A quarter-century ago, local historian Gilbert “Gil” Johnson had an idea for a book. The retired New Haven Register press foreman invited people to share their memories of Savin Rock amusement park. As it is today, nostalgia then was strong for West Haven’s iconic but long-ago-shuttered park, what has been called “Connecticut’s Coney Island.”
In his preface of the resulting “Savin Rock Memories,” published in 1993, Johnson wrote of his reason for putting together the collection of remembrances: “I feel that it is needed now while the very people who worked, lived and enjoyed the park are still here to talk about it.”
One of those people was Bob Mongillo. Having moved to California years before, Mongillo wrote about his family’s experiences at “the Rock.”
I can still feel the summer nights, the soft, salt breezes off the Sound; Beach Street, bright, flashing lights, the arcades and stands, people having fun, shuffling along littered sidewalks; the roar of the roller coasters, screaming and hollering; the smell of fried foods and cotton candy.
But at the time the images were reality, not phantoms recalled in the mind to be analyzed. It was the reality of pure escape, of the experience of having fun, of forgetting whatever was bothering you.
Many of the “phantoms” Mongillo describes are gone forever, though you can still feel the Sound’s salt breezes as you walk along the boardwalk and still catch a whiff of fried seafood emanating from Jimmies, one of the few survivors of Savin Rock’s once-legion food stands and eateries.
For those with no memory of the amusement park in its heyday, today’s public park on the western shore of New Haven Harbor is a nice, quiet place to stroll along the beach, play some bocce, let your dog stretch its legs, or maybe even hunt for Pokemon on your cellphone. But those who were there in the first half of the 20th century long for the bright lights and the bellowing crowds. They long for the glory days.
From 1987-91 West Haven native Mary Stokes Ahern wrote a monthly column called “Rememberin’ ” in the New Haven Register. Her May 1989 column was an ode to Savin Rock.
When I was a little girl, there was a wondrous, magic place only a trolley car ride away, called Savin Rock.
The trolley tracks turned off Campbell Avenue into the grove between Savin Rock and the part known as White City. During the summer, open trolleys made the run, letting their passengers off at the grove.
Stokes Ahern, who died in New Mexico in 2004, and later visitors traveled to Savin Rock aboard electric trolley cars, automobiles and buses. The groundwork for this transit system, as well as for the amusement park itself, was laid many years ago by an enterprising man named George Kelsey. Called “the father of Savin Rock” by Edith Reynolds in her book “Savin Rock Amusement Park,” Kelsey was a colonel with the 6th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteers during the Civil War.
“Kelsey was a go-getter who made his fortune in the post-war industrial boom,” Reynolds writes. His wealth coming from the manufacture of buckles, Kelsey founded the American Buckle Co. on Campbell Avenue in West Haven.
“Kelsey extended the line down to the end of Campbell Avenue, which was the beginning of Savin Rock,” Jon Purmont, the president of the West Haven Historical Society, said in a recent interview. “I think he had in his mind that it could be a destination for people coming from New Haven.”
Indeed seeing great potential in the city’s West Shore area, Kelsey secured a majority stake in a soon-to-be-built, horse-drawn rail trolley system there in the 1870s, “and this led to the development of what would become one of the first and finest amusement parks in New England,” according to Reynolds.
A native of Cromwell who later lived in Middletown, Kelsey’s transit vision stretched out into Long Island Sound, and he soon built a 1,500-foot pier off Beach Street and began a ferry service. Now, people could flock to Savin Rock by land and by sea.
But Kelsey needed to give people a reason to make the journey here, especially since the some of the coast was rocky and not a prime swimming area. So he opened the Sea View Hotel, “a true Victorian mansion,” Reynolds writes, that provided seaside lodging for up to 150 well-heeled patrons. But that was just the beginning.
“The opulent hotel was soon filled with people willing and able to spend their money,” Reynolds writes, “and Kelsey had no problem encouraging other businessmen to develop amusements designed to keep his customers happy.”
