In the mid-1950s, Lois Kuljis-Piercy and her pals thought they owned the park.
Thinking back on it, maybe it was the other way around.
The park commandeered their summers, their weekends. The adventures it offered topped anything they saw on “The Lone Ranger,” “Sky King” or “Spin and Marty.”
There were a dozen kids in the neighborhood at North 51st and Vassault streets, and their moms let them run as a pack.
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“The woods came right up to our houses,” Kuljis-Piercy said. “It wasn’t technically the park, but it was forest, and it was all the same to us. We didn’t have to be under lock and key. We kids had our camp there. We kind of owned the woods back then. … We went and got snakes and frogs. We could go down to the Boathouse and get baby crabs and bring them home, which we did all the time.”
The kids all went to Point Defiance Elementary School, which meant the pack stayed tight all year. But in summer, they could give adventure their full attention.
“We were pretty much comrades, all of us,” Kuljis-Piercy said. “I had one best friend, Tommy Tickle, and we were kind of the bosses. If we got in a fight, we took kids on our own sides.”
The fights never lasted, though.
“Our camp was on the path going up the hill toward the horse stables,” Kuljis-Piercy said. “We kind of dug into the side of the hill. We even brought some tarp and set it up. We were really into it. We played a form of badminton, though we didn’t have a net.”
The path from the pack’s camp led to the Point Defiance Riding Academy that Albert Schramm operated in what is now the zoo parking lot.
The kids in the pack loved visiting the horses. They would hang around the corral, call them by name and pat them. There was one named Star, Kuljis-Piercy recalled, and another named Blaze.
“In my memory, it was like a dollar an hour, and you could go up there and ride the trails,” she said. “We’d hunt up a couple of quarters each and really, really beg him. Fifty cents an hour got you in the corral, sitting. Sitting on a horse was really good. It was a high point.”
She remembers Schramm as a man in his 70s, kind and responsible.
She was a teenager, beyond the pack, but still in love with the park, the day the stables burned, Aug. 20, 1964. Two horses died.
“We could see the smoke. Everyone in the neighborhood went running up,” she said. “I’m sure Schramm did everything he could to get them out. The horses that went down, a lot of them were my favorites. It was hard on our neighborhood.”
Schramm did not rebuild. The remaining horses went elsewhere.
But all of them, Schramm, Star, Blaze and the rest, live on in the collective memory of Kuljis-Piercy and the pack of friends.
Kathleen Merryman, The News Tribune