Oglebay Park played a major role in the life of our family. Nine children needed at least 900 acres for a playground, and Oglebay had it. It seems like a thousand years ago, but I can remember the old original zoo. It was nothing like the new one. Animals like raccoons were in wire cages, and the real treat was the snake pit. Could anything be better than a real snake pit when you are 5? Close to the snake pit was an old tower. Someone used to tell or read stories in that old tower. All of this was close to the old Nature Center, where you could sit in the basement and see a movie. Movies were a big deal in the old days. Of course the movie might be a travelogue or something that would not draw a crowd today.
Once in a while the lake in the park froze. What a delight to skate on such a large rink. You could sled off the hill onto the ice, and it was the best thrill for free in the park. There used to be huge picnics up by Camp Russell. Unions would throw a bust with a whole tractor trailer load of beer. One of the best was the Syrian picnic. Never was there such a sight as cars crashing as they came off the hill at the Syrian picnic. After everyone was well lubricated, it rained. People had parked cars all over the hillside to the west. It was a great idea when the hill was dry, but an expensive round of bumper cars when the beer vessels tried to drive home.
Every summer Quinn kids were sent to nature camp at Camp Russel. We learned about the birds and the bees in both the literal and figurative sense. In the foggy morning we had to traipse through the woods to identify birds by their call. Father Quinn was an avid birder, and now a couple of my sisters still have not shaken the disease. I just returned from a birding trip to Belize with sister Patty. It all started at Oglebay sometime in the late ’50s or early ’60s.
Graduation ceremonies were held at the amphitheater. We learned to ski at the par three, and we were chlorinated every day at the pool. My brother Tom was a caddy and stayed at caddy camp. My sisters were enthralled with the horses and loved to go to the park to ride. Oglebay was as close to Disneyland as a Quinn would ever get. As I got older, I volunteered and did some teaching at nature camp.
Way back before the carriage house burned down, they had a turkey shoot there right before Thanksgiving. You actually won a turkey. My oldest sister, Melissa, was a crack shot. She learned her skill by shooting a BB gun with a bent barrel. It was her job to win the Thanksgiving turkey every year.
Probably a lot of people reading this went to Woodsdale School. If you are the right age, you had Mr. Goddard. Elwood Goddard, he was the science teacher. Elwood was a good man and used to run the concession above the golf club. Mr. Hile was the principal at Woodsdale, and he often ran the Nature Camp. So there you were a kid in a park under the watchful eyes of the same regime that kept you under control at school.
As kids we managed to get into our share of trouble, but the park gave us a lot to do and kept our share of trouble small. I have traveled all over the United States, and few if any cities have a park that can compare to Oglebay.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Mike’s blog, Kadizzled. He has generously agreed to look the other way while we pilfer his material that pertains to Wheeling.