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Silver Beach Amusement Park History
Page 3    Page 4 of 6    Page 5

Click photos below
for expanded views

The Midway
Joe E. Brown
Ben Blue
Jean Harlow
The Whip
The Gar Wood
Jumping Joe Savoldi
Chief Terrill and Roberta Drake
House of David
Steamers arrive below the Whitcomb
Park Overview

Next to the Fun House, further down the Midway, stood the "Mirror Maze". When the Fun House was set up, the Mirror Maze was placed under the same roof, and the ice cream parlor was removed. The maze was very much like the mirror mazes of today. The patron would try to find his way to the back of the maze where he could look at himself in distorted mirrors; then he had to find his way out again. A trick used by many children was to look at the floor and not at their own reflection as they walked through the maze.

Further down the boardwalk near Shadowland on the river was a children's ride called the "Caterpillar". It resembled a giant caterpillar and ran along a circular track filled with dips, making the same motion as its namesake. A cover painted in a caterpillar design enclosed the connecting cars as the big "bug" circled the tracks.

Logan Drake's philosophy was to change the amusement park to keep the attractions interesting and up-to-date. He supervised much of the construction himself with his knowledge of boat building, and was able to make the renovations less costly.

Many celebrities came to the Silver Beach Amusement Park over the years. Actors Joe E. Brown (One of comedian Joe E. Brown's proudest claims was that he was perhaps the only kid whose parents encouraged him to run away with the circus. In 1928, he began his movie career, uncharacteristically appearing in turgid melodramas until he was signed by Warner Bros. in 1929. In his popular Warners vehicles, Brown alternated between playing naive young men who made good despite impossible odds, or brash braggarts who had to be taken down a peg or two.) and Ben Blue (From age 15 he was on the New York stage and in Vaudeville, then beginning in 1926 he appeared in a series of silent short subjects for Warner Brothers, Hal Roach, and other studios. One story has it that comedian Red Skelton, after being upstaged by Blue, had a clause put in his contract stating that he would never appear with Blue again.), both of Benton Harbor; fighters Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis; actresses Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Janet Gaynor and Jean Harlow (With her soft come-hither body, platinum blonde hair, and keen sense of humor, is recognized as one of the most gifted and blatantly sensual stars of the 1930s. Harlow demonstrated that she was not only extremely sexy and funny, she was also a first-rate actress and a bonafide star playing opposite some of the industry's most popular men, including Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.) were among the visitors.

The Depression that struck America in the 1930s did not bypass Silver Beach Amusement Park. People still came for outings at the park; only they did not come as often or spend as much money. The G & M and other boat lines that still traveled from Chicago to St. Joseph, while not as plentiful nor as full of passengers, helped the Silver Beach Amusement Park survive the Depression. During this time, the Grigsby-Grunow Co. of Chicago brought 2,000 of its employees to the amusement park for a Friday outing. They were transported by "The Alabama" and the "City of Holland", two Goodrich transport steamers.

Though the pace had been slowed, it didn't stop Drake from expanding the park. The "Whip" made its debut with the park in the early 1930s and caught on fast. Consisting of several coaches rolling along on oval track that would whip the rider around a turn at high speeds, the "Whip" was placed south of the merry-go-round carousel on the beach. Bertha Hopp, employed as a Silver Beach Amusement Park cashier for many years, would often offer to hold the babies of couples so they too could enjoy a ride like The Whip.

Also added in the early 1930s was a 12-14 "bumper cars" attraction called "The Scooter". Housed in a new building with a steel floor, the first cars, though too small for adults, were powered by an electric current from the inside roof of the building to the accelerator of the car. The object was to drive the car around the track smashing whomever the driver happened to come in contact with. But it was soon realized that the original cars were not meant for "bumping" purposes at all, but were to be used as recreational vehicles. New cars were purchased and the bumper car ride remained a crowd pleaser until the park closed.1

The 1930s also saw the slanted veranda-type boardwalk replaced by a cement walkway that increased pedestrian traffic along the games and concessions.2

In 1933 a commodity came to Silver Beach Amusement Park that had never been there before -- beer. Peter Bizanes, St. Joseph concessionaire, constructed a beautiful beer garden at the south entrance of the park, "equipped with chairs, tables, and the most up-to-date bar equipment in this part of the state."3 Drake had successfully prevented a saloon from opening in the beach area, but with the end of prohibition, Bizanes received permission to operate the garden.