Attractions began to pop up in a park next to the hotel, an area that became known as the Grove. First there was a zoo, museum and dance hall, to be followed by gardens, a fountain, a bandstand and an assortment of stands offering food and trinkets. Savin Rock the amusement park was starting to take shape.
As various forms of entertainment multiplied, so too did the crowds. And it wasn’t only the wealthy making their way to the Rock.
“Kelsey’s patrons soon found themselves mingling with a more middle- and working-class crowd who derived its money and leisure time from the prosperity of local factories like Sargent, Cowles, Bassett, and Winchester Repeating Rifles in New Haven,” Reynolds writes. “Surges of Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants who flooded New Haven to fill the growing need for able hands took advantage of the easy access to Savin Rock.”
Other hotels would open to accommodate the growing throngs, some catering to the blue bloods and others to those with more modest means.
It was during this period that the park saw the introduction of a ride that would one day come to symbolize Savin Rock itself. In 1878 a mechanical carousel took passengers for rides on “flying horses.” But no engine powered this machine. This first version had manpower — a man pulled a rope to make the carousel spin. Later, the work was performed by a treadmill-walking horse that, legend has it, loved to chew tobacco.
Savin Rock was nothing if not a constant work in progress. And perhaps nothing spurred the march of modern society more than the introduction of electricity. West Haven became electric in the latter years of the 19th century. Kelsey’s seaside resort would not be far behind.
The Bright White City
Around the turn of the century, amusement parks were springing up all over the country. Between 1900 and 1915, an estimated 2,000 such parks hummed from coast to coast, according to Lauren Rabinovitz, author of “Electric Dreamland: Amusement Parks, Movies, and American Modernity.”
“Amusement parks helped to define a new concept of urban modernism — the celebration of motion and speed, the beauty of industrial technologies, and the experience of the crowd,” Rabinovitz writes. “Their modernity lay not in any specific style of architecture but in their sensory overstimulation — their bombardment and exaggeration of sight, sound, and kinesthesia.”
Once electricity came to West Haven, it was time for Savin Rock to join the sensory-overload party.
Like other parks of its day, the Rock and creators of its attractions drew inspiration from an amusement park called White City on Chicago’s South Side. Having grown out of the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, White City featured classical architecture and structures made of white stucco. In building their own White City at Savin Rock, designers made sure to include a version of the Chicago park’s famous tower festooned with electric lights that gave the West Haven park a new, vibrant night-time character.
“The tower in Chicago was 75 feet tall and it had 5,000 light bulbs,” the late Savin Rock icon, Harold Hartmann, said in an interview for the DVD “See Ya at the Rock!” released in 2005. “Savin Rock said they’re going to do them one better. Our tower was 84 feet tall, with 6,000 light bulbs on it. We had more lights on the White City tower than all of New Haven County put together.”
People also came to see an electric fountain (imagine an early version of the Bellagio fountains water show on the Las Vegas Strip).
In “Historic West Haven,” Lorraine Wood Rockefeller describes the display: “The fountain is illuminated each night by colored electric lights and throws its stream of colored waters high up in the air, where it can be seen from blocks away.”
When Savin Rock was electrified around 1890, the horse-pulled streetcars that brought people to and from the park were put out to pasture, replaced by electric-powered trolleys. A trip from New Haven to West Haven that once took two hours could now be covered in a half-hour, at speeds that frightened passengers, according to newspaper accounts of the day.
Now that the lights were on, Savin Rock was becoming more than just a daytime destination, and people began comparing it to the more famous New York park, Coney Island. Postcards with idyllic scenes from the park proclaimed the location as “Savin Rock, Conn.,” a name that was gaining national fame.
A promotional pamphlet of the time trumpeted the park:
The Savin Rock of today is an envy of every city in the state. Its wonderful improvements in up-to-date attractions for the old and young is second to New York. There is absolutely nothing missing in the way of first-class summer resort.
