Funhouse central fun stage area. Rotating barrel, slide, spinning
wheel can be seen in the background. A controller operates devices
and supervises from above.
Amphitheatre, A funhouse, and...Tricycles
by Richard Cook
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
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.
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.
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.
pointer over photo below for more details.
Laff In The Dark/www.laffinthedark.com