Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

Luna Park appears to be a magical place in this postcard. In the brief decade it existed from 1906 to 1916 in Scranton, Lackawanna County, it offered entry into another world for the admission price of only 10 cents. Located across a footbridge east of Nay Aug Park along the Roaring Brook, Luna Park was the creation of Pittsburgh entrepreneur Frederick Ingersoll (1876–1927). Ingersoll opened his first Luna Park in Pittsburgh in 1905, starting the nation’s first amusement park chain, which would grow to include 44 locations. He also designed 277 roller coasters. Although Ingersoll’s park design was distinctive, with a blend of exotic architecture, the name and concept for Luna Park was first used at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, in 1903.

When Luna Park opened in Scranton in 1906 as a “trolley park,” served by city streetcars and interurban railcars, it boasted 50,000 electric lights illuminating a collection of imaginatively designed buildings. The park offered an array of fabulous rides and attractions, including Edisonia, the Temple of Mystery, Shoot the Chutes, Blarney Castle, the Scenitorium, a dance hall, a bandstand, a merry-go-round, a rifle range, a shooting gallery and a boating lagoon.

When Luna Park was built, Scranton was an important railroad hub and a successful city made rich by the production of iron and coal. It was filled with elegant, high-style Victorian buildings, including an impressive courthouse and city hall, as well as magnificent mansions, churches, schools and businesses. The park was another jewel of Scranton’s architectural splendor.

Constructed at a cost of nearly $300,000, Luna Park was plagued from the start with financial problems and setbacks, including a disastrous fire in 1916 that closed the park for good. Most traces of Luna Park were destroyed with the construction and expansion of Interstate 81 through the park grounds in the 1960s and 1998. Only the images captured on historic postcards remain as evidence of this early 20th-century paradise lost.

The realization of what has been lost forever is a sobering warning about the need to protect the buildings and landscapes that give communities their identity and sense of place. Some historic amusement parks and rides, however, have survived, and a few have been designated as historic properties. Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, Allegheny County, and the Leap-the-Dips roller coaster at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Blair County, are both National Historic Landmarks. Conneaut Lake Park in Conneaut Lake, Crawford County, and its Blue Streak roller coaster have been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Fairview Park in Salem Township, Westmoreland County, briefly offered amusement rides and is listed in the National Register as a recreational park developed for and by African Americans in 1945 because of racial discrimination. Idlewild Park near Ligonier, Westmoreland County, received a Pennsylvania Historical Marker in 2012 honoring it as the longest operating amusement park in the state.

Pennsylvania is home to a number of historic carousels, often created by renowned woodworkers at the Philadelphia manufacturers G.A. Dentzel Company, D.C. Muller & Brother, and Philadelphia Toboggan Company. The 1923 Weona Park carousel in Pen Argyl, Northampton County, is National Register listed, but other historic carousels, like those at Knoebels Grove Amusement Park in Elysburg, Columbia County, have not been inventoried or evaluated.


Pamela W. Reilly is a historic preservation specialist in PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation.