Anecdotes of Hotel Conneaut & Exposition Park: Part 5, 1930-1939

In my fifth part of the ongoing series on Hotel Conneaut and Conneaut Lake Park, I explore the decade of the 30’s. The stock market crash of December 1929 pitched the country forward into the Great Depression. Despite the possibility of financial catastrophe, Conneaut Lake Park’s president Henry Holcomb remained optimistic, believing that the resort could stay afloat, and his projection was correct. However, the long management by Holcomb had come to an end due to his ill health and the transfer of ownership of the resort.

Postcard Showing View From Hotel Conneaut, 1935


A fire at an adjacent cottage put Hotel Conneaut in danger on February 18th. Fortunately the blaze was quickly extinguished before the flames could spread to the hotel, though the cottage was a loss.

In April, Hotel Virginia sold for $10,000 in a sheriff’s sale to an anonymous buyer.

Victor Leval

Hotel Conneaut opened for the season on May 15th, newly redecorated and under new management. Victor Leval came from Hotel Winton in Cleveland where he had been catering manager and also managed the Rainbow Room and Tally Ho Room. Having been brought up as the 5th generation of famous Levals in the European hotel business, he showed great promise in ushering a new age for Hotel Conneaut. Leval had begun his apprenticeship at the age of 11 at the Royal Palace Hotel in Switzerland before getting his start at Adlen Hotel in Berlin followed by the Metropole in London. From there, he went to Canada where he worked in service at the hotel and dining room of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. He managed the Manitoba Club in Winnipeg before WWI began and he went into military service for the next four years. He began as a sergeant and was eventually promoted to a major. After his discharge, he became vice president of the Overland Hotels Co. and when he lost all his money, he began to work as a cook to feed himself. He was assistant manager at the Coronado Hotel in St. Louis and from there, his services were acquired by Hotel Winton in Cleveland. With his experience in the finest cuisine from around the world, he put together a spectacular menu with Hotel Conneaut’s chef. Some of Leval’s first plans for the park were to install a new private bathing beach for hotel guests and build a recreation parlor.

Leval and his wife hosted a dinner dance and housewarming for around 400 guests at the hotel. The guests present were from Cleveland, Erie, Greenville, Meadville, and Sharon, among others. A dancing and entertainment program shown in the dining room revealed one of the finest displays yet to be seen at the hotel. Seven vaudeville artists danced with their hats to the George Williams’ orchestra.

George Williams And His Music Makers were employed for the season to play music in the dance pavilion, newly dubbed Dreamland Ballroom, and in the Crystal Ballroom at Hotel Conneaut.

The park opened on Memorial Day, May 30th with dances held both afternoon and evening at the dance pavilion.

Jeanne Oatman of Massillon had been employed by Mr. Leval to run a print shop in the basement of Hotel Conneaut. Mr. Leval had agreed to board Mrs. Oatman and her children for free as well as pay her wages. Mrs. Oatman was the widow of Lieutenant Harry Oatman and they had married after they met while he was stationed in France. They had three children, Yvonne, Richard, and Jacqueline. The trouble was that Mrs. Oatman had been acquitted two years prior for the stabbing death of her husband at their Cleveland home. The death was deemed accidental as Mrs. Oatman stated her husband was stabbed during a quarrel. The couple had argued while she peeled potatoes with a paring knife that somehow entered his body. He bled to death in a hospital bed. Her mother-in-law, Alice Oatman, failed to believe her innocence and went after Mrs. Oatman with the full force of the law, attempting to foreclose her late son’s house and all the furniture with it. Unfortunately, the printer Mrs. Oatman was taking with her to Hotel Conneaut was included in the suit. Though Mrs. Oatman claimed it belonged to her, her mother-in-law declared vehemently that all the furniture, including the printer, was hers. I could not find a conclusion to this case, but my presumption is that Mrs. Oatman was not able to go to Conneaut Lake that summer due to her legal troubles in Cleveland.

