|Bill Childs, his friend Craig, my son Mike and I took a trip to Mountain Park on September 29th, 2004. The day was overcast and windy. Hurricane Jeanne had just passed through. So we didn't expect too much of a crowd there.
We met at Barnes and Noble and piled into my little Golf. A few minutes later we had passed the main park entrance. "I want to show you the old entrances," I proclaimed with a slight air of self-importance. We sped by an incoherent tangle of trees with some stone pillars buried behind them. "That was the entrance," I declared, not really sure what I was looking at. "And there's the old exit," I cried out. The passengers looked off to the side puzzled as we passed by a dense forest. I drove a little further down the road and exclaimed, "There was the old billboard that had a spinning clown head!" A rotted pile of lumber lay on the ground. Bill and Craig thought that was amusing and slightly terrifying, that a billboard would have a clown's head revolving like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist. "Ummm, I meant the NOSE spun around," I corrected.
I made a U-turn and headed back for the main entrance. I pointed out a collection of pylons off to the side of the road and said I had no idea what they were. I could tell that my passengers were overwhelmed with the amount of information I was giving them. We parked in front of the bent and rusted Mountain Park gate. Sure enough, there was only one other car there. "Come on!" I said, delighted. "I'll show you the original park gate!"
I led them up a side road and pointed to a rusted iron pipe structure low to the ground, obscured by vines. "There it is. Isn't it amazing?" I could tell they were breathless. Bill wished he could take it home with him. But it wouldn't have fit into my already cramped car. We walked in through the upper parking lot and were amazed to find it crowded with dozens of parked trees. We were starting to worry that maybe the midway would be densely-packed after all.
I brought them over to the far end of the old Clambake Pavilion, which with its current redesign allowed for lots of sunlight to shine through. I pointed to a refrigerator unit and said, "This is the grill where they cooked clams and chicken!" Bill and Craig looked at each other as if I were crazy. My son understood the dense workings of my mind. The custom-built Bubble Bounce ride had been relocated to this area of the midway, but was down for the day. Bill took pictures of sections of its platform.
"Come over here and check out the Mountain Flyer," I beckoned, crossing to the opposite side of the midway. The structure of the ride at that point was imposing. There was so much lumber. I regaled them with a story, which was completely false, of how the turnaround was built. Then I told them of my trip to the Philadelphia Toboggan Company where I learned the truth. Herb Schmeck constructed a vicious swoop-drop that knocked your wind out. Unfortunately, the coaster wasn't running, perhaps due to the weather or high winds.
Even though the midway was crowded, it was very quiet. We elbowed our way through the trees. "Here's the old Flying Jets," I said, explaining that it was a Skooter ride. I pointed to a tree that was no longer there. "The jets would get about a foot away from this tree. Everyone thought they would hit it."
The little arcade was opened, but we didn't stop in. Behind that building was the Scrambler. I mentioned to them how originally there was an old wooden bumper boat ride there. That was replaced in the 1950s by Hot Rod cars. The Flying Jets, Scrambler and the Bubble Bounce were the only rides I didn't get a chance to run when I worked at the park so many years ago.
It was too cool to get an ice cream at the Frosty Joy stand. We looked over at the Pizza stand opposite it, but all the offerings looked rather burnt, so we passed. I guess the park wasn't expecting much of a crowd because the ticket booths were closed. As we walked by the Dolly Pitch game I could hear the barker's voice floating on the wind. Pippo's amplified voice repeated, "Get the dime in a bowl and win a prize!"
Evidently, the park had cut back on its landscaping budget, because there was thick growth all over Kiddieland. And none of the many colorful lights throughout the park was lit. Maybe they only came on at dusk. I guess the park was short of help: the Kentucky Derby game was closed, as were the Chocolates and Cigarettes games. We walked by the Dinosaur Den dark ride, which looked like it needed a paint job. I acknowledged my dad, who ran that ride for about five years. We crisscrossed to the opposite side of the midway where the Whip was looking a bit rusty. The floor could have used a bit of work, too. Bill asked about a small square stone structure in the middle of that section of midway. "That's a water bubbler," I said, matter-of-factly. But no one wanted to take a drink from it.
