Cedar Point and the Characteristics of American Summer Resorts During the Gilded Age
By David W. Francis
Volume VII, Number 2
Summer resorts were in existence in North America as early as the eighteenth century, although even by the time of the Civil War these resorts operated solely to satisfy the social needs of the wealthy members of society. Not only did the rates charged by these resorts exclude the workingman, but minimal leisure time and the lack of inexpensive transportation also prevented the working-class from patronizing summer resorts. With most workers required to endure long workdays and a six-day workweek, leisure time diversions were limited to nightly visits to a neighborhood saloon, socializing with peers in fraternal and political societies, an occasional stroll in a local park, or simply using Sundays to recuperate from an arduous workweek. Throughout the nineteenth century, the wealthy enjoyed seaside resorts while the greater mass of working-class families were restricted to the simpler forms of urban-centered recreation. 1
As the nineteenth century neared its end, changes in the demands made upon the labor force created more leisure time. Women, mostly unmarried, entered the work force, and new laws designed to protect women and children reduced both the hours of labor and the length of the workweek. For some workers, Saturdays were removed from the work schedule, creating a two-day leisure-time period. In addition, a rising middle class comprised of managers, clerks, and foremen enjoyed higher income levels, shorter working hours, and a generally improved lifestyle.
Although the wealthy still maintained their exclusive summer resorts at Newport, Saratoga, and Hahant, the genteel traditions of the nineteenth century were being supplanted by the demands an aspiring and assertive middle class. Observant businessmen created new resorts designed to attract this new group. Some resorts, like New York's Coney Island, were transformed from expensive retreats of grand hotels and horse racing to middle class resorts featuring cheaper hotels, bathhouses, dance halls, and amusement parks. The commercialization of leisure-time, which also included the development of respectable vaudeville, the amusement park, the ballroom, sports, and eventually the moving picture theatre, was best exhibited in the establishment of the great American summer resorts between 1890 and the time of World War I. 2
The emergence of the middle class summer resorts was a widespread national phenomenon, although the most extensive development was confined to the East Coast and the Great Lakes where the climate was pleasant and urban centers were in close proximity. The development of one of the Great Lakes' resorts at Cedar Point, a sandy peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio, provides a microcosmic study of the forces that inspired resort growth and the major characteristics of the summer resort industry. 3
Cedar Point began its development during the summer of 1870 as little more than a crude beer garden and a few bathhouses. Because Sandusky's working population had little leisure time, the beer garden operated for only a few hours each evening, although on Sundays the little steamboat Young Reindeer was kept busy all day ferrying hot and thirsty patrons to the peninsula. The resort developed very slowly and actually stagnated during the mid-1870s. During the 1880s, with work schedules reduced and inexpensive railroad excursions available to bring customers from other cities, the outstanding natural beach and the refreshing lake breezes of Cedar Point attracted larger crowds. By the mid-1880s, a recognizable resort with many buildings and lively attractions had emerged at Cedar Point. Among these structures were a massive "Grand Pavilion" with a stage and seating for 4,000, bowling alleys, a ladies pavilion, a photo studio, a primitive roller coaster, a carousel, additional bathhouses, a water toboggan, and other popular entertainments.
Due to aggressive competition and the recession of the 1890s, however, Cedar Point's fortunes began to decline. In 1897, the resort company lost money and the future of the operation was in doubt. Just at a time when the failure of the resort seemed certain, George A. Boeckling became a major stockholder and general manager of the newly formed Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company. Born in Indiana, Boeckling had worked as an ice box salesman, a wholesale lumber dealer, and a real estate agent. He was a dynamic businessman who always seemed able to anticipate the public's tastes and interests.
Between 1898 and his death in 1931, Boeckling converted Cedar Point into a resort of national prominence. He was not alone in favorably comparing his resort to the better known Atlantic City. 4 A study of Cedar Point's facilities, entertainment offerings, and plans for expansion during Boeckling's first decade at the resort reveals many of the characteristics and growth patterns common to summer resorts at the turn-of-the-century.
The most readily apparent similarity between Cedar Point and other resorts such as Coney Island, Atlantic City, Mackinac Island, French Lick, Cape May, and White Sulphur Springs was a location very near a source of water. Whether ocean, lake, river, or spring, access to either recreational or so called "health-producing" water proved to be a major attraction. By the early 1900s, Cedar Point's management had fully exploited the peninsula's large sandy beach, gently sloping swimming area, and the salubrious climate.
