Memories of Uncle Milty's Milton Tone dies at 85 but leaves a lasting legacy
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Dec 16, 2004 | 7805 views | 1 1 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the mid-1950s, a sign hung above a small building near the Kill Van Kull that said "Miltyville." It was for many years the gateway into a world of amusements and rides on which many people look back fondly.

According to Bayonne Passages, a book published on the history of Bayonne by Katherine Middleton, rides at Uncle Milty's Playland were only 5 cents during weekdays for so long that people came to call them the "5 cent days," and in later years, when seeking to promote the amusement park, management held special days in which the prices reverted.

Most long-time residents of Bayonne remember Milton Tone as "Uncle Milty," the man who for almost two decades operated the amusement park in Bergen Point.

Tone, the son of previous amusement park operator Max Tenenbaum, died at 85 on Nov. 25 in his retirement home in Hollywood, Fla.

For many of those from around Bayonne and Hudson County, Tone's death is the end of a magical part of Bayonne history, when the park's glow lighted up the night seven days a week, and could be seen by seafarers as well as residents of Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Uncle Milty's Playland - sometimes known as Uncle Milty's Amusement Park - was among the legendary amusement parks, Hudson's County's rival to places like Palisades Amusement Park in Bergen County and Bertrand's Amusement Park in Morris County.

"Uncle Milty's park drew crowds from Staten Island, as well as from several surrounding counties in New Jersey," said his sister, Ann Cohen.

Milty Tone opened the park in the area where his father, Tenenbaum, had operated a similar facility two decades earlier, starting out with skeeball machines and rides.

A Bayonne native, Tone opened his amusement park after he and his partners purchased the property in 1951. In 1954, the state of New Jersey gave Tone a 15-year lease that allowed him to extend the pier 50 feet into the Kill Van Kull. He also expanded the park west along First Street until it ran from Avenue C to Newman Avenue. The pier featured a miniature roller coaster at the southeast corner, which provided in thrills what it lacked in size, because always seemed ready to fly off the tracks and plunge the occupants into the Kill Van Kull.

The amusement pier also featured the jumping horses spinning on the merry-go-round. Kids could engage in air combat on the sky-fighters ride if their stomachs could handle the whiling. The park also had a tunnel of love, a haunted house, pony car, kiddie cars and kiddie jeep rides.

"He was always very busy," Cohen said.

People remember the park fondly

Although now a resident of Teaneck, Rick Opendorf remembered going to Uncle Milty's as a teen in the 1950s when he used to make the trek south from Hoboken.

"We use to go there a lot," Opendorf recalled. "I always picture it in my mind."

While there were games of chance, Milty did not operate those in the 1960s, according to Vinnie Cook, who worked as a ride operator and later as a staff member of the miniature golf course.

"He ran the rides," Cook said, describing Milty a good man.

Cook said Milty's father still hung around the new park, walking around to make certain that everything was okay.

Marge Wilk, of the Bayonne Historic Society, said she took her children there when they were young, and that the park was a popular spot for people throughout Bayonne, especially on weekends. She said she remembered the fun house and the trains.

"It had a lot of rides for kids," she said.

Anne Leahey said she went to Uncle Milty's as a young girl, and then brought her kids. She remembered the "little roller coaster" that the park featured as well as the Ferris wheel and the amusement arcade where kids played a variety of game machines.

"That's where most people went," Leahey said. "For a lot of people it was easy to walk to, although people came from uptown as well."

As Hudson County's only amusement park, thousands of people came to the park from throughout the county on weekend afternoons.

In 1960, Tone rented the park to Herm Kunkes and Sheldon Gurst, but apparently continued to have an option on the rides. Cook worked at the amusement park during the 1960s, starting out as the operator of a boat ride for smaller kids.

"I just bought a house and wanted to get a little more income," Cook said. "So I went down there and asked about a job."

Cook worked there part-time while holding down a full-time job elsewhere. He got along with Milty, he said, and was occasionally asked to substitute operating other rides, although eventually, Milty asked him to take over the miniature golf course - a job Cook's daughter Kathy later took over.

The popularity of the park, Cook said, showed in the cash receipts.

"We sometimes got as much $150 to $180 a day [at a ride]," he said. "We charged a quarter a ride. That's a lot of customers."

