1899 Season

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1899 Season
Manager(s) Joseph W. Dusenbury
Eli West
Olentangy Park Company
Columbus Street Railway Company
Opening Day May 28, 1899
Closing Day September 24, 1899
New Attractions Crystal Maze
Theater Manager George L. Chennell
Band(s) Fred Neddermeyer's Famous Band and Orchestra

Olentangy Park opened for the 1899 season on Sunday, May 28, 1899,[1] and was called the "Fairyland of Columbus."[2] Fred Neddermeyer's Famous Band and Orchestra provided music throughout the season.[3] Admission to the park was free. A casino with a theater was built[4] and the Dancing Pavilion was altered to have one of its wings closed and turned into a first-class bowling alley.[5] The park closed for the season on September 24, 1899.[6]

The Olentangy Park Company was incorporated May 17, 1899. According to Franklin County Recorder clerk C.D. Rarey, the Columbus Street Railway Company transferred its lease to Joseph W. Dusenbury and Eli West,[7][8][9] but is often seen as being purchased by Joseph W. and Will J. Dusenbury or "The Dusenbury Brothers."[10] The Dusenbury Brothers also owned nearby Minerva Park and the Southern, Grand, and other theaters in Columbus.[10] The directors of the Olentangy Park Company were Eli West, president; Charles C. Higgins, vice president; Charles E. Carter, counsel; and William J. Dusenbury, secretary.[11] Dusenbury, serving as the Franklin County Director of Public Safety, had the largest shareholder stake in the park and was recognized as an active owner and manager of the park.[12][13][14] The company had a capital stock of $100,000 in 1899 ($3,570,012 in 2022).[11]

Olentangy Park Casino and Theater

Main article: Olentangy Park Casino and Theater

The rumors of a casino at the park began in December 1898, and plans were drawn by March 1899. Architects Joseph W. Yost & Frank L. Packard designed the building to have a "combination of towers, and turrets and pinnacles, that will rise from broad piazzas, balconies, terraces and a capacious theater." The original location was to be west of the entrance to the park, overlooking the Olentangy River 56 feet (17.1 meters) below. It was to face north and have its entrance at the northeast corner, just before the bridge that spans the ravine.[4] The Columbus Street Railway company said they decided to move the location nearer to the center of the park grounds due to the original location being too crowded.[5] It was later revealed that it was moved to make the majority of the park outside of the city limits that ended around the south part of the ravine.[15] The final location was just past the bridge and just west of the refreshment hall (later to be known as the Colonnade). The building would now face the south, with the theater toward the north. This location allowed the balconies to look over the river and the park.[5]

The casino covered a ground area of 135 feet by 250 feet (41.2 meters by 76.2 meters)[16] and the theater alone of 80 feet by 150 feet (24.4 meters by 45.7 meters) and stood 56 feet (17.1 meters) above the Olentangy River.[3] There were 11 arches on each side of the loggia and each arch was studded with lamps.[14] The exterior was painted olive green, surmounted by a red roof. The cornice is decorated with white, and the whole building was covered in foilage. It was covered with electrical lights inside and out.[17] In the center of each tower at the entrance was an arc light, while the entrance archway had a cluster of lamps.[14]

Packard focused on safety, comfort, and "perfection of arrangement." The original cost was to be $25,000 ($880,400 in 2022)[18] and would include the largest theater capacity in Columbus. The entrance was "a splendid archway rising from artistic flying buttresses of Mansfield stone and [was] surmounted on either side by a belfry where the electrician's art will manifest in dancing colored lights at night." "Easy steps" lead to the loggia, or main piazza. The width was so broad that "50 ladies may stroll abreast, arm in arm, from the eastern to the western end and back and have covered two-thirds of the distance an athlete runs in a hundred yard dash." Each side had a promenade and a balcony above them off the mezzanine floor of the theater. Each balcony and nook had a table and comfortable benches where cooling liquids were served, called by electric bells, from the refreshment rooms at the southwest corner of the building. The promenade on the eastern side of the theater led to the ladies' retiring and toilet rooms.[4] The interior color scheme was of reds and cream.[17] The curtain was a dainty spring scene, entitled "Apple Blossom Time." The interior was filled with electric lights - 200 incandescents were in the proscenium arch alone.[14]

