Women of Influence: Leanna Knoebel Muscato

A view from the top…
In 1828, Rev. Henry Hartman Knoebel bought land known locally as “Peggy’s Farm” in Elysburg, Pa. That purchase and a vision held by his grandson, Hartman Henry “Old Hen” Knoebel, created what is known today as Knoebels Amusement Resort.


The park marks 1926 as its official beginning. That year Knoebel built a restaurant on the grounds, installed a steam-powered Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel, put in a few simple games and opened a large concrete swimming pool adjacent to the site of the old swimming hole. Knoebels Amusement Resort, now much larger, is still run by the Knoebel family, of which Leanna Knoebel Muscato is a member.

Accomplishments and affiliations…
• Pennsylvania Amusement Parks and Attractions (PAPA), 2015-2016; first woman board member and first woman president (2017)

• International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), long-time member; member and chairperson, IAAPA’s games committee

Muscato’s childhood playground becomes her world

ELYSBURG, Pa. — Leanna Knoebel Muscato still loves to walk through Knoebels Amusement Resort in the early morning hours, before the hustle and bustle of the day, and before the park is open and guests begin to arrive. The early morning hours are hers to go check on her charges as she has done for many years.

Those charges are the family games in the park. They are traditional carnival games, many of which are made in-house. She has several toss games like the Cat Rack, the Block Party, Football Toss and Kozmo’s Big Mouth Toss. She has a Dizzy Darts game and Hoops Basketball. There are the Flying Frogs and the Hungry Frogs, the Fish Pond and the Fishin’ Hole. She has one water race game and five other race games. She also has two Big One cranes and a Hi-Striker. And there are others. 

Muscato has been involved in various aspects of her family’s park business, but she has remained most devoted to the games. She has seen many changes in the games segment of the amusement industry, especially in the technology arena, including the cashless system.

“Gaming is an impulse,” she said. “If you have to go back to a kiosk and reload money onto your card, you just might not do it.”

Muscato loves the simplicity of her games. She loves the fact that if something breaks, repairs are small. 

“I love what I do,” she said. “Growing up there was really fun. We swam during the day and skated every night. We would get on a ride and ride all day. When it rained, we would play Monopoly for hours. I loved to sing with the Wurlitzer organ on the carousel. Everybody knew everybody.”

Her father, Lawrence Knoebel, died a month and a half before she was born. “He died on June 10, 1951, and I was born July 31, 1951,” Muscato said. “My Uncle Pete, my father’s brother, took my mother [Margaret, ‘Peg’] in as a partner in the park right away.”

Muscato and her family, which included her mother, who passed away in 1990, and two older brothers, Dick and Buddy, lived about a quarter of a mile away from the park, “right at the top of the hill.”  

There was no lack of children to play with on that vast playground. Aside from her brothers, there were her Uncle Pete’s children, David and Page, as well as others whose parents worked and lived on the grounds. 

She learned many aspects of the park business. She learned how to use bronze powders and apply gold leaf from her friend, the park painter. She sold tickets and ran some of the games. Her first paid job was at the Fish Pond. She went with her mother to Shamokin, Pa., to a jobber to buy prizes in much smaller quantities than today. 

Muscato attended East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in education, with an emphasis on physical education. After graduation, she found jobs for teachers so scarce that she told her Uncle Pete she wanted to work in the park.

“He said, ‘Well, most of the women in the family don’t come back. They go on to different things.’”

She just looked at him. He said: “Well, I guess you could do a little painting.”

As it turned out, they were painting the Grand Carousel. Muscato was able to paint some of the carousel horses. 

“We were painting the beams a light tan, and I could see the original designs underneath,” she said. “So, I traced them and made stencils.”

The Grand Carousel was repainted in 2013, prior to its 100th birthday, and Muscato’s stencils were used to bring back the original designs.

She found herself the only woman working on the grounds many times. She saw things she wished she hadn’t, “like when coming around a corner too quickly.”

Eventually, Muscato found a teaching position in health and physical education. She did that for the next 31-plus years, coaching girls field hockey for 12 of them. 

She continued to be in charge of the games, as she is today. She also grew the number of games greatly over the years. 

Muscato has been active and influential in industry associations. For example, when she became the first woman president of PAPA in 2017 after serving two years as the first woman board member, Muscato was instrumental in the association’s name change to include attractions to better serve the members in Pennsylvania.

Has she ever thought about doing something else? Not likely. 

“My mother met my dad at the park, and I met my husband [Joe Muscato] at the park,” she said. “I raised my daughter, Lauren, here. It’s in my blood.”

And it will forever be in her heart. 

Note: Muscato’s Uncle Pete Knoebel, whom she said “many times helped father all of us,” passed away in 1988.

—Pam Sherborne 

This article appears in the FEBRUARY 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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