The Tornado. The Calypso. The Twister. The Roto Jet. The Wild Mouse. These were a few of the rides that once whirled and twirled under the open sky in northwest Oklahoma City at Wedgewood Village Amusement Park. The park left memories that continue to take on a life of their own today, former park owner Maurice Woods said. Woods, 81, said he's not surprised so many people haven't let go of the past he created. He said he often is approached by people who have stories of the park, who remember the smells of Dub Adams' Hickory Kitchen and summer days spent splashing in the Olympic-size swimming pool, still used by an apartment complex today. There is a Web site created by a fan who says he can draw a map of the park from his childhood memory. And hardly a day goes by someone doesn't ask Woods about the park. "I miss the fun of the amusement park,” Woods said, "but I don't miss the headaches.” With an average of 3,000 people a day visiting the park from 1958 to 1969, and more than 100 employees each season — many who were teenagers working summer jobs — Woods has little trouble recalling stories of the park. "We gave Wedgewood Village T-shirts to our employees and there was a time to have a Wedgewood shirt was a sign of having arrived, so to speak,” Woods said. As he spoke about the park at a north Oklahoma City Luby's Restaurant, a stranger playing bridge overheard his interview in progress and pitched in her own story. Barbara Armstrong, 82, of Oklahoma City said her daughter, Claudia Armstrong, was 8 years old in 1960 when she chipped a tooth and knocked another tooth out on a handrail while riding the Tornado. She said Woods called her at home to tell her about the accident. "She's worn caps ever since and today she's a dental hygienist in Dallas,” Armstrong said. "I've got lots of good memories of Wedgewood. You wouldn't want to hear them all.”
Dave Aitken, 48, now of St. Louis, grew up in Oklahoma City. He created a Web site as a tribute to the bygone park."I was such a Wedgewood fanatic,” Aitken said. "My mom would drop us off because she knew we loved the place and it was $1 to get in on Saturdays.”
Aitken said he remembers before the park closed in 1969, asking his father to call Woods to ask why he was selling the Tornado at an auction. His dad handed the phone to the son, who was crying over the sale."I asked him why he was selling the Tornado,” Aitken said. "He said it was just time for it to go.”
The Web site gets about 200 visits and 20 e-mails a day from people who remember stories about the park — from the Safari Boat rides in "Jungleland,” to the bumper cars."There are people who have never even been to Oklahoma who love to research amusement parks and roller coasters,” Aitken said. Wedgewood was first a golf driving range at NW 59 and May Avenue in 1954. Woods is a 1950 University of Oklahoma graduate with a business administration degree who loves golf. He remembers watching children sitting in cars while "daddy hit golf balls,” and had the idea to bring in rides. The first ride was a miniature train. In April 1958, he opened Wedgewood at the northwest corner of Northwest Expressway and NW 63. The 30-acre park featured the tallest roller coaster in the city at the time, the Tornado. A photograph of the grand opening shows professional baseball player Allie Reynolds driving a golden spike into the miniature train tracks next to a smiling local TV celebrity, Danny Williams, in his "3-D Danny” costume.
Woods said he had a good family atmosphere at the park. Parents trusted their children to stay at the park all day without adult supervision. But by 1963, a changing racial climate caught up with the park.
The park, like many segregated businesses of the era, went through changes after sit-in demonstrations by local activists, including Clara Luper in 1963. Woods, torn over helping break the color barrier and keeping white clients happy, decided to integrate.
The decision did hurt business, he said. Crowds disappeared. Whites stayed away and blacks mostly went to Springlake Amusement park in northeast Oklahoma City."I was caught up in what was going on in the rest of the world at the time,” Woods said. "That summer you could fire a shotgun down the park and not hit anyone.” When profits dipped, Woods turned to rock 'n' roll to save the park. It was music that brought the crowds back in 1966, he said. Johnny Rivers, Johnny Cash and teen pop idol Johnny Tillotson helped make the turnstiles whirl.
When Herman's Hermits played at the park free to those who paid $1 admission, 11,000 people swarmed Wedgewood. The band had to be dropped from a helicopter that landed on a building's roof.Disc jockey Ronnie Kaye, 70, who worked for WKY Radio in the 1960s, recalls his first live remote broadcast at Wedgewood under the Tornado in 1962. He helped promote the Herman's Hermits show in 1966. "That was probably the biggest gathering of kids for a rock act to date,” Kaye said. Roger Miller and The Byrds played the park. By the time The Who played in 1968, Wedgewood was a major music venue, Kaye said.
Woods developed friendships with stars who performed at the park through the years, including Frankie Avalon and Cesar Romero. Romero, who played the Joker on the television series, "Batman,” came to Wedgewood on a 100-degree day in full makeup in 1966, signing autographs under a tent for kids and fans."He didn't want to stop because he said he was having too much fun,” Woods said. But by 1969, rising insurance costs, issues with ride-operators and offers for the land led Woods to close for good. He slowly sold off the land to developers, who built an apartment complex and restaurants along Northwest Expressway. He said he still hears from people who tell him they remember crying as a child when the park closed. "I'm still proud we operated a park that people still have good memories of,” Woods said.