The original bathhouses of the 1870s were gradually expanded until they offered hundreds of changing rooms for bathers. But even with these additions, the bathhouse became inadequate and in 1910 a new bathhouse, advertised as the largest in the world, was opened. A thousand rooms, attended by "key girls" who locked and unlocked the little changing cubicles, were included in the structure. Large commercial washing machines were installed, and each night a crew of employees laundered and sanitized bathing suits and towels. A beach shop was built to sell bathing suits, rubber beach shoes, water wings, and a variety of other bathing necessities. To enhance the beach's attraction, a large water toboggan, a water trapeze, and a circular riding device called the "Sea Swings" were erected on the beach or a few yards into Lake Erie. 5
In the more permissive culture of 1900, the sexual modesty that had once discouraged mixed bathing had disappeared. Years earlier, screens had been erected from the bathhouse to the water's edge to allow ladies to bathe in unblushing privacy. Other resorts erected similar barriers and some even set aside certain hours for men to bathe . . . most of whom did not concern themselves with the formality of wearing a bathing suit. On the Cedar Point beach of the early 1900s, the sexes mixed freely and casually. The boardwalk that bordered the beach provided a fine location for observing the young ladies who annually traveled to Cedar Point in search of beaus and husbands. Known to many as the "Finest Bathing Beach in the World", Cedar Point's miles of clean sand, like the beaches of Coney Island and Atlantic City, proved to be the resort's first major attraction. 6
Because Lake Erie was occasionally swept by storms and often rough, the Cedar Point area was not suitable for boating, although many other resorts derived income from renting rowboats and launches. In 1904 Boeckling corrected this deficiency by digging a series of inner-connected lagoons near the tip of the peninsula. Once completed, the lagoons' slowly moving water and soft-colored lighting provided a romantic retreat for young couples. Although Boeckling's plans for authentic Venetian gondolas never materialized, the resort company rented rowboats, canoes, and naptha launches for use on the lagoons. Together, the bathing beach and the lagoons offered a complete selection of aquatic activities. 7
Whether businessman or factory worker, many of Cedar Point's guests came to the resort to escape the monotony of urban life. In a revolt against the formality of daily drudgery, they sought diversions in a carefree and unrestricted atmosphere. Many, in fact, came to resorts like Cedar Point solely to consume alcoholic beverages. It is important to note that in the early 1900s beer and liquor, and the saloons in which they were served, were de facto forms of recreation. Except for resorts like Lakeside and Ocean Grove, which were operated by religious denominations, most resorts thrived on the sale of beer, wine, and whiskey. Coney Island was lined with unwholesome saloons which catered to the male subculture and were the favorite haunts of pickpockets and prostitutes. New York City itself had more than 10,000 saloons in 1900 and it is clear that most working men spent a large portion of their meager recreational budgets at the local saloon. For many of these, including many who were afflicted by alcoholism, the summer resort saloons and pavilions were natural and friendly retreats from the tedium and turmoil of city life. 8
Even before Cedar Point's first beer garden was opened in 1870, the Sandusky area, with its large German population, was steeped in the cultural traditions of brewing and wine-making. Sandusky's first brewery, that of Philip Dauch, opened in 1852, followed by those of Vincenz Fox, Frank Stang, and the Kuebeler Brothers, as well as a dozen firms producing wine and champagne. Recognizing the workingman's affection for liquor, Cedar Point's management took advantage of the propinquity of the Sandusky brewing industry and generated substantial revenues for the resort. 9
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of alcoholic beverages as a vital portion of the resort's offerings. When the first Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company was formed in 1887, the Kuebeler brewing family became large shareholders. The Kuebelers, in fact, remained active in the resort's ownership until the 1950s. As major investors, the Kuebelers had a definite interest in the sale of beer at the resort, and the promotion of their beer and of the resort were often combined. A year after the resort company was founded the Kuebelers and their partners constructed the Grand Pavilion near the beach. In addition to a large theatrical hall, kitchens, bowling alleys, and a photo studio, the building boasted an elegant barroom measuring twenty-four by sixty-six feet and finished in natural woods. Since few respectable ladies entered bars during the 1880s and 1890s, however, a separate ladies pavilion was erected to serve "soft" refreshments. 10
When Boeckling assumed control of the resort in 1897, efforts were made to further expand liquor sales. In fact, the central position of beverage sales became very clear in 1900 when a local Law and Order Committee initiated a campaign to close all Sandusky and Cedar Point bars on Sundays. Because Sundays were the resort's busiest days, Boeckling resisted the committee's efforts until he was arrested. Finally, the resort company complied with the committee's demands and the bars at the resort were shuttered on Sundays for the remainder of the 1900 season. During the winter of 1900-01, the resort's board of directors discussed the future of Cedar Point with "dry" Sundays. Chairman of the Board Jacob Kuebeler, whose brewery interests were threatened, announced that the resort would not open in 1901 and the company's fleet of steamboats would be sold or leased. The operation, Kuebeler stated, had been only marginally profitable and the elimination of Sunday beverage sales would render the company unprofitable.
