About Me

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Rock Springs Park Attracts Folks from Western PA for the First Time in 40 Years

Last night I had my first signing at a major book store chain. I was at Barnes and Noble in Greensburg, PA, signing books and talking to folks about "chicken and waffles" (Rock Springs Park's signature dish/Pennsylvania Dutch treat), the Idlewild andMacdonald connection, and the fact that people from nearby Irwin, PA, made train excursions to the park in 1910 for fares under $2 a person. It was great to share Rock Springs Park's history with people in the area and to hear their stories of working in Rock Springs' sister park, Idlewild Park in Ligonier. Images of America: Rock Springs Park will now be available at the Greensburg store, including a number of signed copies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Idlewild Park Named #1 Kids Park

(Image courtesy of Richard Bowker)

For those who miss Rock Springs Park, the closest thing we have today is Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA. Many people from Southwestern Pennsylvania who see pictures of Rock Springs Park in my book, often comment how much the buildings, like the ones pictured above, remind them of Idlewild. Both parks were owned and operated by C.C. Macdonald at one time. Proudly, Rock Springs' sisiter park was recently awarded the title of best children's amusement park in the world. Read more here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rock Springs Park Book Sent for Second Printing

Two bits of good news this week. I was told by my publisher that Images of America: Rock Springs Park is being sent for reprinting and a typo in the first print run would now be corrected.

Arcadia prints 1,200 copies in the first print run of its Images of America books, hoping to sell them all in a calendar year. Rock Springs Park sold out in just three months and is going into a second printing. By “sold out,” I mean the company has no more books in stock, but books are still available in stores and online. It is also possible that books could be returned, if not sold. But still, I am very excited about this news. I knew there was a fan base for the park out there, I had no idea how many people would be interested in it. This news exceeds my wildest expectations.

If you read my article “Heartsick About a Typo,” then you will understand how happy I was to hear that the typo I discovered after the book came out, will now be corrected in the second printing. It was a small thing that was a big deal to me. I wonder if owning a first run edition, with the typo, will make it more valuable to collectors one day. I reread my author guidelines, about the proofreading process, and it recommended not making major changes to the text during the final proofread. That’s where I goofed up. I made a substantial amount of additions and last minute corrections and that is what led to the typo. I was heartsick when I saw it, but now I am relieved that it will be corrected.

Speaking of fans: Rock Springs’ Facebook page, started by Kassy Hand, is now approaching the 1,000 friends mark. Many visitors to and former employees of the park have left stories, comments, and pictures. You have to join Facebook to see it, but it is well worth it if you love the park. Check it out.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Whole Town Excursions to Rock Springs Park Continued into the 1930's.


From the Beaver Daily Times, Beaver, PA, July 7, 1930

Monaca is enjoying a holiday today. The occasion is the annual outing, under the auspices of the Monaca Board of Trade. A boat ride to Rock Springs Park on the Steamer Greater Pittsburgh and a picnic in the park at which an interesting program of sports will be presented and awards made, will be feature events of the outing.

Store and business houses in Monaca are closed and business is practically at a standstill in the South Side town. The outing being a community affair by invitation of the Monaca Board of Trade. Many people from all parts of the county joined the Monaca-ites at the Monaca wharf and joined in the outing.

The boat left the landing at the pump station about 11 o’clock. It was estimated there were between ten or twelve hundred people aboard, including men, women and children, all set for a jolly good time. The number at the park will also be greatly increased by the Beaver valley people who will motor to the resort or go by street car. The boat will leave the park on the return trip at 9 o’clock this evening.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Many Faces of Rock Springs Park

I came across many pictures, such as this one, while researching Rock Springs Park. While they are beautiful photos of the many faces of Rock Springs, I chose not to use them in my book, as I was working with a limited number of images and the main goal was to tell the history of the park in a guided tour-type fashion. I wanted the reader to be able to see elements of the park such as the buildings, rides, and attractions in a majority of the pictures. This photograph, taken by Clarence O. Durbin around 1969, is of Betsy Urie. Although, Betsy's picture and others were not used in the book, I was able to showcase them in a musical Power Point slide show, which I share at book talks. Many people have said it made them cry, even some who didn't know the people or even the park, itself. The slide show is shown to Rusty Springfield;s hit, "I Only Want to Be With You."

