From 1904 – 1967 Chicago Illinois was home to a once lively amusement park by the name of Riverview. On a multitude of acres sat more than 120 rides including enormous wooden roller coasters, the Aero-Stat, the double whirl ride, and more. One of the most recognized roller coasters in the park was called “the bobs” which cost an impressive eighty thousand dollars to produce and went as fast as fifty miles per hour. The ride was admired so much that it was imitated at Geauga Lake in Aurora, Ohio and called the “Raging Wolf Bobs”. Although Riverview was one of the most beloved parks in the area, it did not start out that way.
It all started with a man named Wilhelm A. Schmidt who, during the late 1800’s, wanted nothing more than to open a modest sharpshooter park. Schuetzen park, coming from the German word protect, did well until 1903 when Schmidt’s son, George, returned from school. Upon returning from Europe George told stories of the parks he had seen which boasted fantastic Ferris Wheels, Carousels and more. He argued that these rides would attract people from all over and with some monetary help from a lawyer named William Johnson, and a banker, Joseph McQuade, his vision quickly became reality. After that point the park became known as “Riverview Sharpshooters Park” and was home to three rides.
Unlike other parks, admission was close to free and you paid separately for each ride. This approach was particularly appealing to the working class of Chicago and kept the park doing well for quite some time. In 1906 the park saw a noteworthy increase of space, adding 50 acres and about 500,000 dollars’ worth of rides. Riverview was growing from a humble family owned park to the kind of place kids swooned over. In 1907 a new front gate was erected followed by the addition of the Velvet Coaster, the Pikes Peak Scenic Railway, a racetrack, and a whole new section of the park called Fairyland.
In 1908 they introduced two new attractions which stunned and amazed park-goers. The first was the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac which was a recreation of the Civil War naval battle. The second was a 70ft carousel, admired greatly for being hand carved and painted by a group of Swiss and Italian craftsmen.
Winter saw the addition of a roller rink and ballroom often filled with jubilant jazz and courting couples. At this point the park had grown to a massive 102 acres and continued to add eateries, games, shows and more. In 1909 once again the park’s name changed to Riverview Exposition Park and became a household name. The addition of new rides continued ever strong introducing The Tickler, Expo whirl and Witching Waves in 1910 and the Metrodome in 1911. 1913 Brought with it yet another – and the final- name change to the simplified Riverview Park.
During the time of prohibition in the 1920’s Riverview was known as a sort of speak-easy, as you were still able to find both beer and liquor. Throughout the course of the decade the continued adding more rides, including the most popular “The Bobs” with a nearly 90ft drop. That wasn’t the only thing breaking records. George Schmidt also invented the famous foot-long hot dog around this time, for the sole purpose of being filling and inexpensive when things became hard during the depression. During this time period Riverview adopted the motto “Laugh Your Troubles Away”. Riverview saw prosperity throughout the 1950’s and most of the 60’s becoming favorites to the returned service men of WWII and the baby boomers that came after.
Despite being seen as a success to many, the park was sold on October 3rd, 1967. Shortly after, an article from the Chicago Tribune blamed violence for the park’s closure as Schmidt admitted that crime was a motivation for selling. Minorities felt increasingly uncomfortable as racism became more common. Aside from being made to feel generally unwelcome African Americans found themselves in complete outrage with the addition of an attraction called “Dunk The N*****” which was renamed “The African Dip”. Among this, increasing taxes, maintenance and more led to the fall of one of the greatest amusement parks of its time. Stories of Riverview have been passed down through generations and will most likely continue to be.
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