The Demise Of Manhattan Beach 1881 To 1891

Dated: 06/29/2016

Views: 5353

Ask any local about the history of Sloan's Lake and immediately an argument over it official name will most likely ensue.   But don't get caught up in that colloquialism because you might miss the sadly unique story of Manhattan Beach Amusement Park and Spa. 

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1881 – Manhattan Beach opens on the North shore of Sloan’s Lake. Thought to be the first amusement park West of the Mississippi River and included roller coaster, a dance hall, a Ferris wheel, boating attractions, hot air balloon rides, wrestling bears, contortionists, aerial acts , a man who walked on ceilings, and exhibits displaying more than 40 species of animals.  Visitors reached the park by streetcar, boats, and wagons. 

For a solid decade, Denver families enjoyed this destination park for fun and excitement.  Many attractions included stunts performed by The Human Cannonball and a plethora of rides for the kids like this Merry-go-round. 

Merry-Go-Round at Manhattan Beach c.1885


However...(DUN DUN DUN!)

The biggest draw to Manhattan Beach was perhaps Roger the Elephant. This enormous attraction would be scene roaming the grounds with a basket full of children on his back.

A fateful day in July of 1891, the beach was abuzz with excitement as a large crowd gathered to see Roger as well as other attractions, including hot air balloons.

Sadly that tragic day Roger the giant was spooked by a sudden noise from a hot air balloon. He reared up on his hind legs and threw all of the children but one. As he stomped and stumbled blindly, he crushed the head of six-year-old George Eaton, instantly killing the boy in front of an estimated 100 witnesses.

Roger meet his end as recounted in the following Rocky Mountain news article: 

The headline reads~

TERRORIZED ROGER THE BIG ELEPHANT AT MANHATTAN BEACH TAKES HUMAN LIFE.  

SIX YEAR OLD GEORGE W. EATON STAMPED OUT OF EXISTENCE.  THE BRUTE WAS SCARED BY THE BALLOON WHICH WAS ABOUT TO ASCEND.   PARTY OF MERRY CHILDREN WERE RIDING ON THE ANIMAL'S BROAD BACK.  THE UNFORTUNATE CHILD FELL FROM THE PERCH AND WAS IMMEDIATELY TRODDEN UPON.  ONE MASS OF BLOOD AND MANGLED FLESH WAS FOUND AFTER IT HAPPENED.  EFFORTS MADE BY THE EXCITED ELEPHANTS KEEPER TO REACH THE LAD.  HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE WITNESS THE SICKENING SIGHT AND A PANIC IS CREATED. 
    At a little after 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon at Manhattan Beach, George W. Eaton, the 6 yr. old son of Pressley Eaton was trampled upon and instantly killed by the elephant "Roger." The animal had become frightened and broke away from the keeper throwing the boy from his back where the lad was riding with companions. The other children escaped without serious injury. The keeper, wounded and bleeding from a blow from the trunk of the frightened brute, heroically endeavoring to restrain the animal and called to the crowd to keep back and not add to the excitement of the aroused beast. The seat upon which the children sat, began to sway backward and forward like a surf tossed by angry waves. The children began to scream with terror and cry for help. The crowd shouted to the little ones to hold tight. Then one fell to the ground. The elephant towered above the prostrate form.  The huge foot of the animal was above the boy's head. It descended upon the white forehead! A human life was blotted out. There are pale cheeks of women, dashed faces of men, murmurs of horror from all the crowd; but above all can be heard the agonized shrieks of one who with a mother's quick eye of love has seen that it was her boy. She would fly to his side, but is restrained by those about her. 
In the meantime, by the active prodding of his keeper the beast was quieted for a moment and all the children save one slipped from his back. The animal was brought to his knees and the other child, a  boy, was taken from the seat.  At the first dash of the beast, the great crowd scattered as best they could to places of safety.  Men rushed wildly about hardly knowing what to do, and the scene was one of wildest excitement.  When it was learned that none of the little ones, save the boy Eaton, had been seriously injured, there were tears of joy and huggings and kissing, until thoughts came of the poor mother,  broken hearted, who sat in the shadow of her great grief. And then the faces of all, which had a moment before been lighted up with joy, became very sober. But the terrible strain of excitement was not over. The storm of terror in the beast of the elephant had not abated. It was but a temporary lull. He began to trumpet loudly and to break away from those who held him with hooks and ropes. As the loud sounds of the animal's bellowing resounded through the grounds, little ones were caught hurriedly up in loving arms and a hurrying and scurrying for refuge was this time made more quickly than before. But the beast was held. The tragedy was over.  The little fellow, George W. Eaton, was thrown to the ground, trampled upon and killed in the presence of his father, mother and younger brother, who had brought him to enjoy the sights.  The animal was finally secured and the other children removed from his back more scared than hurt. 
   Marshal McNeil and Deputy Marshal McGuire of Highlands, picked the boy from the ground. A great pool of blood poured from his head and the brains oozed out, making a horrible sight. The lad had been killed instantly. He never knew what happened.  The body was removed to the old wooden frame building on the grounds and Coroner Walley notified.  John Stafford, brother of the mother Mrs. Eaton, with others induced her to go to her home, after she had recovered sufficiently from her fainting condition to be moved. Mrs. Eaton now lies at her home, 3722 Franklin Street in a critical condition. The shock to her nerves was terrible; no woman could witness a more horrible sight than that of her own child trampled to death before her eyes and she unable to avert the calamity. Her wants are being ministered to by loving hands, but grave fears are entertained for her mental condition. As well might be expected, the poor mother is crazed with grief.  The father, Pressley Eaton, is a switchman in the employ of the Union Railway company.  For some time he seemed unable to realize what had happened. He remained upon the ground, requested that the coroner be telephoned to and the offices for the dead property attended to. But when the strain became too great and he realized that the boy upon whom he had lavished his affections was gone from him, he burst into a storm of grief that was heartrending.  "Oh," he sobbed, "I can't believe it. He was such a bright boy, our oldest. How we loved him and how we planned for his future. I don't know what to do. I can't realize what has happened. Ten thousand grounds like these couldn't pay us for his loss." 
Mr. Conklin, the manager of the zoo in Central Park, who says he has known the beast Roger for fifteen years. The big animal was in his charge for five years. He has never known Roger to become alarmed before and says the elephant is of the kindest disposition. 


This was the beginning of the end for Manhattan Beach and why there is not a remnant remaining other than old photographs.  Some of the older  Edgewater locals will tell you that  good old Roger is buried near 20th and Depew St. quite possibly underneath what is now King Soopers. 

 In 1981 Mayor Bonnie Allison proclaimed the Friday of Edgewater Days as "Roger Day" in honor of the Little Eaton boy and Roger the Elephant and to remind all, that Edgewater is a city that loves it’s children and the innocent creatures of the world.  A celebration of that august occasion was held at Lost Images Photography and hosted by John & June Moreno and the KIMN Chicken.  King Soopers put up a large Roger display in the meat department and over forty Edgewater children marched in a Roger ensemble in the Edgewater Days parade.


So now you know.

Rest in peace Roger~

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Do you like local Denver history?  Visit my  page on Facebook, it's called"Old Images of Denver" and learn about our city through old stories and photos.

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Ask me about my SUMMER SELL & BUY SPECIAL!!!


Information sources here:

http://sloansdenver.com/project-background/

http://edgewatertalkingstick.myfreeforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=371&start=0

http://digital.denverlibrary.org/



J Steven Opp

J Steven is a proud native Coloradoan born and raised here in Denver. His love for this city is reflected with his Denver history page on Facebook “Old Images of Denver”. Steve serving in the Colo....

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