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.