Remember it?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rock Springs Park is now on Wikipedia

Even before I had any thought of doing a picture-history book on Rock Springs Park, I would occasionally Google its name to see if there was any interesting news or pictures of the park on-line. It occurred to me a couple of years ago that Rock Springs should have a Wikipedia site, especially when I discovered that Chester, West Virginia had one. I thought about creating a page for the park and linking it to Chester’s, but I wasn’t sure how to do this and therefore never fully committed to the idea. I still enjoy Googling the park and discovered last month that someone had created a Wikipedia page. As I read through the article I began to realize that it was organized a lot like my book, even covering the same history I highlighted, with very few exceptions. Then I scrolled to the bottom and saw this.

I like being a referenced source. It somehow helps to further legitimize the work. So, thanks “Comic Book Runner.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mystery Woman at Rock Springs Park Identified

Someone once said, after listening to me talk about the research process involved in writing Images of America: Rock Springs Park, that it sounded a lot like “detective work.” James Rockford or Joe Hardy I am not, but it’s true there have been times when digging up information on the park felt a bit like solving a mystery or cracking a case.

One mystery that I’ve been wrestling with for nearly a year now was the identity of the woman pictured above. Her name is Beverly (Bev) Springer. I first saw her in the photograph below sent to me by Tish Hand last summer. Tish identified herself (left) and her son, Robert C. Hand (center), but wasn’t completely sure about Beverly’s name, thinking at that time that it could be “Ginny.” I planned to use the image in the chapter covering the Hand years, and hoped that someone would be able to identify the “mystery woman.”

Last fall, I gave a slide show presentation to residents of Fox's Nursing Home in Chester, West Virginia. I was hoping someone might recognize Beverly and identify her. Among the 20-30 attendees, no one knew her name.

Then, a month later in December 2009, I was told about a book of photo negatives that once belonged to park photographer Clarence O. Durbin. The negatives had not been developed in 40 years, but Clarence had carefully labeled each proof and included a negative for each one in a tiny, hand-folded paper envelope. He then, meticulously labeled each picture with a date and description of who or what was in the shot. Dozens of visitors and former park employees were named, including an old school friend of mine, but not Bev. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find out who she was. I realized after developing as many of the photographs as I could, that it must have been Clarence who took the picture of Tish, Robert , and Bev 42 years earlier.

My final attempt to have Bev identified occurred at the Chester book signing and author talk. I created a musical slide show displaying many of the faces of Rock Springs Park to the tune of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You.” I chose to use the picture of Tish, Robbie, and Bev as the final slide in the montage and mentioned, as a way of introduction, for everyone to look closely at all the faces as they flashed by and to let me know if they recognized anyone. A couple of people saw relatives, but no one knew Bev.

Yesterday, Kassy Hand posted the picture of her mother, brother, and the mystery woman on her Rock Springs Park Facebook page. Within an hour, maybe less, Kassy was talking to Beverly’s daughter and with a quick check it was comfirmed that it was Bev in the photograh. The mystery had been solved.

Beverly Springer passed away recently and, according to messages left on her own Facebook page, was much loved by all who knew her. I only wish I had a chance to talk to Bev, as I’m sure she would have been “tickled” by my “mystery woman” quest.

Beverly Springer seated on the stone fountain which bubbled between the Merry-go-round and Virginia Gardens in 1970. (All images courtesy of Rich Brookes)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Guided Tour of Rock Springs Park

Although I could show you around the eastern end of Chester and point out a few things which still remain from the Rock Springs Park era, like owner C.A. Smith’s house on the terraced hillside above Pyramus Street, or the rustic log house, once the family home of Bob and Virginia Hand and their two sons, or even the spring itself which continues to flow unceremoniously into a drainage ditch above Chester’s iconic World’s Largest Teapot, it would be impossible, none-the-less, to tour the old Victorian park or its beautifully landscaped grounds in any meaningful way, as it was completely erased in 1974 to make way for an onramp and cloverleaf exchange to the Jennings Randolph Bridge.

That is why I chose to organize my book, Images of America: Rock Springs Park, as not only a historical tour, but also a virtual guided one. In the book we meet at the entrance gate (pictured above) and together walk the shaded paths of the lower picnic area, where I point out the Old Mill Ride and its tragic history. Then we stop to watch an afternoon matinee at the Summer Theater, followed by a quick dip the huge swimming pool. Once calmed by the serene setting of the spring lake lagoon and the log bridge along Lover’s Lane, we take one last cool drink from the ancient rock spring and climb the steep steps nearby to visit the noise and excitement of the upper park. There, we make our way along a busy midway, where the screams of thrill-seekers rounding the final turn on the Cyclone and the sweet smell of cotton candy, buttery popcorn, and the burning flash of electric sparks coming from the Dodgem car pavilion, excite the senses and force us to hand over five dollars for a strip of ride tickets at the ticket booth.

