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Palisades Amusement Park Exhibit: A Book, a Pool and a Centennial

Upcoming Palisades Amusement Park exhibit at the Fort Lee Museum to celebrate the centennial of the world's largest outdoor saltwater pool and the publication of a new book, "Palisades Park."

Palisades has the rides... Palisades has the fun… Come On Over.

Shows and dancing are free... so's the parking, so gee... Come On Over.

Palisades from coast to coast, where a dime buys the most. Palisades Amusement Park. Swings all day and after dark. (bumm, baa, dumm, bumm, bummmm)

Ride the coaster...Get cool...In the waves in the pool. You’ll have fun... so...Come On Over..(dumm de dum da dum... dum)

So goes the song Come on Over that was heard over all the New York metropolitan area radio stations and seen on TV commericials in the 1960s. This song, lodged in the recesses of millions of baby boomers’ brains, is an introduction of sorts for all of you readers to come on over to the Fort Lee Museum from March 2 through Sept. 9 this year for our Palisades Amusement Park exhibit.

2013 marks the centennial of the opening of perhaps the most well-known outdoor pool in America. On June 8, 1913 the then owners of the park, brothers Nick and Joe Schenck, opened the largest outdoor saltwater pool in the nation.  This wondrous feat of modern engineering of the day included a wave machine, waterfall and salt water brought up in pumps from the Hudson River below and filtered into the pool each and every day.

Nick & Joe Schenck purchased the park in 1910, and under their ownership the park blossomed into a huge attraction. According to Palisades Amusement Park historian Vince Gargiulo in his wonderful book Palisades Amusement Park A Century of Fond Memories the Schenck’s largest competitor was Coney Island.  According to Vince …the Schencks decided they would have the same thing, and if they could not bring the Park to the beach, they would bring the beach to the Park!”

The Schencks built the pool at the northern end of the park where Nebraska Bill had his Wild West Show. The pool would be as wide as a city block and three times as long with an island at the center.

Not satisfied with just having the largest outdoor saltwater pool, the Schencks needed to recreate a beach and the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. That's where the genius of William F. Mangels came into play. Mangels was the inventor who previously developed the system to make carousel horses appear to gallop. He built and installed a wave-making machine operated through the movement of paddleboards that displaced the water and created waves in the pool. The Schencks then hauled in tons of sand to build an artificial  beach. One end of the pool had a waterfall, and bathhouses were built to accommodate swimmers.

Vince Gargiulo says in his book “…the one and a half million gallons of saltwater needed for the pool were siphoned from the Hudson River at high tide by enormous pumps. Before entering the pool, the water flowed through six large filters to clear it of any contaminants. On June 8th, 1913 the large pool officially opened billed to accommodate ten thousand swimmers, the pool was constructed entirely of concrete. Its depth ranged from a few inches to fourteen feet; at the deepest end, diving boards built from hickory timbers lined the sides.  Bathhouses were divided equally among the sexes and provided accommodations for more than two thousand bathers. The park even offered free swimming instructions to all patrons.” 

The pool was drained each night and cleaned by park employees, and fresh water pumped up to fill the pool each day. Many pool patrons recall fondly “the boards,” the wooden planked area where patrons could sunbathe and relax near the pool.

The upcoming Fort Lee Museum exhibit on the park is the first exhibit the Fort Lee Historical Society ever mounted on Palisades Amusement Park to concentrate solely on the famed saltwater pool. One of the reasons for this exhibit is not only a celebration of the centennial of the opening of the pool, but also a celebration of the publication of a new book on Palisades Amusement Park, which is set to debut in Fort Lee on April 9. 

Emmy Award-winning writer Alan Brennert is the author of this new book titled Palisades Park. Alan grew up in the area and eventually relocated to California where he won his Emmy for his writing on the hit NBC series LA Law

Since that time Alan has become a writer of wonderful novels. About two years ago, he called my office to discuss Palisades Amusement Park regarding his research for the book. I encouraged him to make use of our resources in the Fort Lee Historical Society archive at the museum. 

