Grandma Lights Up Electric Park

Linda Echo-Hawk
March 3, 2009

Even in my earliest memories, Grandma Ross was old. Funny, because when I was a little kid, she was probably younger than I am now, and no one would call me old today, at least not to my face.
Dad said something last November that brought Grandma to life for me. He said that when she was 17 or 18, she worked as a cashier at Electric Park. This really made me curious. What was Electric Park anyway?
A little googling showed that in the early 1900s “electric parks” were all the rage. There was Fairmount Park, which had electric lights and rides like the “Loop the Loop.” It opened in 1897 at 24 Highway and Willow near Independence and stayed open until 1933.
Electric Park was originally located in the “East Bottoms,” but it moved to 46th and The Paseo in 1907. It featured lush gardens, a Lagoon, and rides, as well as band concerts. A streetcar ran from Kansas City to bring people to the park. It closed in 1925, before Dad was born. Today there aren’t any remnants of Electric Park.

I found a fascinating resource online, The Illustrated History of Fairmount Park, by John M. Olinskey and Leigh Ann Little. Their account of 1907 states:

[1907] Is the beginning of a golden age for KC's commercial parks and a lot of competition for Fairmount.  Two new parks opened this year.  Carnival Park and the new Electric Park.  Forest was popular, too, and Troost was struggling.
The new Electric Park at 46th and the Paseo had everything, band concerts, vaudeville, Electric Fountain, ballroom, natatorium (an indoor swimming pool), German village, alligator farm, chutes, Dips Coaster, Norton slide, penny parlors, novelty stand, Japanese rolling ball, scenic railway, pool room, a Hale's Tour of the World, Electric Studio, boat tours, old mill, a Temple of Mirth, Flying Lady, Double Whirl, Circle Swing, soda fountain and ice cream shops, knife rack, doll rack, shooting gallery, air gun gallery, giant teeter, boating, outdoor swimming, carousel, clubhouse cafe, Casino 5c theater, fortune telling and palmistry, covered promenade and horseless buggy garage.
New Electric's grand opening was Sunday, May 19.  Admission to the park was ten cents.  The Ellery band played at 2 and at 8 pm.  Seven days a week "Rain or Shine".  The vaudeville in the German Village was free, but the beer wasn't yet allowed.  There was a legal hassle about the transfer of the liquor license from the old park location to the new park location.
The prohibitionists were trying to curb the devil rum.  A law had been passed in KC that until the population of the city reached 400,000 no more liquor licenses would be granted, and then only 1 for every 1,000 population of increase.  But on May 16, a liquor license for Fairmount was proposed by park management.  In front of the county court many people, mostly women with babies, protested and gave to the court a petition with 905 signatures.  The signatures weren't valid because the women could not vote.  The license for a saloon was granted.  Fairmount for the first time in a long time was wet.
Opening day at Fairmount Park was electric.  100,000 light bulbs, one every few inches, lit up the sky.  One thing Fairmount Park had going for it was its trees; Electric had few.  Directions to the Electric Park were as follows: "Take Rockhill and Troost cars direct to park.  Passengers brought to main entrance of the Promenade.  Vine Street car entrance at 45th and Woodland Ave.  Carriage, automobile, and pedestrian entrance at 46th and Lydia."
The new park was packed and declared a success by the public.

Della Fay (Wood) Ross was born in 1901. It would have been around 1918-1920, in the heyday of these electric amusement parks, when she worked at Electric Park. I suddenly had a vision of Grandma Ross as a vibrant teenager.
As I learned more about Electric Park, and continued to talk to Dad, it seemed that we were less certain that she worked at Electric Park. When I told Dad that it was located at 46th and The Paseo, he wondered if she had worked at Fairmount Park instead. The Fairmount Park location near Sterling Avenue in Independence seemed a better fit to Dad. We didn’t have anyone left to ask, but maybe it doesn’t really matter. The important part for me was having a new picture of Grandma Ross in my mind. She had become real to me in a way she had never been before.