By NANCY TULLIS
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."