R.J. McDonald, new Managing Director

After Hotel Conneaut closed for the season, Victor Leval left for Chicago where he became catering manager for the Congress Hotel. The grand hotelier spent one and only season at Hotel Conneaut and was replaced by R.J. McDonald. Leval would go on to serve 90,000 meals a month at Camp Canol in 1942 and was mentioned in the book, The Black Soldiers Who Built The Alaskan Highway by John Virtue.


Las Vegas Age, June 13, 1931, Page 3

Max Schmeling, heavy-weight boxing champion, set up his training camp at the resort that summer. Arriving May 20th, he stayed in a cottage with his manager, Joe Jacobs, his trainer, Max Machon, and his private chef, Otto Winemann. Guards patrolled the outside of the cottage to keep eager fans at bay. Schmeling had an outdoor ring where he trained heavily for his big fight against Young Stribling in Cleveland set for July 3rd. On one of Schmeling’s off days, he played two rounds of 18-hole golf. The remainder of his free time was spent playing tennis, fishing, riding a speedboat, bowling, and flying his airplane. On Sunday, June 28th, the park celebrated German Day, and Schmeling was cheered on by 4,317 people who thronged his outdoor boxing ring. 

Evening Star, June 29, 1931, Page C-3

Schmeling won his match against Stribling due to a technical knockout. Twenty years later, Schmeling recalled an amusing story about his exploits while staying at Conneaut Lake Park. He said that he and his friends along with his part-owner/boxing promoter Billy McCarney went into Hotel Conneaut’s basement while the undertaker’s association held their annual convention. They got into the alcohol the hotel was serving to the crowd of funeral directors, despite prohibition, and became quite inebriated. McCarney became far gone and the boys carried him upstairs. They came upon some caskets on display for the convention and laid him inside one. The boys lit the candles around the casket and left one boy to watch over McCarney while Schmeling returned to his cottage. As the story goes, the undertakers came upstairs and perhaps in jest, bowed in solemnity and said a prayer for the dead. McCarney regained consciousness, panicked when he noticed where he was laying and jumped out, running all the way back to Schmeling’s cottage. Schmeling died in 2005 at the age of 99 and was buried in his native country of Germany.

On August 1st, two cottages directly behind Hotel Conneaut burned, threatening both the hotel and the park offices but were extinguished. The loss amounted to $2,500.

Niles Daily Times August 14, 1931, Page 6
Pittsburgh Post Gazette, September 5, 1931, Page 21


Hotel Conneaut opened informally on May 27th, hosting a banquet for the Wild Life League of Pennsylvania who were in charge of the lake’s fish. Carp were removed from the lake and replaced with game fish, including blue gills, perch, and salmon. 

Niles Daily Times, May 26, 1932 Page 7

On Memorial Day, the park opened with the spectacular fire pageant, “The Spirit of America”. Freddie Carlone’s dance orchestra and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Boys Band of Warren, OH provided the music.

The Park Theatre opened with “The Lost Daughters”, put on by the Broadway Players.

On Sunday, June 26th, Captain Walter “Chris” Criswell of Meadville jumped 4,000 feet from a plane, deployed his parachute and landed in the water in front of Hotel Conneaut. One of his parachute straps broke during the descent and struck him in his eyes, causing injury. The dare-devil parachute jumper made another two leaps on July 4th

Niles Daily Times, June 28, 1932 Page 5

On Independence Day, two features were made free for visitors, one being a water show of the sinking of the Lusitania on the lake in front of the hotel. The other was a reproduction of a zeppelin attack on the Capitol of Washington. They used life-size airplanes, dirigibles, steamships and U-boats in the reproduction. That day, concerts and parades were given by the Veteran of Foreign Wars Boys band, featuring more than one-hundred instruments. Freddie Carlone’s orchestra played in the newly renovated Dreamland Ballroom and also in the dining room at Hotel Conneaut. The park’s new night club, Radio Villa, was opened to guests. At nightfall, a spectacular fireworks display was shown.