Buy a copy of Images of America: Rock Springs Park and take a stroll down memory lane.

Here’s want others have said:

“Great book. I literally absorbed it in two evenings before bedtime. You did a great job on the research and will presented text along with the imagery. And thanks for sharing your personal feelings on the excitement, and thrill and deep nostalgia for Rock Springs Park.” ~Will

“I found the book very interesting, and well done. The natural beauty of the area and the landscaping of the park must have been quite a sight in the early 1900s. I liked how the book was organized, showing distinct eras of the park, and how it changed over the years. I love history and had a lot of fun reading this book. Thanks for writing it Joe!” ~Sam

“I had read from my hometown's online newspaper that the author had been in town to sign books. I wanted to purchase a copy because I grew up around that the time the park was well visited. The stories where very interesting; I really enjoyed the photos. ~John

“We all thank Joe for his time to write this book, this is how things stay alive for our kids, who cannot believe what all Chester had. Thanks Joe, you made a lot of people happy. I rode the rollercoaster, must say never road another. Lol.” ~Mary

“I can't lay the book down either. Joe did a great job documenting the history of the park.” ~Kassy

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Facebook Find: Interior Photo of Virginia Gardens

DeMar Miller Orchestra at the world famous Virginia Gardens in Rock Springs Park circa 1928. (Courtesy of Jerry Linger)

My original purpose for starting this blog was to share information about and attract fans of Rock Springs Park. It was my hope that visitors would read about the park and share their own memories. Unfortunately, only a handful of people seem to have found their way here. I have no regrets though, as one person left a very important message. Kassy Hand, grand-daughter of Rock Springs Park owners Bob and Virginia Hand, left the message "write that book" which subsequently led to the publication of Images of America: Rock Springs Park. Kassy now has a Rock Springs Park site of her own on Facebook. Her goal, according to the page description, is "for people to share their stories and pictures." It is clear that Facebook is the way to go for making contacts such as these, as her site currently has nearly 700 friends!

One of Kassy's RSP Facebook friends is one-time Chester resident, Jerry Linger. Jerry generously agreed to share his photograph (above) on Facebook and with this blog. A musician himself, Jerry, who now resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, explained how he came to be in possession of not only a rare vintage photograph, but also one of the antique band instruments shown in his picture. “I remember the last dance there - I helped my dad clean the place up for the final dance before they tore it down. It was raining and the roof was leaking - we were catching water in trash cans while sweeping up the place and taking down some of the plastic flowers in the walls. It was so sad - they kept paying the band extra to play longer until they were just too tired to continue. Eventually everyone had to leave and women cried.” Not only did Jerry go to the Last Dance, his aunt took care of muscian Bill Smith in later years. Smith, a saxophone player with Miller's orchestra (center), gave Jerry the same alto saxophone shown in the picture (left) along with the rare photograph, itself.

Jerry’s photgraph is unique in that there are very few images remaining which show interior views of buildings from Rock Springs Park. Not only does the viewer get to see what Virginia Gardens looked like on the inside, the photograph displays many wonderful details: including the striped suits and bow ties of the 6-piece orchestra, the latticework decorations, the keystones in the Art Deco band shell, and Jerry’s favorite the “ornate lamps.”

Aside from performing at Rock Springs Park, DeMar Miller and his orchestra had many musical programs in the second floor auditorium of Chester’s now defunct City Hall, where he “secured many of the radio stars from the Midnight Jamboree in Wheeling, including Big Slim and his horse, Little Sunflower, Shirley the Cowgirl, and others,” according to Roy C. Cashdollar’s History of Chester: Gateway to the West.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sophie Tucker Avoids Puddles Makes Splash at Rock Springs Park

According to biographer Armond Fields in his book Sophie Tucker: first lady of show business (2003), singer Sophie Tucker appeared at Rock Springs Park in 1908. Variety reported that Tucker made quite an impression on the townspeople of Chester that summer. In her tour de force stage performance, Tucker crooned in blackface at the insistence of manager Phil Hathaway and others who claimed she was "too fat and ugly" to be accepted by an audience in any other context. Although, fans flocked to the park's Summer Theater to see her, it was an impromtu performance on the streets of Chester which led to a major controversy.

