By Karen Patton DeSeve
Above, Robert Hopp, the 9-year-old in the front car on the left, can’t quite let go of his disappointment. He wanted to drive! The “Custer Cars” were not added until after the Audley Ingersoll period of Nat Park history had come and gone, but the ride still captured the “Coney Island” attitude.
“Dear Old Nat” is a 140 page book on Natatorium Park, available for purchase from Nostalgia Magazine.
On March 31, 1907, the Spokesman-Review headline, read: “Ingersoll Gets Natatorium Park.” According to the article, Audley Ingersoll, a member of a large eastern amusement company, would leave all of Natatorium Park’s grounds with two exceptions: the baseball grounds were to continue under Washington Water Power and Jacob “Dutch Jake” Goetz would retain possession of his movie picture stand, Hale’s Tour of the World. Ingersoll had installed some of Natatorium Park’s earliest concessions two year earlier: the Scenic Railway roller coaster (also called a figure-eight) and Ye Old Mill ride.
Ingersoll expanded the park on a grand scale, with the help of his father’s eastern financial backing, and the planned upgrades were anticipated to cost approximately $100,000. A $15,000 enlarged dancing pavilion was built, and Adolph Kirschner was awarded the musical contract. (The pavilion was further enlarged in 1915, as dancing increased in popularity.) The pagoda-style Galveston Flood building, the exterior encrusted with electric lights, was added. This miniature display and miniature model imitated heavy rains, rising water and destruction and loss of homes caused by the flood.
Another new feature was the Darkness to Dawn building, which emulated the “Creation” from the Chicago World’s Fair. Next door was the Foolish House with its twisting passage, moving floor and steep incline. Between the Foolish House and the dining room was a maze called the House of Trouble. The old ice cream shop and coffeehouse, which were located near the park entrance, were transformed into a modern restaurant. The soda and candy stand was rebuilt into a small soda stand with Ingersoll’s office above it, and a separate candy stand was located nearby.
A new and larger bandstand was used every Sunday afternoon and evening and on holidays. Behind the band shell, the Shoot the Chute ran into an artificial lake 200 feet by 80 feet in size. The pool was the centerpiece of the park’s midway. Colored lights lit the bottom of the pool and a lighted 6-foot walkway surrounded its perimeter. Natatorium Park appeared to be in daylight at all time, as the park was lit by 7,500 incandescent and 45 arc lights.
Four black bear were kept in a pen located by Ye Old Mill, and another pen was added for two polar bear that were expected to arrive soon. There were elk from the previous year, and burros that pulled children in wagons or were ridden with saddles.
With plans to replace them in 1908, the bathhouse located at the site of the old hotel were only lightly renovated. Smaller concessions included a shooting gallery with bull’s eye and moving targets, a Japanese ball game, glass blowing and aluminum worker, who made name plates and napkin holders and engraved souvenirs. There were also a Penny Arcade and Laughing Gallery with distorted mirrors.
Jacob Goetz’s Hale’s Tour of the World building was located next to the refreshment pavilion and was almost as large. The building contained two imitation trains, slot machines for pictures and stamps, and a stand that showed moving pictures from all over the world. Show times were 8:15 and 9:45 each evening. The open-air theater could seat 1,200 and was used for two daily performances all summer. Professor George Oakley even offered balloon launches each week.
Ye Old Mill was changed entirely, displaying an inferno and pastoral scene, a Japanese flower garden, an Indian camp and cotton fields, and an artificial menagerie with moving animals completed its special effects. Ye Old Mill also included a hall where a small orchestra played every day. The Scenic Railway continued its 2,200-foot run. Only one injury occurred on the railway and that was alcohol-related, though alcohol was not allowed at Ingersoll’s park. A Lover’s Lane, designed to run along the river toward the old Twickenham Bridge to Fort George Wright, was also included in the park.
Some changes in advertising were apparent as Natatorium Park now took on new subtitles like The Coney Island of the Inland Empire and Modern Fairyland.