George Boeckling, the general manager, approached the problem differently and convinced the directors to continue operations. Instead of closing, he suggested, the resort operation would be redirected toward offering expanded entertainment, hotels, and other facilities that would compensate for lost liquor revenues. In addition, Boeckling planned to expand the resort's liquor facilities so that more drinks could be served during the week and on Saturdays. The result of these plans was the construction of the Crystal Rock Castle in 1904. Located near the lagoons, this building was devoted exclusively to the sale of alcoholic beverages, especially Kuebeler's popular Crystal Rock brand of beer.
Two seasons later the massive Coliseum was opened. This giant structure included a 45,000 square foot ballroom on the second floor and was advertised as the largest dance hall on the Great Lakes. On the ground floor, however, was another 45,000 square feet of space dedicated to the sale of beer, liquor, and wine served by a corps of waiters recruited from Midwestern colleges. With the opening of the Crystal Rock Castle and the Coliseum, Cedar Point may have had the largest facilities for serving alcoholic drinks of any resort in the nation. 11
During the 1890s musical entertainment in various forms became one of the foundations of the American summer resort. Concert bands, vaudeville acts, light opera companies, and dancing were popular attractions from the 1890s until the time of World War I. The famous touring concert bands were particularly favored. For many seasons John Philip Sousa's Band was engaged to provide concerts at Coney Island's fashionable Manhattan Beach Hotel, while the bands of Arthur Pryor, Patrick Conway, and others were booked into resorts along the New Jersey shore.
During Cedar Point's early years a band as prestigious as Sousa's was beyond the resort's small budget and concerts were performed by Sandusky's small but popular Great Western Band. It is no coincidence that the band's founder and director was Charles Baetz, who was also manager of Cedar Point from 1887 until the arrival of Boeckling. Most of the band's concerts were held in the music pagoda near the beach or on the stage of the Grand Pavilion and consisted of light classical music, marches, and the popular songs of the period. Soon after Boeckling became manager, the Great Western Band was replaced with a locally organized group known as the Cedar Point Concert Band and directed by a bandmaster hired by the resort. By 1910, the famous touring bands, including Sousa's, augmented the resort's band on selected days, but the resort's own band performed several times a day throughout the season. 12
More popular than the band concerts were the stage performances offered in the 4,000 seat theatre of the Grand Pavilion and, less frequently, on an outdoor stage near the beach. During the 1880s, most of these performances were rather formal and proper, with management's tastes leaning toward operatic sopranos and the occasional staging of an operetta such as Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado. Vaudeville, although well known, was considered vulgar and suitable only for men and women of questionable virtue. With such an unsavory reputation, vaudeville acts were not originally part of Cedar Point's entertainment fare. By the late 1800s, however, noted national theatrical managers Tony Pastor and B.F. Keith had given vaudeville a fresh image when they forbade acts that were unfit for ladies and started constructing palatial vaudeville theatres. Similarly, George Tilyou, owner and manager of Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, instructed vaudeville performers to refrain from the use of objectionable language and reminded actors that their audience included many ladies and children.