Sophie was spotted in town wearing a new “sheath dress” and happily demonstrated to an admiring crowd how easily she could step from the curb and avoid puddles while wearing it. When local law enforcement threatened to jail her for exposing not only her ankles but a flash of leg during the exhibition, she was briskly escorted to the local news agency by newsmen and interviewed about the event.

During the run of her show at Rock Springs, patrons called out to Tucker to wear the sheath dress on stage. She did her best to ignore the riotous behavior, as Hathaway had warned her prior to the performances to “Confine (her) actions to the scripted stage.”

Tucker, known as the "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas” for her bawdy song lyrics and style, continued to sing and perform in movies and television into the mid-1960’s. Perhaps her size, or more likely the volume at which she sang, led Paul McCartney to jokingly refer to her as the Beatles “favorite American group.” The remark, made while McCartney was introducing the Beatles version of the 'Till There Was You' (from 'The Music Man') in 1963, resulted in the belief that Tucker had covered the popular Broadway tune in her own career, which she had not.

Uploaded by redhotjazz. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Rock Springs Fills Lake to Provide New Picnic Area

On June 7, 1952, Billboard Magazine reported that Director Robert L. Hand chose to fill in a portion of the lake in Rock Springs Park. The swimming pool near the lake had been closed since WWII.

Chester, W. Va., May 31 – Filling of the lake in order to provide additional picnic space marked the pre-season activities at Rock Springs Park here, according to Manager R.L. Hand. The park began full-scale operation Monday (May 20) after being open for week-ends since May 4.
Two new rides also were added at the park. They are a Bisch-Rocco Kiddie Airplane and a B.A. Schiff Kiddie Boat Ride. Picnic bookings are up. Fireworks are scheduled for holidays.
(above image coutesy of Richard Bowker)

Safe Crackers Enjoy Picnic In Rock Springs Park

(left) Rock Springs Park Director Robert L. Hand in front of the office. (Courtesy of Tish Hand)

The following article about a robbery in Rock Springs Park appeared in The Pittsburgh Press on July 7, 1954:

Tired After Fourth of July Rush, Official Neglects to Bank Day's Take

The director of Rock Springs amusement park was so tired after the holiday rush that he went to bed instead of the bank.

While he was sleeping, safe crackers entered the park office and made off with $8000 in Fourth of July receipts.

Chester Police Chief Lloyd H. Lyons said the yeggs broke into the office sometime early yesterday.

They opened the old-fashioned, six-foot double-door safe by knocking off the combination and tapping a drift pin into the spindle.

“It was a professional job,” the chief said. Deputy Sheriff Bert Byers, of New Cumberland, said there are some suspects under surveillance.

The park office is near the dance hall and about two blocks from where Director Robert Hand resides.

Mr. Hand, who normally would have banked the money at the holidays end said about $1000 was in small bills.

Note: a "yegg" is a safe cracker or burglar

Attendance Record at Rock Springs Park

According to the July 11, 1936 edition of The Beaver Daily Times, orchestra leader, George Williams held the all-time attendance record at the Virginia Gardens ballroom:

George Williams, noted WTAM (AM Radio, Cleveland, OH) orchestra leader, will bring his aggregation of musical stars to Rock Springs Park this Tuesday night, July 14th. Williams is well known in the valley, as he holds all time crowd attendance record at Rock Springs Park and several other valley ballrooms.

Williams features lovely Miss Thelma Walters, Guy Mc Comas, and Hal Lippincott. Guy Mc Comas has been heard on coast to coast radio network commercial programs.

Admission to the swing band dance was 40 cents. Other orchestras book for appearances at Rock Springs Park in 1936 were Charley James, Sammy Kaye, Tommy Tucker, George Luker and his 11 Arcadians and Ina Ray and her Melodears.

Give a listen to Tommy Tucker.

Tommy Tucker & His Orchestra - Hiawatha's Lullaby
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Captain Jack Dallas

The following article about the flight of Captain Jack Dallas appeared in the Beaver Daily Times in the summer of 1910:

Thousands of people witnessed the daily flights of Captain Jack Dallas in his wonderful airship at Rock Springs Park.