The new-fangled lights drew new visitors to the park, but the rides, games and food would keep them coming back for decades to come.
In 1913, a new merry-go-round would replace prior versions that had been powered first by man and then by horse. Hartmann said it was intended to be “the grandest carousel ever built.” For those lucky enough to have taken a spin on the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. creation, it was no exaggeration.
“Each horse was built by a German family,” Hartmann, who died in May at age 96, said in the video. “The children would gather the pieces together, glue them and rough-carve them. The father would do all the sanding. And the mother would do the painting. Each horse had six coats of paint before it was accepted. And when one horse was accepted, the family got $25. There were 64 horses to the set, and they built all 64 plus the two chariots.”
Five thousand people rode it on the first night, according to Hartmann, who for decades was the park’s head of maintenance.
Though she wasn’t around that first night, Natalie DeRosa has a special place in her heart reserved for the carousel. Her grandfather, Joseph Guiliano, was its original owner before her father, Tony, took it over.
“When my sisters and I walked in, my grandfather would spot us and he would stop the merry-go-round, even with people on it, so we could get on, then he would start it up,” DeRosa said. “It would go around longer than the usual time; he made it go longer because his granddaughters were on it. So whoever was on the carousel, they were happy. They’re getting like two rides for the price of one.”
One of the great joys of riding the carousel was trying to capture the fabled brass ring. Fifty rings — 49 made of steel and one of brass — were posted along the carousel’s outer edge. To riders, the brass ring was as good as gold. If you were lucky and skilled enough to get it, your ride was free.
While DeRosa had an inside source for the rings — “Personally, I didn’t have to get one,” she said, laughing — she still tried as a kid.
“You have to be on the outside horse, and what you do is you lean your body and your arm up so you could get the ring,” DeRosa said. “So you sort of tilted your body, still being on the horse, but you’d lean to the right, and then you tried to grab the brass ring.
“It was such a treasure, they were so excited, and you’re not just talking about kids, you’re talking about adults getting excited about getting the brass rings,” said DeRosa, who still has some at her West Haven home.
Former West Haven historian Bennett “Bill” Dorman, also interviewed for the “See Ya at the Rock!” DVD, added: “If you were a boy you tried to get on the outside and get a horse that went up and down because the standing horses and the inside horses were for sissies.”
But Dorman couldn’t get enough of the Rock’s many roller coasters, names that included Sky Blazer, Racer, Whirlwind Racer, White City Flyer, Devil and, most famous of all, Thunderbolt, which was built in 1925 and was said to be the fastest in the world at the time.
“I liked any roller coaster,” said Dorman, who worked with Gil Johnson on “Savin Rock Memories” and died in 2012. “I liked all of them because I was a red-blooded American boy!”
Savin Rock’s oldest ride was the Old Mill, built in 1900. It was also the slowest, as boat passengers moved down a long, water-filled tunnel, passing historical dioramas along the way.
“Many children got their start in the Old Mill,” Hartmann said.
The Mill Chutes, built in 1925 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co., kicked the excitement up a notch. Boat riders again passed through a tunnel before being pulled up to a great height and shooting down into water for a splashdown.
Themed fun houses ranging from the wholesome to the downright scary included Noah’s Ark, Bluebeard’s Castle, which Hartmann’s father operated for a time and had visitors enter and exit through the mouths of two giant heads of the pirate, and Death Valley (home of the infamous Laughing Lady that annoyed and frightened people around the park).
“It was an irritating sound; everybody hated it,” Hartmann said of the Laughing Lady. “We used to have a police officer on Saturdays and Sundays on Beach Street directing traffic. And he used to tell us: ‘Hartmann, turn down the Laughing Lady or I’ll put a bullet through her.’ ”
The word “fun” took on an added dimension at Laff in the Dark, a ride with small cars and a supersize clown head over the exit.
