Title: Love of amusement parks inspire author
Author: Susan J. Conrad
Publisher: The Daily News Online
Niagara Falls resident Rose Ann Hirsch has always enjoyed amusement parks. She recently published her third book about local parks.
Hirsch will be available at 1 p.m. today at Present Tense, 101 Washington St., Batavia, to sign her book, "Western New York Amusement Parks," which is part of Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series.
The book focuses on the history of about 20 amusement parks that operated during the last 100 years, including Darien Lake Theme Park. Along with more than 200 historical images, Hirsch includes chronological information on the growth or decline of each park. Some of the pictures depict Darien Lake before it became the sprawling thrill center of recent decades.
"I really enjoyed revisiting my memories of going to these parks with my family," Hirsch said. "Only four of the parks featured in the book are still open."
Crystal Beach Amusement Park is Hirsch's all-time favorite amusement park, she said. Her family visited the park at least once a summer during her youth.
"It had dark rides and roller coasters," Hirsch said. "Everything a thrill-seeker could want was at Crystal Beach."
Hirsch also has fond memories of Christmas Park in Albion. That park helped her to love and appreciate the Christmas holiday, she said.
As a child, the Sky Fighter was Hirsch's favorite kiddie ride. It can still be found at Carousel Water and Fun Park in Beach Lake, Pa. As soon as she rode the Silver Comet at Fantasy Island, that ride took over as her favorite, she said.
Hirsch took about a year to research and write "Western New York Amusement Parks."
Finding some of the old photographs was the trickiest part of the research, she said.
They were obtained through Hirsch's own post card collection, at the Buffalo State College Archives and from other amusement park fans on Facebook.
She also wrote books for Arcadia on "Kiddie Parks of the Adirondacks" and "Crystal Beach."
They're the stuff childhood dreams are made of.
From Grand Island's Fantasy Island, to the legendary Crystal Beach, to the variety of parks that have called Olcott Beach home over the years, generations of Western New York children grew up visiting them --and now a new book by author Rose Ann Hirsch documents these local amusement parks through more than 100 years of photographs.
"Western New York Amusement Parks," part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, features almost 200 photos from area parks, from the obscure and short-lived to the popular but long-gone, to prominent institutions like Fantasy Island and Darien Lake.
"I think anybody who likes amusement parks, even if they didn't live in Western New York, would enjoy the book," Hirsch said. "There are some photos that are rare, difficult to come by and people probably haven't seen them.
"I hope it brings back some memories for some people and makes other people wish they could have been there ... and I hope it promotes the parks that still exist and helps keep them open."
Hirsch, who grew up in Cheektowaga and now lives in Niagara Falls, said she's always had an affinity for amusement parks, starting with family trips to Crystal Beach and Fantasy Island when she was a child.
The interest continued as an adult: Her first book, "Crystal Memories: 100 Years of Fun at Crystal Beach Park," was published in 2004 and is now in its third printing. She has also written a prior Arcadia Publishing book, "Kiddie Parks of the Adirondacks."
It was quite an effort amassing such a collection of pictures, and Hirsch turned to a variety of sources for the task.
"Some of them came from my own collection, some from friends. I also lobbied people on Facebook and quite a few people came through," said Hirsch, who also found some of her collection on eBay.
Other photographs came from the Herschell Carrousel Museum in North Tonawanda, the Buffalo State College Courier-Express collection and from the parks themselves.
Some of the pictures are quite rare. Hirsch could only obtain one photo from Liberty Park, which opened in 1948 in Cheektowaga. There are pictures of Celoron Park in Chautauqua County, 1960s photos from Fantasy Island and photos of Darien Lake from its pre-amusement park days.
"Very few people remember the park when it was not a park," she said. "I was lucky to get them."
The collection includes one photo that's quite personal -- of Hirsch, her husband, Tim, and wedding party, family and friends on their wedding day Sept. 9, 2000, on the Silver Comet at Martin's Fantasy Island. Hirsch said they considered getting married on the coaster, but couldn't find a Catholic priest who would do so.
"Marty (Fantasy Island owner Martin DiPietro) offered the coaster to us, because that was our first date," she said. "We had fun that day."
The ride was appropriate -- the couple met while members of the Western New York Roller Coaster Club while on a trip to Kennywood in Pittsburgh.
"Western New York Amusement Parks" features chapters on early summer resorts, parks in the Southern Tier, Crystal Beach, Darien Lake and Fantasy Island. The chapter "The Lost Neighborhood Parks" pays homage to such smaller locales as Page's Whistle Pig in the Town of Niagara and Fun and Games Park and Dealings Rides in the Town of Tonawanda.
Another chapter deals with the several parks located in Olcott Beach over the years, including a chapter on the rebirth of Olcott Beach Carousel Park as it is now.
Rosemary Sansone of the Carousel Park said that Hirsch is a volunteer at the attraction.
"I thought it was great," she said of the book. "She really knows her history. And I know she volunteers at the Herschell Carrousel Museum as well, so she's very familiar with her amusement park background."
There are also many references to North Tonawanda's Allen Herschell Company and the rides it produced, which were staples at many parks -- and still are to this day.
"Allan Herschell was the largest manufacturer of kiddie rides in the U.S. His company built rides to last," Hirsch said, noting that Olcott Carousel Park has Herschell rides from the 1940s (and a carousel from the 1920s) still going strong. "They're old. And they're still running and kids still love them."
Many Herschell rides, she said, were very interactive, including pony carts with reins and movable guns on planes that "really kept kids' imaginations running."
"His factory, being in NT, may have had an influence on so many kiddie parks in the area," she said. "We were lucky. In this area, we had a lot of -- not just kiddie parks, but amusement parks. Western New York has so many lakes and streams, it's just a natural place for those parks to spring up."
While there are stories in the book of parks that are now long gone, there are comeback stories, too -- including those of Olcott Carousel Park and Fantasy Island, which went through a number of ups and downs before it was purchased by DiPietro in 1994.
It's key to "get the right people who step in to rescue the park, build a new park out of the ashes of the old one," Hirsch said. "The right people can really make a park succeed."
"Western New York Amusement Parks" is available for $21.99 at roseannhirsch.com and at local bookstores and museums.