This noted aerial navigator manipulates his aircraft with the ease and dexterity of a skilled bicyclist, turning and darting through space with the grace of a bird.

Captain Dallas piloted his aircraft Saturday afternoon, from Rock Springs Park, across the Ohio River to the Diamond, in East Liverpool, and returned in a remarkably short space of time. This flight was witnessed by 15,000 visitors, many of whom came hundreds of miles to enjoy the sight.

If the reader has never witnessed the flight of an airship, it is the grandest sight imaginable. Don’t fail to see it at Rock Springs Park this week. It may be your last opportunity.

I try to imagine what the sight of this magnificent flight must have been like for the thousands gathered at the park and across the Ohio River in East Liverpool. In the postcard image below, one can get a feel for the spectacle as Captain Dallas is seen attempting a landing at Ontario Beach Park, Rochester, NY.

Beaver People in Canoes

I don't know what I find more delightful about this news brief which appeared on Wednesday, July 24, 1907: the mental image of "Beaver people" paddling or the fact that they were floating to Rock Springs Park in canoes.

A trip from Beaver, PA to Chester, WV would be a pleasant downstream trip. Notice that the canoes were then "shipped back by freight." At this time there would have been no locks or dams to contend with as Dam #8 would not be completed for another 3-4 years.

"How long have kids been tipping their chairs?"

The upper deck of the stern-wheel steamboat the Homer Smith leaving Pittsburgh to deliver excursionists to Rock Springs Park in 1928. (Courtesy of Richard Bowker)

I love to talk about Rock Springs Park and can steer any conversation in that direction. For instance, this past school year a first grade teacher was upset about the fact that one of her students was always tipping his chair back in class. She couldn't get him to stop and was worried he might injure himself or a fellow classmate. Exasperated she asked me, "How long have kids been tipping their chairs, anyway?"

I immediately thought of my book project and the little boy in the picture above. (Zoom in)

"I know for a fact that kids have been tipping their chairs since at least as far back as 1928," I responded.

I'm not sure my observation was appreciated.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beautiful Steamboats

(Courtesy of Richard Bowker)
I think it was western film director John Ford who said that a moving train was the most visually interesting thing to watch on motion picture film. In my research for Images of America: Rock Springs Park, I came to believe that steam paddleboats have the same effect in still pictures.

It may be somewhat ironic, in a book about an amusement park, that my favorite images are of the stern-wheel steamers which carried pleasure-seekers from Pittsburgh and Wheeling to the park.

In the photograph above, the Homer Smith awaits passengers along the Mon Wharf in Pittsburgh in 1928.

A series of these photographs are shown in the book. One with the skyline of Pittsburgh under construction and one with the Homer Smith adorned with a banner reading, "All Day Excursion to Rock Springs Park."

The smokestacks on the upper deck could be tipped backwards to allow passage beneath certain bridges.

Heartsick About a Typo

This early view of Marks Run displays the natural beauty of Rock Springs Park prior to commercial development.
Authoring a book is often a lonely task. I spent many, many hours poring over news articles, emailing those who knew the park firsthand, analyzing images and documents, and researching in libraries, and often my “little” victories had to be celebrated alone and in silence.

For example, I was given one week to review the final page proofs of the book and then was contacted one last time by a proofreader for any changes before the book was sent to the printer. I read and reread the book text over and over again, looking for any corrections that I needed to make. I found a couple of possible grammatical errors and changed a couple of overused “This picture clearly illustrates.” With my proofreader’s help, I thought I had fixed everything that needed to be fixed. The book text and images were then sent to the printer in Charleston, South Carolina, just before Easter recess.

Then, stupidly, I decided to look at everything again over the holiday weekend, just in case, and of course I found one more error. My second editor, had changed all the “World’s Greatest” and “World’s Largest” to the lowercase “world.”I’m not sure why he did this, but thought I had caught them all. I was kicking myself wondering why I didn't think to search the text for all the “worlds” using Microsoft Word’s “Find” feature. None-the-less on page 23 my text read, “Today, the Smith House overlooks The world’s Largest Teapot.” My heart sank. I knew I had to find some way to correct this or my perfectionist tendencies would focus on this one tiny spelling error and drive me slowly insane until the book came out and, most especially, after it was in print. So in a last ditch effort I sent off an email to my proofreader:

Me: I imagine it is too late to make text changes to Images of America: Rock Springs Park, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway. I was looking over the text and noticed that I missed one capitalization error on page 23. If there is any way to change it; the "world's Largest Teapot" on page 23 should read "World's Largest Teapot."