“There was always a gang of guys hanging around out front,” former West Haven Fire Department Chief William “Wiggy” Johnson Jr. said recently from his home in West Haven. “And that was because when girls got off the ride and came out, the guy would hit a button and the air would blow up through the platform and all the skirts would blow up.”
Even so, Johnson preferred another ride.
“Probably my favorite ride was the midget racers in the Grove where you drove them yourself,” he said. “As a little kid, getting on and driving that thing yourself — wooo, big time!”
For big-time, rubber-burning action, Rock visitors headed to the West Haven Speedway. It was also known as Donovan Field, where baseball was played for many years, including exhibitions between local teams and the Yankees, featuring all-time greats Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra. Midget auto racing began in the 1930s.
“These races were electrifying to watch,” Frank Belbusti, who died in Woodbridge in 2013, wrote in “Savin Rock Memories.” “Unlike today’s racecars, these midgets had a variety of engines. There were the howling outboards emitting huge clouds of blue smoke.”
After midget cars became increasingly expensive, souped-up stock cars would take their place, attracting top drivers such as Mario Andretti.
For all the excitement of the park’s many attractions, perhaps the greatest thrill was the sheer multitude of activities one could enjoy for mere pocket change.
In a 2015 New Haven Register letter to the editor, Hamden’s John Fortuna wrote of the joys of “promotion day,” when children would celebrate being “promoted” from one grade to another by heading to the Rock.
“Once a year, when we were promoted in grade school, we would get a small amount of money, which to us was a lot of money, and Mom would drive us to Savin Rock and give us one hour to have a blast. What could be better in life than deciding how to spend 50 cents? Should we go on the bumping cars, then the flying horses, then split a caramel corn. Or, should we go to the fun house for 45 minutes and then get an ice cream. Should we play a game of chance then go on the motorboat ride? How about the ‘Mighty Mouse’ or the ‘Virginia Reel’?
As grade-school kids became high schoolers, the value offered by the park did not diminish.
“It was a great place to go with a girl if you didn’t have much money, because she’d have a good time watching other people have fun,” Dorman said. “It was, for many years, the only place you could go where it didn’t cost you anything if you didn’t want it to.”
Fortuna concluded in his letter: “As an adult, I have spent a lot of money through the years on entertainment and enjoyment, but nothing could ever compare to those special times with little money.”
Sweets and eats
Depending on which way the wind was blowing, you smelled Savin Rock before you saw it. Mere mentions of Peter Franke’s and Terry’s honey popcorn, Jake’s charcoal hot dogs, french fries and frozen custard will elicit immediate cravings in those who once enjoyed the tasty treats.
“You could smell Terry’s popcorn from a mile away,” Johnson said. “You just knew you were in Savin Rock when you walked down the street and it had the food smells and the smoke from the hot dogs.”
In the early part of the 20th century, Savin Rock contributed greatly to the popularity of the “shore dinner” — typically a hearty feast of various kinds of seafood, potatoes, corn and other dishes. And, for many years, the place to get a shore dinner was at Wilcox’s Pier Restaurant, a massive structure that hosted banquets and could feed 1,000 diners.
“My first time I ever had lobster I went to Wilcox’s Pier Restaurant in 1937,” Hartmann said. “Monday through Thursday you’re able to get a pound and three-quarters of lobster for 75 cents with a bowl of chowder, an ear of corn, a potato and a drink of your choice. But on Friday, Saturday and Sunday the price would go up from 75 cents to a dollar and a quarter.”
Great deals on food abounded throughout the Rock.
“If I had 50 cents in my pocket I could take a girl and show her the time of her life down at Savin Rock,” Dorman said. “I’d buy her a nickel frozen custard, a nickel hot dog and save 40 cents for the goodies!”
Most Savin Rock restaurants are only part of history now, but two hot dog joints that survived into modern times were Jimmies and Chick’s Drive-In.
