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The Way it Was: How people used to spend their leisure time

by John Straka Published: August 10, 2016 12:00 AM

The early part of my life was before we had television, the Internet, jet propelled aircraft, automobiles and a whole lot of new things. I am just at the right age to remember what it was like before all of those things changed our world.

I have often been asked, very seriously, what it was really like without a car, television and a computer. To my recollection, the greatest differences were that we spent more leisure time at home, and we were closer to our relatives, friends and neighbors.

An annual, all-day highlight was when the family packed a picnic lunch and spent the day at a nearby amusement park.

Euclid Beach and Geauga Lake parks were "the place to go." Parking was free, there was no admission charge, and you could come and stay as long as you wished. If you wanted hot coffee with your picnic lunch, in some cases, the 5 cents it cost was all you needed to spend for a full day of leisure, pleasure and enjoyment.

I haven't been to Cedar Point in decades, but I hear that it costs close to $100 just to get into the place.

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There used to be private affairs put on by various organizations, clubs or churches. These were social events that needed prepurchased tickets and reservations. They were often picnics, dinners or dances. Members and guests would pay just enough to cover the expenses, and a little left over for the benefit of the organization hosting it. Sometimes, if the organization could afford it, the whole thing was at no cost.

Also available for using your leisure time to have fun, were various entertainments open to the public. You bought your ticket, and you walked in. The picture show, also called the movies, was one of those. For 35 cents, you saw a comedy, newsreel, coming attractions, short subject and a feature film. Yes, all that for 35 cents!

There was roller skating, ice skating and dancing. Dance halls were very popular with young adults. Music would be provided by well known big bands, including Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and many others.

The Aragon Ballroom enforced strict rules of attire and conduct. You wore a suit and tie, or you couldn't get in. In some cases, a tie would be loaned by the management. If a couple were dancing too close, a roving guard would tap the man on the shoulder, and if it happened again, they would be escorted out the door.

I don't remember there being any dance halls in the Cleveland metropolitan area that provided taxi dancers. For those who aren't old enough to remember, taxi dancers were women who worked for the dance hall, and waited for customers to buy, with a prepurchased ticket, a dance with that particular dancer. It was like renting a dance partner.

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At Euclid Beach, long-time married couples, newlyweds and couples on dates would pay, with prepurchased tickets, for a few minutes of dance time together.

You could rent other things to enjoy in your leisure time: a canoe, rowboat, toboggan, riding horse or horse and buggy.

I don't know where the nearest driving range is now, but for a small fee, they give you a bucket of balls to use there for practice in improving your golf game. When you go golfing, it's a lot like renting the golf course.

For bowling, you paid per line. For other rentals, it was per hour. Some of these rentals came with restrictions on age or height.

I have attended the circus a few times. Some people may have enjoyed that kind of entertainment more than I did. I see small circuses set up in shopping center parking lots almost every summer. There are people who object to the use of exotic animals for entertainment, and I understand that is changing now. Small circuses have been around for a very long time in Europe. Here in the USA, circuses probably won't be around much longer.

And then there were the carnivals: a sword swallower, bearded lady, magician, fire eater, tattoed man, dancing girls and a fat lady. Carnivals never had a very good reputation. During the Great Depression, I once paid 10 cents, today worth about $1 or more, just to see a deep sea diver in a tank with a "real" octopus. The octopus was real all right-real dead!

However, when a carnival was sponsored by a local church or fraternal organization, that was an altogether different matter. The church carnivals did not have a sideshow. They usually had booths with gambling wheels, and for 10 cents you might win a ham or a set of towels. Besides the chance booths, they sold food and had amusement park rides. My favorite was the ferris wheel. The highlight of some church carnivals was when some lucky ticket holder won a brand new car.

Editor's note: Straka can be reached via email at wenceslas88plus@gmail.com.


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