Silver Beach Amusement Park History
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Silver Beach Amusement Park fought to stay alive with the hope that the crime and violence in the old park would cease the coming season. But the park was nearly devoid of the thousands who had popularized it in the past decades. Teen gangs shuffled along the midway, spent little money and terrorized customers. In 1971 the concessionaires suffered one of their worst financial years ever.1
Another factor weighing against the park was its age. At least three of the wooden buildings were seventy years old and demanded extensive repair. In addition, St. Joseph's chief safety inspector, Carl Conklin, estimated that $50,000 in electrical wiring & plumbing improvements was needed for the park to open in 1972.2
Terrill did not want to close the park, but felt that more than $50,000 was needed. It was old now, almost too old, and so were the people involved with it. By 1972 there were too many factors against Silver Beach Amusement Park. Left with no other choice, Terrill closed the park.
"We began preparing in the Fall of 1971 for the coming season," stated John Wenzlaff, one of the many concessionaires at the Park. "I drove into Chicago to buy souvenirs and trinkets from wholesale companies just as I had done in previous years. While things had certainly worsened at the Park, you just don't presume that something in operation for decades would suddenly cease to exist." Wenzlaff continued, "When the announcement came to close the Park, I was shocked and stuck with thousands of dollars worth of supplies."
Apparently all of the offers to buy the site either fell through or were too low to suit Terrill, but amusement companies were interested in purchasing some of the rides. The Fun House equipment was sold to a company in Fremont, Indiana; another Indiana firm purchased the Ferris wheel; and Laff in the Dark went to an amusement park in San Antonio, Texas. The merry-go-round carousel attracted the most buyers, including many of the people who had sought to purchase the huge organ years earlier. The historic ride was finally sold to Marianne Stevens of Roswell, New Mexico for a reported $50,000. Stevens warehoused the merry-go-round carousel where it sat, never having been completely reassembled, since it left Silver Beach. The band organ was sold to a dealer in Virginia.
The remainder of the park was left abandoned for three years in hopes that a kind person with money would rescue it, but no one did.
In a 1976 interview, Mrs. Terrill, daughter of the park's founder, recalled, "we knew it was going to die, we just didn't want to believe it. In the early sixties this place was a dreamer's delight, but nothing lasts forever." Terrill added, "you could sense it in the people working here. Age was finally catching up with us."3
The once busy structures stood from 1972 to 1975, quiet except for the imagined sounds brought back from memories of earlier years. The clanging bells on the boats from Kiddieland, the carnival music from the old organ at the merry-go-round carousel, the roar of the go-kart engines, screams from the Whip, rollercoaster, and Laff in the Dark, the sound of wheels rolling over tracks, the clanging of the pinball machines in the penny arcade, and the bark of concessionaires. A walk down the boardwalk was like a walk down memory lane, everything was there if the person thought it was.
Terrill made plans to destroy the park when the city had declared the abandoned buildings a health and fire hazard. The wooden structures fell slowly. The rollercoaster was the first to go and the Fun House and midway soon followed. Though the area was roped off and "no trespassing" signs were posted, it didn't stop a multitude of people from witnessing the destruction. Even then, after the workers had left, couples walked hand-in-hand, like their parents and grandparents had done during the previous decades, only this time it was along ruins.
Every building had a story to tell ...
The Shadowland Ballroom bucked the unfortunate demise of the rest of the Silver Beach Amusement Park by continuing to entertain visitors until the mid seventies. Shadowland Ballroom hosted several famous bands during the late period of its existence. The Turtles, who recorded "Happy Together", played at Shadowland, and in one glorious 2-week period, The Hollies with Graham Nash (Oct. 2nd 1966) and The Kingsmen (Oct. 16th 1966) played the Shadowland Ballroom. The Hollies had just reached their highest plateau on the charts with "Bus Stop", which reached #5 literally a week before they played the show. The Kingsmen were crowd favorites hitting #2 on the Billboard charts with a remake of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie".
Side Note: The Kingsmen thought their 1963 recording of "Louie Louie" was horrible, in fact, what they had thought was merely a rehearsal recording turned out to be the one and only take of the song.
Originally recorded as a demo to land a job on a cruise liner -- which they didn't land, was plagued by several factors: singer Jack Ely had strained his voice the night before learning the song and was singing with braces on his teeth. To make matters worse, the boom microphone in the recording studio was too high for Ely, who had to stand on tiptoe and sing up into the mike. The end result were lyrics that were literally unintelligible.
Early in 1964, sales of "Louie Louie" shot through the roof after Indiana Governor Matthew Welch proposed a ban of the song due to its allegedly "dirty" lyrics. Even the FBI became involved spending two years investigating the lyrics on the Kingsmen's recording before declaring that it wasn't obscene and that it was "unintelligible at any speed."
In the 1980's there was a movement in the state of Washington (started by KING-TV, a Seattle television channel) to change the official state song from "Washington, My Home" to "Louie, Louie," although state lawmakers were reluctant, it came very close. The state of Oregon also tried to make "Louie Louie" their state song.
In May 2005, the song made national headlines once again, after Benton Harbor, Michigan Schools Superintendent Paula Dawning banned the McCord Middle School from performing "Louie Louie" in the Blossomtime Festival Parade.
Scenes from the 1958 Blossom Parade:
Image 1 / Image 2 / Image 3 / Image 4
Ms. Dawning cited what she said were the song's raunchy lyrics as her reasoning. The ban was covered by the Associated Press, CNN, FOX, and countless other new agencies. Ms. Dawning's actions were even spoofed on the Rush Limbaugh radio show as well as Saturday Night Live:
Saturday Night Live (Season 30, Episode 18):
"A school superintendent in Michigan banned the McCord Middle School Band from performing the song 'Louie, Louie,' because of its allegedly raunchy lyrics. The superintendent has also banned the clarinet, because it 'just donít look right.'"
Superintendent Dawning finally relented, just in time for students to perform "Louie Louie" at the parade.
In the summer of 1973, Tommy Shaw -- who once lived in Niles, Michigan and who would later go on to fame in the rock bands Styx and Damn Yankees, played the Shadowland Ballroom in a Chicago-based rock band called "M.S. Funk".
LECO Corporation of St. Joseph purchased the Silver Beach property on November 22, 1977 and several years later, sold it to Berrien County on December 14, 1990. Silver Beach continues to thrive today as the place to go on warm sunny afternoons. There are many summer events and activities taking place where the Silver Beach Amusement Park once stood.
Silver Beach was also host to one of the most popular festivals in all of Michigan -- The Venetian Festival. This four-day annual event, held in late July, brings crowds in excess of 200,000. Venetian Festival events include: lighted boat parade, classic car show, fireworks, and live entertainment with such top-flight musical acts as The Guess Who, Pat Benatar, Survivor, Kansas, Eddie Money, REO Speedwagon, Loverboy, Doobie Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad, Peter Frampton, and many others.
Sadly in September 2011, festival organizers decided to cancel the Venetian Festival. City officials cited the large crowds, street closures, and lack of ample parking as insurmountable obstacles for organizers to overcome in order to continue what had become a summer staple for more than 30 years.
Tommy James & the Shondells also performed at Shadowland. Tommy James, like Tommy Shaw of Styx fame, was also once a Niles, Michigan resident and in the case of James, was a local native. His group is best known for its 1960's singles "Hanky Panky," "Mony Mony," and "Crimson and Clover." "Hanky Panky", Tommy's first million-seller, was recorded in 1964 at the WNIL radio studios in Niles, Michigan. Two years later, "Hanky Panky" burned up the charts becoming the #1 song in the country. Tommy went on to have 23 gold singles, 9 gold and platinum albums, and has sold well over 100 million records worldwide.
Today, the Shadowland Pavilion, constructed in honor of the Shadowland Ballroom and Silver Beach Amusement Park, along the St. Joseph River, is close to where the Ferris wheel and the Shadowland Ballroom once stood.
The St. Joseph 4th of July fireworks is displayed near Silver Beach each year.
In June 5, 1997, an attempt was begun by a St. Joseph organization, the Silver Beach Carousel Society, to purchase the merry-go-round carousel -- returning it to St. Joseph, but the deal unfortunately fell-through. Instead, the historic merry-go-round carousel was sold to an organization in Washington state.
After nearly six years of various fundraisers, the Silver Beach Carousel Society had raised $200,000, with commitments for additional funds, but that wasn't enough to meet what Marianne Stevens was asking for the merry-go-round carousel. Finally in March 2003, Stevens decided to sell the carousel to the Three Rivers Carousel Foundation of Kennewick, Washington.
"My first choice was to send it back to St. Joseph, Michigan," Marianne Stevens told The Herald-Palladium, a St. Joseph / Benton Harbor area newspaper, "I had given them every opportunity." Stevens declined to say how much she received for the carousel but The Tri-City Herald, a Kennewick area newspaper, reported that it sold for more than $750,000.
The Kennewick organization expects to spend $1.1 million to acquire the carousel, finish the restoration and rework the mechanical system to make it serviceable on a daily basis. It will take another $1 million to build a structure to properly house and display it.
The Silver Beach merry-go-round is among the country's 150 carousels that still exist from the approximately 7,000 built during the first half of the 20th century.
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1 Interview with Horace "Chief" Terrill, December 1975. [ Back ]
2 Benton Harbor News Palladium, March 30, 1972. [ Back ]
3 Interview with Roberta Drake Terrill, April 1976. [ Back ]
We credit Alan Schultz, Jeff Terrill, John Wenzlaff & Michigan History Magazine for the materials necessary to create this chapter in SW Michigan History.
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