“So, what do you think?” gushed my buddy Alner, exiting his car and displaying a nice new pair of sport shoes.
“They look nice and comfy,” I nodded. “Have any walking tours planned?”
“Nah,” he said. “Wouldn’t want to mess them up with …”
Evidently my grin tipped him off, because with a cry of “oh, no, no” he took off for the front door of his house.
But I was too quick for him. Within seconds, thanks to my power of metaphysical travel, we were back in Wyoming Valley of the early 20th century.
“Relax, Alner,” I laughed. “We’re going to take a look at the way people used to spend their summers around here. Our little history walk should help break in your new clodhoppers.”
“Clodhoppers?” he shouted, as people around us on the banks of the Susquehanna turned to look at him. “I’ll have you know…”
“Look around,” I said. “We’re in the brand-new Kirby Park.”
“Where did those classy looking buildings come from?” he asked.
“The original park had a bandshell, a reflecting pool, a flower garden and even a mini-zoo,” I told him. “When the levee was built that whole section was cut off and forgotten. Today it’s called the Natural Area, and you can tour it and see the ruins – that is, if you don’t mind getting a little dirt on your…”
“They’re sport shoes,” he said, “and they cost…”
“OK, you’re Mr. Fashion,” I replied. “Now let’s check out some other parts of town. But first take a gander at that nearby stadium, Artillery Park. It’s where Wilkes-Barre’s minor league baseball team plays before packed stands all summer long. Ever hear of Bob Lemon?”
“Boy, he’s an old timer.”
“Right, we’ve just skipped ahead a few years and he’s on the field today. In time, he’ll be the mainstay of the Cleveland Indians pitching staff. Babe Ruth played a barnstorming game there once and hit a homer he said was his longest ever. In our time, we have a plaque about it.”
I whisked us off to a playground teeming with children.
“What a mob scene,” he said.
“The city of Wilkes-Barre once had a vast system of playgrounds,” I said. “The kids met their friends, played games, sang in pageants and had a great time, all under the supervision of older kids and adults. At summer’s end, the playgrounds would hold a field day and give awards.”
“No hanging out with ‘nothing to do,’” he smiled.
“You got it, Alner,” I said.
I explained that the next stop on our walking tour would be the 1950s.
“Hey, that looks like fun,” said Alner, pointing to a roller coaster that suddenly appeared in front of us.
“This is Sans Souci Park,” I said. “It has all kinds of rides, plus a swimming pool and a picnic area.”
“You sure don’t see these anymore.”
“I’ll show you something else you don’t see anymore. Look at that big pavilion over there. They hold dances for the young folks there at night, with live music. Doesn’t cost a fortune to get in, either. A lot of happy couples met here. There’s another nice place, called Hanson’s, out at Harveys Lake.”
Fearing that Alner had suffer sensory overload, I decided to end our trip.
“Hope your fancy sport shoes survived our walking tour of summers past,” I said as we materialized in front of his house.
“Hey, we’re back already?”
“Yes, I …”
“What about that roller coaster?”
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]