Proofreader: Joe, it would be too late to make the change, but fortunately I caught the lowercase “world” and fixed it.

Me: I know it is only a small thing, but you finding and correcting my capitalization error means the "world" to me! Seriously, I put so much time into this project, and unfortunately am such a perfectionist, that a little thing like that would have bugged me no end. Now, I know why editors are often referred to as an author's "other eyes." You're the best!

So, dear readers, if you see any typos in my book, please don’t tell me. I need to keep my sanity for my children’s sake.

Update: Okay, I must admit there is a typo on page 10. “dislays” instead of “displays.” Doh! This happened after the proofreading process was completely out of my hands, and yes, I am heartsick about it.

(Photo Courtesy of Dick Bowker)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Joel Comm

Last March I spoke at ACE's CoasterBash. It was a priviledge to share a slide show of Rock Springs Park and a virtual ride on the Cyclone to members of ACE's Western Pennsylvania group. I attended with Dick Bowker, ACE's 10th member, and the guy who gave me most of the pictures for my book. We enjoyed a nice dinner and presenations from Idlewild and Kennywood and other parks in our Western PA region.

I didn't realize until I came home that my nametag incorrectly identified me as "Joel." When I walked in the door my wife asked, "So, how did it go, Joel?" Talk about deflation!

Actaully, I wish I was Joel Comm. On a vanity search I discovered Joel Comm, inventor of something called AdSense Secrets. It sounds like he's a rich guy. Joel, if you're out there, I may be a poor relation. Any chance you want to unload some of that wealth?

Rock Springs or Raccoon Creek Park?

(courtesy of Richard Bowker)
I first learned that Rock Springs Park was going to be torn down while on the playground of Chester Primary School (pictured above, center, with RSP in the background). Unfortunately, by the time I got the news via the playground grapevine, it was "Raccoon Creek Park" and not Rock Springs.

"Did you hear? They're going to tear down Raccoon Creek Park and build a bridge that's going to go right over our school!"

I couldn't figure out why they wanted to build a bridge starting 13 miles away in Pennsylvania and spanning the entire upper panhandle of West Virginia to East Liverpool, Ohio, but it suddenly made sense as to why folks in town were so upset about losing business due to the bridge. I imagined some sort of futuristic bridge casting a giant shadow over our tiny elementary school.

Eventually, I came to understand that it was Rock Springs Park and not Raccoon Creek that was to be razed, and that made me sad. By the time I was in the fourth grade at the junior high/intermediate school the park had been sitting unused for four years. Seeing the Cyclone and the carousel pavilion every day on the playground left me with many daydreams and plenty of questions. It would take 35 years to find some of the answers and I'm still learning.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rock Springs Park is now on Facebook

Aerial View of Chester, WV and Rock Springs Park circa 1928

Grandaughter of one-time Rock Springs Park owners Bob and Virginia Hand, Kassy Hand Young, has a Facebook page were fans can leave memories, ask and answer questions, and check out never-before-seen photos of the park.

At the time of this writing, Kassy's page had 624 friends of "Rock Springs Park" and dozens of personal accounts and childhood memories. Check out the page at http://www.facebook.com/. Of course, you have to join Facebook to visit.

Images of America: Rock Springs Park also got a recent mention on Brian Butko's "News Along the Lincoln Highway" blog. He mentions the park's location along the Lincoln Highway when the transcontinental highway was rerouted through Chester, West Virginia.

Rock Springs Park book release celebrated


Joseph Comm, author of “Rock Springs Park,” signs a book for Patty Swiger at a signing event held Monday at the Chester Municipal Building. Prior to the signing, Comm talked about how his book came to be. (Photo by Nancy Tullis)

CHESTER - Standing along the first base line of his school playground in 1974, Joe Comm was abruptly pulled from a daydream when a kickball whacked him in the head.
"Comm, what are you doing out there?" his team mates yelled. "Get in the game."

Now a teacher of gifted children in Greensburg, Pa., Comm received a warm welcome Monday on his return to Chester for the launch of "Rock Springs Park," a book he authored in Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series.

From that first base line, Comm said he could reach out and touch the sun-bleached skeleton of the Cyclone, the once-mighty roller coaster of Rock Springs Park. The last run of the Cyclone was on Labor Day 40 years ago. The park was all but a memory during his boyhood in Chester, and its remnants raised many questions in Comm's mind.

