When old family friends find out that Kym Elder is the new site manager at Glen Echo Park, they often feel it is their duty to make sure she understands that there's a certain irony in that.
They say to her, "You're the park manager? Young lady, did you know that 50 years ago we couldn't even go to that park?"
Kym knows. She knows that African Americans like herself weren't allowed into the segregated amusement park until 1961. She knows that if you lived in Washington in the 1950s, you were tantalized by radio ads and TV commercials beckoning you take the streetcar out to Glen Echo. She knows that some blacks would ride out, look through the gates, then get on the trolley and ride back home.
And she knows that history is still a bitter taste in some mouths.
Said Kym: "There are some folks who say, 'I don't care what you do. I wasn't welcome there then. I'm not going now.' "
Which Kym thinks would be a shame. As she showed me around the park last week, she said she wants everyone to feel welcome at Glen Echo, now a National Park Service site focusing on the arts.
This Saturday is the perfect time to relive old memories or start accumulating new ones. There's a free festival at the park from noon to 6, with music, kiddie rides and history exhibits. Tickets are on sale for a dance concert Saturday night in the Spanish Ballroom featuring the Glenn Miller Orchestra. (For info, visit www.glenechopark.org or call 301-634-2222.)
It was an achingly perfect day when Kym showed me around Glen Echo. Minnehaha Creek burbled loudly. Sun filtered through the trees. Children cavorted on the playground built atop what was once the Crystal Pool's sandy beach.
Kym said the very thing that I was thinking: "Some days I say, 'Is this work?' "
As Kym described what greeted park visitors in its heyday -- the Crystal Pool changing rooms here, the roller coaster there, the shooting gallery behind this window -- I was struck by how small it all seems. The attractions were in a tiny footprint that would take up the space of the mega-gift shop at a modern amusement park.
Somehow, it was enough for the thousands of people who came out every spring and summer. (The amusement park was owned by the trolley company, a smart way to encourage people to ride.)
Kym has worked all over town, including at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Fort Dupont Park and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. She said she's never managed a park that is as well-documented as Glen Echo. She showed me a period color photo of the Crystal Pool, its waters an inviting aquamarine, and a picture of a group of protesters outside the park, including a young Washingtonian (and future Maryland state senator) named Gwendolyn T. Britt, who holds a sign that reads "Discrimination Is Not for Our Generation."
And the park's history isn't just confined to photographs. There's a bucket of sand from the Crystal Pool's beach. On display Saturday will be a swimsuit worn to the pool and a 1940s medal from a swimming race. The park just took delivery of a streetcar. (The trolley is from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. It never actually served Glen Echo, but Kym said they've found a D.C. trolley in Norfolk that they might be able to swap for.)
Visitors to Saturday's festivities are invited to bring their own photos and memorabilia.
Kym, 38, is a native Washingtonian and a second-generation park ranger. Her mother, Tina Satterwhite-Short, has been a ranger for 39 years, and did a nine-month stint at Glen Echo in 1977.
"My parents made it their business to take me out and about," Kym said. That meant rides on the park's Dentzel Carousel when her mother worked there and visits to national parks all across the country. When Tina spent 15 weeks at ranger skills training at Grand Canyon National Park, her kids went with her. Kym was the only African American student in the 6th grade at Grand Canyon Elementary School.
Kym's father, James Short Jr., had his own must-sees on family vacations. The recently retired District deputy fire chief stopped at firehouses.
Kym said she doesn't want to force her job on her family, but her younger son, Aaron, is going to an arts and crafts camp at Glen Echo this summer and older son, Alan, is volunteering at the park.
"I can't get my husband to come out and take dance lessons with me at the Spanish Ballroom," Kym said with a note of wifely despair. "I think I'm going to keep plugging away."
Another Summer Tradition
Trips to Glen Echo are a summer tradition for many Washingtonians. So is helping send kids to Camp Moss Hollow, the summer camp for at-risk children. Our goal is $650,000. So far we've raised $71,154.60. Here's how you can make a tax-deductible contribution:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237. To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."
To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.
Or, treat yourself today to the coconut shrimp with horseradish marmalade appetizer at any area McCormick & Schmick's Seafood restaurant or the sesame seared pork tenderloin with teriyaki-mustard sauce appetizer at the M&S Grill. Proceeds from those items will go to Send a Kid to Camp.