Electric Park: Baltimore's Coney Island at Reisterstown and Belvedere

The year was 1915 and Electric Park, which sat near the intersection of Belvedere and Reisterstown Road, would be taking down its zillion lights as the park was set to close. No trace of its existence exists today but for almost 20 years this park lit up northwest Baltimore with its many lights as one if its features. Originally owned by Minch & Eisenbrey and later owned by August Fenneman, Electric Park was to be to Baltimore what Coney Island was to New York.

A summer resort is born

The park opened in 1896, just minutes from Pimlico Racetrack. Ironically – or not – one of its main features was horse racing. Packed crowds were on hand to witness harness and running races. It opened at a time when its Belvedere location was considered the suburbs and Reisterstown Road was a country road with farms on either side. The park would become known for its thousands of light bulbs that lit up its entrance. Who knows, the lighting at this summer amusement resort may have influenced the builders of Las Vegas.

Once inside this 20 acre plus amusement park, attendees had a diverse selection of activity including horse racing, roller coasters, carousel, novelty acts, skating, bicycle meets, musical performances, and Kennedy’s Wild West Show featuring cowboys and Indians. One of the Indians was Charlie Longfellow, a full blooded Sioux that performed acts that were stereotypical of that time. In contrast to his show performance, Longfellow was a graduate of the Government Indian School in Carlisle, Pa. He said his performances allowed him to get a gauge of the average American. “The White American is a very interesting animal. I like to look at him,” said Longfellow. (June 14, 1908-Baltimore Sun)

Its ballroom featured both skaters and dancers moving and grooving to the sounds of an orchestra. One of its memorable novelty acts was a man named Noring. Noring would set himself up on a high tower, set himself ablaze and jump into a pool.

Another popular feature was “Nana” a lifelike painting of a woman from Russian artist Suchorowsky. The park would later add another major attraction – motion picture shows. In the early 1900’s, movies were in their infancy and Electric Park added significantly to their popularity by displaying motion pictures.

Electric Park also featured a Japanese village showcasing Geisha girls and food by Japanese cooks; an electrical display of San Francisco’s earthquake; and a scaled model of the Johnstown Flood. This was the flood of 1889 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, when complications of a dam along with heavy rainfall caused catastrophic flooding. The flood killed more than 2,000 people.

Taking Flight at Electric Park

Van Vranken and his “airship” entertained park goers with his attempt to fly from Baltimore to Washington, DC. Not sure how far he made it or if this is the same “airship” that historical folk say flew from Electric Park and landed in downtown atop a building. Either way, flying a plane was a big deal back in 1908.

The park was also the scene for Baltimore’s first automobile race in the very early 1900.

A Lion escapes

According to the Baltimore Sun papers, a lion escaped his handler and roamed through the park, in 1905. Prince The Lion, who performed with handler and performer Lafayette, escaped as he was being transported. The lion took to the swimming pool where swimmers hurriedly ran out the pool except for one swimmer(bathers, as they called them then) who was about to dive off the platform. The lion went up the platform as the swimmer yelled for help. In just the nick of time the lion’s handlers coerced the lion to come off the platform.

The Final Act

In the midst of all the amusement attractions, racing was still a major calling card. Whether horse racing, autos, motorcycles or bicycles, its half mile track stayed busy with riders in search of speed. Electric Park built up a reputation of “square dealing” in the horse racing community. Although it appears that Electric Park horse racing never superseded Pimlico, any number of thoroughbreds that raced at Pimlico also raced at Electric Park.

After almost 20 years of operation, Electric Park closed in 1915. Economic downturn and competition with Pimlico factored significantly in its closing. The facility was razed in 1916 and a row house development was built. Unfortunately, Belvedere and Reisterstown Road hold no sign of this once popular entertainment destination.

Clinton Green/School 18 Project 2014