Step back inside the Wonderland of yore
Some 100,000 people visited Wonderland on its opening day. Revere Beach would not see a crowd so large again until 1921. Reportedly, more people entered through the Beaver Street entrance (the one opening onto Revere Beach) than through the larger and more imposing Walnut Avenue entrance that led into the heart of the park.
The first one to enter Wonderland— the first “Wonderlander,” as the papers called him— was Edwin G. Smith, an East Boston businessman who had sold Wonderland the spruce pilings to support the boardwalk. He bought two admission tickets so that he could frame one.
The Boston Globe reported the next day on the succession of strange sights: “Once inside, the visitor was in the midst of a scent [sic] of indescribable animation, with an open-air circus in the middle of the plaza, accompanied by a brass band, Moorish women riding camels, a band of genuine redskins in war paint and feathers parading about with a brass band from their own numbers, genuine cowboys and ‘cowgirls’ whose volleys of musketry made noise enough to have represented Custer’s last stand and which sent the average small boy into spasms of delight.”
An interesting dissenting voice came from Rollin Lynde Hartt, a Congregational minister turned journalist and surprisingly cynical observer who wrote about the Coney Island parks and Wonderland. His observations serve as an antidote to the relentlessly positive press releases that emerged as newspaper stories. He compared the new amusement parks to the international exhibitions that inspired them:
A hot boardwalk replaces the delicious lawns and shrubbery, tinsel architecture the exquisite façades, a few plastic fol-de-rols the lavish sculpture-groups, a heartrending “lagoon” the iris- bordered waterways, a jargon of ill-combined hues the gracious harmonies of color, and a crudely magnificent illumination the sweet poetry of radiance that once— ah, so rapturously!— turned plaster to opalescent glory. And yet, if you dismiss those visions of supreme loveliness, you call the place very pretty, while to those for whom it is particularly designed it represents a jubilant paradise of beauty. Indeed, it contributes not a little to æsthetic education.
In the center of the main courtyard stood the Shoot the Chutes with its lagoon and surrounding canals. The Shoot the Chutes had become the primary attraction at just about every amusement park that went up in the first decade of the twentieth century. It certainly wasn’t the first to go up in the Boston area. Twenty years earlier there had been one at Massachusetts Avenue and Huntington Avenue, about where Symphony Hall now stands in the Back Bay. But Floyd Thompson had scored a major coup with this one—it was possibly the largest one in the world (both tallest and longest), it had two tracks on it (so that it could launch two boats at the same time), and it was the one that had stood on the midway at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. Its tower stood 83 feet tall, and the chute itself was 340 feet long.
Following the exposition, it had been taken apart for transportation to Wonderland and loaded on eleven railroad cars. During the spring of 1906 four of those cars had gone missing, causing some frantic times as tracers were sent out to locate them. But they were found and assembled in time for opening day.
On either side of the central lagoon were two canals in which various boats could run. These seem to have been copied from the expositions, which also had canals, though generally not flanking a central lagoon. A pedestrian bridge, just like the one at the Shoot the Chutes in Coney Island’s Dreamland, crossed the ride just beyond where the skiffs splashed into the water, letting spectators view the ride without getting wet.
Nearby was the Arcus Ring, which featured a continually changing roster of circus acts—trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, acrobats, contortionists, and so on. In its first year, the Arcus Ring was superintended by Fred A. Bennett, who acted as ringmaster, announcer, stilt-walker, and impersonator.
Not far from the end of the lagoon was a circular attraction called Love’s Journey. At first glance, it appeared to be another Tunnel of Love ride, but as a story in the Boston Globe observed, it was “an amusement feature which is not only new in Boston, but is new to the entire amusement world. Wonderland will see the first journey of the kind. It is the invention of Herbert H. Pattee and is being constructed under his personal direction.”
Wonderland succeeded in getting this brand-new ride before anyone else had. Herbert Horton Pattee of New York City had filed his patent application for an amusement device only in March 1906.
A description in the Globe, clearly citing a press release from Wonderland, gives some details of the ride: “Twenty cars, each holding two persons and each overhung by a figure of cupid, go on a circular course, which is described as ‘crazy, sentimental, and sensational.’ The cars enter a tunnel with trick doors which are opened automatically, and in the course of the journey pass through four doors, each of which reveals a surprise, the final incident being a whirlwind and a snowstorm of confetti.”
Also of note was the Descent into the Hell Gate, usually called simply the Hell Gate, the name written in red over the entrance. This was Wonderland’s edition of one of the hit rides from Dreamland’s second season. The Dreamland version had an enormous devil appearing to peer and reach over the entrance, but Wonderland’s was a relatively sedate building. From the front it appeared octagonal, but beyond the facade it became a polyhedron, essentially a circle 104 feet in diameter. The front looked like a medieval castle, made up apparently of massive stone blocks with a crenellated top. There was a long flight of steps going up to a dark entrance.
For once, the description given in the newspapers was not simply the same as the one used in the souvenir book. Both descriptions waxed positively and even literally poetical about the ride. Curiously, they don’t say much about the physical layout of the ride, but they do illustrate the visual and visceral impact it had. From the 1906 souvenir booklet: