I was interviewed today by Baltimore's Afro-American newspaper. This because of a Blog entry on my site that has me recalling my childhood thrills of my visits to Baltimore's Gwynn Oak Park. Below is the text of this blog post that America not forget its history, triumphs, and the personal pain of our cultural evolution.
Gwynn Oak and Hairspray
"You really have to go see that play, Pat. You look just like the lead character." I nodded my head at my co-worker's comment. He wasn't the first person to point out to me that the female protagonist in the musical Hairspray, a chubby female wearing the ubiquitous bow in the center of a circle of bangs,- a style very popular during that era- resembled my own chubby middle-aged self. I'd long ago ditched the bow in the circle of bangs hairstyle but was still a chubby, pretty-faced female. As was Rikki Lake in the movie of the same name.
It's an offhand comment made by my colleagues. They could not possibly know that I not only looked the part of the female lead in that musical, I really LIVED it. And it wasn't such a pretty life.
In fact, the writer of that movie, Barry Levinson, is from my home town of Baltimore. He was writing about that city's Gwynn Oak Park, once a darling of Baltimore, the town's only city-based amusement park. Gwynn Oak Park was a hallmark of the civil rights era though many students today have likely never heard of the place. I remember it so well in that it was not only a place of endless hours of my childhood delight, it was also my first introduction to blatant bigotry.
Gwynn Oak Park was a segregated establishment. Colored persons were not allowed entrance.
"Tasha, Pierre and Jerold will be going to the Enchanted Forest," I remember Sister Digna telling my second grade class.
My seven- year old eyes regarded the three students named. They were all colored. I wondered even then just why Tasha, Pierre and Jerold couldn't go to Gwynn Oak with the rest of the class.
Every year the parochial schools of Baltimore rented Gwynn Oak park for a day. We were all given bright yellow badges to pin on our shirts. The badges allowed us entry on any rides in the park as many times as we could get on and off of them. For weeks leading up to the event I was filled with happy anticipation. I loved going on Gwynn Oak's roller coaster. Those times when I'd been to the park with my family a ride on the roller coaster cost fifteen cents a turn. With the badge I could ride it over and over, not limited by the two dollars my Dad would give me for the entire day. The prior year, as a first grade student, I'd rode the roller coaster over twenty times! I remember laying in bed that night and feeling the thrill of the coaster's first big drop by a thrilling dip in my stomach that came from my memory alone. Over and over I would think of the slow climb up the coaster's big hill, then my stomach would react with the same sudden dip and pleasant thrill just as it had when I was riding it earlier that day. This even though I was laying in my own bed! To a second grader, a trip to Gwynn Oak park with unlimited rides was paradise.