Within 60 days, 600,000 feet of lumber was used to create the theater.[16] It was an octagonal plan with a bowling floor dropping 10 feet from the entrance to the stage. The actual seating capacity was 3,000, but was made to be comfortably wider, lowering it to 2,248. It seated 1,200 people on the main floor, 600 in the balcony, 400 in the gallery, and 48 in the boxes.[14][10] Each row of chairs was 32 inches from back to back and 20 inches wide. Larger chairs were available halfway back and across the theater. There were five aisles, and no row was larger than 10 chairs across.[4] The opera seats had iron frames with gold bronze decor.[14] Four boxes were on either side, beginning at the stage and running back diagonally to the main walls and decorated with Turkish draperies.[17] The mezzanine and balcony had 850 of the seats. The stage was 40 feet by 60 feet[10] - as large as the one at the Great Southern Theater at the time and had six large, airy dressing rooms underneath. There were nine full sets of scenery. The orchestra pit was the largest in the city at the time.

A unique feature of the theater was how the walls opened to the outdoors. Sliding sides and curtains were operated from the stage to obtain wanted darkness.[4] There were six large exits upstairs and six downstairs to allow evacuation within 2-3 minutes. [14] The structure of the theater was made of wood instead of the common brick or stone and the scenery was painted by P.J. Toomey of St. Louis.[19] There were numerous large ventilators in the ceiling to provide circulation and fresh air.[14]

A music stand was located at the northwest corner of the loggia, overlooking the river and the grounds.[4] Two bridges crossed the ravine, one of which entered the broad loggia that encircled the entire building. Flagstaffs were at every angle of the roof with flags of "all nations (except Spain)" - being only a year removed from the Spanish-American War.

Other Park Changes

The fence on the east side of the park was removed, allowing a view of High Street. Ten acres of additional land were purchased. Electric lights were placed in the ravine east of the old bridge, northeast of the theater.[20]

Private Telephone Line

Around May 1899, a private telephone line to the park was connected through the box on Line 11 in North Columbus. This was a police/firebox and was not for public use and was rarely used except by two Olentangy officers. Police Telephone Operator Peter A. Ambros felt the line wasn't needed.[21] It was paid for by the city despite the park management telling the fire superintendent it would be paid for with park funds.[22] The telephone patrol box was removed and placed at the entrance of the Hare Orphans' Home.[23] The park company was sued by the Central Union Telephone Company in 1901 for the operation of this telephone line during this and the following year.[24]

Local Pushback Against the Theater

Read the full details: Local Pushback Against the Theater

There was a major pushback against the theater due to the park holding Sunday performances. It was against the City of Columbus law to have theater performances on Sundays, but the theater was built just outside of the city line. Manager Joseph W. Dusenbury was also serving as the Columbus Director of Public Safety and was expected to follow Columbus law. Instead, he assigned special police to help keep Columbus constables from arresting the actors. After several arrests, case dismissals, and local religious groups calling for Dusenbury to be fired or to resign, there was a major violent riot on June 18.

The Columbus City Council removed Dusenbury from office, and the city held a full 14-day investigation, involving 125 witnesses, into the misuse of police funds. Dusenbury was removed after discovering he neglected his director duties while managing the park and acting as a cashier at his bank. Cases against him, his partner Eli West, and the actors were ultimately dismissed.