Perry Como
Photo from The Evening Star
September 9 1956, Pg 3

A young Perry Como joined his uncle at his barber shop inside Hotel Conneaut in order to send home money to his family. While in Cleveland, he went to a show at the Silver Slipper Ballroom, watching Freddie Carlone and his famous orchestra who often provided the music at Conneaut Lake Park. Carlone invited anyone with talent to come onstage and sing with his band. Como was terrified, but coaxed by his friends, went up and began to sing to hundreds of spectators. Carlone was so impressed, he offered Como a job with his band. Though the job offered significantly less pay than his haircutting gig at the hotel—$28 a week—Como dubiously accepted the offer and stayed with Carlone’s band for the next three years. Como went on to become very famous, with a long and storied career in the music industry.

One young guest of the park recalled her memories of her interaction with the young singer many years after Como left Conneaut Lake Park to begin his career:

“Back in 1931 [sic] —I was only a small child at the time—my family rented a summer cottage at Conneaut Lake, Pa. We frequently ate at the Conneaut Lake Park Hotel because, according to my parents, the food was excellent, and they enjoyed the dinner-hour dance music of Freddie Carlone’s orchestra.

“One of the band’s chief attractions was a young singer who specialized in “crooning.” Bing Crosby was then the top crooner, and I can still remember many of the lake people listening to the youngster sing (he couldn’t have been more than 18) and commenting, “This fellow will give Bing Crosby a run for his money—if he has the gumption to stick with it.” The reason they might have had doubts was that the boy had a likeable, easygoing poise that made him seem a bit, well, lethargic.

“Often the young man would visit our table and talk with my parents. After dinner, he usually invited me to the edge of the bandstand, where I sat on his ice-cream parlor chair (it was sort of a trademark of his act) while he sang.

“As the summer wore on, I developed a regular “crush” on the young singer. Was I the envy of the sandbox set on those days he’d join us at the beach and romp with me!

“The years passed, and I soon forgot all about that summer at Conneaut Lake. Then, one day in the early 1940’s, I turned our radio up to “teenage” volume to hear a new smash hit called “Prisoner of Love.” It was being sung by a bobby-sox sensation named Perry Como. I had never seen his picture, but just the sound of his voice made me swoon all over.

“My mother came in, turned the loudness down, and said, “Norma, just because he used to be your boyfriend, you needn’t bring down the walls!”

“Boyfriend? Me? Perry Como? And then it all came back. The young-man who sang to me on the ice-cream parlor chair…those days we spent on the beach…that relaxed, boy-next-door manner.

“Although the sand castles we built together quickly dissolved into the lake, and many of the songs have faded, my childhood memories of that likeable young man, who the adults said seemed to lack “gumption,” will remain till the day I die.”

-Mrs. Norma Leary, Jamestown, PA
As told to the Rome News-Tribune, October 29, 1973
(I flagged the year because according to records, Como did not come to Conneaut Lake Park until 1932)

Como died in 2001 and is buried in Riverside Memorial Park in Florida.


In May, Katherine Wolff, who had been a housekeeper at Hotel Conneaut for several years, died in Meadville from illness. She was buried in St. Catherine’s Cemetery in Titusville.

Niles Daily Times, May 25, 1933, Page 8

Henry Holcomb lay ill in Cunningham Sanitarium in Cleveland with heart trouble for several months before succumbing on June 7, 1933. He had been ill for some years prior, though had still been involved with some of his hotels before he was admitted into the sanitarium. News of his death reached Conneaut Lake Park by telegram and the incredible loss was felt quite profoundly as the man had spent his life shaping the resort into something truly remarkable. He was 69 years old and had been the park president as well as manager of Hotel Conneaut for thirty years. He left a wife and adopted daughter. His funeral service was held at St. John’s Episcopal Church and he was buried in Erie Cemetery

Actress Fifi D’Orsey visited the resort on June 27th.

