If Alfundo the Clown is gone, what charm can be left in Dorney Park? Alfundo was the colorful centerpiece of the South Whitehall Township amusement grounds for more than 25 years.
Alfundo (which stands for Allentown's Fun is Dorney Park) was named in a promotional contest in the 1950s. The smiling face was mounted on the loading deck of the ThunderHawk roller coaster and the bumping cars.
But who said the clown is gone? Alfundo has been preserved by park officials, who understand the attachment of sentimental patrons.
Perched about 40 feet high on steel columns, Alfundo now beams down on the area that will become another entrance to Dorney, close to the newest section that will open this summer - Thrills Unlimited.
Drive west on the Dorneyville Bypass, look up and to the right, and you will see the clown's welcoming, unchanging grin.
But the changing face of Dorney Park over the past 20 years has been unsettling to many customers.
Dorney is celebrating its 105th year. With the addition of Wildwater Kingdom, one of the largest water parks in the nation, and completion of Thrills Unlimited, the park has been transformed.
Although some are bothered by the transformation of quaint, old- fashioned Dorney Park to a modern, regional facility, there are others - some even in their 70s and 80s - who like the changes and consider them improvements.
Participating recently in a retrospective interview were Jean Zwarych, 58; her father, Robert I. Shellhammer, 88; Frank Knauss, 47, and his father, Benjamin Franklin Knauss, 87.
"The changes don't bother me at all," said Frank Knauss, who lives in Bungalo Park, east of where the park's racetrack used to be. "After all the publicity given the new Hercules roller coaster, I find that it's quieter than the vehicular traffic around here."
He added, "Many people don't like change, but I accept it. What makes the park unique is that the old and the new are there, side by side. I'm a member of the Saarbruecken Exchange Society, and I have been host to Germans who visited the Lehigh Valley. When I take them to Dorney Park, they point that out to me - the old blended with the new. They like that; it reminds them of Germany's amusement parks."
Solomon Dorney started it all by developing a fishing pond and picnic grove along Cedar Creek in 1884 on a former dairy farm owned by Tilghman Helfrich. About 1900, it was sold to the Allentown- Kutztown Traction Co., which operated a trolley company between the two municipalities. It was known as the Dorney Line.
Dorney Park had a long and colorful history when it was taken over by entrepreneur Harris Weinstein in 1986. Joining corporate officers like Craig Cope, Robert Plarr and Mike Crowther, Weinstein, who made a fortune in garment manufacturing, brought creative financing techniques to an economically ailing corporation. Today, he is board chairman and the prime mover of all new projects.
"The big day at Dorney Park was 'Children's Day' in July. The Morning Call contained strips of tickets for free rides and one for a free hot dog," said Jean Zwarych, who lived only two minutes' walk from the park at 3739 Dorney Park Road. "There was always a big drawing that day and the big prize was a bicycle. The park used to be jammed."
There also was "Promotion Day," which was literally a promotion. The students would bring their report cards to Dorney Park, where officials would reward them with numerous free rides for an "A" and other treats for a "B." Even a "C" might be worth one circuit on the fabulous carousel with its huge music box and handcarved wooden horses and swans. For years the merry-go-round was operated by Steve Plarr.
One enticement of old Dorney Park was that there was no general admission charge. But many rides and attractions required the purchase of a ticket. And the company also made a profit on food and souvenir sales.
Zwarych's maiden name was Shellhammer and there were six Shellhammer children who made Dorney a part of their lives. Four generations of the family worked there. Jean's late brother Robert was the lone lifeguard at the swimming pool that had concrete walls but a sandy bottom. In comparison, Wildwater Kingdom employs 130 lifeguards for its gigantic pool, artificial rivers and water slides. Another brother, Corky, operated the former shooting gallery.
"Three of us worked at the pony ride for nothing. We would feed the nine ponies for Harvey Ziegenfuss in the morning and walk them around the ring with the children riding them. We were with the ponies all day and we smelled like them when we got home," Zwarych recalled. Her sister Marie, now living in Salmon River, Idaho, used to be the checkroom girl at the once popular roller skating rink.
"We kids also worked the picnics, which were a big thing in those days. There were seven groves and the biggest was the Silver and Blue, which is still here at the top of the hill. Mack Trucks used to throw a picnic there for its workers and the park catered it," Zwarych said. "There were deer and peacocks (in Zoorama) where the Hercules roller coaster is now, and the kids could reach in and pet the deer."