Rides and Attractions

New Crystal Maze

Main Article: Crystal Maze

The Crystal Maze was a fun house structure. Measuring 27 x 40 ft. (8 x 12 meters), 60 huge plate glass mirrors (each 4 x 7 ft. (1.3 x 2.3 m)) made the building appear much larger than it was. It created several reflections of the visitors that move in all directions. There were false doors, causing other visitors to laugh when someone ran into a pane of glass. Before being installed at the park, a version of the amusement was at Cleveland's Euclid Beach for three years.[25].[26]

Dancing Pavilion

Main article: Dancing Pavilion

The Dancing Pavilion was altered to have one of its wings closed and turned into a first-class bowling alley.[5] At its height in August, there were often 100 dancers on the floor at a time.[27]

Wheel of Fortune

A new amusement device called the "Wheel of Fortune" was popular at the park. Various pieces of China, cut glass, and plated ware were arranged on a table with a spinning arrow in the center. Participants paid 15 cents (about $5 in 2022) to spin the arrow and get a prize. Smaller prizes could be haggled down to 10 cents. Although people worried about the addictive nature of this device - many playing several times for the bigger items like a gold watch - it was not seen as gambling since everyone left with a prize.[28]

List of Rides and Attractions

Theater, Vaudeville, and Stunt Performances

Olentangy Park Theater

Main Article: Olentangy Park Casino and Theater

A new casino was built with a theater (see info above).[4] Vaudeville performances began on Sunday, May 28, 1899, and were held twice per day.[29] Manager Frank Burt of Burt's Theater booked the performances for the theater's first season.[30] A local manager, George L. Channell, who worked with Burt in Cleveland the past summer, helped run the theater during the season.[31][30][32][2] Most of the Columbus theaters closed for the summer due to the lack of air conditioning, drawing theatergoers to the park.[10]

Reserved seats for theater performances were sold at Smith's Cigar Store at 7 High Street and the newsstands at the Neil House and Great Southern hotels.[33][34] Box seats were 25 cents ($8.80 in 2022), all seats on the lower floor were 15 and 20 cents ($5.28 and $7.04), balcony seats were 10 cents ($3.52), and gallery seats were free.[35] The tickets for the opening performances were sold out in three days.[36] The theater closed for the season on Sunday, September 24, 1899.[37]

Week of May 28 (Opening Week)

Acts and performances:[33][33][16]

  • Robert Downing and Company of six people in a one-act play showing the arena scene in "The Gladiator." (feature)
  • Will H. Fox, comedy pianist, impersonation of "Paddy-whiski"
  • Little Viola, the "Child Wonder," aged 6, and her sister in a set of dances
  • McPhee and Hill performed an act on triple and high bars
  • Professor E. Abt, artist showing dissolving views of art pictures and battle scenes from the Spanish-American War
  • The Abt Sisters
  • Harry and Eva La Reanes, in an Irish comedy sketch.

Week of June 4

Acts and performances:[38]

  • Diana, the international "Queen of Light" and the "Myriad Mirror Queen," brought seven electricians with her to illuminate her mirror dances. (feature)[32]
  • Dick and Alice McAvoy, known as the "Original Hogan Alley Kids" provided a comedic performance of their own, "Casey's Corner" ending in a banjo duet and catchy topical song
  • The Morello Troupe, an acrobatic act
  • Iler, Birk, and McDonald performed their novel acrobatic act, "Down on the Farm"
  • The Faust Family were six acrobats who once performed with Field's Minstrels
  • Alice Raymond played the cornet and gold army bugle

Diana used mirrors to create an illusion of multiple dancers performing in sync. The dances were "Gay Parisienne," "La Chamelon," "Fire Dance," and "Lily of the Nile". The colors would change throughout the dances creating effects such as fire, smoke, sparks, mist, and running water. The Morello acrobatic troupe consisted of William and M'lle Morello and their two dogs, Bob and Pete. Bob punched a bag while Pete performed somersaults. William would be made up as a clown and M'lle Morello would dance on a slack wire.