He sought out the answers, and along the way, Rock Springs Park took on a life of its own.
Comm said he was known as a quirky kid - remembered by many people in Chester as that boy who wore his Halloween costume when it wasn't Halloween - and now he is a quirky adult. Being a teacher gives him the opportunity to spend the summer sharing his childhood memories and his quest to learn all he can about Rock Springs Park.

He said he wants to speak to school children and tell them about the park. He has shared the story of Rock Springs Park and his experience writing the book with his own students in Pennsylvania, and they were very receptive, he said.

"I wanted to write the book to show my own children what it was like to grow up in a small town," he said. "You could try anything, and get away with nothing."

He said he is often asked how he found the time to write a book, juggling family responsibilities in a household with four children, and his full-time teaching job.

"Well, I've been driving around for four months with a bathtub knob in my car because I haven't had time to get to the hardware store for a new one," he said.

He noted, however, that now that the book is published, he will spend part of the summer catching up on all those routine repairs and household chores. He said his love affair with Rock Springs Park, however, spurs him to talk about it incessantly, and he can sneak in Rock Springs Park references in any conversation.

Comm told the receptive crowd at the book signing, sponsored by the Chester Kiwanis Club, he hopes the book will be a springboard for others to share their own memories.

The audience had the chance to wander the halls of the Chester Municipal Building and view the hallways and the Memory Lane room crammed with pictures, souvenirs, yearbooks, and other memorabilia of Chester High School and Rock Springs Park.

Although he only saw the park after it was silenced, Comm said, "When I heard Rock Springs Park would be erased, it made me sad. I always had the hope that some rich guy would buy the park and save it for us."

Instead the park gave way to a new highway and a new bridge over the Ohio River.

The people who came to the book-signing have their own memories of the roar of the Cyclone, the strains of organ music from the carousel's Wurlitzer, and forging life-long friendships at the Virginia Gardens Dance Hall.

Displayed prominently in the Memory Lane room is a large painting of a night at the Virginia Gardens Dance Hall by local artist Jack "the Ripper" Owen of Chester.

Comm's book in hand, Jim Pryor said he and his wife went to the last dance in the Virginia Gardens Dance Hall. He said when he was in elementary school, Rock Springs Park was still operating, but dwindling.

"The bumper cars and the carousel were still there," he said. "We lived in the country, and back then, making a trip into town to Rock Springs Park was a big adventure."

Library contest in line with historical books

By NANCY TULLIS (ntullis@reviewonline.com)

NEW CUMBERLAND - Just as two books about Hancock County life by men who grew up there are fresh off the press, Swaney Memorial Library staff is encouraging area children to do some "hometown" writing of their own.

The library staff is accepting entries in its first writing contest for children. Entries can be submitted through July 30.

Anna Raines, director of Swaney Memorial Library in New Cumberland, said the library's first story writing contest gives local children a chance to show off their writing talent.

The topic of the library's writing contest is "Life in Hancock County."

Entries will be judged by Swaney Memorial Library board members. Winners will be selected based on content, creativity, organization and mechanics.

"We want to see Hancock County through the eyes of our local children," Raines said.
Stories are to be hand-written by the children and 250-500 words, Raines said. Children may submit entries to the library by July 30 and winners will be announced Aug. 5.

There are two categories for entries: authors in third through fifth grade; and sixth through ninth grade. Entrants are to write on only one side of a sheet of paper.

Stories may include illustrations, but they are not required, Raines said.
Each submission must include a cover sheet with the child's name and grade level, a contact phone number and a word count.

Recently published books "Rock Springs Park" by Joseph A. Comm and "Growing Up in the Last Small Town - A West Virginia Memoir" by Bob Barnett are now available for purchase.

Comm will be a guest of the Chester Kiwanis Club at 7 p.m. Monday in the Chester Municipal Building for a book signing. His book is one in Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series. After a meet-and-greet, Comm will speak at 8 p.m. about how his book took shape.

"Rock Springs is near and dear to the hearts of a countless number of people, each of whom has a 'Rock Springs story,'" said Catherine Ferrari, executive vice president and CEO of Hancock County Savings Bank and a member of the Chester Kiwanis' planning committee for the event. "This is truly a special event that will enable us to go back in time and share those stories."
The Rock Springs book release is timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the park's last year of operation in 1970.