Jimmie Gagliardi and his family began selling hot dogs to park visitors in 1925. Legend has it that the split hot dog was invented here when trolley passengers wanted to grab a quick bite and get back on the streetcar before it departed. (A split frankfurter cooks faster than an intact one.)
In 1950, Chick Celentano and his father began selling hot dogs and hamburgers out of their garage to drivers lined up to get into the park.
While Jimmies is still in business today, Chick’s closed in 2015.
As a seaside resort, of course, seafood was a constant through the years, from soft shell crab and fried clams to lobster rolls and shrimp. Two spots, Stowe’s and Turk’s, are still serving up ocean favorites.
Savin Rock endured many challenges over the decades, from frequent fires that destroyed rides and restaurants to the 1938 hurricane that blasted the pier and toppled the Thunderbolt.
It would take a world war to set off the demise of the park.
“When World War II came, that really signaled the end of Savin Rock,” Dorman said. “All the guys who used to take the girls to Savin Rock were over fighting. The war was over in 1945 and they came back and they had a different attitude. They were able to get cars. Well, when you have a car and you have a girl, the girl doesn’t just want to go down to Savin Rock every day, she wants to go to other places. The local clientele fell off.”
In an effort to boost attendance, busloads of people from New York and New Jersey came to Savin Rock.
“Well, that was a little shortsighted of them, because they didn’t have the necessary facilities,” Dorman said.
“There were no sanitation facilities other than restaurants,” said Purmont, the West Haven Historical Society president. “I think that hurt. I think that really did a job on people. You can imagine coming two hours to Savin Rock and then having a day and having no facilities. As a kid, going there it didn’t affect me because I could run home and take care of that.”
As crowds thinned, infrastructure also suffered.
“I think what led to the downfall of the park was the lack of maintenance, lack of upkeep,” Purmont said. “The profits that people were making, they didn’t necessarily pour it back into updating the equipment, updating the facilities.”
Buildings and rides fell into disrepair. Sidewalks were cracked and buckled. A park that had been a great source of local pride was turning into a collection of eyesores. And those who had once loved the Rock stayed away.
“We didn’t go there then,” Purmont said. “I think the allure of Savin Rock had faded for us. Sure, we went to Jimmies for hot dogs and the other restaurants nearby, but I don’t think we took a lot of pleasure in going into the amusements.”
There have long been rumors that the Disney company, on the hunt for a location for its second amusement park somewhere in the East, flirted with the idea of setting up shop at the on-its-last-legs Savin Rock.
In a 2016 Connecticut Magazine article, “It’s a Small World: Disney in Connecticut,” art historian Garry Apgar wrote, “There is nothing in local press coverage, or the dozen or so books about the business side of Disney published in recent decades, to confirm the company’s interest in the Savin Rock property.”
Apgar sought the opinion of Todd James Pierce, author of “Three Years in Wonderland: The Disney Brothers, C. V. Wood, and the Making of the Great American Theme Park.” According to Pierce, in the 1960s Disney “looked into a lot of possible sites for expansion eastward. There was even a brief period where Disney considered smaller regional parks — around 1965.” If a Disney representative “spent a little time in Connecticut and told some locals that they were exploring locations for a possible Disneyland East park, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”
Imagine that: Disney World on Long Island Sound…
Whether Disney’s interest was real or not, no outside force would come to Savin Rock’s rescue.
By the 1960s, something had to be done.
“The town fathers got together and they decided they were going to clean up the mess that was Savin Rock,” Dorman said.
The solution was called urban renewal. The goal was to both cleanse the growing blight and allow investors to make money year round off the valuable coastal land with retail spaces and residential buildings. (Savin Rock closed in the winter.) The bulldozers came in 1963; the park was closed three years later.
It was a blow for those who remembered the good old days, as well as for many who depended on the Rock for their livelihoods. Many people ran concession and game stands lining the mile-long midway. Many children had their first jobs in those stands, including as shills to drum up business, some earning enough to help pay for college educations. That source of income was gone forever.