Week of June 11

Acts and performances:[39]

  • Diana continued her dancing light performance (feature)
  • George H. Fielding, the "King of Comedy Jugglers," dressed as a clown, was recalled again and again to perform
  • The Three Goldsmith Sisters, dancers
  • Allen and West, musical act
  • Frank C. Young and Bessie Devoie performed "A Graduate of Yale" which included soft-shoe dancing
  • Howard and Bland in "Rube and the Kid"
  • Neddermeyer's Band performing "Belinda Soot"

Despite the controversy around the theater, performances were standing room only.[40]

Week of June 18

Acts and performances:[41]

  • The Five Flying Bicketts, acrobats (feature)
  • Welby, Pearl, Keys, and Nellis, a dance troupe known for their showy costumes, dancing, and high-kicking
  • Master Tom Carroll, 5-year-old clog dancer
  • Frank Morrell and Florrie Evans, burlesque operetta or ragtime opera
  • Edwin and Kittie Deagon, novel comedy act and illustrated song and stereopticon pictures
  • The Nondescript Trio, high-kicking
  • Bicknell, "the lightning clay modeler"
  • Bessie Davis, soubrette
  • Edna Bassett Marshall and Company

The Five Bicketts were comprised of one man and four women who performed acrobatics. Marshall was a prima donna soprano who sang opera songs in different costumes in rotating scenes along with five specialty artists. The Nondescript Trio included a champion challenge high kicker who showed off their record-breaking talent.[42]

Due to the recent controversy, the acts were censored on Sunday.[43]

Week of June 25

Acts and performances:[44][45][46]

  • The Five Flying Bicketts were re-engaged for a second week (feature)
  • Horace Goldin, the "Napoleon of Magicians"
  • Ollie Young, of Columbus, "America's greatest club expert"
  • Frank Berry and Jack Hughes, musical comedians
  • The Five Famous Waltons, acrobats
  • The Harvey Sisters, singers

Goldin performed magic tricks such as the escape act called, "Dreyfus and the Disappearing Prison" or "Dreyfus Disappearing from Devil's Island." The Walton Brothers performed acrobatic and tumbling acts such as a 10-year-old member who turned 30 handsprings in rapid succession.

Week of July 2

Acts and performances:[26][47]

  • Gruet, Beers, and Gruet, a gymnast trio
  • Professor Tom Collins, the featherweight boxing champion from Liverpool, England, and his trained kangaroo, "Lanky Bob"
  • The Three Onris, jugglers
  • Al C. Lawrence, ventriloquist, vocalist, and imitator
  • May and Lilian Whiting, cornetists
  • Magee and Crimmins performed comedy, songs, dances, monologues, and lightning crayon drawings
  • Bicknell, lightning clay modeler, returned

Professor Tom Collins and Lanky Bob performed a three-round match in a 10 ft. roped ring and the kangaroo wore boxing gloves. The hand-to-hand jugglers, the Three Onris, juggled items while mounted on rotating globes.

Week of July 9

Acts and performances:[48][49]

  • Edna Bassett Marshall and Company returned with opera singing. Her company included Reba Kauffman, who gave an imitation of Papinta's famous dance; Irene Humphrey; and Willie Heyes, soft-shoe dancer and acrobat. (feature)
  • Josephine Gassman, singer and comedienne (feature)
  • The Noss Family, a musical act
  • The Harbecks, contortionists and jugglers on a slack wire
  • The Peterson Brothers, horizontal bar gymnasts
  • Harry B. Watson, a comedy bicycle trick rider

Week of July 16 (Children's Matinee Week)

Acts and performances:[50][51][52][53]

  • Professor Howard's Comedy Ponies (feature)
  • Lotta Gladstone, the "Orginal Country Girl"
  • The Musical Glees, Gerald and Geraldine
  • Wellesley, comedy juggler
  • Mat Farnan, Irish comedian
  • Lankin and Wilkes, illustrated songs
  • Tom Hefron, one-legged singing, dancing, and athletic act

Professor Howard's ponies were comprised of "Sparkle," the wrestling pony; "Daisy Bell," the talking pony; "Pinto," the cakewalk pony; and "Gypsy," the clown pony. Sparkle wrestled with a man; Daisy Bell answered questions from the audience and skipped rope; Pinto performed a cakewalk and leapfrog stunt with "Dewey," a St. Bernard dog; and Gypsy led a military drill of the horse group. Other trained animals in the act included two other dogs and a monkey.