With this cleansing of the vaudeville image and its popularization as an entertainment form, vaudeville soon became an important part of Cedar Point. By 1900 reputable vaudeville acts, obtained through B. F. Keith's agency, included singers, comedy acts, jugglers, magicians, black-faced minstrels, and even some outstanding animal acts. When Boeckling became manager, he too realized the importance of vaudeville and quickly installed 4,000 new opera chairs and a beautifully painted scenic curtain in the Grand Pavilion. A few seasons later he acknowledged the profitability of continuous vaudeville performances when he hired a noted Cleveland architectural firm to design a new vaudeville theatre building to be erected near the beach. Although Boeckling occasionally considered replacing vaudeville with light operas or plays, his experiments with other forms of stage entertainment only reinforced the fact that during the early 1900s vaudeville was America's favorite form of theatrical entertainment. 13
While vaudeville appealed to all age groups, it was dancing that captivated the younger adults. At the turn-of-the-century, America was gripped by what historian Kathy Peiss has called "Dance Madness." In Manhattan the number of dance halls increased steadily from 130 in 1895 to 195 in 1910, and every amusement park and summer resort constructed large ballrooms. At Coney Island, where there was often a thin line between the moral and the risque, several types of dance halls existed, often within a few blocks of each other. At the big amusement parks - Luna, Dreamland, and Steeplechase - dancers were entertained in a very proper and acceptable atmosphere. Sexually expressive conduct was discouraged and the "vulgar" dances were not tolerated. But flourishing in the shadow of these well supervised ballrooms were seedy dance halls that encouraged less restricted contact between the sexes, and usually combined the joys of dancing with the sale of alcoholic beverages. This seamier side of dancing was never permitted at Cedar Point and, in fact, the resort's management often took a firm stand against dances that were considered modern or sexually expressive. Nevertheless, the promise of social intercourse and close contact with members of the opposite sex kept the dance floors crowded.
In the 1890s, the season usually opened with a "Grand Ball," followed by "hops" that were offered several times a week throughout the summer season. Originally, the somewhat brassy Great Western Band provided the dance music, but after Boeckling's arrival, more appropriate dance orchestras were engaged. Finding the dancing facilities inadequate, he opened a new dance hall in 1901 that included a sixty by fifty-two foot dance floor on the second level and an authentic German rathskeller on the ground floor. As Cedar Point's fame spread, even this new hall was incapable of handling the large crowds, and "dance madness" was undoubtedly responsible for the introduction of the Coliseum's second floor ballroom in 1906. Allegedly able to accommodate up to 5,000 dancers, the Coliseum was not only one of the largest ballrooms in the Midwest, but also far exceeded the similar facilities offered by most parks and resorts. Which [While] audience involvement in the vaudeville theatres was primarily on a passive spectator level, the ballrooms of Cedar Point, Coney Island, and scores of other resorts provided a form of entertainment that encouraged total audience participation. 14
In musical and stage entertainment, dancing, and the mass marketing of alcoholic beverages, Cedar Point kept pace with the big East Coast resorts. Local conditions, however, retarded the development of hotels that gave the Eastern resorts their largest source of income. The proximity of Coney Island and Atlantic City to major population centers, as well as the early construction of railroads to service these resorts, fostered the summer hotel business. By the 1880s, the fashionable section of Coney Island included such grand hostelries as the Manhattan Beach, the Oriental, and the Brighton Beach. Champagne flowed freely, accommodations were luxurious, and the service was excellent. With personalities like Harry Thaw, Lillian Russell, Maurice Barrymore, Diamond Jim Brady, and the Belmonts as regular guests at these establishments, the hotel section of Coney Island soon earned a reputation as one of the finest summer resorts in America. 15
Unlike Coney Island, Cedar Point was rather isolated, drew most of its patronage from Sandusky, and was more than fifty miles from a large city. Even after railroad excursions started bringing visitors from other cities, Sandusky's hotels seemed inadequate for overnight guests. Despite occasional rumors of plans for a hotel at Cedar Point, outdoor camping provided the peninsula's overnight accommodations until the end of the 1890s.
George Boeckling's arrival late in 1897 changed the resort's business philosophy, and planning for a hotel became a priority. In contrast to the theories of his predecessors, Boeckling realized that hotels not only attracted a better class of patrons, but they also stimulated revenues by encouraging visits lasting a week or even a month. Consequently, a small, twenty-room hotel named the Bay Shore opened near the resort's steamboat dock in 1899. Although hardly a hotel on the grand scale, the Bay Shore was a "snug little hostelry" and, unlike many of the small summer hotels, featured the luxury of plastered walls and electric lights. The casual and friendly atmosphere of the Bay Shore that attracted many guests only fueled Boeckling's desire to create additional overnight accommodations. In 1901 he erected the White House, a fifty-five room hotel located not far from the Bay Shore, overlooking Sandusky Bay. Despite additions to the White House, it too was soon booked to capacity and Beockling began considering a hotel of mammoth proportions. When the idea of moving an entire hotel from Canada proved impractical, Boeckling hired a Cleveland architectural firm to design a large hotel to be built facing the lake. When the Breakers Hotel opened in 1905, its magnificence and size gave Cedar Point a level of prestige equal to any resort in America.