I pointed out the Pirate's Den, which my father also ran. It was funny to have a "dark ride" that was open to the light. We passed by the park office, which was in disarray probably from all the paperwork at the end of the season. I told the others how the Holyoke fire department asked the park's owner if they could test out a new fire retardant material on his office. The owner agreed. And the experiment went hilariously awry, with flames shooting out like the Fourth of July. Fortunately no one was hurt, not even the insurance companies.
Across from the office was the Grocery Game, the most popular game in the park. It was basically a standard roulette-style game. Put a dime down on a number, and if your number came up you'd win a bag of groceries. It may sound silly, but that game had a line of people playing all day long.
With its huge carriage doors and bountiful windows, it looked like we could see right through the massive merry-go-round building. The giant iron trusses holding up the building were slightly warped after standing for 110 years. We then walked past the Tempest where Lucky, the ride operator, was having fun mercilessly spinning guests. He stood about six feet four inches tall, wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy had. He had on old jeans and a t-shirt. His thick dyed blond hair crept down his face into two pork-chop sideburns. He boasted that he held the park record on the ride: he made 183 guests throw up on it in one day.
The Midway Lunch was empty. The Cotton Candy stand was silent. A low stone fence encircled the Tilt-a-Whirl. I pointed out to them the elaborate angular facade of the Dodgem building. The cars were made by the famous Lawrence, Mass., Dodgem company. There were the greatest bumper cars ever built. Mountain Park's building was large and especially stunning with eight-foot mirrors lining the back wall, separated by florescent lights.
The recently remodeled arcade was jam-packed. For nearly fifteen years, my aunt ran the gift counter there. We couldn't even get near it. We walked over to the Klaus Satellite Jets, and I told Bill and Craig a story that Mike had heard 100 times, of the day when I nearly died running the ride. I almost had them rolling on the mossy pavement with laughter, tears streaming down their faces.
I then guided everyone to the Mountain Flyer's entrance. The colorful pastel bricks still looked new after all this time. We walked through the ride entrance. Bill and Craig were amazed at how much coaster had been crammed into such a small corridor of land. I explained to them how I ran the ride with the old manual hand brakes. Unfortunately, we weren't able to take a ride.
We then walked past the turnaround of the miniature train toward the bathrooms, one of the oldest structures not standing in the park. We were surrounded by the elaborate miniature golf course, with its course sculpted out of smooth rounded concrete and elevated walkways and waterfalls. We wanted to play a round, but no clubs were available and our time was limited. We checked out the unique Mt. Park Golf sign and the train tunnel entrance. Then I led them over to where the Stardust Ballroom used to stand. I was amazed that the rounded concrete steps leading up to the ballroom, built in the 1800s, still looked new. Beyond the ballroom was the blue metal picnic pavilion, where private outings were held.
I led them down a road to view the giant glacial boulder that sat on a hill. They bowed their heads in respect for nature's awesome power. Opposite the boulder was the large picnic grove. It hadn't been mowed in a while so we didn't bother to frolic through it.
We hiked back through the parking lot ("Parking for 3000 cars!") past the rusted flatbed trailer that has sat in the same spot for nearly two decades. Its tires had gone flat and its struts had sunk down into the pavement. It held the aluminum remains of the Midway Stage. After the park closed, it had been bought and dismantled, but the buyer never came to claim the trailer.
I looked back on the place that occupied thirteen years of my life. Nothing was there but ghostly memories. Nature was rapidly swallowing up every inch of asphalt. With the buildings all either burned to the ground or bulldozed flat -- all except for Pippo's Dolly Pitch -- the area was an indecipherable mess. I had walked the grounds so often, every inch of them, that I could almost do it in my sleep. But now, closing my eyes is the only way for me to see the park as it was. Bill and Craig and I wished we had the money to revive the park, to somehow reanimate it as one would try to resuscitate a dying friend.
I took one last look at the sad neglected sight before us, sighed deeply and drove them over to the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round. Luckily, the building happened to be open and they were able to gaze upon some of the splendor that made Mountain Park what it was. I'm glad we ended our tour there, because that's the way I prefer to remember the park: as a living, breathing "Happiness Machine" that can still bring smiles to so many faces.