Dancing Down Memory Lane (Part 1): Park Dances — the ’60s

I just heard that they are having a recreation of the teen dances held at the White Palace at Wheeling Park on July 6.  It is in honor of the dances from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Unfortunately, they missed my decade.

My high school years seemed like one big dance party. I graduated from Wheeling Central in 1963 and, in the summertime especially, you could go to a dance somewhere every night. But on the weekends, there was no other place to be than the second floor of the White Palace listening and dancing to the latest and greatest hits spun by the No. 1 disc jockey from the No. 1 radio station in Wheeling. That title belonged to Donn Caldwell from WHLL. WHLL was a 5000-watt sunrise-to-sunset station at the top of Glenwood Heights, while WKWK was only a 250-Watt station. This all changed around 1960 when WKWK changed their format, boasted their power, hired all the top DJs and became the top Top 40 station in town.

At this time, the White Palace was completely open on the second floor. No climate control here. Cool breezes kept the dancers comfortable. Up to this point in time, the Otto Schenk Memorial Building, more commonly known as the White Palace, was much as it was when it opened in June of 1926. Wheeling Park was primarily considered a summer destination until the ice skating rink was constructed next to the White Palace in 1959. The dances were mainly a summertime attraction, too. Once school started after Labor Day, the weekends were filled with football games and high school dances.

The teenagers who frequented the dances were from all the Wheeling high schools plus other schools from up and down both sides of the river. We all met as equals. There were no fights or problems with drugs or guns. We came together to hear good music and see the latest dance steps.


Donn would often have a local entertainer drop in to sing his latest hit. Bobby Vinton was at our dances every two or three weeks. One week, my girlfriend wondered who the guy with the high bouffant hair-do was walking around the dance floor. Turns out he was Lou Christie singing “Two Faces Have I.” (Songwriters make lousy grammarians.)


As far as the music we were listening and dancing to, this was pre-Beatles and the English invasion. However, we did have the early pioneers of rock and roll and all the young entertainers coming out of Philly and New York, such as Frankie, Bobbie, Dion and Fabian.

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Even Nashville was producing some crossover hits. The Beach Boys were just waxing their surfboards. (They actually played for a Wheeling Central dance at the Island Roller Skating Rink in August 1964.)

A little bit of personal history with Donn Caldwell. My dad had a used car lot at the house in the ’60s, and he met his silent partner John Carenbauer over a poker table in one of Wheeling’s bars. They decided to drive to the docks in New Jersey and bring back a 1961 Jaguar XKE. Caldwell saw this car and decided he needed one to complete his personae.

Eventually, his extracurricular activity caught up to him and, in August 1963, he was arrested for statutory rape which, at the time, was a capital offense, which meant he was eligible for the chair. After languishing for a year is Wheeling’s jail, he pled guilty to one count of sodomy and went to the Moundsville Pen. Playboy heard about this, sent their lawyers to check it out, and got it overturned on a technicality.

Oh, yeah, my dad and John got the XKE back the day after Donn was arrested. They cleaned it up and made another $2K on it.


Teen Dance Revisited is set for 7-11 p.m. Friday, July 6, at Wheeling Park’s Memorial Ice Rink. Guests will take a step back in time and revisit the beloved Teen Dances of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Johnny O from Kool 105.5 will be spinning hits from the decades. Guests must be 21+ to attend. The cost is $15 per person, and tickets are available at the Wheeling Park White Palace main office. For information, call 304-243-4185. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Oglebay Foundation’s Access to the Parks project. This project allows local underprivileged children to enjoy their favorite recreational activities at Oglebay and Wheeling Park.

For more Park Dance memories, look for Part 2 (the ’70s) and Part 3 (the ’80s)

• Bill Orkoskey is a lifer — which means was born, raised and has lived in Wheeling all of his life, except for his three-year service in the U.S. Army. After his retirement, he has developed his love of photography music, local history and writing. He is a member of Toastmasters International, Ohio Valley Photographers, Friends of Wheeling, Ohio Valley Writers and is on the board of directors of the Wheeling Jamboree Inc.  He has contributed to Weelunk in the past. Some of his other short stories can be found here.