After several additions were completed, the Breakers offered nearly 1,000 rooms, most with an unobstructed view of Lake Erie. Stained glass windows and chandeliers for the lobby were produced in the New York studios of Louis Tiffany. The thousands of pieces of wicker furniture that filled the hotel were imported from Austria. Guest services, as complete as those of any great hotel, included a house physician, beauticians, manicurists, a staff of barbers, a posh Japanese writing room, a photographic darkroom, and a telegraph office. Although room rates were not low, the Breakers was regularly filled to capacity. Anticipating continued growth in the hotel business, Boeckling utilized the original structure of the White House to construct still another new hotel in 1915. But the opening of the Cedars Hotel did not ease the demand for overnight accommodations at the Midwest's most popular resort. A few years later, Boeckling considered building a 3,000 room hotel northwest of the Breakers. But various factors prevented construction of the project that could have made Cedar Point the largest hotel complex in the world. Even without this cancelled addition, Cedar Point's hotel facilities equalled or exceeded those of any American summer resort. 16
The tremendous success of Cedar Point's hotels was predicated on a number of factors, including the resort's efforts to attract large conventions requiring hotel space. The most important single factor, however, was a dependable and efficient transportation network that made Cedar Point easily accessible to many Midwestern cities. Although Cedar Point was connected to the mainland, no roads led to the resort section until 1914. Steamships, sailboats, and occasional yachts were the only means of reaching the peninsula. Like other emerging resorts, Cedar Point's future hinged on the vital link of mass transportation.
Atlantic City, which did not possess a natural harbor, was served by fast and regular railroad lines from the population centers of New York and Philadelphia. Coney Island enjoyed a wonderful network that included railroads, streetcars, steamships, and, after 1920, subways. Mackinac Island was served by rail connections at Mackinaw City, several local steamboat lines, and regular steamship routes from Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Each of these resorts, and dozens of others, succeeded during the early 1900s because of the availability of good, moderately priced transportation that catered to the middle class. Those resorts that lacked such accessibility soon failed. 17
During Cedar Point's early years, management's sole transportation concern was ferrying Sanduskians three miles to the peninsula. Although the Little Steamer Young Reindeer proved adequate during the 1870's, by the 1890s, with the arrival of large excursion groups from other cities, the larger steamers R. B. Hayes and A. Wehrle, Jr. became the company's regular boats. These vessels were often assisted by other chartered boats until 1909 when the G.A. Boeckling was designed and built especially for the Sandusky-to-Cedar Point route. Until the time when the automobile changed travel habits, this route was the most important segment of the resort's transportation system. 18
As Cedar Point's delights became regionally recognized, family groups from distant cities began vacationing at the resort and railroads responded by offering low cost tickets from many Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana towns to the resort's Sandusky docks. More importantly, company outings, conventions, fraternal gatherings, and military encampments became an integral part of Cedar Point's business. Since automobiles were still in their infancy and most cities did not have access to Great Lakes steamship lines, railroads and electric interurban lines emerged as the primary link between the inland cities and Cedar Point.
Excursions to the resort proved to be very lucrative for the railroads and the number of tickets that they sold is an indication of the importance of excursions to both the railroads and to Cedar Point. In 1900 the Short Line sold 39,000 Cedar Point tickets, while a season later the Pennsylvania Railroad sold 66,000. The Lake Shore Electric, which began operations between Cleveland and Toledo in 1901, carried more than 10,000 people bound for the resort in 1903. A decade later, when Akron's Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company held their annual outing at Cedar Point, the railroad was required to run ten train sections with a total of 130 passenger coaches.
With this volume of rail traffic, the sidings near the Sandusky docks were often clogged with trains waiting for the return trip. On one Sunday in 1908, sixteen trains were counted on the busy sidings. Three seasons later, a typical summer Sunday witnessed the Big Four running a train from Cincinnati, the Lake Erie & Western from Indianapolis, and two Pennsylvania sections from Columbus. In addition, regularly scheduled service was available to Sandusky via the Baltimore & Ohio, Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, New York Central, and Nickel Plate roads. The railroads, more than any other mode of transportation, made Cedar Point accessible to the residents of virtually every Midwestern city and town. 19
Despite the success of railroad excursions, Boeckling's efforts to place the resort within easy reach of millions of potential visitors did not cease, and he was soon planning for steamship lines to operate from Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo, and other communities. To accomplish this, Boeckling negotiated with the Algona Steamship Company during the winter of 1904-05. Although an agreement was not reached, by 1907 a group of Cleveland businessmen formed the Lake Shore Navigation Company and purchased the sleek steamer Eastland. In the meantime, Boeckling constructed a large pier near the tip of Cedar Point that was capable of handling the deep drafts and long hulls of large Great Lakes passenger ships.
