THE AMERICAN LEGION CARNIVAL
by Peggy Ogan Lee
Excitement was growing among the ten or twelve kids in my 80th Street neighborhood. For months there had been posters in Overland Park store windows and nailed to light poles advertising the annual summer visit of the carnival to the Dwight Cowles American Legion Post. Earliest memories have it in the vacant space near the volunteer fire station, between Foster and Santa Fe and just north of 79th Street. As the carnival, Overland Park and the American Legion Post grew, their building and the carnival moved to the north side of 75th Street. The large vacant lot between the Dwight Cowles building and Santa Fe Street became the location for the annual carnival.
Some of us would ride our bicycles uptown to watch everything being unloaded. Of course the workers made us watch from a safe distance. All of the parts for the fun rides had to be carried from the trucks and assembled. A merry-go-round magically appeared from individual horses, zebras, lions, etc. We were really impressed to see how much effort and how many people were needed to construct the Ferris wheel. There were probably about eight things to ride that ranged from almost boring to really exciting---at least to kids.
Besides the rides, there were booths that featured good things to eat and drink and fun games to play. It was entertaining to watch as someone created beautiful and delicious pink, sticky cotton candy on a rolled-up paper. Lemonade, soft drinks and hot dogs would be in other booths. With really good aim of three soft balls, one could win a stuffed animal. There were other games of chance that probably provided an adequate income for the carnival workers.
One of the games one year was particularly memorable. In the middle of a large booth was a table with about 70 saucers sitting on chicken wire. The object was to throw nickels and get one to stay on a saucer. When that happened, the lucky person won a small, live duckling. Most of the 80th Street kids really wanted to win a baby duck. Of course, most of the nickels slid off the saucers and fell through the chicken wire to a bucket. Who knows how many nickels were thrown that week, but we ended up with 9 baby ducklings. My uncle built a very large cage to house all of them and protect them from the neighborhood dogs. We dug a hole in which to put an over-sized dishpan swimming pool. Another dad built a little house for them.
We pooled our money and bought some chicken feed for them. They were given names and marked with permanent ink so we could keep track of our own duck. As they outgrew their cage, some of the parents insisted their child’s ducks be moved to Young’s Lake at 78th & Antioch or South Lake at Robinson and 86th Street. My next door neighbor’s two duck were left in the cage. On Thanksgiving morning Pam came crying to our door begging to eat Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family, as they were having her pets for dinner that day.
Some of us would ride our bicycles to watch them take everything apart and put the pieces back in the trucks. We might have been sad when they drove away except we had most of the summer ahead of us for many more fun adventures.