Pittsburg Scenes - Parks
Forest Park
Southwest of Fourth & Bypass
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Forest Park
- photo abt 1900
- courtesy The Crawford County Genealogical Society - Dorothy Benskin
Forest Park was located south of the old Hull & Dillon Packing Plant across Fourth Street. It was opened by W. W. Bell in about 1897. It contained a driving track, amusements and a small zoo. It closed in about 1905 after Bell opened the La Belle Theatre at the northeast corner of Fourth & Locust. Below are several newspaper articles from 1900 and 1901 describing the park and its attractions.

Local News. “Manager Bell, of Forest Park, closed the contract today with the famous Bickett family of aerialists of four females and one male as a special out door feature at the park opening in May. He brings from the New Orleans Exposition and will cost him $450 for six day’s performances.” - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, April 13, 1900, p.8, c.2


Forest Park Opened. A Large Crowd Out at the Suburban Park Yesterday. “The heavy rain storm of Saturday prevented the opening of the suburban park, entertaining a heavy loss on Manager Bell. He has been at large expense in fitting up this place, a visit there showing that the new theatre building has been built entire, gravel walks laid through the grounds, flower beds set out, choice plants distributed, and swings of various kinds placed there for the free use of the visitors. The grounds are well lighted by electricity.  Not only are these free accessories observable, but there are booths at which may be procured ice cream, lemonade, cigars, sandwiches, candles and other necessaries to the enjoyment of an outing. There are also various amusements, such as merry-go-rounds, shooting galleries, devices for throwing balls, the knife game and others. Phillips brothers also have on exhibition what is said to be the smallest horse in existence, it being a diminutive Shetland pony weighing only sixty pounds, which stands in a box and munches its oats as naturally as if it were the largest horse in America. In the same tent is another small Shetland pony by the side of which he either looks like a veritable pigmy. They also have an electrical device for taking pictures. The rain had made the track so wet that it was impossible to pull off the races, but Manager Bell concluded to open and give as good an entertainment as possible, and the large crowd which assembled there yesterday and last night are leud <sic> in their praise of that gentleman as an energetic manager and predict a summer of rare pleasure at this place, which promises to be one where all can go for a little recreation and pleasure. Special officers are on the grounds at all times to see that the best of order prevails, and that ladies and children may go there without fear of rowdyism <sic>. Yesterday afternoon the first entertainment was the aerial performance of the Bickett family, who proved themselves first class artists. They are far above the average and Manager Bell is to be congratulated on obtaining them. J. J. Richards was with his band of excellent musicians discoursing sweet music fro the entertainment of the visitors. They played excellently and added much to the pleasure. After the aerial act the crowd filled the theatre, which is seated with chairs and is really a commodious affair. There is an advertising drop curtain with an old country scene pictured in the center. In connection with this theatre we desire to say that Manager Bell has procured the services of seventeen as good performers as can be seen anywhere. Each is a high-class artist in their specialties. Many fifty and seventy-five cent shows are not as good as that as Forest Park. The program in the afternoon comprised black-faced song and dance work by the Columbine trio, which was excellent. The eldest of the trio displayed some wonderful buck and wing dancing, while the littlest of the three, a veritable baby, called forth loud applause by her grotesque work.
Miss Clara Dorente, a vocalist, did some very pleasing work, and was loudly applauded. At the evening performance calcium light pictures illustrated her songs. McCarty and Reina, the black face acrobatic song and dance artists, are excellent, and proved themselves stars. Reina was a favorite, of course with the ladies. The work of Hayward and Hayward the Dutch comedians, was somewhat interfered with, as Mrs. Hayward was obliged to officiate at the piano, but Mr. Hayward did some excellent Dutch singing and wooden shoe dancing. Mack and Leone, in a little dramatic sketch, made a fine impression on the audience. They are each highly gifted in histrionic powers and brought out the full beauties of the parts as a discontented husband and wife. Miss Clara Hazel as a vocalist is fine, her work being such as to have called her back to the stage twice in the afternoon, while in the evening the audience would hardly allow her to leave. She is becoming a prime favorite. The entertainment was concluded by Reef and Retto, acrobatic song and dance artists and high kickers. Their act is a funny one throughout and proved a strong attraction yesterday. The entire program was first class and was cheered to the echo. That of the evening was the same as the afternoons. The balloon ascension was advertised for the evening, and the Bickett family gave another wonderful aerial exhibition. A start was made for the balloon, but just as the start was made the parachute caught in a tree, upsetting the balloon and preventing ascension. The ascension will be made tonight. Every night this eek the grounds will be free and exhibitions will be given consisting of vaudeville entertainments and serial work of the Bickett family. Those going them may be sure of having a fine evenings enjoyment. Wednesday next, Decoration Day is to be a special day, and an extra program is to be arranged, comprising first class races and all the other features. Mr. Bell expects to have another special day this week but has yet decided upon just which one it will be. It is fully demonstrated that Forest Park, will prove a favorite place for amusement lovers this summer. - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, May 28, 1900, p.3, c.4


