So I took a spin over to Glen Echo Park in MD last SAT to see, of all things, a puppet show. Situated next to the Clara Barton House in Glen Echo (near Cabin John), this place has been a destination since the 1890s. In fact, when queried, my father-in-law told me he used to ride the open-air street car in the late 1930/early 1940s out to the park and just chill out at the Crystal Pool (which is long gone: the only thing that’s left is the gate) and escape the heat of DC in the summer. Many others ventured out by bus.
One of the historical placards around the park (and there are many detailing the history of the park) shows the Spanish Ballroom in the 1940s bursting with locals and sailors, soldiers, and marines. The NPS web site says this about the war period: “During World War ll, with limitations on travel and large numbers of service men and women in the area, Glen Echo Amusement Park had an unprecedented number of visitors, most traveling by trolley from Union Station or Georgetown along the C&O Canal. The park was always ahead of the times, and one of the most popular spots in Washington. The rides and the ballroom attracted thousands – the pool alone held 3000 people.”
Walking around the park, as it is now, it’s hard to imagine the pool and the roller coaster. The space seems really small. Yet people came during the war years, and as I read, with all the servicemen, it was a destination spot. No doubt in other places, there were dozens of other Glen Echoes that helped fill the time, and as Fussell notes in Wartime, before having to go somewhere else…and wait.