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Remembering the amusement parks

Published November 07. 2009 09:00AM

I was thrilled to talk recently with people associated with Lakewood Park.

Peg Guinan Grigalonis of Mahanoy City wrote a book about the place, an entertainment center started in 1916 by her family.

Peg told me about days long ago, as did Janet Guinan Cunningham and her husband George.

Lakewood was special to me because I visited there often.

The park boasted a great fun house and lots of typical park rides, plus a unique ride called The Wild Mouse. It might be described as a small roller coaster designed by a daredevil. Riders sat in cars that ran along a track suspended about 35 feet high. But the cars appeared to travel beyond the edge of the track and its supporting platform, giving riders a scare at every turn.

Lakewood Park also was special because of its top-flight theatre. I was a member of the Critics Circle back in the mid 1970s, a job which guaranteed an opening night ticket for each new show.

I also worked a Lakewood Park event. The park hosted an annual Bavarian Festival for many years and I was employed as a public address announcer in the information booth along the midway. I worked there for two years, 1970 and 71, responding to questions from attendees all day long.

In between, say every 30 minutes to an hour, I grabbed a microphone and read a "welcome" script in German and in English.

But most of the time, my job involved giving directions to people trying to find the food halls, beer halls, rides and bathrooms. It was a fun time and the only job I ever held that paid me to tell people where to go.

I have many fond memories of Lakewood.

If you're over 30, then chances are that an amusement park played a big role in your childhood. Amusement parks were the place to be.

The concept of amusement parks originated along the the East Coast in the late 1800s, with facilities built at the end of trolley lines.

Most were family owned and operated, and provided an inexpensive way to enjoy leisure time.

In our region, Lakewood Park was one of the early ones. Allentown had Dorney Park, then much smaller than it is today. Hazleton also had an early park. It was called Hazle Park, a nice turn-of-the-century attraction at West Hazleton. Then there was the later Angela Park, just north of the city. Angela Park operated from 1956 to 1989 and its most famous ride was the Valley Volcano Roller Coaster.

Local residents patronized Angela Park and so did businesses. In fact, Atlas Powder Co. held their annual employee picnic at Angela Park for years.

According to sources, there are 320 amusement and theme parks in the United States. But many are large, mega-parks such as Six Flags, Walt Disney, and Great Adventure. I can't help but think that mega-parks don't provide the same atmosphere as the smaller, family owned parks of our youth.

Places like Lakewood, Angela Park and others offered an intimate experience, reasonable prices, free entertainment and free parking.

In Northumberland County, a family-owned enterprise called Knoebel's Amusement Park tries to follow the principles of the old-fashioned parks by offering free parking, free admission and free attractions.

But such places are the exception.

Many of the amusement parks of today have sensational rides that defy gravity, such as roller coasters that loop the loop. But amusement parks have become expensive places to take a family. The parks of today take us for a ride in more ways than one. Even the parking fees can be costly. This is in stark contrast to the original concept. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the parks of long ago.

All things considered, I'd rather be on The Wild Mouse.

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