Niles Daily Times, June 29, 1933, Page 6

The July 4th celebration at the park proved truly ostentatious. Fireworks were set off every hour from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Freddie Carlone’s Orchestra, who had played at President Roosevelt’s inauguration, provided the music, playing in Dreamland Ballroom and Hotel Conneaut’s dining room. Edythe Siegrist and her group of high flying performers from Ringling-Barnum held acts all throughout the day. Parachute jumper Walter Criswell returned to jump from the wing of a seaplane.


Conneaut Lake Park was purchased by the People’s Pittsburgh Trust Co. and operated the park as Hotel Conneaut, Inc. Glenn Klingensmith was made president and R.J. McDonald vice president and general manager of the park.

The railroads discontinued railroad service as running special trains into the park was no longer sustainable due to the ever rising popularity of motor cars. The 85 mile trip from Pittsburgh took less than two hours by car and proved the preferable method to arrive at the park.

On the season’s opening, held on Decoration Day, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Boys Military Band of Warren provided the music. They had won the National VFW Championship and played at the Word’s Fair. Carleton Coon and the three O’Neill Sisters were the main features at Dreamland Ballroom, playing harmony blues to the masses.

On 4th of July weekend, a young man named Fred Vosens, Jr. noticed a man struggling in the water. The boy jumped in, pulled the man to safety and the man was resuscitated. The man returned home while the boy received many accolades for saving the man from drowning. Fred was aged 15 and was the son of Hotel Conneaut’s senior chef.

Daisy and Violet Hilton

Violet Hilton, a Siamese twin who had been denied a marriage license to her fiancé Maurice Lambert by the New York court, planned to marry at Conneaut Lake. Violet and her twin sister Daisy were born attached at the hip and had become vaudeville stars. While performing in Geneva, OH, Violet told the press the wedding would be the last week of July in Pennsylvania where several justices of the peace had offered to perform the ceremony. They arrived at Conneaut Lake on July 25th but were advised by their attorney to not file for the license in Meadville and the marriage was delayed. Unfortunately, the wedding never happened and with the continuing frustration of the law against the marriage of a conjoined twin, Lambert broke off their engagement.

Niles Daily Times June 29, 1934

On Friday, August 10th through Sunday, August 12th, 2,000 firemen and their families attended the annual firemen’s convention at the park held by the Northwestern Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association. On Friday evening, the women were entertained with a card party and floor show in the Crystal Room. On Saturday, the men were split into teams for a water battle. That evening, a banquet was held at Hotel Conneaut followed by a firemen’s dance in the Crystal Room.

On August 11, a Hotel Conneaut employee, Ray Cobb, was picnicking with friends near the hotel when boiling coffee spilled on his chest and arms. The 20 year old was rushed to Spencer Hospital with severe burns from which he recovered from.


A new manager was appointed to run Hotel Conneaut and proved to be the youngest hotel manager in the state. In January, thirty-one year old Maurice Bigelow of Pittsburgh came to serve as proprietor of Hotel Conneaut, Hotel Virginia, and the Beach Club, having spent six years as the business manager of Hotel Webster in Pittsburgh.

W.E. Baker of Pittsburgh was named park manager by Hotel Conneaut, Inc. In February, plans were made for a substantial remodeling of the entire park with a projected cost of $50,000. 51 workers began to raze the concession stands and five cottages along the midway. A large court and new cottages were constructed in their place to provide an overall appearance of clean lines and genuine attractiveness. The laborers had cut ice on the lake prior to commencing the remodeling project and had went on strike due to wages. Their wages were raised from 20 cents an hour to 40, therefore they gladly went on with the remodeling work. 

Plans for building a bath house on the pier with a completion date prior to opening day were disrupted by an injunction by the Conneaut Lake Navigation Company barring Hotel Conneaut from building. In June, the injunction was dissolved and the construction of a new bathhouse moved forward. The beach ran south of the pier and was completely redone and beautified.

On December 2nd, a cottage inhabited by William Kleeb, caught fire and burned. Fortunately Kleeb had just left the cottage and was not present when the fire tore through the structure. Kleeb was vice president and general manager of the Conneaut Lake Park Company.