In June of 1907, the Eastland's first trip from Cleveland coincided with a similar route from Toledo established by the steamer Flora. Two seasons later the Frank E. Kirby initiated service between Detroit and Cedar Point. The Eastland alone had a legal passenger capacity of 2,200 and when all of the ships arrived at the resort pier fully loaded it was not unusual for more than 8,000 people to land at the resort in a single day. The new steamship lines were immediately popular, providing for the first time non-stop service between the major population centers and the peninsula. 20
The Great Lakes' passenger steamers that traveled to Cedar Point, however, were more than a reliable, convenient, and inexpensive means of family transportation. They were, in fact, a form of entertainment. Like the boats that ran from New York City to Coney Island, the Lake Erie steamers offered passengers a wide range of on-board activities to pass the time during a three or four-hour trip. Most popular were the dance bands that entertained on dance floors that sometimes occupied an entire deck. In addition, the steamships were equipped with snack bars, complete dining rooms, children's games, slot machines and other games of chance, strolling musicians, and, of course, deck chairs for those seeking relaxation. In many ways, the steamships provided passengers with a sample of the many diversions they would soon experience at Cedar Point. 21
During the first decade on the twentieth century, George Boeckling's gifted leadership transformed Cedar Point from a local resort to a summer recreation center with a regional, even a national reputation. By about 1905, the resort's physical plant was fully in place and included hotels, first-class dining rooms, convention facilities, a large theatre, and an unequalled bathhouse. With all of these facilities operating, Boeckling sought new sources of income to expand the company's revenues. The logical course of expansion, although perhaps not aesthetically pleasing to Boeckling, was the construction of an amusement park section.
In the early 1900s, the amusement park was a new, vibrant, and very popular diversion. Unlike the older forms of sedentary entertainment, mechanical amusement devices permitted the customer to take part in the activity. Moreover, amusement parks were morally acceptable to all segments of the population. Despite the fact that certain rides, especially the boat rides that operated in dark tunnels and the roller coasters, brought about close contact between the sexes, there was something clean, decent, and refreshing about the new parks. Most of the urban amusement parks were not associated with summer resorts and were constructed on the edges of population centers. These parks, usually served by streetcar lines (hence the name "trolley park"), catered exclusively to the one-day visitor. The role of the urban amusement park, like the vaudeville theatre, was to entertain the local public for a limited number of hours. When an amusement park was built in close proximity to a summer resort, its role was merely to augment other forms of resort entertainment and provide the resort company with an additional source of revenue. As such, resort-related parks played a secondary role to the main features of the resort.
Major resorts like Coney Island and Atlantic City began adding amusement devices during the 1880's, and the introduction of the first important roller coaster design in 1884 signalled the beginning of a new industry. By the 1890's, the installation of reliable electric power systems and the invention of practical electric motors made amusement rides feasible. Over the next thirty years the roller coaster evolved through a series of design changes until the modern, high speed version finally emerged about 1915. At the same time, hundreds of inventors conceived and patented thousands of ideas for amusement rides, funhouses, illusions, games, and related attractions. By 1905, the modern amusement park, with its colorful buildings, gaudy displays of lighting, daring rides, and raucous atmosphere, had fully emerged and become America's most popular summertime entertainment. 22
Boeckling was aware of the developments at Coney Island. He watched parks like Cleveland's Euclid Beach and Chicago's Riverview gain almost overnight acceptance. Then, after the close of the 1904 season, he visited the St. Louis World's Fair. On the midway of that fair he witnessed the huge crowds that waited for hours to ride the great Ferris Wheel, Thompson's scenic railway, and a host of lesser attractions. Although the amusement park may have been contrary to Boeckling's conception of a resort, he was an astute businessman and proposed to the board of directors that an amusement section be built at Cedar Point. Due to recent large expenditures for the Breakers Hotel and other buildings, the board vetoed the project. Undaunted, Boeckling convinced the directors that the amusement section could be constructed inexpensively by employing concessionaires who would build the attractions and pay Cedar Point a rental fee. On this basis the Amusement Circle was approved and constructed on vacant land east of the new Coliseum. While the new semi-circular midway was under construction, a new powerhouse was installed to meet the electrical demands of the dozens of attractions being erected. 23
Debuting in 1906, the Amusement Circle was small in comparison to the great urban amusement parks or the sprawling amusement section of Coney Island. The only old attractoin retained for the new midway was the Racer, a side-friction roller coaster built near the beach in 1902. Although rapidly becoming obsolete, the Racer was the most exhilarating ride at Cedar Point. The new attractions on the Amusement Circle were similar to those installed at Coney Island and scores of other parks, although Cedar Point avoided attractions with sexual undertones or dealing with controversial subjects. Mechanical amusement rides were few on the 1906 midway, but many were added after the devices proved their popularity. Along with the Racer was a carousel, described as the finest ever built, and a Circle Swing that was reputed to duplicate the sensation of riding in an airship. In addition, there was an auto tour, a miniature steam train, and "A Trip to Rockaway," which simulated an ocean voyage.
