History of the West Park
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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Rough Riders of Old West Park
By Gary Swilik

In the thrilling days of yesteryear, traveling photographers led live ponies along West Park sidewalks, offering children the chance to have their picture taken while saddled up in full cowboy or cowgirl regalia. It was the 1950s and Westerns dominated television programing. With larger-than-life heroes like Wyatt Earp, the Lone Ranger and Marshall Matt Dillon seen weekly in millions of homes, what kid could resist a cowboy hat and a pony ride?

“That was a different world,” says Josephine Cardillo, now of Philadelphia. “Many of our needs were met by services coming directly to our home. Doctors made house calls. Home deliveries were made by the milk man. There was the ice cream man, fruit and vegetable man, even the ‘Charlie Chips’ man. And hard-working entrepreneurs brought photography to our homes with the clever gimmick of bringing a pony to entice the kids, who undoubtedly would have been otherwise uninterested.”

These photographers knew their market,” Josephine explains. “The most popular shows were Westerns like Bonanza, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, Roy Rogers, and my favorite, The Rifleman. So they had us with that pony!”

“I was no more than six-years old on a beautiful summer day in about 1958,” Josephine recalls. “We were living on Midvale Avenue in West Park. My mom’s friend, Eleanor Shehee, was having her sons’ pictures taken by this traveling photographer, and she wondered if my mom would like to have her two girls’ pictures taken, too. Because my parents grew up poor, professional photography was not normally in our budget, so how lucky for us my mother said ‘yes’ to this opportunity. After Mom hurriedly combed our hair and made us scrub our hands and faces, we ran five doors east on Midvale Avenue to the Shehee home. I couldn’t wait for my turn!”

“I remember standing there,” Josephine says, “feeling hot under the sun, nervous and excited while the photographer got me ready for my photo-shoot by with the hat, a bandana around my neck, and the chaps on my legs. Once I was seated atop that beautiful but, to me, behemoth-like creature, the reins felt big and heavy in my little hands. What I find remarkable about the photo is that I don’t appear self-conscious but am smiling confidently into the camera.”

“Even if I didn’t have this event memorialized by the picture,” Josephine assures us, “I would still remember it vividly and fondly as I do most of my days growing up in the wonderful neighborhood of West Park.  It was the best of times, and it was the best of time.”

“My brother Bill and I had our pony picture taken in 1956 at 19120 Springdale Avenue, four houses from Verda Brobst elementary school,” recalls Kathy Schultz, now of Lasqueti, British Columbia, “I was 4 and Bill was 6. My mom said the photographer would walk the pony down the street knocking at each door to see if you would like a picture. Our street was alive with baby boomers and I remember the excitement of following along with dozens of other children, hoping I would get to sit on the pony.”

“As I look at my photo,” says Kathy, “I clearly remember our street and neighborhood, which is no longer there. I relive the moment, remembering how excited and happy I was. It brings me joy all these years later.”



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Updated 6 June 2016