Norwood Park - Memories

Columbus, Ohio

Jennifer Bosveld is a local poet, author and publisher, and she shares this essay about Norwood Park:

Norwood Amusement Park - A Significant Chapter in This Writer's Life

Norwood Amusement Park was my private fantasy world as a child growing up on the east side of Columbus Ohio in the 50s. Some days I was one of only three kids there. Mother and Dad worked downtown at Lazarus Department Store (lower management then). So in the summer I stayed with Grandma Sharkey in Bexley (Grandpa was on the road installing telephone stations throughout Ohio and was home for the weekends). My younger uncle (more like a brother) and I were trusted to be out on our bikes as far as we'd like to go. It was a different world. My first stop from Grandma's was often the grounds of Capital University where I'd loop around and around the expansive sidewalks--sometimes alone and sometimes with many friends who have gone on to be fairly well-known Columbus folks. A.J. Myers (surveying) and his sister Ann, Seth Reichenbach (attorney), Danny Sharkey (became president of New Look New View Cinemas in Maryland) and several others.

Some days the group would brave a little farther--several more blocks to Norwood Amusement Park at Alum Creek. Frequently I'd go there with one person, maybe just Danny (I'd be 12 maybe, Danny 9). Here were my first signs of the character I'd become. But I'd often go to Norwood Amusement Park alone, play an arcade game or too if I had dimes and study the rough-faced but kind old men who ran everything. I can nearly remember some faces of the older guys in the back of the park. None of them had bad intentions ever, none of them wolf-whistled the girls, none of them made me uncomfortable. They seemed like down-on-their-luck uncles, doing this work they could get, a work that brought screams of joy and outrageous laughter. I remember my passion, at age 9-13 or so, for wanting to know more about people who would choose to do this work, about people who could afford to live doing this work. As I came of age, 12 or 13 I suppose, I had a brief puppy love episode with a young boy named Tom and then his brother Larry (I don't remember who I buddied around with first or who was the oldest) who lived on Nelson Road. I think their name was Souders or Saunders. I thought they were poor and wonderful. I was wild about them both for an entire summer. I romanticized coming to "the other side of the tracks" (actually right at the tracks) to "play" with them or just talk on the sidewalks, listen to the Big Bopper introduce Young Love by Sonny James and All Shook Up by Elvis Presley on our $12 transistor radios, as the train passed at Nelson Road with its clattering wheels and melancholy moan, and the swimmers hooted it up at the New Sanitary Swimming Pool (it's name at one point). In 1957 I swam in Blueberry Hill, Bye Bye Love, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, Honeycomb, That'll Be the Day, Wake Up Little Susie, Peggy Sue on my radio strapped to my Schwinn handlebars, on the way to Norwood Amusement Park.

The only lives I was ever curious about were the lives of people who had less than we did (we didn't have much; my Mom, Dad, and I lived in a tiny house on Brownlee in Eastmoor; it was only Grandma and Grandpa who lived in Bexley). I've often been curious to know what became of the two boys and others I'd gotten to know at Norwood Park.

A decade later, in 1966 I was a new "housewife" (really), having married an apartment and an Upper Arlington boy, Raoul DeRhodes. At age 19 I felt an emotional tug every time my Main Street bus to a job in downtown Columbus passed Norwood Park. That year they tore up the trolley tracks and then they tore the last of the rides out at Norwood Park and leveled the place. I cried. It was as though someone had erased a page from my past and I had no photos.

My husband today, Rev. Jim Bosveld, is a sentimental pal and promises to walk the tiny scrap of land with me this week before progress takes the concrete slab where the boat ride stood. It is impossible to believe there were once nearly 40 rides and booths there on land hardly large enough for a McDonalds. I can smell the grease from the working parts of the merry-go-round and the metalic aroma from hot steel strikes of the Dodgem cars where we spent most of our time. I hear Let Me Call You Sweetheart from the harsh steam whistles of the calliope that drowns out any Kings Island or Disney World experience. I see the old carney loading us into the Caterpillar and assuring we're safe, waving us off on our long and generous ride (compared to today's 10 trips around).

I went on to become the director of Friends of the Homeless just down Main Street, director or this and then that, Director of Pudding House Innovative Writers Center, and director of my own amusements, life as a joyride, life as a roller coaster (haven't we all). And of all the important places I've gone and people I've met, it is crucial for me to acknowledge that Norwood Amusement Park is one of my most significant childhood memories.

I never went there for the rides. I realize this now. I went there for the people, to step outside of my own too-middle class arena, to talk to people I shared two things with--a hotdog with mustard and this wonderful postage-stamp amusement park on the bridge between those who have much and those who have little.

--Jennifer Bosveld, September 25, 2003

©2003, Jennifer Bosveld. Used with permission.

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