Park’s ‘shoot-the-chutes’ marred by tragedy

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier. This is the fourth of a series of articles dealing with the history of Findlay’s Riverside Park.




The 1908 season at Riverside Park experienced a tragic climax. A North Baltimore young man met death in an accident on the new shoot-the-chutes which only started to function five weeks earlier.

The shoot-the-chutes was located at the extreme north end of the old reservoir. It consisted of a high frame “slide” carrying passengers in a small boat down the decline, the vessel moving into the reservoir waters rapidly at the bottom, providing those aboard with an exciting thrill.

The shoot-the-chutes opened for the first time Sunday afternoon, June 28, 1908. It was a popular attraction and drew large patronage for its spectacular ride down the chute into the water.

But on Aug. 4, 1908, just five weeks after it opened, tragedy came in the death of Clark Sponsler, of North Baltimore, who was one of nine occupants of one of the boats. In a coroner’s inquest, it developed that two boat boards, 8 inches wide in the bottom, came loose when the vessel struck the water. The frightened passengers leaped or were thrown into the reservoir water. The theory was advanced that as the boat tipped over, Sponsler was struck on the head in some manner and became unconscious. His dead body was recovered in about 15 minutes. The other eight occupants were rescued.

Col. Ralph D. Cole, of Findlay, at the time a member of Congress from the 8th Ohio District, was standing on the reservoir bank and witnessed the accident. He jumped into the water to try to aid the victims, with some others who did likewise.

The Blanchard Transportation Amusement Co. owned the shoot-the-chutes. The structure was 75 feet in height and it was 160 feet from the top of the slide to the point where the water was struck. There were 37 tons of structural iron work in the attraction.

The shoot-the-chutes was put together by the Blanchard company in the George McArthur boiler shop, which was leased during the 1907-08 winter season for this purpose. Twenty-four concrete piers were placed in position as a foundation.

The electric company ran an extra heavy cable out to Riverside Park to handle the power required to operate the attraction. There were around 2,000 electric lights, additionally.

The Riverside shoot-the-chutes was larger than similar units featured at the St. Louis and Buffalo fairs. The full length of the chute was 375 feet.

The shoot-the-chutes was repaired and put back in shape for operation in 1909. However, patronage fell off and in July 1909, the Blanchard Transportation and Amusement Co. made an assignment in probate court for the benefit of creditors, as a consequence of the patronage loss. The appraisal in connection with the assignment put the value of the shoot-the-chutes at $750.

At a public sale in May 1910, the shoot-the-chutes was sold to the Electric Motor and Construction Co. Edward Davis, who operated the Riverside Park bathing beach, bought the boats used on the “chutes” and placed them at the disposal of bathers.

Workmen started in June to dismantle the shoot-the-chutes. The steel was sold for junk. Some of the concrete foundations remained in place until they were finally removed.

Motion pictures made their debut at Riverside Park the second year the park was open, in 1907. The Superior Moving Picture Co., formed by local men, opened a movie in late summer of that year under a heavy black canvas. The name was changed to the Imperial Electric Theater Co. In December 1907, the Blanchard Amusement Co. acquired the movie. Seats from the Grand Theater on North Main Street were purchased.

The Blanchard company purchased the old dancing pavilion at Mortimer and moved it to the park, remodeling it for movie show purposes. Seats were available for 400. The company named their show “House of Mirth.” A new picture machine was bought in Toledo.

After the Blanchard company’s financial collapse, J.M. Haley bought the movie unit, which by then had become “The Temple of Myrth.” The show was under the management of J.J. Gassman and Charles Bensinger. Associated with Mr. Haley in the business was Edward Davis.

In 1914, vaudeville was added to the program, with Dale Capell as manager.

In 1915, the city bought the movie show building for $200. Motion pictures continued to be an attraction at Riverside for a time, but eventually were phased out.


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