On May 1st, two men died in a cottage fire at the resort. The victims were Arthur Bigelow and William Kleeb, the man who had escaped a fiery death just months before. Bigelow was both assistant manager of the park and the father of Hotel Conneaut’s manager Maurice Bigelow. It has been said that their bodies were taken to the Crystal Room of the hotel while waiting to be picked up by the coroner.

Despite the terrible tragedy and loss of his father, Maurice Bigelow pushed forward with park renovation plans. $50,000 was put into making improvements at the park. The hotel’s first floor was redecorated and refurnished and the lobby completely redone. Outside, landscapers added evergreens, shrubs and flowers and the plaza, or common green on the north end of the hotel was beautified. The ground was regraded and sod placed in the areas without sidewalks. The concession stands around the hotel were moved to another area of the park and a cement sidewalk added between the hotel and the Temple of Music.

The midway was once again rebuilt with a fresh design. The Giggle-Giggle and other amusements were torn down. Laborers reinstalled the Old Mill that had been removed the prior year. The new structure sat in its original location at the west end of the dance pavilion. When the Park Hotel burned several years before, it had taken the Dodge ‘Em ride along with it, but the ride was rebuilt that spring, ready in time for the new season. The ride now occupied the space where the Park Hotel once rested.

On the pier, a 600 ft. boardwalk, 20 ft. wide, was rebuilt to extend from Hotel Conneaut to the Beach Club. The promenade on the dancing pavilion was redone with new walkways added. A new bathing beach was provided and the park now allowed guests to swim for free. 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
July 2, 1936, Page 13

On opening day, Memorial Day, the park featured a music concert, a parachute jump, and fireworks. New concessions and amusements were offered as well.

On June 7th, 3000 women from the Order of the Eastern Star came to the park for their annual convention that continued until June 12th. They held their gathering at the Temple of Music, which had been redecorated and repainted.

Hotel Conneaut served three fixed-priced dinners for $1, $1.25, and $1.50. A food critic remarked that he gave the hotel an honorable mention for serving a tomato salad with the tomato skin. 


During the winter, painters repainted the entire interior of the hotel. In April, the crew began painting the exterior of the hotel.

The Steamboat Helena fell on her side during a bout of rough winds after she was torn from her moorings. The Conneaut Lake Navigation Company, owner of the boat, had the hulk saturated with gasoline and set on fire. The steamer had been built in 1903 and retired in 1931. Her sister ship was set on fire later that year, having been retired in 1932. On both occasions, guests of Hotel Conneaut watched the fire on the south side of the lake where the two boats had been moored.


Conneaut Lake Park opened on May 28th, projected to be one of the best seasons the park had ever had. Hotel Conneaut had propelled its amenities and cuisine into top tier status.

In June, Hotel Conneaut hosted 162 Republican women from the Pennsylvania Council of Republican Women. 

The 12th Annual Conneaut Lake Bridge Tournament was held July 13th through 17th and conducted by Dick Needham. 

The last week of July, The Veterans of Foreign Wars Boys Band of Warren, OH camped for one week at the park. They played two concerts on Sunday July 30th. Their director was Donald Hurrlebrink, also director of the local high school band.


