By Mike DiMartino
Source unknown but appears to be: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The "Highlands" amusement park gave many families happy times and lasting memories.

Situated on 23 acres along Oakland Avenue, it was swept up in flames in 1963 and later demolished.

Forest Park Community College bought the land site for $1.8 million from the Arena Corp., and junior college school buildings arose from the charred ruins of the burned-out amusement park.

The Highlands first opened in 1896, starting out as a beer garden. Publicity about the garden in 1897 read: "The finest and largest open air enterprise in the mid-west."

Admission at that time was free. People from miles away came to enjoy its attractions, especially the scenic railway and a vaudeville theater where one might see comedienne Marie Dressler for the price of 20 cents for orchestra or 10 cents for balcony seats.

After many ownerships, Tony Stueven bought the amusement park, adding attractions such as the James Corbett and Jack Dempsey boxing matches.

Band concerts were held under the pagoda, originally built for the 1904 World's Fair. Concerts were given every afternoon and evening, and John Phillip Sousa was one of the honored guest conductors to play there. .

In its heyday, the park attracted 12,000 people a day on sunny Sunday afternoons.

On dollar day, for the price of $1, a person could enjoy any of the rides or exhibits and drink free lemonade all day. Which was your favorite ride? On the Dodgems, old and young alike gleefully steered electric cars into collisions that sent other cars into a dizzying, zig-zag spin.

The Flying Turns operated solely on gravity. Cars were towed to the top of a curving pipe structure and then released, causing a thrilling, high-speed ride similar to the Winter Olympics bobsled race.

The Rolling Derby roller coaster was the most popular adult attraction. It was later converted and called The Comet.

The Fun House and the Penny Arcade were a good rest from the rides. The Penny Arcade featured hand-turned machines displaying minute movies for the price of a penny. There were also shooting galleries and boat rides.

A ride that dominated a large area of the park, called the Airplanes, stood in the center of the grounds like a giant octopus. Long, circular, swinging arms each had an airplane attached, and each plane seated several people. It was a thrill ride that gave passengers a panoramic view of all the grounds, including the Zoo across the road.

Children enjoyed the Carousel, a beautiful attraction that was one of the finest of its kind in the nation.

Saved from the 1963 fire, it was bought by Howard C. Ohlendorf for $15,000, who donated it to St. Louis County. The ride has been restored and installed in Faust Park.

Many schools held picnics there.

The atmosphere of the Highlands at night was completely different from the daylight hours. It was more adult-oriented, the grounds were quieter and the mood more romantic.

The soft, illuminated glow from the boat rides enhanced the peaceful feeling. Even the Olympic-size swimming pool, with its famous water slide and waterfall, appeared to be something from another time and place.

Couples walked hand in hand while in the distance one mi hear the soft strains of "It's Only A Paper Moon," sung by Tony Martin, who often appeared in the ballroom.

The popular song was a good parable for what the Highlands exemplified - it was only a make-believe world where make-believe dreams seemed to come true.


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Bob Corbett