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Heinz History Center to digitize old Kennywood photos, videos

Paul Guggenheimer
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KennyWood rides in the early days.
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Tribune-Review archives
The lagoon and midway at Kennywood.
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Tribune-Review archives
Kiddieland at KennyWood in 1927.

Thousands of images, a dozen videos and hundreds of pages documenting the history of Kennywood Park will now be digitized at the Heinz History Center.

The photos and videos were once housed on the third floor of a haunted house.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the history center’s Detre Library and Archives an $87,598 grant for the partial digitization of the materials, according to chief archivist Matt Strauss.

Strauss, who applied for the grant last summer and learned Thursday of the award, says it will cover the processing of 175 linear feet of records donated by Kennywood’s owners in 2016. That includes housing the materials in acid-free archival storage containers and writing a collection guide to the materials.

“It’s pretty rare to have amusement park records straight from the source,” said Strauss. “During the application process, we looked around to see if this was something that other archives had from regional amusement parks, and we couldn’t find any parallels, nothing this substantial, nothing that shows the inner workings of the amusement park.”

Three years ago the entire collection of Kennywood Park records was stored on the third floor of the building that houses Ghostwood Estate. That’s when Brian Butko, director of publications at the Heinz History Center and author of “Kennywood: Behind the Screams,” made a pitch to have Kennywood donate its archives, Strauss said.

“Kennywood is one of the longest-running amusement parks,” said Strauss. “It has remained in business and changed with the times and because the records document its entire lifespan, you can see how those changes happened.”

The images date back to the park’s opening in 1898 and show decades of changing grounds and gardens at the park, the visitors, different rides and celebrity guests including the day The Three Stooges visited Kennywood in the 1950s.

Strauss said it’s important to preserve the collection because of the cultural influence amusement parks like Kennywood have had, particularly in the 20th century.

“I think there is a lot of research potential with these records to investigate the creation of popular culture, cultural assimilation of different groups of Americans, race relations, the effect of the Great Depression and world wars on the park,” said Strauss. “I think that’s all revealed through these records.”

Kennywood spokesman Nick Paradise said it made sense to get the records in the hands of the Heinz History Center.

“We knew that it was a lot of stuff and a big undertaking so we’re really excited to see that they were able to secure the grant to get it digitized and get it to a place where it will be accessible to the public,” said Paradise.

Strauss says processing the collection will take about a year.

“At that point, the collection is open for research so folks can come to the Heinz History Center and do research here. We’ll have the guide to the collection online so folks can see what’s contained in each box and what’s in each folder in the box.”

The digitized materials will go online and be available at www.historicpittsburgh.org.

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].

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