Week of July 23

World boxing champion Jim Jeffries gave a four-round exhibition on July 24.[54] It was his first public appearance since the championship fight.[55]

Acts and performances:[54]

  • Adgie's Lions, where Adgie and her three lions performed stunts, including riding "Prince" and sticking her head in another lion's mouth (feature)
  • Mattie Vickers
  • Professor Coin's Dog Circus
  • Frank La Mondue, circus clown, in "Fun on a Clothesline," a comedic act on a slackline
  • Emile Girard and Miss Monte Elmo, dancers and flag and hat spinners
  • Monroe and Hart, eccentric comedians
  • Nellie V. Nickols, singer

In Professor Coin's Dog Circus, a big troupe of dogs of all shapes, sizes, and colors performed stunts such as punching a bag, standing on their hind legs on a swinging trapeze, turning 24 somersaults without stopping, bareback riding, rolling in baskets, dancing a ho-down, and a couple waltzing. Girard gave an exhibition of hats spinning on sticks and helped Elmo as they danced and performed high kicks. Vickers, Monroe, and Hart acted in a comedy called "Masquerading" while Nickols sang songs.[56]

Week of July 30

Acts and performances:[57][58]

  • Kelly and Mason, Dutch and Irish comedians, in "An Easy Mark," written by R.A. Du Souchet, author of "My Friend from India" and Willie Collier's "The Man from Mexico" (feature)
  • Mademoiselle Ani, aerial artist and contortionist
  • The Whitney Brothers, a musical act involving many instruments such as the electric metallophone that sparked with music and musical stairs
  • Nellie Waters, Celtic comedienne
  • Kasten, Duey, and Kasten, blackface performance called "Past and Present"
  • Tegge and Daniel, German comedic act

Week of August 6

Acts and performances:[59]

  • The Cosmopolitan Trio, opera singers (feature)
  • The Saville Sisters, electrical dancers
  • William Rowe, known as "The Dancing Adonis," somersault pedestal dancer
  • Harry C. Stanley, comedian
  • Doris Wilson-Jackson, singer
  • Barnes and Sission, in a one-act musical called "A Marriage Broker"
  • Lew Hawkins, comedian and minstrel show
  • Brandon and Regene, contortion and ring act

The Saville Sisters were two girls who danced in calcium light rings that changed colors constantly and, at one time, created the fields of the U.S. flag. Stanley performed his comedy act and joined Wilson-Jackson in a duet called "Il Trovatore."

Week of August 13

The Barlow Minstrels comprised 28 blackface performers and two "Mudtown Rubes" (Crane Brothers) performed in a double bill at the theater this week.[60][61]

Week of August 20

Acts and performances:[62]

  • Laura Burt in "Blue Jeans in Old Kentucky" (feature)
  • The Ramalo Brothers, head balancers
  • Peter Baker, German comedian
  • Adele Rurvis Onri, slackwire and juggling dancer
  • Lawrence and Harrington, in a one-act play
  • Kolb and Dill, German comedy
  • Prince Satsuma, Japanese juggling and balancing act

Week of August 27

Acts and performances:[63]

  • Henry Lee, impersonator, in his exhibition, "Great Men, Past and Present." (feature)
  • Mr. and Mrs. Augustin Neuville, comedy actors of the "Boy Tramp" company, performed "A Rehearsal with Interpretations"
  • The Donavans, in a musical farce comedy called, "Dewey's Reception," by the author of "Finnegan's Ball" and "McLorey's Twins"
  • John R. Harty, juggler
  • Foster and Williams, musical comedy
  • Pascatel, aerial artist and contortionist

Week of September 3

Acts and performances:[64][65]

