Life in the Slow Lane

September 12, 2008

Crystal Beach documentary offers fun memories

Filed under: Television — pauljlane @ 1:39 pm
The Comet was Crystal Beach's main attraction for decades.

The Comet was Crystal Beach

Watching “Remembering Crystal Beach Park” stirred up images that had been buried in my head for two decades.
As a member of the last generation to experience the Ontario theme park (I was 11 years old when it closed in 1989), some of my earliest recollections involve that theme park, which my parents took us to every summer.
The documentary, airing several times over the next week on WNED, will stir up countless memories for those among us who remember the park, which opened in 1888. The special uses still photos combined with extensive vintage video to recreate the park experience and history.
Crystal Beach is where I rode my first roller coaster (the Giant Coaster, which saw some 20 million riders over its 80-year existence) and beach, which wasn’t huge but seemed too beautiful to belong in the Niagara Frontier.
Given my age, I spent most of my time in the kiddie park, which the film reveals was custom built in the 1950s by the Herschell Carrousel Factory in North Tonawanda (I rode the vintage airplane ride so many times one year the attendant gave me a giant toothbrush trophy to commemorate the achievement).
Also given my age, I was too little to ride The Comet, the park’s signature coaster and still considered by many enthusiasts to be one of the top coasters in the country. A staple at Crystal Beach for nearly a half-century, the ride was moved to Lake George upon the park’s closure; the special concludes with a group of Crystal Beach making the cross-state sojourn to ride the coaster one more time, with one 77-year-old man having that as the top item on his “bucket list.”
Not that the show focus entirely on my time, of course. Among earlier recollections are the Canadiana, the giant passenger boat that brought people from Buffalo to the park and featured a giant dance floor, and the primitive nature of early rides, which had no safety guards and nothing for riders to hold on to but each other.
Even for longtime visitors of the park, there will surely be forgotten gems rediscovered with this program; I completely forgot about the awesome garbage bins, for example, which were shaped like animals in a carnival display, begged for your trash and swallowed it because of the bin’s vacuum suction through the animal’s mouth.
There’s a lot here, but at roughly 41 minutes the program is just the right length; any longer, and the film might have started dragging a bit.
As it is, “Remembering Crystal Beach Park” offers an outstanding drive down Memory Lane for anyone with any recollection of the park — and a good source of information for those who don’t.
• WHAT: “Remembering Crystal Beach Park”
• WHEN: Noon Sept. 13, 3 p.m. Sept. 14 and 5 p.m. Sept. 20
• CHANNEL: WNED (Channel 17)


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