Midway Funhouse central fun stage area. Rotating barrel, slide, spinning wheel can be seen in the background. A controller operates devices and supervises from above.

An Amphitheatre, A funhouse, and...Tricycles
Comments by Richard Cook 
The Amphitheatre    
     The ampitheatre was designed by the famous Philadelphia Architect Theophilus Parsons Chandler Jr. in 1890-91. Construction started in January 1891 and it was completed in June of the same year, an amazing feat for the time considering its 206 foot diameter and 80 foot height from the base of the foundations. It had seating for 6000 and room for 2000 more seats, not counting the 500 who could sit on stage. Minehaha Creek flowed under the building and was used as part of the sound system. The cold creek flowing under the warmer building created air currents, these currents were channeled up below the stage and flowed out under the front edge of the stage toward the audience. The idea was that the flowing air would carry the voices of the speakers/performers to the audience, apparently it worked. The ampitheatre was lighted by electric light, a novelty as this was the same year the white house got electricity (1891).
     During the years between the Chautauqua and the amusement park, 1892-1898, the building was used for vaudeville, prize fights, light opera, conventions, etc.... In the early amusement park years it was used for motion pictures and musical performances until it was turned into a funhouse in 1911.
 The Tricyles
     If you look in the photo (above) with the funhouse employee atop the pole at the controls, you will see the tricycle ramp in the background. It looks like a viewing gallery or a deck. The slope is not very apparent but it was enough. The tricycles were only about 12 inches tall, with three wheels, a seat and handle-bars. NO PEDALS! You climbed up to the start, took a trike, pushed off with your feet (or a cooperative friend) and started down the ramp that hugged the inner perimeter of the ampitheatre. The ramp was over 600 feet long and you could build up quite a good speed. Braking was by shoe-power on the wooden ramp. The ride was somewhat popular with kids, but was a real hit with adults, who looked very silly on the tiny trikes. The trikes were there by WWI and continued until the close of the funhouse in 1948. I have been told that neighborhood kids took most of the trikes after the fire marshal closed the Midway at the end of the 1948 season due to rot in the structural members of the flooring. A few said that some of the trikes ended up in the nearby C&O canal.

Above: Stone amphitheatre entrance in use as funhouse during WW1 (1917-1918).

Right: Park employees on funhouse tricycles.

Patrons gather around Human Roulette Wheel to watch riders spun outward from center. Named "The Tub" in this installation, it differs from most such wheels as the entire bowl rotates, rather than only the center.

Move pointer over photo below for more details.

Laff In The Dark gratefully acknowledges the assistance of:

Richard A. Cook, author (with Deborah Lange) of "Glen Echo Park: A Story of Survival"
Peter Somerville
Matthew Caulfield

© Laff In The Dark/www.laffinthedark.com