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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Electric Park

Electric Park was an amusement park, operating from about 1907 to 1925, located at 47th and The Paseo. It is important to remember that this was the south end of town in those days.
Its main entry was across from where Newcomer's Funeral home is today.

It had actually begun earlier, in the East Bottoms, down the slope from the Cliff Drive, as the brainchild of Michael Heim, owner of Heim Brewery, but was moved and greatly expanded in 1907. 53,000 people attended the grand re-opening.

It was the era of Prohibition, so when the new park applied for a liquor license, the liquor board tried to stifle the sale of alcohol by invoking the provision that no more licenses would be issued until the city reached a population of 400,000. The oddity of a lack of beer at a brewery-sponsored park didn't seem to keep the crowds away. Later the new location was able to sell beer.

It was a popular attraction by day, no doubt, but the newness of electric illumination made it a must-see nighttime destination.

Its features included a lagoon, called Mirror Lake, as shown on this map, and lavish landscaping, as well as rides and attractions.

Some of these images are from, a website specializing in vintage postcards for sale. Please check it out, but be warned: It is addictive. One is from the KC Public Library, and one is from the Gary Looker collection. Look for a structure, in the lagoon picture, which is multi-sided and drum-shaped. Note how it is perched for good visibility from both land and water. It is a fountain, yes, but so much more.

According to the book Fountains of Kansas City, A History and Love Affair, by Sherry Piland and Ellen J. Uguccione, (Lowell Press) "A stunning attraction at both Electric Park locations, and the subject of numerous reminiscent accounts, was the Electric Park Fountain."

"Valued at $75,000.00 in the 1920's, the fountain was said to be one of only three Dunlap Illuminated Fountains in existance." "It was reportedly purchased in Europe by Michael Heim, and its display was thought to have been inspired by a similar tableau which had first been presented in Paris." (Enlarge pic to see that this is a real person.)

In the interest of space, I shall summarize: It was a 12- or 16-sided polygonal drum, (some pics show fewer sides than others--probably reflective of changes between first and second park locations) equipped with a manually operated lift. While jets of water went skyward, up would come a beautiful woman, in lavish costume! Raise your hands if you've seen anything like this, lately.

She would stand, still as marble, depicting some Biblical or historical event, while a narrator described it. The book goes on to describe a Mrs. Pearl Goelz, who was one of the performers. In a 1969 newspaper story, said she had been chosen, nine years running, as Queen Electra in the park's Mardi Gras bash. This entitled her to lead a parade and to flip the switch, bringing to life the many thousands of lights.

Now, Mrs. Goelz had also worked as a telephone operator and as a stenographer for a real estate office, in part of the nine years she did the performances.

Mrs. Goelz would appear nightly in the "Fountain Pictures" performance, earning $25 for each evening's fifteen-minute, nine-scene performance. Pretty good money for an entire day's work, in those years, and she made it in far less. In fairness, I don't know how early she had to show up, nor how late she was there after her fifteen minutes of performing.

Her husband would drop her off and pick her up. When he went away to war, her dad took her. (What, did she not drive? Perhaps few women drove in those days. What a glorious time it must have been. Kidding! I'm kidding.) Anyway, she and three other performers were assisted by a wardrobe mistress, below, to speed the changing process. They also used props and small furniture.

"The crowd was held spellbound, by the beauty of the girls, enhanced by the colorful moving lights." This, friends, is what has been missing from my Friday night entertainment pursuits.

In 1925, a fire damaged the fountain and it was never replaced, going down in history as a unique entertainment, mixing fountains, lights, and live performance. After all, automobiles and motion pictures now beckoned for entertainment dollars.
An uncomfortable discovery in my research was "Lincoln Electric Park," built because black Kansas Citians were denied access to the original Electric Park. I will research this further, and give that park its own post, if enough information is found.

Here is a link to a synopsis on the KC Public Library site, and the 1969 Kasas City Star story. is a wonderful site. is a postcard sales site.

A Word About the Photos

Just a word about the photos on this blog.

When I first began to click and save photos, it was strictly for personal research and enrichment, so I right-clicked and saved like a wild man, failing to save source info. Before long, it was tens of thousands of images.

I sincerely regret this now, as I want to share Kansas City facts and pictures with the world. (And provide credit and web links to those sources.)

As a short term solution, I have watermarked all photos which are my own. So any photos NOT watermarked as mine, were obtained online. (Except the Header Photo--It is mine, but the gigantic sizing of the watermark looked ridiculous.)

If anyone recognizes his or her photo, and contacts me, I will be happy to either: 1) Give proper credit to that photographer, as well as your own website or your page on, etc, 2) remove the photo entirely, (not my favorite option) or 3) replace it with a watermarked or smaller version of your photo.

In the case of my own photos, proper credit is all I'm interested in, not revenue. I am not a professional photographer, nor do I shoot with professional equipment. I have no plans to disable the "right-click-save feature" on my pics. But please give due credit.