Comm moved to Chester with his parents when he was 3 years old and grew up witnessing the silent skeleton of the Cyclone, which had been the Rock Springs Park roller coaster, Ferrari said.
Currently a teacher in and resident of Greensburg, Pa., Comm became fascinated by the lost but beloved amusement park.

Alvin Fineman, planning committee chairperson, recalls dancing in the Virginia Gardens dance hall under the crystal ball, riding the Whip and the carousel, listening to the wisdom of Lowell Thomas or the music of Eddy Duchin and enjoying real homemade taffy. "Rock Springs Park is still in our hearts," he said.
Barnett's book is published by the Jesse Stuart Foundation, which regularly republishes many of the books of Kentucky author Jesse Stuart and periodically publishes books with Appalachian themes and settings. The book is about Barnett growing up in the 1950s in Newell.

"Bob Barnett has written an astonishingly accurate account of the innocence and naivete of the 1950s," said Cheryl Johns of Chester. "His memoir of growing up in Newell is both joyful and poignant."

Barnett retired in 2007 after 35 years of service to Marshall University as a coach, faculty member and administrator. He received a bachelor's degree in physical education from Marshall in 1965 and earned both master's and doctoral degrees from the Ohio State University.

"The book is about me, because it is a memoir," Barnett writes in the preface. "however, I also attempt to chronicle the response of people - specifically the people of Newell - as they tried to grasp the changing landscape of a post-war, modern America."

Advances in technology and the shift of traffic from winding two-lanes to multi-laned interstate highways changed the landscape of the American small town, Barnett writes.

"There are still little towns, but they are tied to a national culture in a way that small towns never were," he said. "The world has come into today's little towns through television and the Internet, on interstates, with McDonald's and Wal-Mart; and the unique character of each small town has vanished. ... My generation was the last to know what it meant to grow up in a small town."

Retired Huntington newspaper employee James E. Casto notes that the Homer Laughlin China Co. plays a key role in Barnett's account of his hometown. He said, however, that by substituting a steel mill or a coal mine for the pottery, the conversation could be about any one of countless numbers of small towns in 1950s America.

Casto referenced a passage in Barnett's book where he states, "Small towns in postwar America represented family and friends, security, and a chance to work in the mill and capture a part of the American dream."

"A dream, alas, that today has faded," Casto wrote in a review, "but it has been given new life in Barnett's affectionate memoir.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

About the Author of Images of America: Rock Springs Park

Joseph A. Comm spent his childhood exploring every nook and cranny of his hometown of Chester, West Virginia, but the one place he could not explore was Rock Springs Park, a defunct amusement park which bordered his school’s ball field. The sight of the dilapidated rides and iconic Victorian carousel pavilion which still housed the hand-carved 1927 Dentzel merry-go-round beckoned to a ten-year old Comm, but the “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” signs kept him from hopping the fence and crossing under the wooden supports of the Cyclone roller coaster for a look around; a boyhood fantasy and missed opportunity which led to a lifetime interest in the park.

Comm began researching Rock Springs Park five years ago when writing a children’s novel based on his experiences growing up along the Ohio River – a place once described as “The Showcase of the East.” While researching for that novel, Comm completed a detailed history and time line of Rock Springs Park and in 2008 he shared some of this research online, an effort to attract other fans to share their memories. Kassy Hand, granddaughter of one-time owners Robert and Virginia Hand contacted Comm and urged him to write a book strictly about the park.

Comm studied theater arts and education at the University of Pittsburgh and graduated with BA and MAT degrees. He is a gifted support teacher in Western Pennsylvania where he lives with his wife and four children. When not writing he finds time to sing and play his ukulele.

He hopes that Images of America: Rock Springs Park will bring back fond memories and inspire the telling of more stories to a new generation. Comm sees the book as his chance to give back to Chester and the entire Upper Ohio Valley Region on the 40th anniversary of park’s final season.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Release Date

I have been given a release date of late May for Images of America: Rock Springs Park and just wanted to take a moment and thank all of those people who have taken the time to share their Rock Springs Park stories and photos with me.

This adventure began four years ago when I started writing a middle grades novel which takes place in the 1970s and uses the then defunct amusement park in Chester, West Virginia as a backdrop.

Organizing my notes on this blog has allowed me to reconnect with my roots and has given me the opportunity to hear from some old friends and new acquaintances, and for that I am grateful.

This truly has been a wonderful journey!