kids, or who had more fun.

One year we had an entertainment stage, which was set up in the area of Leone Beach. The humidity from Lake Michigan played havoc with the musical instruments. I think the performers spent more time tuning up than actually playing.

Another time we had a colossal downpour. It was huge. That’s when we learned about six-foot wide squee-gees.

George, the money collector, implored all volunteers to arrange the money so that the men on the dollar bills all faced in the same direction, many of us still think of him when we are putting our money in our wallets.  If the carnival people thought that we were strange, I can only imagine what they thought of George – strange, stranger, and strangest!

Bruce, bless him, brought corned beef sandwiches for the committee from his day job at the deli on Dempster

On the last hour of the last day, the entire committee would ride the Bumper Cars, ramming each other unmercifully to release all tensions and frustrations of the event—most of it was directed at the Chairman. 

The operation came together under the leadership of Jim, Bill, Ollie, George and me. The Carnival ran first for the RPCC where I was chairman and then later in the same summer for St. Jerome where Ollie and Jim were the chairmen and then at St. Ignatius where George was chairman. The funds went to the sponsors but the fun went to everyone.

The names of the rides are inscribed in my memory: the Ferris Wheel, the Parachute, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Himalaya, the Slide, the Zipper, the Trabant, the Octopus, the Bumper Cars, the Merry-go-Round. The rides all went round-and-round or up-and-down. Sometimes both at once! Or so it seemed.!

But the carnival was more than funds and fun, it was a place to gather. A time to come out of our winter caves—to plan, to talk, to discuss, to dispute and to meet new friends. Some couples like Joel and Lisa met and married and some disengaged. Diane fulfilled her stint at a jar game, took a ride on the Ferris Wheel, went home and then to the hospital - where she gave birth to her daughter Katie.

The professional carnies did not understand us. We were a working committee. To say the least, they were confused.  At most, I’m sure, they thought we were nuts. But once, courtesy of our carnival Guru, Harry Mamsch (since deceased), we were invited to attend the Showman’s League of America Convention.  Their first president was Buffalo Bill Cody. That was quite an experience. We tried to be nonchalant and professional but I don’t think that we fooled anybody.

 

We were committed to bringing the best entertainment to the community and we did .We would travel Chicgoland “spying “on other carnivals. Who had what? What was new? What idea could we steal/recreate? We had the best show in the city thanks to our new carnival mentor Steve Thebault who started with us and built Astro Amusements from a small family owned and operated business into the colossal carnival conglomerate it is today. Still family owned and operated .Bernie Braun of Braun Enterprises supplied us with tents, trailers and  toys, along with good advice. He never let us go wrong.

 

They always enjoyed coming to Rogers Park. It wasn’t just for the Lake!

 

But most of all it was great because of all the people who volunteered and worked all those “daze” for fun and camaraderie.

 

We taught them to be “carnies who cared”.

 

Everybody loved it…when the (“our”) Carnival came to town.

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...And that's my opinion.

And I'm Sandy Goldman

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