West view of the beautiful Terrapin Park Casino.
Photo courtesy Jeff & Christy Little
Two Nickels and Terrapin Park
by Lohr Chinn Varner Duke
“I thought maybe kids nowadays would not know what a nickel is so I asked some at school and they said, “Yes, it’s five cents and you can buy a candy bar”. I checked at my grocer and couldn’t find one for less than seven cents.
Well, anyway, there were these two little girls, Lohr and Helois. They were six and seven, in that order. Lohr was the biggest, Helois was the smartest. Helois, being older and smarter, always got to carry the money, or be the leading lady; in other words, she was the boss.
Today was Sunday and as usual, they were going to the band concert at the Park. They had attended Sunday School and eaten a big Sunday dinner. Still dressed in their best, they were ready to start off on an exciting adventure. Papa had given them each a nickel.
The little girls wore black patent leather, one strap slippers. Long white stockings reached well above the knees and were secured by supporters attached to panty-waists. Their dresses, made alike, were of fine white muslin, with ruffles and little puffy short sleeves. Sashes tied in big bows at the back and hair ribbons distinguished between the two, Helois’s red and Lohr’s pink. Lohr’s light brown hair hung in long curls, having been put up in rags the night before. Helois’s almost black hair was parted from forehead to the back of the neck, platted into tight braids, then rolled under to form dog-ears.
As the children walked up Dudley Avenue past Twenty-Fourth Street, they began to detect the delicious smell of roasting peanuts. Mr. Bacon didn’t keep his store open on Sunday but when there was a band concert he wheeled his peanut roaster out front and did a thriving business. Every Sunday these two discussed the wisdom of spending their money so early in the day and every Sunday the aroma of the roasting peanuts got the best of them. So Helois held up her nickel and cautioned Mr. Bacon to fill the bag “good and full.”
Terrapin Park was Fairyland. Big old trees with rope swings, shady walks, a lake with swans and boats, and the CASINO. No one had ever seen anything so grand as the Casino. It was three stories high with a veranda all the way around the second floor where you could walk and walk and walk. The building must have covered half an acre and was crowned with arched, temple-like structures topped by cupolas. The picture was accentuated by white balustrades all around the verandas and stairways. In the center was a large Auditorium with two balconies. The girls were not allowed to go to the second balcony.
Today they strutted up to the door of the Auditorium, twisting their hips so that their starched ruffles swished delightfully, confident they were the Citizens Band’s best customers. Reaching for their programs, they were affronted by some stranger demanding money. Eyes sparkling, tongue sharp, Helois exploded; “What do you mean, money? The concert is always free!” “But,” said the man, “today Mr. Sousa is here”. Looking him straight in the belt buckle and not wavering an eyelash, she snapped back; “Who, may I ask, is Mr. Sousa?”
He composed “The Stars and Stripes Forever”. “Never heard of it” she scornfully shot back. “You will today. Go on in. Enjoy your peanuts”.
So the girls hustled down the aisle to the very front row, flipped up their skirts to save their ruffles and squirmed onto the cool hard seats. Slippers swinging, peanuts crunching, they recounted their victory over the man at the door. Mr. Sousa, indeed!
Completely awed by the size and beauty of the red velvet curtains, they discussed the amount of velvet it must have taken to make it and how much it had cost. The Tragedy and Comedy masks in tarnished gold had lost interest for them and they were happy when the curtain rolled back and they could see the players in their splendid black and gold uniforms. The music was grand but not better than that produced by their own musicians, according to our young critics. Mr. Sousa did put on more of a show, however, throwing himself around and shaking his hair down over his eyes.
By this time the ‘Stars and Stripes’ brought the concert to a glorious close, the heroines of this tale had become a little bored and the peanuts had been reduced to a heap of shells discretely dropped between their seats. So, while the stamping and clapping were at their loudest these two ducked out of the Auditorium and flew down the path to the gate where the next installment of their adventure, a street car ride, awaited them.
Now this was no ordinary street car, the kind you ride down town with your mother to pay the gas bill. This was a Summer Street Car, an exciting, joyous contraption fit for fun and fair weather. The seats ran crosswise, with running-boards along the sides, all open to the summer breezes. Choicest seats were up front with the motorman.
Now this motorman was no ordinary mortal. Clad in his shiny-buttoned uniform and his wide, warm smile, he gave his patrons their money’s worth, all five cents of it. He had a rapport with his riders that was the envy of the human creatures who operated the ordinary, everyday street cars that were used for convenience only.
In second place on the crew was the conductor and his position was no mean, mundane affair, either. He put on a nerve tingling performance, balancing on the running-board, and clinging to the hand rail as he climbed about collecting the fares.
Today the street car was panting at the gate, power surging noisily from the trolley overhead. Lohr and Helois quickly climbed to the very center of the car where they thought they would be safest. The size of the crowd warned them to forego the pleasure of the front seat. Contrary to the usual procedure, Lohr was carrying the nickel. Five cents fare was required of anyone six or over. True, Helois was seven but she was so small she could pass for five, so it appeared more expedient for the understudy to assume the major role for this act.