Niles Daily Times, July 1, 1939 Page 4
Niles Daily Times, July 3, 1939 Page 4


  • Hotel Conneaut Menaced As Flames Sweep Small Cottage: The Kane Republican 18 Feb 1930, Tue Pg 8
  • Hotel Conneaut to Open May 15 With New Manager: Niles Daily Times April 29, 1930 Pg 9
  • Hotel Virginia Sold to Unknown Persons: The Record-Argus, 7 Apr 1930, Mon  Pg 10
  • Dancing At The Lake: The Record-Argus, 10 May 1930, Sat. Pg 5
  • Hotel Conneaut Opens Auspiciously For Summer, with Fine Banquet: The Record-Argus, 26 May 1930, Mon Pg 5
  • More Trouble For Widow of Massillon Man: The Evening Independent, 25 Jun 1930, Wed  Pg 1
  • War Bride Gets Bond In Husband’s Death: Niles Daily Times, Saturday, July 21st, 1928, Pg 1
  • Conneaut Lake Park Hotel to Open Saturday: Warren Times Mirror 22 May 1930, Thu Pg 3
  • Fire At Conneaut: Warren Times Mirror 3 Aug 1931, Mon Pg 10
  • Schmeling to Have Three Days Grind As Last Hard Training : Evening Star, June 26, 1931, Page C-2
  • Win, Lose, or Draw: Evening Star, June 4, 1954 Page C
  • Fireworks At Conneaut On Decoration Day: Niles Daily Times May 26, 1932 Pg 5
  • Meadville Parachute Jumper At Lake: The Conneautville Courier, 29 Jun 1932, Wed · Pg 1
  • New Features Booked For Conneaut July 4: The News-Herald 28 Jun 1932, Tue Pg 7
  • Perry Como: Fishman, Charles (January 24, 1993). “A Few Moments With Perry Como”. Orlando Sentinel.
  • Katharine Wolff Death: The Conneautville Courier 31 May 1933, Wed Pg 8
  • Henry Holcomb Dies, Spent Life Helping Boost Conneaut Lake: The News-Herald 7 Jun 1933, Wed Pg 2
  • Plan For 4th At Conneaut: Niles Daily Times, June 29, 1933 Pg 4
  • Conneaut Lake Planning Finest Season: Niles Daily Times May 17, 1934 Pg 5
  • Life Saved By Young Swimmer: The Conneautville Courier, 4 Jul 1934, Wed Pg 1
  • Firemen’s Convention Planned: The Conneautville Courier 18 Jul 1934, Wed. Pg. 1 
  • Siamese Twin To Wed In Pennsylvania Soon: Evening Star, July 23, 1934, Page A-16
  • Twin Delayed Wedding: Evening Star, July 26, 1934, Page B-18
  • Conneaut Lake Boy Burned: The Conneautville Courier 15 Aug 1934, Wed Pg 4
  • Plans to Remodel Conneaut Lake Park: The Conneautville Courier 27 Feb 1935, Wed Pg 1
  • Injunction Dissolved: The Conneautville Courier, 12 Jun 1935, Wed. Pg 8 
  • Youngest Manager: Times Herald, 8 Jan 1936, Wed Pg 5 
  • Two Men Die In Fire At Summer Resort: Pottsville Republican 1 May 1936, Fri  Pg 1
  • Park Plans To Make Changes: The Record-Argus 18 Apr 1936, Sat Pg 1 & 6
  • Park Adds New Features: The Pittsburgh Press 29 May 1936, Fri Pg 10
  • Conneaut Lake Park Opens Memorial Day: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 28 May 1936, Thu Pg 13
  • A New Peel: The Record-Argus 14 Jul 1936, Tue Pg 2
  • Season Is Opened At Conneaut Lake: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11 Jun 1936, Thu Pg 15
  • Hotel Repainted: The Conneautville Courier 21 Apr 1937, Wed. Pg 1
  • Steamer Burned At Conneaut Lake: The Conneautville Courier 7 Jul 1937, Wed Pg 8
  • Conneaut Lake Park Expects Biggest Season: The Pittsburgh Press 29 May 1938, Sun Pg 32
  • Republican Women Plan For Campaign: The Conneautville Courier, 22 Jun 1938, Wed. Pg 1
  • Ridge Boys Go To Camp of VFW Boys Band At Conneaut: Niles Daily Times, Saturday, July 30th, 1938 Pg 3 
  • Trains Took Vacationers to Conneaut’s Many Hotels: The Pittsburgh Press, Sunday June 17, 1984
  • ‘Whitewash’ Won’t Aid Earle Opponent Says: Evening Star July 24, 1938, Page A-7

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