Project: T. H. Eslick AKA Uncle Harry

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IN SEARCH OF UNCLE HARRY

TRACKING DOWN THE ELUSIVE T. H. ESLICK
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One of the few known pictures of T.H. Eslick.

"It is easily concluded that Thomas Eslick was indeed a man of countless facets and various aptitudes. Besides constructing Luna Park as well as the Cloudland dance palace, his amazing brainchild, his boasts about his unique abilities stretched to engineering, architecture, building and managing projects. As he tied such powers to the years prior to his supposed arrival in Australia, 1911, this oversight makes all his claims and counter-claims so wildly unbelievable. His latter boast, organising, suggested he possessed the skills as a self-publicist in the realm of the public domain and work relations. In such aptitudes as these, though, he had often displayed a canny facility."

James Lergessner - Cloudland: Queen of the Dancehalls (page 42).

A scene from the long-defunct Lotus Isle amusement park in Portland, Oregon - one of Uncle Harry's projects.

The period of the early 1900's through the beginning of World War 2 marked the golden era of amusement parks and these combinations of sideshows, carnival rides, entertainment, and dance ballrooms sprung up at locations throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia. Among the prominent developers and promoters of these parks was one T. H. Eslick, AKA Thomas Henry Eslick. Harry was married to the sister (Florence) of my father's mother (Ethel) and I would occasionally hear stories about him as I grew up in Oregon.

In the last years of his life, my father passed on to me a slim file of information he had collected about his uncle - he always called him Uncle Harry and the name stuck with me. My father had long been intrigued by Eslick whom he characterized as the most interesting person on his side of our family. Although I have no recollection of Uncle Harry (who died when I was a young child in the late 1940's), I have clear memories of visiting my great-aunt Florence in Portland when I was growing up in the 1950's and early 1960's. When we dropped by to see her, we would often leave with an odd item or two that had been pulled from a chest full of curios that she and Thomas had somehow acquired in the their travels. These included such items as a copper bowl reputed to be from Pompeii, a small Egyptian statue of unknown antiquity and provenience, and a knife from Fiji that was made from a human femur. At the time of his death, Uncle Harry and Florence had moved back from Australia to Eugene, Oregon, and he was reportedly busy trying to put together yet another new project in the Blue River area of the Western Cascades.

I was able to track down a few shards of information about some of his projects in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, Australia, and in the United States in Oregon and California, but information was scant and the demands of my full-time job didn't leave much research time to spare. Now that I'm retired, I can hopefully finally satisfy some of my curiosity about Thomas Eslick and his escapades with amusement parks. I'll let you know what I find out ...

A TIMELINE FOR UNCLE HARRY AND HIS PROJECTS: REAL AND IMAGINED

1910: Luna Park - Cairo, Egypt
1912: Luna Park - Melbourne, Australia
1913-1917: White City Amusement Park - Sydney, Australia
1924-1963: Lamonica Ballroom - Santa Monica California USA
1930-1932: Lotus Isle - Portland, Oregon USA
1939-1941, 1947-1982: Cloudland AKA Luna Park - Brisbane Australia


RESOURCES: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF T.H. ESLICK

A sample of Uncle Harry's letterhead from his tenure in Australia.

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04/01/2021

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