Today, twice as many people boarded the street car as it was supposed to accommodate. They sat on laps and clung two deep on the running boards, and the conductor never did reach all the passengers, much less find out that he was carrying a seven-year old deadhead.
The “summer” trolley seen above is coming down the ravine beside Terrapin Park, heading toward Emerson Avenue and Pottery Junction. From the apparent crowded condition, this may have been the very trolley that the two girls were riding.
Photo courtesy Jeff & Christy Little
When the conductor pulled the cord at take-off time, pandemonium broke loose. The motorman released his brake, clutched the wheel with both hands and started stamping on the bell, which was his only safety device. Wheels screeched against steel rails, and the bell gave off a deafening jingle and everybody yelled. The street car lurched dangerously as it careened the precipitous grade down Twenty-Fifth Street gulley toward Pottery Junction, the riders on the outer layers leaning at arms length in wild abandon.
The girls were really scared but wouldn’t admit it, not even to each other. Eyes tight shut, they held their breath until they passed the Junction. Then they enjoyed the rest of the trip, down Ohio avenue and Murdoch and Ann to the end of the line. At the Point they tumbled off, mussed but not crushed.
Undismayed by the two miles between them and home, they started walking, watching for anything new or exciting which they could explore.
Nothing caught their attention until they reached the Fire Department. There they took up their stand across the street from the wide doors where they could look all they wanted in comparable safety. The big gray horses were quite a site. Beautiful color and brushed all shiny, they stood ready with their harnesses canopied above them. The girls prayed that a fire would break out.
Then the bells would ring, firemen would come sliding down the poles and harnesses would drop into place, the helmeted men would climb onto the fire engine and the whole wonderful kaleidoscope would dash off around the corner and up Market.
After a reasonable wait with no answer to their prayer, the adventuresses resumed walking. A block and a half later they came to a dead stop in front of Pete Canelle’s Candy Kitchen. Remember, they still had one nickel. They had had no nourishment since the peanuts. Inside were sodas, ice-cream, or a drink of ice water, even if you didn’t buy anything. They looked at each other with but a single thought; why carry that nickel home, it’s ours to spend, we’re hungry, lets go! In one smooth motion they turned and entered the Candy Kitchen and climbed up onto the spindly “ice-cream” chairs.
This place was a wonderland of delicious smells of chocolate drops, taffy (different flavors on different days), and hand-made cones, and combined with a sparkling mist of effervescence from the Soda Fountain. Their delight was cut short, however, by the appearance of the waiter. He was so tall and his apron was so white! They studied his face for one little sign of leniency. What would he do when he found they had only one nickel? Would he serve them two glasses of water and a lecture? If they ordered without divulging their shortness of funds would he call the police? Helois, the older, the maker of decisions, made one. In her best third grade voice, she ordered; “One dish of ice-cream with two spoons”.
Without even a raised eyebrow the waiter went behind the fountain and within seconds returned to place a dish of ice-cream in front of each little customer. Panic stricken, but still the pro, Helois said, “Mister. You made a mistake. I only ordered one. Its your fault. You weren’t listening.” At this point Lohr put in weakly, “we’ve only one nickel.” Helois squelched her with a look. How can the attorney for the defense hope to get him off if the accused pleads guilty?
Taking in the whole picture the waiter began to get visibly shorter and softer looking as he announced the verdict; “Go ahead and eat. You pay for one and the other is on the house”.
Refreshed by the ice-cream, they walked home. Supper was on the table and it was well before dark. As Mama filled their glasses with iced tea, she inquired about their adventure and admonished them to go to bed early, they had had a long day. Before they said their prayers they made plans for the next Sunday afternoon, if it didn’t rain. Summer street cars are no fun when it rains.”
Editor’s note: This story, dated 1903, came to the WCHPS from the files of Paul Borrelli and Artcraft Studio. If the name of the author sounds familiar, she was also the writer of the item in the previous issue of H&P, titled “Little Kanawha Shore.” We have not determined why the name “Duke” was added to her name.
About Terrapin Park
The following excerpt was taken from the Introduction of Terrapin Park, Parkersburg, West Virginia - A History by Jeff and Christy Little in 2000:
“It is hard to imagine as one drives down Dudley Avenue towards the area of the Parkersburg Medical Park complex and the Y.W.C.A. that in that very spot years ago there stood a park that rivaled any other in the state. It had a beautiful casino in which some of the nation’s most noted and talented stock companies performed. On one side of the park, there was a carnival-like atmosphere with amusement rides and a midway full of games and concession stands. On the other side was a peaceful resort-like atmosphere with a beautiful lake, walking paths, and plenty of lawn swings and benches.”
A revised edition of their book was produced in 2010.