Shows, attractions, and funhouses, more numerous than the mechanical rides, included such exotically-named attractions as the Electric Theatre, Edisonia Arcarde, Chateau Aphonse, the Eden Musee, House of Mystery, Palace of Mirth, and Temple of Song. In addition, there were the usual animal exhibitions, shooting galleries, bowling alleys, souvenir counters, photo galleries, and refreshment stands. Although the Amusement Circle was originally fairly small and limited in its offerings, its immediate popularity attracted new concession operators and caused Cedar Point to continue expanding its midway operations. By 1918, the Amusement Circle was a well-equipped amusement park that, unlike even some of the largest urban parks, could boast that it featured three large roller coasters. 24
Like other major summer resorts, Cedar Point reached its zenith in both popularity and development in the years between the early 1900s and World War I. The 1920s, except for the depressed season of 1921, were prosperous, but several social changes forecast the end of the great summer resorts. A critical change that affected both the nature of entertainment and the profits of the resorts was Prohibition. The loss of revenues from the sale of alcoholic beverages was a serious blow to most resorts. Of greater impact, however, was the widespread use of the automobile and the introduction of regularly scheduled airline flights, both of which gave increased mobility to the middle class. Lack of rapid transportation and population mobility was one reason that resort hotels had been able to entertain guests for extended periods of time. Increased mobility led to an immediate decline in hotel patronage. Soon, many great summer hotels were razed, and at Cedar Point plans for a 3,000 room hotel were forever shelved.
Between 1900 and 1918, Cedar Point reached maturity. Not only did annual attendance reach 1,000,000 people, but all major investments in buildings and equipment were also made during these years. The great hotels, the Coliseum, the lagoons, the new bathhouse, the powerhouse, the Amusement Circle, and the transportation network were all built or established during these two decades. In the 1920s, very little expansion took place with the exception of a new hotel wing and a few midway acquisitions.
Cedar Point's rise to fame can be traced most fully in the financial success of Cedar Point and its mentor, George Boeckling. For Boeckling, who had originally arrived in Sandusky with little money, the resort's popularity meant wealth and social status. Soon after 1910, he was able to construct a mansion in Sandusky, build a summer home at Cedar Point, and afford the luxury of a full-time chauffeur. When he died in 1931, his holdings were worth several million dollars. 25
During the 1897 season, the year before Boeckling became general manager, the resort company lost $7,500 and was on the brink of declaring bankruptcy. After only one season, the energetic Boeckling was able to reverse the resort's declining business, reporting gross revenues of $55,000. As the years passed, and he added new facilities, revenues steadily rose to $110,000 in 1903, $400,00 in 1908, and over $1,000,000 by the time of World War I. Efficiently and skillfully managed, the Cedar Point Resort Company became highly profitable, at times enjoying net profits of more than thirty percent. In 1909, for example, the operation reported profits of $118,000 on gross revenues of $375,000. The shareholders, including Boeckling, shared dividends of $40,000. By the late 1900s, the resort and its steamship fleet was valued at almost $2,000,000, not including dozens of privately owned amusement rides and concessions. Considering that the 1897 purchase price of Cedar Point had been $256,000, George Boeckling had created a remarkably profitable enterprise. 26
With the daily attendance average reaching more than 10,000 people in 1905, Cedar Point, like Coney Island and Atlantic City, began to attract much deserved attention. American presidents, governors, legislators, bandleaders, authors, opera stars, sports figures, and wealthy businessmen were all regular visitors at Cedar Point. As the resort became well-known, its name began appearing in literature and music. Dozens of poems were written extolling the virtues of the sandy peninsula, and both Sherwood Anderson and Theodore Dreiser included Cedar Point in their pre-World War I works. Composers, too, were infatuated with the resort and between 1900 and the 1920s any number of marches, waltzes, and popular songs were written about and dedicated to Cedar Point.