In the ’90s, the city renewed the area again, adding green space for walkers and cyclists, as well as a conference center that now houses the Savin Rock Museum. Hartmann was its curator for many years.
“I wanted to cry at first because I spent most of my life at Savin Rock,” he said of the park’s closure. “I hated to see it go, but in a way I’m glad it did go because we got a beautiful park now where everybody can enjoy. It’s right back the way it was in 1890.”
Until this year, the closest you could come to experiencing the frenzied fun of the original park was by heading down to West Haven in late July for the annual Savin Rock Festival. Held in Old Grove Park, the four-day event offered plenty of food — of course including the split hot dogs, fried seafood and frozen custard that helped make Savin Rock famous — as well as a games-filled midway, rides and concerts.
But this past summer, what would have been the festival’s 37th year, West Haven’s mayor canceled the festival as part of a broader effort to save the cash-strapped city money. Announcing the cancellation in early May, Mayor Nancy Rossi said, “I know what the festival represents and I know the community looks forward to it but the truth is we cannot afford it this year.”
But later in May, it was announced that a new event, the Shoreline Fest, would take the Savin Rock Festival’s place in Old Grove Park. Over two weekends in July, the new festival offered many of the attractions familiar to those who enjoyed summer days and nights at its predecessor — rides, food, crafts and performances by local dance schools. But the impressive lineup of musical talent was not replicated.
Orange-based Marenna Amusements, the provider of rides and midway for the Savin Rock Festival for more than two decades, stepped up to organize and operate the new festival at no cost to the city.
What lies ahead for summer 2019? Time will tell. But the thousands who enjoy the rides, food, fun and games each summer hope the fun will continue next year.
For a taste of the real thing, visit the Savin Rock Museum and Learning Center. Housed in the lower level of the Savin Rock Conference Center, the museum was long Hartmann’s domain. As the curator, Hartmann knew every inch of the museum, which is not only dedicated to all things Savin Rock, but also West Haven history. He could tell you all about the massive, 1888 water pumper that put out fires at the Rock. He could describe, in vivid detail, the Thunderbolt roller coaster, shown in a photo in the museum, and its demise in 1938. “I had just gotten out of school that day,” Hartmann told the New Haven Register’s Randall Beach in 2009. "I watched the Thunderbolt tumble into the water."
Hartmann was the ideal guide to Savin Rock Museum because his life had been defined by the amusement park. He was born and raised in the area and worked at the park for more than 30 years, as had his parents before him. He was the longtime maintenance chief for the Savin Rock Park Company.
“My first job was in White City Park, which was part of Savin Rock,” Hartmann told Beach. “They had boxing and wrestling at the stadium. I cleaned up after the bouts for a nickel an hour. That was a lot of money back in the Depression.”
Perhaps the most special of the museum’s artifacts — certainly to Hartmann — is a horse, called the Silver Fox, from the park’s famed carousel. In 1969, Hartmann, with his brothers George and Earl, dismantled the merry-go-round and all of its horses and packed the pieces in boxes, before being shipped off the California. Two years later, it would be reassembled and put back in operation near the entrance of the newly opened Magic Mountain amusement park in Valencia, California, where it still stands to this day. How a single steed made it back to the East Coast is a story in itself.
Nearly 20 years ago, Beth Sabo, now West Haven’s commissioner of human resources and director of personnel and labor relations, was charged with establishing the museum.
“As soon as we announced we were going to put this museum together, it’s almost as if the floodgates opened up,” Sabo said in an interview. “People who had been collecting these items for 50 years and keeping them finally had a safe place to display them. And we’re not talking about something that would fit in your pocket. We’re talking about pieces of the old bandstand. We’re talking about miniature cars that used to go around the tracks that the kids used to drive. We’re talking about the bell that was on the grand carousel.”
