“From that day, I was roaming the streets of Venice in pursuit of myself, or perhaps in search of Abbot Kinney’s goddess, Venus. Sometimes I got lonely as I rambled around, but never bored. There was way too much to distract me. It was the Venice’s Golden Age in an uncomplicated era; it was also the Golden Age of my life, at an uncomplicated age. Venice and I suited one another exactly.
It is nearly impossible to describe the fantasy that was Venice then, for it no longer exists. Oh, one might get a nostalgic whiff of it in the patch of canal area still remaining, but not even there. Venice, in its Golden Era, was enrapturing, a place unlike any other. There was an air of constant excitement, like static electricity, as if anything could happen and probably would. I felt special just living there, substantiated by the seventy thousand tourists who jammed into Venice each and every weekend. But why wouldn’t they? Venice was the most entertaining playground, with a collection of gorgeous excesses to tickle anyone’s fancy.
It was a noisy place. Colorful banter from the Ballyhooers blocked crowds as they shyly tried to select from exhibits, girlie shows, and musical performances. There were sharp cracks of gunfire from shooting galleries, and concessionaire patters promising delicacies for the palate. Crowds were urged to try their luck at all kinds of game booths.
Old Bill, a pelican, just strutted about, the renowned king of Venice. There was an Alligator Farm across from the St. Mark’s Hotel, elephants and wild bears, and of course, my mother’s lions. Tied camels spit their cud at those adventuresome enough to climb on their humps for a souvenir photo. You could experience the Old Wild West in Trail Shows; go to exhibits of Egyptian mummies or stare at oddities like actual shrunken heads to contemplate how they could have been made, and by whom.
On the Venice Pier, there was everything you could imagine to do and then more. The carnival attractions included the Bearded Woman, the ‘Mystic Palace of a Thousand Wonders’, and ‘The Wickedest Show in the World’. There were plenty of thrill rides. You could go down the Dragon Slide clinging onto mats; be entertained at ‘Hilarity Hall’, go through the Fun House, or to the lovers’ favorite, the Tunnel of Love. There was always the old standard, the Ferris wheel, or if you felt more reckless, you could ride the roller coaster, ‘Race Through the Clouds’. ‘Over the Falls’ was a dramatic swoosh down a four-foot high chute with a glide past a scenic waterfall. In ‘The Racing Derby’, you rocked forwards and backwards to move your horse to the finish line. If your horse ended up most forward in the slot at the end of the ride, you won a free ride. Riding in the whirly-whirlies made you dizzy. Horses dived into tiny pools from platforms way up high and Mr. MacGregor’s ostriches gave children fast-paced rides in surreys. And at the end of the pier was the famous zoological garden, which encompassed Mother’s lion act.
There was an underground Chinatown exhibit, and a cyclorama show called the Last Days of Pompeii. Underneath the Aquarium, at the end of the pilings, below the planking, there was a deep trough where you could watch leopard sharks, cod, smelt and herring swim.
All of the adventuring prompted tourists’ appetites, already seduced by all the exotic and delicious smells. You could buy a treat from small carts called ‘hokey-pokeys’. The vendors hoarsely listed their wares: candy apples, long twists of pearlescent salt water taffy, clouds of ‘fairly floss’, strawberry phosphates, even cream puffs crammed with custard. ‘Two for fives’ were perfectly wrapped squares of ice cream that melted quickly in the summer heat.
For a tour of Venice or just to rest one’s aching feet, ‘The Miniature Railroad’ looped 1 1/2 miles on Electric Avenue, around Venice’s residential sections and canals. The locomotive was jet-black embellished with brass; the twelve passenger cars gleamed royal blue and cherry red. And these were just some of the amusements. On top of that, there were the festivals every weekend with parades and bathing suit contests. Venice even celebrated Japan day with kimonos and lanterns. It was a mind-boggling experience, Venice in its heyday. ”