  • Josephine Gassman, blackface actress, returned with either two young children or little people (feature)
  • Keno and Hall, comedy acrobats
  • Fogerty and Lavigne, eccentric comedians
  • The Three Schuler Sisters, dancers
  • Seekers, Wilkes, and Seekers, in a novelty act
  • The Garrity Sisters, comediennes

Week of September 10

Acts and performances:[66]

  • Minnie Palmer returned from Europe this week to perform in a one-act play called "Rose Pampon," along with Francis Jerrard of the Haymarket Theater (feature)
  • The Brothers Borani performed "The Disappearing Demons," where they rolled themselves into contortionist positions on a table, disappearing and reappearing
  • John H. Shepley gave 12 minutes of music on musical glasses
  • Louis Martinetti and Lillie Southerland, a famous acrobatic team
  • Eddie Giguere and Blanche Boyer, topical sketch
  • The Michelsen Bothers, banjoists

Week of September 17 (Closing Week)

Acts and performances:[67]

  • Tioko's Imperial Japanese troupe of 16 trained acrobatic athletes (feature)
  • Edmonds, Emerson, and Edmonds, in an eccentric sketch
  • Dan Allman, a blackface comedian
  • The Six Sennetts, acrobats

The last day saw two performances at the normal times of:[37]

  • Prince Aawatha, a Japanese juggler
  • M'lle Leontine Vegara, the Columbus soprano
  • The Six Sennetts in a new acrobatic act
  • Dan Allman, the blackface humorist in a new specialty
  • The Athene Brothers, acrobats
  • Tioko's Imperial Japanese troupe in a change of the program

Other Acts

Other acts throughout the season included Lockhart's act of six performing elephants. It was one of the highest-priced vaudeville attractions at the time, costing Burt $8,000 ($281,730 in 2022) and transportation bills for eight weeks in his circuit -- one of which was to be in Columbus. Some theatrical performances included "Aladdin, Jr." and "Robinson Crusoe," each carrying 30 drops, transformations, and 40 people.[32] The Witney Brothers and Club Swinger also performed.[10]


Fred Neddermeyer's Band was composed of 15 musicians who performed at the bandstand on the loggia overhanging the Olentangy River. The band performed throughout the season at 2:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. daily.[3] During the Week of June 11, they played at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.[39]


Kinetoscope and Stereopticon views were shown weekly.



Main Article: Bowling alleys

Bowling was available for parties and leagues prior to the park's season opening. The Dancing Pavilion was altered to have one of its wings closed and turned into a first-class bowling alley.[5]

Ice Skating

Ice skating on the Olentangy River was advertised throughout the winter.

List of Activities


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  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Location is Changed." Columbus Evening Dispatch. 27 March 1899. Pg. 7.
  6. "Olentangy Park." Columbus Evening Dispatch. Theatric Bill of Fare. 23 September 1899. Pg. 12.
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  9. "Olentangy Park Started as Beer Garden in '90's." The Columbus Dispatch. 30 August 1931. Pg. 18-G.
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  18. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 16 April 1899. Pg. 37. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107104081/a-new-casino-at-olentangy-park/
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  20. "Olentangy Park: The Theater." Columbus Evening Dispatch. 3 June 1899. Pg. 14.
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  29. Ad. Columbus Evening Dispatch. 20 May 1899. Pg. 14.
  30. 30.0 30.1 "Theatrical Forecast." Columbus Evening Dispatch. 11 March 1899. Pg. 14.
  31. Columbus Evening Dispatch. 18 March 1899. Pg. 14.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 "Theatrical Forecast." Columbus Evening Dispatch. 25 March 1899. Pg. 14.
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  34. "Olentangy Park: Seat Sale Wednesday" Columbus Evening Dispatch. 22 May 1899. Pg. 11.
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  37. 37.0 37.1 "Olentangy Park: Sunday The Last Day." Columbus Evening Dispatch. 23 September 1899. Pg. 12.
  38. "Olentangy Park: The Theater." Columbus Evening Dispatch. 6 June 1899. Pg. 11.
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