Monday, February 5, 2018

Shadows From the Past in the Luna Park Historic District: Charleston

Theresa's Note: I've got another Guest Blog submission for you today, and I think it's going to be one you're absolutely going to love. Kimberly Taylor, a local law librarian and paranormal enthusiast, has shared these experiences from her residence in Charleston's West Side. Possibly stirred up by some local construction projects, her formerly tranquil apartment became a passageway for citizens of another time. Kimberly then looked into the history of the area, and may have found the cause of these spooky disturbances!  A HUGE 'thank you!' to Kimberly for sharing this well-written, well-researched account of local activity!

Luna Park Entrance Sign Postcard
Source: Wikipedia, courtesy of My WV Home

I live on the West Side of Charleston, West Virginia in an apartment building that includes a nice view of the Kanawha River.  The location's tranquility drew us in; then the construction on Kanawha Boulevard began.

In an attempt to make the West Side more inviting, the City Council decided to expand the riverside walking path and add a bicycle lane.  This meant reducing the four-lane Boulevard to three.

Soon surveyors and heavy equipment showed up.  Monster size machinery ripped layers of concrete and rebar up like they were peeling an onion of its layers.  Backhoes exposed decade's old oil and river residue and deposited it in neat piles in front the apartment building.

Other than the inconvenience of road construction in my front yard nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Washing dishes is mundane so I like to pass the time daydreaming or staring into the living room at the television.  I'd been in our small kitchen for a while one particular afternoon and staring mindlessly at the television set for quite a while.  Then, what the hell was that?  A guy just casually strolled through the living room followed by another!  I rushed into the living room thinking the worst of the West Side had finally intruded into our quiet space only to find no one there. 

I wasn't frightened by the occurrence because shades have been a part of my life experience since childhood.  Startled, yes.

The next construction phase brought in more equipment including earth movers as tall as the apartment building that churned up soil and river residue so old it smelled like swamp and sickness.  Sometimes it burned my eyes.

Workers showed up before dawn and frequently stayed well past dusk.  Glaring spot lights became the norm and quiet time was pushed later and later into the evening.  Eventually I took to wandering the apartment in the middle of the night, peering out windows.

During one late night roam, I lingered in the office looking at a friend's painting, getting lost in the swirl of colors and, then got further distracted by the pages of a familiar book.  Reminding myself that it is a work night, I move toward the living room for one last glance out the windows.

Except between me and that last glance is a man leisurely sitting on the couch eating his lunch from a tin pail.  What the hell?!  Now he's looking around and unscrewing the lid to his thermos!  I slowly move into the living room barely stifling a shout to my sleeping husband, when the man stands up in a fluid motion and heads toward Kanawha Boulevard disappearing through the corner wall.

Heart pounding and palms sweating I quick step it back to bed, pulling the blankets close for comfort sure that the morning will bring clarity.  Sleep didn't come and dawn's light certainly didn't make the night's event any clearer.

An old building such as ours probably has a secret or two and, I intended to uncover those secrets with some property research.  There was even a date etched into one of the basement walls that would provide a good starting point.  Though it was faded from time, I could make out the 193 and part of the last digit as either a 1 or 9, 1931 or 1939.

The property searches turned up nothing.  Nothing except an old building with a perfectly normal history of tenants moving in and out.

So I smudged the apartment with sage and put the lunching and strolling shadows behind me.

Driving home from work one evening I noticed a new sign on Park Avenue.  The sign read, Luna Park Historic District.  Luna Park?

Once home I raced to do an internet search on Luna Park, Charleston, West Virginia.

Frank Ingersoll invented, designed, and commissioned the construction of a series of amusements to house the roller coasters his company manufactured.  These parks became known as Luna Parks. 

Crowds at Luna Park, circa 1915. Photo from WV History on View

Charelston's Luna Park opened to the public in 1912 and was owned and operated by John Crowley and Sam Moore of Moore Books.  By 1913, thousands of people were visiting Luna Park.  They came by street car and steamboat.  A local newspaper reported that street cars sometimes delivered people to the Park's entrance at a rate of 1,200 per hour.

The more I read the more curious I became about the grand entrance that supposedly could be seen from the decks of the steamboats chucking up the Kanawha River.

At last, I found a trove of Luna Park pictures and among them one of the entrance.  It was indeed grand for the time period.  The arched gateway spanned more than a city block and was flanked by two tall towers covered in colorful flags and bunting.

I continued looking through the pictures, marveling at the sheer number of visitors depicted and just how sad and kind of creepy the Park's clowns and other entertainers appeared.  Most of all I was in awe of the massive public swimming pool made of timber and sheet of tin.

In 1923 Typhoid was rampant.  The City's response to the epidemic was to pump the pool so full of chlorine that it is said a single welder's spark set the pool afire and ultimately devastated the whole park.

Plans were made after the fire to rebuild Luna Park to its' original glory but the funds fell short.  And in 1925 the swollen Kanawha River rushed the banks leaving ten feet of water covering what was once Luna Park.

The water eventually receded but, the City decided to parcel the land into private land plots and through streets.  The last photo I found showed a map of those plots of land and streets superimposed on Luna Park's grid.  The answer to the mysterious lunching and strolling shadows was right there.  The apartment building was built alongside Park Avenue and on top of the once grand entrance to Luna Park.

If you'd like to learn more about Luna Park and see some excellent photographs from its short time as a Charleston landmark, then please check out the My WV Home website. And, if you'd like to read about and see some current photographs from the Luna Park Historic District, its National Register application is available online at the WV State Archives site.  Again, I cannot thank Kim enough for sharing these experiences with us and allowing me to publish them on my blog. Please make sure to share this with all your spooky friends on social media and if you have a story you'd like to share, please contact me at Theresa's Haunted History Facebook. Stay spooky! 

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