Thanks to past Fort Lee Historical Society president and former Palisades Amusement Park employee, Bob Boylan, we have one of the greatest still collection of photos from the park. We also have more recently collected artifacts as well as Kodachrome slides of the park.

We also have created a living history program where we have archived videotaped interviews with former park employees, including the famed Palisades Amusement Park public relations man Sol Abrams.

One of the cornerstones of our Palisades Amusement Park collection is the scrapbooks that belonged to famed Palisades Amusement Park and Hudson River lifeguard Bunty Hill. Bunty, a lifelong resident of Fort Lee, taught generations of Fort Lee kids to swim both at his dock on Hazards Beach below the George Washington Bridge on the Hudson and in Palisades Amusement Park as a longtime lifeguard. 

Alan studied those scrapbooks closely as well as other portions of our collection.  In addition, he met with Vince Gargiulo and others with knowledge of the history of the park. The result is a book Alan completed that takes some of these real characters and wraps around them a fictional story set in the park over the decades. 

Alan recently sent me an advance copy of his book, and all I can say is, "WOW!"  This book, I truly believe, will be so popular that it may well be made into a film in the future. St. Martin's Press, the publisher, has announced a 100,000 initial publication this spring, and Alan’s book tour kicks off at our very own Fort Lee Museum on April 9 at 7 p.m.

Plans are also underway for a Fort Lee Historical Society barbecue outside the Fort Lee Museum and in the adjacent Monument Park on June 8 to celebrate the centennial date of the opening of the pool.

For all readers with memories of the pool, perhaps you can assist us in the plans for our upcoming exhibit. If you have photos or artifacts from the pool, please call us at the Fort Lee Museum at 201-592-3580. We can scan any images and return the originals, and any artifacts you loan us will be returned at the close of the exhibit. 

Let’s celebrate a wonderful chapter of Fort Lee’s past by bringing it back to life this spring and summer in such a way that we once again can be the place that swings all day and after dark!

Baba O'Riley January 12, 2013 at 02:05 AM
Another great article!
Andrey Postoyanets January 12, 2013 at 04:12 AM
It's just unbelievable how rich the history of our neighborhood is! Last year, it's been 100 years of the film industry. This year, it's the amusement park. I did not even realize that it goes back to the beginning of the 20th century... Thanks a lot Tom - I look forward a next article - and the upcoming exhibition.
Tom Meyers January 12, 2013 at 04:54 AM
Thanks for the kind words! I do believe our town of Fort Lee has more history than most any town in the USA!
Cathy Szewc January 12, 2013 at 05:12 AM
Great news! I will definitely visit the museum. I grew up in that park. LOVED EVERY DAY SPENT THERE! Ilived in CP AND COULD WALK THERE. Best memories ever.
mjmjr January 12, 2013 at 06:44 AM
IT WAS THE BEST AMUSEMENT PARK IN THE COUNTRY.
Matt Barrett January 12, 2013 at 11:32 PM
I traveled from Jersey City every weekend with my brothers by Kennedy Blvd. Bus from Journal Sq. with my Aunt's who took us there on the weekends. I remember the live radio broadcast on the radio and the slogan song. It was great!, it's a very happy memory in my life. It's what we need more of today.
Fort Lee Truth January 13, 2013 at 06:16 AM
Tom, great job with the articles each Friday.
Tracy January 13, 2013 at 06:28 PM
Tom, Once again, great article. I look forward to them! Has anyone in the pictures identified themselves? That would be fun! Thanks!
Tom Meyers January 13, 2013 at 07:38 PM
Tracy, Yes people in the past have identified themselves in images we have placed on display in the Fort Lee Museum re Palisades Amusement Park - that is always a lot of un - similar situations have happened with, for example, exhibits on Fort Lee's Riviers Nightclub. This has led many to donate or loan some of their own personal collections to the Fort Lee Museum.

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