Milty was a nice man

Cook said it was, however, "a tough business," and recalled the nickel nights when the price was reduced as a promotion.

"Milty was a nice man and he used to come around asking how things were going," Cook said.

The park ran along the waterside on West First Street from Avenue C to Newman Avenue. Cook said there were a lot of stands with wheels offering games of chance and other delights. "We had two merry-go-rounds, the Whip and the Frolic," he said.

Although weekends tended to be busier than early in the week, Cook said the park operated seven days a week.

"I would go down there on Saturday about noon and finish up around 11 p.m.," Cook said. "It was the same for Sunday. During the week, we might close 9 or 10 p.m."

Kathleen M. Middleton, author of Bayonne Passages, spoke with Tone in 1998 to 1999 when she was researching the book.

"He was a congenial and very pleasant man," she said. "He loved Bayonne and he was thrilled to talk to me. He really missed living in Bayonne and came back to Bayonne whenever he could."

Milty felt he had contributed to the community with the playland.

"He was proud of it, and happy that people had nice memories of the place," Middleton said.

But toward the end of the 20-plus years as an amusement park, Uncle Milty's became somewhat rundown, Middleton said. Local government officials sought to close the park and had the matter put up to a vote on a public referendum. But people were so fond of the place, Uncle Milty's prevailed.

A family affair

Bill Archiello was the youngest of a family who worked at Uncle Milty's.

"My father had the original pony rides," he said. "He also ran two games of chance. One game was where you threw a ball to knock down the cats. The other game was where you finished out wooden fish with a pole. The fish had numbers on their bottom for prizes. My father was also at one time the foreman for the arcade."

Bill recalled the park as being one of the few places families could go to have a great time together.

"It opened for the season every Easter Sunday," he said, recalling that the park's season closed sometime shortly after Labor Day. "I worked on the little boat ride, the Whip and the train ride."

Lou Archiello said most of his family - brothers, parents, aunts and others - had worked at the amusement park over the years.

"Uncle Milty was a very quiet man, who appeared to be very stern, but in reality had a heart of gold," Archiello said. "He contributed to the community in a silent manner. When the new program founded Head Start, he and some of the old barkers used to have all the kids from Head Start come to the park and arcade free. They could go on the rides or play any of the games, even win prizes for free."

Uncle Milty's would also provide free puppet shows for kids and bring in circus acts such as high wire walkers, all free to the public.

"I never saw him or looking for any recognition," he said. "But I would venture to say that if the town did any kind memorial, the turnout would be overwhelming. He did a lot of good quietly."

Milty used to allow the use of the park for the Assumption Church to run fundraising carnivals every year. "And he wasn't Catholic, he was Jewish," Archiello said. "He was the kind of man who if he saw a youngster doing wrong, he would stop and scold the kid, but he would always walk away with a smile on his face. He really loved children. He just didn't announce it."

Nearly everyone was saddened by news of Tone's death.

"You could depend on what he told you," Cook said. "I remembered the good days with him."

Cook, who is five months shy of his 90 birthday, said it was a part of the past he likes to remember.

Eventually Tone sold the property to the city, which turned it into Dennis Collins Park in 1976. But he did not disappear, Tone's sister said.

"After the park was closed, Uncle Milty became a contractor and built quite a few houses in Bayonne," Cohen said. "He also helped establish Temple Beth Am."

Constant Al Sullivan at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com

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Tanenbaum
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May 20, 2013
Lasting legacy, in deed. My father, Milton's younger brother, also co-owned the amusement park. They named it "uncle Milty's" partly because Comedian Milton Burrow was also known as Uncle Milty, and partly because Norman isn't a name that lends itself much to marketing appeal. Norman, who spelled his last name as Tanenbaum because of an error on his birth certificate, kept the amusement park running, working late into the night fixing the machinery and designing features like the haunted house. Meanwhile, his brother, Milton, robbed him blind. The legacy apparently continues since no mention is made of Norman or the sisters and brother-in-laws that also worked at the enterprise. It was quite a fall out, and one apparent result is the fact that my cousins Fredda and Nancy, may not even know of my existence to this day. Where the Tennenbaum/Tanenbaum family is concerned, it's best to keep a realistic perspective for they sharpened their fangs on one another before baring them to the outside world. Think of them as unrepentant Scrooge to understand why attempts at warm eulogies spark an absurd note.