Speaking of that carousel, it turned out that Magic Mountain — what today is Six Flags Magic Mountain — had removed the original horses and replaced them with identical fiberglass composite versions. The Savin Rock horses were off collecting dust somewhere.
So Sabo wrote to Six Flags, asking if it would sell one of the horses to the museum. The answer was no. Around the same time, the New Haven Register’s Mark Zaretsky wrote an article about the effort, which was picked up by The Associated Press and read by many in California.
“So many people were outraged that they would not consider giving us a part of [Savin Rock’s] history,” Sabo said. “I got a letter back that [Six Flags] would be more than happy to put on loan, indefinitely, one of the horses from the original carousel.”
Shortly before the museum’s opening, the horse arrived back in Savin Rock. Thirty years after he had packed away the horses, Hartmann did the honors of unpacking a piece of Connecticut history.
“[The crate] was full of those Styrofoam peanuts, and he reached inside and he felt around and he said, ‘Oh, my God. It’s the Silver Fox!’ ” Sabo said. “When he opened up that crate and we all were there waiting with anticipation, you could see the tears in his eyes. You could see what this meant to him.
“I don’t think Harold’s feet touched the ground for almost two weeks after."
While Hartmann no longer serves as the museum's curator, others who have worked alongside him and been inspired by him carry on his legacy and are happy to share the history of Savin Rock with all those who come to learn about it.
Six Flags has not asked for the horse to be returned. Sabo believes it’s in Savin Rock for good.
Some day there could be a lot more than a lone carousel horse along the city’s waterfront. That is, if a dedicated band of merry-go-round enthusiasts are successful in their quest.
Members of the West Haven Carousel Committee have long dreamed of restoring a piece of the city’s past by bringing a vintage carousel back to the shoreline. While at least one offer has been made to send a carousel to West Haven, the hard part has been for the city to agree on a plan to house the desired 60- to 65-foot ride, as well as the source of funds to build a structure. One proposal would put the building next to the Savin Rock Conference Center.
“West Haven has a lot going on as far as traditions, and we try and keep them,” said committee member DeRosa, whose family owned the original carousel. “Like the Memorial Day parade, the Fourth of July fireworks — it’s what West Haven people have known all their lives, and Savin Rock was one of them. We know how important and how beautiful the carousel was and we know that it was so dear to our hearts that it should have never left West Haven. We want to bring it home.”
While the committee has raised some funds for the project, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in pledges, the ultimate goal remains elusive.
Bob Mongillo, who had submitted his memories of the sights, sounds and smells of Savin Rock for “Savin Rock Memories,” was living in Southern California by the early ’70s. He wrote that he read a local paper one day and learned of plans to open a new amusement park (Magic Mountain) not far from where he lived. As he read on, Mongillo was astonished to find out that one of the park’s attractions would be a carousel, “touted to be the finest in the land,” from “an old amusement park in Connecticut called Savin Rock.”
Wow! Savin Rock! The Flying Horses — that’s what we used to call the old carousel. Now practically in my backyard, where it had been when I was a kid. Now my kids would ride it, just as I had done and even my father before me had done as a kid in the ’20s. Three generations, three thousand miles, all that it symbolized.
Soon after Magic Mountain opened its gates we were there, our boys, my wife and myself. We headed straight for the carousel, the Flying Horses. We boarded the platform, strapped in the boys, and off we went, round and round. It was great!
But something was missing. When the ride was over and we dismounted, I felt a vague sense of emptiness. It just wasn’t the same.
I thought a lot about it. Then it hit me. While the old Flying Horses were alive and well in Magic Mountain, where all was new, manicured and spotless, the real magic, the magic that memory relived, was back there in West Haven, Connecticut. The shabby old stands on Beach Street, the smell of fried foods, the salt-scented summer nights, even the grease-stained paper plates littering the gutters.
That was real magic. That was Savin Rock.