The beer garden served sandwiches along with its brew and was a favorite lunch center with the park's employees. Friendly card games often formed in the garden and lasted all afternoon, although gambling was not permitted. Bizanes's beer garden slowly lost favor with the park officials as public drunkenness began to appear at Silver Beach Amusement Park. Most of the patrons enjoyed the garden but a few, who couldn't handle their beer, ruined the atmosphere. Bizanes's license ran out before the decade ended and was never renewed.4

Silver Beach Amusement Park had just about everything in its favor in the 1930s. A fine beach, sheltered picnic area, exciting rides, concessions, games of skill and chance, and a healthy attitude toward recreation. So there is little wonder why the area's pride in the park continued to grow.

The Gar Wood, a high-powered speedboat, made its debut at Sliver Beach in the mid-1930s and patrons stood in long lines for fast rides down the river to the lake and back again. Speedboats were a relatively uncommon luxury in those days and many of the park's customers had never experienced a ride over the water at such a speed. The Gar Wood continued servicing the park until the mid-1940s when it was permanently sidelined for costly repairs.5

Wrestling was one of the big sideshows in the late thirties at Silver Beach Amusement Park, and its popularity carried on into the early forties. An outdoor ring was set up across from the rollercoaster and area wrestlers would conduct challenge matches for the audience. One of the more aggressive wrestlers was a former Notre Dame football player, 'Jumpin' Joe Savoldi, from nearby Three Oaks.6 (In 1931, Notre Dame's famous football coach Knute Rockne described Savoldi as "The best attacking fullback I ever saw!")

Logan Drake had begun Silver Beach Amusement Park more than forty years earlier and, with the help of his brother-in-law, Louis Wallace, elevated the stature of the park to the finest asset of the City of St. Joseph. But Drake was not a young man anymore, and neither was Louis Wallace. By the late 1930's, Louis Wallace sold his share of the park to Drake. Drake needed to find a responsible man to assume his duties and found a willing volunteer in his soon to be son-in-law, Horace "Chief" Terrill, who was courting his daughter, Roberta. Terrill had moved to the St. Joseph area as a boy in 1922 from Denver, Colorado, and soon became acquainted with Roberta and the lakeside park. Terrill appeared to be just the man for the park; he enjoyed seeing people laugh and was full of ideas that would enhance the park's attraction.

His first idea ... more customers off the big passenger ships from Chicago. As the ships pulled into Central Docks, located almost a mile up the river, destination busses greeted them. Most of the buses belonged to Benton Harbor's House of David, while only one belonged to Silver Beach Amusement Park. Although the tourists had passed the park on their way in from the lake, many were swayed to the grounds of the House of David.

As the boats came up the river to the docks, Terrill thought the passengers wanting to stop directly at the park should be able to do so. He constructed a landing to allow beach tourists to disembark from their ships before docking at Central Docks. This way Silver Beach Amusement Park would have the first chance at persuading the customers. Though his landing was quite successful, with the advent of better roads and more automobiles, passenger boats rapidly vanished.

Another critical period hit Silver Beach Amusement Park; only it wasn't the fault of good roads or automobiles. World War II dramatically slowed the pace at the park and at the Shadowland Ballroom. Slowed yes, but a time fondly remembered by such local residents as Betty (Gast) Gaunder of St. Joseph, "Shadowland was the place to be." She sang with the Bob Lewis Band for a year and a half, and met her husband, George who was a lifeguard at the Silver Beach Amusement Park. "Girls in pleated skirts and saddle shoes, and servicemen in uniform were a part of the scene," she recalls. "Gas rationing was in effect, so we shared the ride and came by the carload." Though the park continued to function during the day, albeit slower, the nightlife Silver Beach Amusement Park had enjoyed before the war all but vanished. And after the war, Shadowland never quite regained all the dancing feet it had only a few years before.

Silver Beach Amusement Park Brochure
Appears to be from the late 1960's
~ Click images for expanded views ~
Silver Beach Amusement Park Brochure - Outside
Silver Beach Amusement Park Brochure - Inside

Page 4 of 6
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1 Interview with Horace "Chief" Terrill, December 1975.   [ Back ]

2 Interview with Roberta Drake Terrill, March 1976.   [ Back ]

3 Benton Harbor News Palladium, June 6, 1933.   [ Back ]

4 Interview with Horace "Chief" Terrill, January 1976.   [ Back ]

5 Separate interviews with Edward Schultz and John Wenzlaff.   [ Back ]

6 Interview with Horace "Chief" Terrill, December 1975.   [ Back ]

We credit Alan Schultz, Jeff Terrill, John Wenzlaff, Dennis Burlingham & Michigan History Magazine for the materials necessary to create this chapter in SW Michigan History.

To subscribe, click Michigan History Magazine.


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