Growing Up in Kennywood’s Backyard #NaBloPoMo2019 #NaBloPoMoPgh

The PromptKennywood is a very unique regional resource. Most people do not have fully realized amusement parks so accessible. Did you visit Kennywood as a child? What is/was your favorite ride? 

I grew up in West Mifflin, home to Kennywood. It was so much a part of my childhood.

We went to Kennywood as often as our budget allowed. Back in the day, admission was free and you bought tickets for rides. So our grandparents and aunts and uncles could come along for the day without paying a fortune to watch us ride the rides. In high school and college, we would ‘go to Kennywood’ to take advantage of that free admission and hang out with our friends – munching on some Potato Patch fries, maybe indulging in a ride or two, and generally hanging out in a family friendly environment.

It was affordable enough for my parents to occasionally just swoop us up and head over for a few hours of riding fun. They both had also grown up with Kennywood, albeit a bit further away and had their personal favorite rides.

Back then, companies had picnics at Kennywood. My father’s steelmill AND his union had picnics we often went twice. My parents would pack a big cooler with sandwiches, snacks, beverages, and so forth. We would put in on a table in the designated pavilion and head out to ride. No one stole anything. Then we’d come back to eat, visit, etc. In the evening, my Dad would take us to play games with a very strict limit on how much we could spend. We never bought souvenirs and rarely paid for drinks or food. It just wasn’t what we did.

In later years, his company would have prizes and bingo games and more. My friend John came one year and won a $100 gift card. It was a magical time.

My favorite rides have always been the Racer, Jack Rabbit, and Merry-Go-Round. I don’t like the super hi-speed roller coaster or rides that make me spin too much. I did used to like those rides, especially the Caterpillar and the Round About.

Nowadays, we never go to Kennywood. It is just too expensive. Laura and I don’t have a lot of ride overlap so we need to go with a group to find riding buddies – she likes to spin and hates roller coasters. But our extended families don’t tend to invite us so years have passed since we’ve last been there.

I’d like to participate now in an adults-only Kennywood excursion with friends. But I know it will be letdown especially at $187/person or whatever hideous price they charge. I don’t want to ride speedster rides. I just want to wander to where things used to be (RIP Log Jammer) and enjoy some fries and have a nice afternoon. And ride the rides I like with or without Laura.

Another perhaps unique bit of history is that I am one of very few West Mifflin kids who did NOT work at Kennywood. I worked at Century III Mall in the foodcourt and made more money so I never thought to transfer. My childhood friends who worked there have a special bond. Not so much with the former food court employees. My cousin’s friend Rich went on to work FT for the holding company and for all I know, could still be there. He used to travel to purchase the prizes, a job I thought sounded pretty damn cool.

Kennywood 1916
Pittsburgh Daily Post
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sun, Jul 16, 1916 · Page 32

I discovered recently that my 2x great grandmother, Sadie Butler Kerr, was involved in organizing Kennywood excursions for her fraternal association in the 1910s and 1920s. I had heard stories from my grandparents about going to the park in their childhoods during the 20s and 30’s but I had never given a thought to older generations. Kennywood was founded in 1898 so it makes sense that my 2x great grandparents and their families would have attended – it was created as a distraction for steel workers after all.

There’s a bit of family lore that my maternal grandmother (1916-2009) dated a Kennywood owner for a bit in the 1930’s but she never really expounded on the details.

So it is fair to say that historical Kennywood is more relevant to my day-to-day life than current Kennywood. I am aware of how unique our experiences have been to grow up with this park right here in our backyards. And I hope I get one more shot to ride the wooden roller coasters.