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The glory days

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS  Peggy Guinan Grigalonis, left, and Janet Guinan Cunningham display the only lithograph known to exist from the 1916 founding of Lakewood Park. The poster was discovered by Cunningham's husband, George, in the attic of…
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Peggy Guinan Grigalonis, left, and Janet Guinan Cunningham display the only lithograph known to exist from the 1916 founding of Lakewood Park. The poster was discovered by Cunningham's husband, George, in the attic of the Guinan family home.
Published October 24. 2009 09:00AM

Nearly everyone has memories of Lakewood Park, and that single fact made Peg Guinan Grigalonis's job that much harder.

Grigalonis collaborated with other Guinan family members to compile an illustrated history of the legendary amusement park located along Route 54 between Mahanoy City and Tamaqua.

Grigalonis knew that the book, called Lakewood Park," had to be as comprehensive as possible and could not be limited to a history of the Guinan family.

I wanted it to be a broad picture," said Grigalonis this week at the Mahanoy City Public Library during the book's unveiling. All proceeds from the sale of the work will go toward the library's elevator fund.

Other key players in putting together the narrative and photos included cousins Janet Guinan Cunningham and Kathy Connolly, along with 90-year-old Larry Guinan, the youngest son of the park's co-founder and now Grigalonis's only living uncle.

He would tell us the stories," said Grigalonis, referring to 'Uncle Larry.' Those stories included lesser known accounts from the early years, events which Grigalonis never knew, such as the Flying Orchestra (they would arrive near the park in an airplane) and the spectacular man vs. alligator wrestling events.

But most of Lakewood Park's magical history involved stories which everybody knew since the place was legendary as an entertainment mecca.

It was officially established by the Guinan family in 1916 as a venue to bathe, picnic and camp.

The pool, or bathing, was the main attraction early on," explained Grigalonis. In that way, the park was a nature retreat for hardworking miners and their families who hiked to the site or arrived by train.

But it quickly grew into a sprawling entertainment center that offered the best of the big bands, amusement rides, swimming, skating, boxing matches, ethnic celebrations, summer stock theater and even political banquets.

In addition to a man-made lake, the park featured a 150-yard cement pool, diving boards set at 20-feet and an amazing 32-feet high, a hand-carved Spillman carousel, and massive ballroom.

Locals will remember Lakewood Park as host to the longest-running ethnic celebration in Pennsylvania, Lithuanian Day, from 1914 to 1984. The park peaked again as one of the region's largest attractions when it hosted the wildly popular Bavarian Summer Festival from 1969 to 1984.

In its 68 years, the park provided countless once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for local audiences to see big names such as Doris Day, Guy Lombardo, Sammy Kaye, Duke Ellington, the Dorsey Brothers and even a budding bandleader named Lawrence Welk.

He was unknown at that time," noted Grigalonis.

In 1958, American Bandstand host Dick Clark showed up at Lakewood with a then-unknown performer named Chubby Checker, who then went on to take the country by storm with 'The Twist.'

Grigalonis said the true peak years at the park were the big band years.

Every single top-of-the-chart person was there."

Janet Cunningham remembers being on stage in her Easter frock with the other Guinan girls and being serenaded by Pat Boone in the days of 'April Love.'

So who drew the biggest crowd of all time at Lakewood?

The answer: Vaughn Monroe, a handsome male vocalist who was the cat's meow during the 1940s and 50s. His first appearance at Lakewood drew a record 6,000 to the inside of the massive ballroom. The man with the resounding baritone voice also played trumpet and trombone and led his own orchestra. On June 12, 1948, Monroe's coast-to-coast radio show was broadcast from the Lakewood bandstand and announced by Bert Parks.

Lakewood Park's 740-seat theater also reached to the highest levels of stardom starting in 1949 and lasting through the 1970s, attracting names such as Lana Turner, John Raitt, Joan Blondell and countless others. The book covers highlights of a special era in family entertainment, providing a trip down memory lane to a time cherished by northeastern Pennsylvania residents.

The softcover, 128-page book was published as part of the popular Images of America series and includes over 220 historical photos and illustrations. Many of the images came from the private collections of the Guinan family and other local residents.

It's an important work and I'm glad to see it made available," said Dale Freudenberger, president, Tamaqua Historical Society. Freudenberger contributed several photos to the work.

Lakewood Park" is available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at or at (888) 313-2665.

A book signing will take place in Tamaqua on Saturday, Nov. 28, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Tamaqua train station.

Another signing will take place Saturday, Nov. 7, at 1 p.m. at Waldenbooks, Laurel Mall, Airport Road, Hazleton.

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