Although Cedar Point's patterns of development reflected trends that were common to all major summer resorts, the Sandusky operation was able to equal, and often exceed the popularity of most of the others. Coney Island, Atlantic City, and the various other coastal resorts were certainly larger, but Cedar Point was unique in that it was owned and operated by a single company. In contrast, most of the large East Coast resorts were composed of dozens, even hundreds, of individual hotel, restaurant, bathhouse, theatre, and amusement operators.
Soon after World War I, George Boeckling announced that Cedar Point, despite his accomplishment, was still in its infancy and boldly compared it to Atlantic City. With much justification, he called Cedar Point "The Queen of American Watering Places." Few who visited the great Midwestern resort in the early 1900s would have argued with Boeckling's claims.
1 Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia, 1986), 11-55; Foster R. Dulles, A History of Recreation (New York, 1965), 64-65, 148-153, 202.
2 John F. Kasson, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (New York, 1978), 3-9; Charles E. Funnell, By the Beautiful Sea: The Rise and High Times of Atlantic City (New York, 1975), 35; Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 41-45; John Philip Sousa, Marching Along (Boston, 1928), 232.
8 Funnell, By the Beautiful Sea, 94; Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 16-21; Kasson, Amusing the Million, 34; Oliver Pilat and Jo Ranson, Sodom By the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island(New York, 1941), 111-116.
11 Sandusky Register, August 14, 20, September 1, December 28, 1900, June 5, 1902, May 27, 1904; Sandusky Weekly Register, August 15, 22, 29, 1900; Sandusky Weekly Journal, May 12, 1900; Sandusky Star, December 24, 1900.
12 Sousa, Marching Along, 138, 144, 146; von Schulenburg, Sandusky, 169-170; H. W. Schwartz, Bands of America (Garden City, N. J., 1957), 159-160, 234-235; Sandusky Register, June 12, 1900; Sandusky Star, August 7, 1901; Sandusky Weekly Register, July 14, 1905; September 5, 1906.
13 Douglas Gilbert, American Vaudeville: Its Life and Times (New York, 1963), 124-125, 197-207; Dulles, A History of Recreation, 218-219; Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 140-145; Sandusky Register, May 27, 1898, May 19, June 5, 1900 August 27, 1905; Sandusky Weekly Register, June 13, 1888, June 1, 1889, May 31, 1899; Sandusky Star, August 31, 1900.
15 Lucy P. Gillman, "Coney Island," New York History, XXXVI (July, 1955), 273; Kasson, Amusing the Million, 30-33; Funnell, By the Beautiful Sea, 122-123; Edo McCullough, Good Old Coney Island (New York, 1957), 55-61.
16 Cedar Point Brochures, 1899 and 1906; Cedar Point Resort Company Brochure, 1914, Frohman Collection, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center; Ohio Illustrated Magazine, I (July, 1906), n.p.; Sandusky Register, July 10, 1882, May 15, August 15, 1900, May 5, 1901, August 23, 1902, May 29, 1903; Sandusky Weekly Register, May 8, 1901, May 31, July 14, 1905; Sandusky Star, May 4, 1901.
19 Sandusky Register, May 11, 1898, December 28, 1900, August 15, 1902, September 14, 1903, March 30, 1904, Sandusky Weekly Register, July 15, 1891, May 24, 1893, May 2, 1894, May 8, 1895, September 16, 1903.
20 Erie County Reporter, January 12, 1905; Francis, "Steamship Service to Cedar Point," 111-112; David W. Francis, "The Eastland Navigation Company, 1907-1914," Inland Seas, 34 (Summer-Fall, 1978), 96-102, 182-189.
22 Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 115-138; Kasson, Amusing the Million, 7-8; Pilat and Ranson, Sodom By the Sea, 130-173; McCullough, Good Old Coney Island, 284-327, Dulles, A History of Recreation, 222-223.
24 Cedar Point Resort Brochures, 1906, 1908, 1911, Author's Collection; Cedar Point Resort Company Brochure, 1902, Frohman Collection, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Sandusky Register, May 11, 1918.
26 Cedar Point Resort Company Annual Report, 1909. Frohman Collection, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center; Sandusky Star-Journal, May 21, 1925. Since records for the company are incomplete, the 1897 loss and gross income figures for the following year are all that remain for comparison. Although we cannot be certain how much, part of the $55,000 gross must have been profit.