For just a moment, “ laugh your troubles away”, savoring Chicago’s Riverview Amusement Park. Among others, please thank two bakers and an architect, now buried in our Chicago area cemeteries, Graceland, Oakland Memory Lanes in Dolton, and Eden Memorial Park in Schiller Park.. One of those men had a special connection to that iconic 225 foot long “Shoot the Chutes” and it’s two creaky elevators.
For those of us who are old enough to remember, Riverview was our beloved go-to park for many years. Once billed as the world’s greatest and largest amusement park, it reigned supreme from 1904 to 1967.
Wilhelm (William A) Schmidt, born in Germany in 1851, he first founded the William Schmidt Baking Company at 75-81 Clybourn Avenue (old numbering system).. He then opened Schuetzen Park, a German sharpshooter park and picnic grove on Western Avenue between Belmont and Addison which quickly expanded with dozens of rides, a ballroom and a roller rink.
The names of the earliest rides are not very familiar to us. There was the 1906 Tickler, “Creation”, Spooktown, The Mill on the Floss (later the tunnel of love), Bughouse, The 1908 “Fight of the Little Big Horn”, Thousand Islands, Hellgate, Battle of the Monitor & Merrimac, the 1907 “Great Train Robbery”, and the Eye-Full Tower.
William died on dec 12 1924 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery, Section N, lot 120 along with his wife Wilhelmina Wagner Schmidt (1857-1925).
Riverview was all about coasters. In 1926, two years after Wilhelm died, The Bobs became the most feared and fastest roller coaster in America. But it was only one of 26 named roller coasters. There were seven at the end of Riverview’s life. They were : Aerial Coaster (also known as Pottsdam Railway) 1908-1910, Big Dipper 1920 (later renamed Zephyr in 1936 in homage to the real railroad train the Pioneer Zephyr and finally renamed to the Comet in 1940), Blue Streak 1911-1923, Bobs 1924-1967, Cannon Ball 1919-1925, Derby Racer 1909-1931, Skyrocket 1923 to 1935 then Blue Streak (1936 to 1958) finally rebuilt as the Fireball 1958-1967), Flying Turns 1935-1967, Gee Wiz 1912 (renamed Greyhound in 1913 until it’s end in 1963, Jack Rabbit 1914-1919 Jetstream 1964-1967, Kiddie Bobs 1926-1934, Pikes Peak Scenic Railway 1907-1911, Pippin 1921 (renamed in 1938 to the Silver Flash and then finally renamed Flash i1961-1967), Royal Gorge Scenic Railway 1908-1920, Top 1907-1916, Velvet Coaster 1909-1919, White Flyer 1904-1920s, and lastly the Wild Mouse 1958-1967
And then there were all the more recent attractions that we remember, Aladdin’s Castle, the popular fun house with a collapsing stairway, mazes and turning barrel. The Rotor, Hades,, The Scout and the Chief miniature trains, the 300 banjo lights, Tilt-a-Whirl, The Whip, The Pair-O-Chutes, Monkey races, and the Caterpillar. The freak show unforgettable with the the Four-Legged Girl, the Armless Wonder, the Mule-Faced Woman.
Wilhelm’s son George Alvin Schmidt (March 22, 1885 – July 3 1957 ) and Wilhelm’s Grandson William Blanxius Schmidt (August 3, 1913-June 21, 1993) continued the operation of Riverview . On the east side of Western Avenue, his son opened George Schmidt Motors. selling new Sunbeams and Hillmans and other British cars. George Schmidt introduced the foot long hot dog. There was for a time the Riverview Speedway near Addison and Western hosting midget car races. Forty acres in this area were later sold to the Chicago Board of Education for Lane Technical High School.
Shoot the Chutes was that imposing Riverview icon with an interesting history. The idea first appeared in 1884, when J.P. Newburgh introduced the world’s first dedicated water ride on the side of a hill in Watch Tower Park in Rock Island, IL, a 500 feet long greased wooden ramp and boats that slide that skip across water. A boatman would ride down with the boat and after it settled, would pole it back toward the ramp, where a steel cable would pull it back up once again.
