Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Ones That Got Away, Part II

By Dave Brigham:

After writing a short article for the Society for Commercial Archeology's monthly newsletter in the summer of 2005 about Dave Waller's efforts to save and restore old neon signs (see March 22, 2010, Backside entry, "Gettin' My Kicks" for more on Waller), I began looking for other story ideas. In searching online I came across information about the impending destruction of Whalom Park, an amusement park in Leominster, Mass.

I'd never been to the park, but I've long had a soft spot for amusement parks and carnivals, and lamented the fact that a great old place was going to be torn down. I decided to drive to the park before the wrecking ball started swinging, to gather some information for a possible article about the park and efforts by former employees and owners to save it from destruction.

I dragged my son, Owen, along (just as I drag Amelia along on Backside photo trips now), and drove around the perimeter of the park, looking at the old roller coaster and other rides, ticket booths and other buildings. I wrote a bunch of notes about the surrounding neighborhood and soaked in the atmosphere.

Here are a few of my observations, taken from my notes:

1) I noted restaurants including Sean Patrick's, Stella's Coffee Shoppe and the awesomely monikered Elvis's Hot Dog Palace.

2) There was an abandoned "bath house," with an active driving range across the way.

3) There were a few bars on Lakefront Ave., right next to the park: R.G. Scooter's, Captain's Lounge, and On the Rocks.

4) "The Black Hole rollercoaster hulks over the roadway," I wrote. "Burned out bldg (what was it? dance hall?) next to that."

I took some half-decent notes about the park and the area, but what I didn't do was take pictures. I didn't have a very good camera then, and the thought to record what I was seeing just didn't occur to me. These days if I think there's even a slight chance that I'll find some Backside-worthy shots to take, I pack my camera.

I never wrote the article. Now Whalom is gone, replaced by a housing development. That possibility must have been in the news at the time I visited, as I wrote in my notes, "w/ the views of the lake, the attraction for condos/homes/retail/restaurants is obvious."

In 2006, the park was torn down and new homes started going up. A lot of folks out there were devastated that Whalom couldn't be saved. I found a video that does a fantastic job of capturing the park in its decay, showing the roller coaster being torn down, and then showing what the various sites looked like after being junked and cleaned up.

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