From Forest Park to Faust Park for St. Louis Carousel By Shawn Clubb - 04/20/2008 The Carousel
As a three-year-old child, Doug Garner gazed at the roller coaster at Westlake Park. That experience in West County, one of Garner’s earliest recollections, became part of a life-long love of amusement parks. Garner remembers family trips to the area’s amusement parks, including the Forest Park Highlands along Oakland Avenue and Chain of Rocks on the bluffs near Riverview Boulevard.
Garner, 56, who now lives in Washington, D.C., has authored a book about the Highlands and other St. Louis amusement parks. He had it published through Arcadia Publishing, which focuses on local history books.
The book took Garner six to eight weeks to write, but more than 30 years to compile, he said. However, the interest in amusement parks that led Garner to author the book began more than 50 years ago when his family lived in the north St. Louis County community of Berkeley.
Garner’s parents would take him twice each season to Westlake, Chain of Rocks and the Forest Park Highlands. They would even take him to the parks to look them over in the winter when the parks were idle.
By age 7, Garner had managed to get on the Comet roller coaster at the Highlands. He remembers the roller coaster cars riding on casters through wooden troughs, the look of the wooden roller coasters and the sounds of the machinery moving.
“I noticed those details even back then,” Garner said.
Garner had started third grade when his father, a truck driver, was transferred to a terminal in Ohio. Garner began visiting an amusement park called The Crystal Beach in Vermilion, Ohio. It featured a wooden roller coaster next to the highway and reminded him of the Highlands.
“That thing [in Ohio] was so old and beat up my mom wouldn’t even let me go on it,” he said.
Garner later would visit Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, which specialized in new steel roller coasters. He later joined the Navy and found an amusement park to visit in Barcelona, Spain.
Through his travels, Garner’s mind always stayed on St. Louis. When he would meet someone from here, he would question them about what they remembered about the Highlands. While attending school to become a hairdresser, he asked a customer how he could find old photos from the Highlands. She told him to call the Missouri Historical Society.
Garner started researching. He placed ads in newspapers asking people to send him anything they had from the Highlands.
“Every once in a while something would trickle in. I kept collecting,” he said.
While reading some books from Arcadia Publishing, Garner decided he could compile one on the Highlands and other St. Louis amusement parks. The result is a book with 190 photographs with captions of more than 500 words each. The book traces the history of the Highlands from 1896, prior to the St. Louis World’s Fair, to July 19, 1963 - the day the Highlands burned down.
Thomas Haller of Dogtown calls Garner the “world’s expert on the Forest Park Highlands.” He knows Garner and had previously read Garner’s writings about the Highlands on the Dogtown Historical Society website.
Haller credits Garner with capturing the essence of what the amusement parks meant to those who enjoyed them each season.
“This finely-crafted book brings back such memories as begging Grandpa Adolph for one more ride on the Comet or 10 more cents to play the skee-ball,” Haller said. “Hoping to win Grandma Helen a prized candy dish that came in four long pieces to look like a little brown wiener dog. To my delight, she proudly displayed it on her coffee table for years.”
Forest Park Highlands, by Doug Garner is available from Arcadia Publishing by calling (888) 313-2665 or online at www.arcadiapublishing.com.
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