In 1894 Captain Paul Boyton (born June 29, 1848 Rathangan, County Kildare, Ireland — died Brooklyn, New York April 19, 1924), brought the idea to Chicago with his “Paul Boyton’s Water Chutes” located at Sixty-third Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, near the site of the former World’s Fair Midway. That park featured Chicago’s first miniature railroad, two roller coasters, a giant swing, merry-go-rounds, and smaller attractions on a 7 1/2 acre plot. The improved and patented Shoot the Chutes consisted of large flat-bottomed boats that slid down a ramp into a lagoon.
In 1895 Paul Boyton left Chicago after only one season to open a second water and animal park on 16 acres of land called Sea Lion Park on Coney Island.. It would later become Coney Island Amusement Park. His Chutes, and his sea lions were a big hit. In 1902, Boyton sold Sea Lion Park to Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy, who redesigned the park and renamed it Luna Park, the first of many of that name to come.
in 1896, he relocated the Chicago chutes to the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Kedzie Avenue on the west side which went out of business at the end of the 1906 season. He needed a new home for his ride.
Chutes park president Charles Randall Frances was granted the concession to build Riverview Park’s colossal Shoot-the-Chutes ride. It was constructed in 1907 as an outside concession by Paul Boyton On April 22, 1908, the last remaining rides and fixtures of the Jackson/Kedzie chutes were sold at auction.
The architect for the Riverview Chutes was Richard Julius Brenne, born May 8 1869 in Haspe, Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Mr Brenne was an accomplished architectural engineer. He also was a Vice President at Otis Elevator and designed the push button elevator. No doubt he focused his skill on the two elevators that raised the boats to the top of the ride.
Married to Caroline Kragel, Mr. Brenne also designed and built the Nazareth Evangelical Church 2618 N Talman Ave along with its parsonage, Glade Memorial Hall and School/Office Bldg. He died 4 June 4, 1938 and was buried in Eden Cemetery. On a personal note I am proud to have him as a distant relative
The Riverview chutes were an instant success, and Paul Boynton then franchised other Water Chutes in San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia and elsewhere. Others, simply copied the idea.. Soon there were chutes of varying designs and sizes all over the United States as the amusement parks spread rapidly across America.
After a rehab in the 1920s, the Riverview chutes sign and the monster mouth were removed. The beautiful globe lights that lined the outside of the Chutes were replaced with more average looking lamps running down the center of the ride.
Lastly we remember and celebrate Richard Borin , May 2, 1916 – May 4, 1975. We all knew him as Richard / Dick “Two Ton Baker”, the jovial commercial spokesman for Riverview. He would ride the Wild Mouse and the hot rods telling us of the “Two miles of glorious midway”.
But he was much much than that. He was an accomplished and prominent singer, pianist, entertainer, and radio and television personality in a long career spanning 1938–1973. . Richard Borin took on his mother’s maiden name, Florence Fay Baker, becoming Dick “Two Ton” Baker, a prominent Chicago radio and television personality for three decades. Baker’s full-time professional entertaining career included a job as a disc jockey at radio station WJJD a “One Man Show”, part of WGN-TV’s grand opening show on April 5, 1948, the Wonder House, a puppet program and a children’s television show The Happy Pirates. The next day was WGN’s first full day of programming which included Baker’s show.
Later in life he returned to Chicago’s night clubs, the Ivanhoe Restaurant from 1965 until 1970.then Mangam’s Chateau in Lyons. He shared billing with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Gene Krupa, and George Shearing. Baker died in Hazel Crest, Illinois on May 4, 1975. He was cremated and his cremains were scattered Oakland memory lanes.
As you recall our own memories of Riverview, thank Schmidt, Brenne and Baker for their contributions. The Shoot the Chutes ended along with the rest of Riverview Park on September 4, 1967. RIP.