Made a Wonderful Change. “The improvements being made by Manager Bell at Forest Park has already made a wonderful change in the grounds for the better, gravel walks have been laid, the theatrical building remodeled, flower beds made, etc. until there is as much difference in the grounds this season from last season as there was then in comparison with the season before. The work of improvement, however, is not yet completed by any means. The fenced, buildings and trees to the height of about eight feet are to be painted white and in other ways the park grounds will be made as near as possible to compare with those in the cities. Two extra heavy double swings and fifty rustic settees have been ordered to be placed on the grounds.” - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, Mar. 29, 1901, p. 1, c. 1


Attraction for Forest Park.“Manager Bell, of the Forest Park, is exerting every effort to furnish the people of Pittsburg a form of summer park amusements equaled by none outside the large cities. As a partial move in the way of attractive features in a zoological way he purchases a couple of wild cats yesterday afternoon, which will be caged, and on exhibition. The animals are practically untamed and wild show off in their natural wild way. He has also purchased the two monkeys that were a prominent feature among the attractions at the Omaha exposition two years ago. One of these is a native of the Island of Java, and the other is a Chinese monkey by birth. They are pretty well Americanized, however, from their comparative long residence on this side of the water and are full of tricks and fun making. They are educated and are proud of the knowledge they have of the world. Talking and educated parrots will also be among the features. Negotiations are on for a black bear (a perfect pet too) but the deal is not far enough along to guarantee that it will be consummated. All of the other features and more too, is evidence enough that Mr. Bell is trying this season to please and is entitled to success.” - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, April 10, 1901, p4, c6


Advertising the Park.“To advertise the park opening on May 30th, Manager Bell has ordered 2500 poster sheets and he will bill twenty towns about Pittsburg. They are large, highly colored, showing hippodrome races, high wire performances, balloon ascensions, etc., and will attract as much attention as a circus poster and it the weather is favorable will certainly draw a crowd. The attractions are all of a high class and will be well worthwhile coming miles to see. A big street parade with chariots, cowboys, Indians, ect. as leading feature will take place. Mr. Bell is meeting with extra good financial encouragement this year.” - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, April 23, 1901, p1, c5


Wild Animals For the Park. “The first of the wild animals which will form the zoological collection at the park arrived yesterday and were installed in their cages today. The first shipment is only a starter, as the park exhibit will be added to from time to time. The animals, which were received yesterday, were three monkeys and two wild cats. The last of least, deserve the name of ferocious and the hands at the park soon found out that it did not pay to monkey with the wildcats. The little beasts are far from being tame and they resent the gaze of spectators with angry growls and snarls, and quick snaps of their paws, which are armed with formidable sharp claws. One of the park employees had his hand badly scratched while unloading the fierce little animals. He carelessly took hold of one of the bars of the cage when quick as a flash the wildcat jumped at the bars and workman found a broad angry scratch bleeding across the back of his hand. The park “zoo” will gradually be increased and it will form a very interesting exhibit this summer.” - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, May 29, 1901, p4, c5


The Park Opening. “Contrary to all expectations the day was clear, bright and cool, and an ideal one for a park opening. Heretofore it has been the custom of the weather clerk to work up a special kind of wet and disagreeable either for park opening in general, but according to all reports from other points this year has been an exception. Here the new rule was carried out and Manager Bell, of Forest Park, can certainly have nothing to complain of on his opening day as far as the weather is concerned. The crowds in attendance may not be big enough to suit him, but the disinterested ones cannot help but say that in this respect he was very well favored also. The street parade when it is considered that it is one of the attractions at a park opening, made a good showing, although quite a number expected to see a genuine well arrayed circus parade. The principal attractions in the parade were the Wild West and chariots with their lady drivers and ponies. The opening had been will advertised and people came for miles to see it. This was evidenced by the crowds in the park.” - Pittsburg Daily Headlight, May 30, 1901, p.1, c.5


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