By Ron Wohlen
It has been said traveling back in time, reminiscing, sharing one’s thoughts and feelings about significant events is important and good for the soul.
Prior to moving to Florida last June, I had viewed the 2017 abbreviated beginning of the demolition, which has now been completed at 190 VFW Parkway, the former site of the Wonderland Dog Track. I knew exactly what I was about to witness, a barren tract of land. The past months friends, former co-workers and racing fans had graphically described to me what had transpired in the past year at 190 VFW Parkway, Revere.
There was never a question that during my visit to Boston I would return one final time to where I had been employed from 1978 to 2010. So on May 27th I walked down the hill from bell circle and saw 27 acres of concrete, macadam,overgrown grass, weeds and a small patch of dirt, the only remainder of the racetrack’s far turn come into view. It took a few minutes to identified exactly where the administration building had been, my office for 32 years. It was here my attention was diverted to the ground and my penny from heaven. The penny more than likely had been there since the demolition, its so dark and grimy, the heads side appears completely blank (the year, In God We Trust or the word Liberty is not visible). It’s edges are ragged chipped away in multiple areas, also it has been damaged by three distinct digs into the copper coin; located below Lincoln’s chin, to right of his eye and just below his head.
But 190 VFW Parkway had been much more than just a defunct dog racing facility. It will always be deeply rooted in the history of Revere. During its hey day Wonderland had been an economic engine for the city. In addition to charitable contributions and tax dollars many citizens were able to put children through college, purchase a home, or provide for a vacation because of employment at the track. For many it was a second job. Revere’s Mayor, Brian Arrigo was among the residents who got their start working at Wonderland.
Located on a tract of land near Revere Beach, long before the first greyhound race in 1935, developer Thomas Barrell constructed Wonderland Park an extension of the Revere Beach amusement park. Wonderland was modeled after the International World Fair’s. It included a theater, exhibits, and rides. The center piece was a beautiful lagoon part of the exciting ride “Shoot the Chute” at the time it was proclaimed one of most unique in all the World. Like Disney’s theme parks parades occurred daily. The park even included a full service health center. Due in large part to New England’s unpredictable weather its operators suffered great financial difficulty forcing its closure in 1911, after only six years of operation. As the Revere Beach amusement park continued to prosper and draw huge crowds Wonderland was briefly converted to a bicycle track.
In 1934 Wonderland Greyhound Park was constructed, opening night was June 12, 1935 as 5,000+ fans watched Pensy Walker lead the field over the finish line during the tracks first official race.
Wonderland experienced many historic moments and events over the course of its 75 years, possibly the most noteworthy stories are those of RURAL RUBE. The Rube dominated the 1939 season, winning 19 times while setting a 5/16th World Record of 31.00. On June 15, 1939 1,500 fans and dignitaries paid to have dinner honoring the canine superstar at the famed Copley Plaza in downtown Boston. Seated at the head of the table with owner R.B. “Bud” Carrell, greyhound racing’s Babe Ruth was presented a gold collar, after devouring a steak. Then on Aug. 30, 1940, the Legendary Rural Rube, who made greyhound racing in Massachusetts, retired to a standing ovation as he was paraded around the track one final time before being presented a gold medal.
Wonderland quickly became the premier racing venue in the Northern United States. Know throughout the industry for hosting greyhound racing’s most prestigious championship stake races each year; the Wonderland Derby and Grady Sprint, formerly the World Sprint, annually attracted the sports biggest stars.
Rural Rube was the first of many great, four-legged athlete’s who graced the Revere oval. More All-American greyhounds competed at Wonderland than any other track in the country, thirty five including 18 Derby champions (from 1963 thru1998). While showcasing many of the most famous greyhounds in the sports history, nightly crowds often exceeded 19,000 fans. During its heyday handle exceeded more than one million dollars on four occasions.
A dozen experts comprised of Management, Kennel Owners and fans named Wonderland’s All-Time “Dream-Team” as part of the 50th Anniversary festivities. The results read like who’s who of greyhound racing. Captained by Rural Rube the first team included Lucky Pilot, Canadian Pacific, Hondo Monopoly, Never Roll, Evening Glamour, On the Line, Rinaker, Honey Line. and Rock a Dee.
The track’s last race was won by Stanton’s kennels JJ’s Make Me Pop on Sept. 18, 2009. Normally referred to as “The Au Rior”( its meaning is “goodbye until we meet again”) so it was not appropriate in 2009, as this was the final race ever! The last finish line photo, prior to the race track lights being turned off for the final time included two of the three State’s Racing Commissioners along with two Track Officials, representatives from the Stanton Kennel, a leadout and the winning greyhound.
By the end of 2018 bulldozers had demolished the race track, tote board, and remaining buildings; however, Wonderland’s, history and fond memories of the fans and those of us who had the pleasure of working, or racing greyhounds at 190 VFW Parkway, Revere from 1935-2009 will remain forever!
As for my penny from heaven, following 10 days of business, doctor appointments, visiting old friends and great food my daughter and I headed back south, me with the penny in my pocket.
I had forgotten about the penny until one day last week while paying at my favorite coffee shop I found it in my hand. I’m not sure what possessed me, but when I got home, I googled “is there spiritual meaning to finding a coin.” The response directed me to Askingangels.com and the article “penny from heaven”.
I’ve never been one to believe in the supernatural. After reading the article “penny from heaven” and thinking about its message “When you need cheering up these spiritual coins are a sign from heaven and loved ones who have passed over”. “If you are missing a loved one who has passed on a day when you think of them, you may find coins popping up in your path.” I now have a new perspective regarding my spiritually. As my daughter as my witness the penny from heaven was the second penny I picked up on VFW Parkway. The first I made a wish and threw it into a small body of water along the walking route to 190 VFW Parkway.
What really gives me pause for reflection is the fact May 27 was Memorial Day and just a few hours prior to stopping by 190 VFW Parkway I had placed flowers at the grave site of my Mother, Father and Sister – My penny from heaven will no longer remain in my pocket. It will be forever in a locket near my heart!
Many of you I thought would appreciate the full history of Wonderland so I tagged you here.
Ron Wohlen is the former assistant general manager and director of Simulcasting at Wonderland GreyHound Park. He worked at the well-known track from 1978 to its closing in 2010. Ron and his wife Linda are living in Jupitter, Florida.