It was summer time, and the livin’ was easy. The fish were jumpin’, but there wasn’t any cotton growing high in Medfield back in June, 1961. Nevertheless, the following is not an experience that pays reverence to George Gershwin’s magical, lyrical song, but does express the universality of his message. In an annual rite of passage, all the altar boys from Saint Edward’s Catholic Church from Medfield were going on a Saturday trip to Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. The outing was arranged by Father Joseph Gaudett, along with many of the dads who volunteered to drive down to Nantasket Beach and chaperone and keep track of all the kids for the entire day.
After we arrived at the beach everyone changed into their swim suits and headed out into the salt water. We never counted on how cold the water was. So most of us just waded in to our knees or maybe our waists. By the end of that afternoon, the water only reached 60 degrees.
What really made the day’s outing was Paragon Park. The famous amusement park with its boardwalk was situated across the boulevard from the beach. People from all walks of life, all ages and races joined in the fun and freedom.
All of us altar boys from Saint Edward’s Parish, along with many dads, received about 30 individual tickets – plenty for everyone – for the day’s rides and amusements. Father Gaudett told all of us and our dads to meet back at the food stand by 4 pm. At that point all the kids took off enthusiastically with everyone on the “buddy system” going in different directions.
Bobby Curry and I were both old enough to go on the Giant Coaster (later to be renamed The Comet) situated to the far right of the park, set back at about 100 yards from the main entrance.
But we heard so much about the ride called The Wild Mouse (eventually renamed The Galaxy) that we started there. That ride was nearly as exciting as the giant roller coaster with a track raised about 40 feet in the air. The ride had more curves than Philip Street, with sharp, sudden turns that all packed quite a jolt. Bobby and I were thrown back and forth in a carrier that was about the size of a two-man bobsled. To ratchet up the thrill and excitement, the sled looked like it was going to plunge right off the track, crashing to the ground – but of course that never happened. The Wild Mouse was so much fun that Bobby and I went on it three different times that afternoon. For both of us, this was our first time ever at Paragon Park, and we were off to a great start.
Our next stop took us to one of the newer rides called The Rotor. This ride looked and felt like a giant washing machine minus water. The Rotor’s centrifugal force pressed everyone up against the inside curvature of the ride. The most fun came when you tried to pull yourself away from the force. It was almost impossible – about the best anyone could do was to try and do a pushup or rolling either way to the right or left.
At the far end of Paragon Park were the tiny but hugely popular Bumper Cars. They looked like something Fred Flintstone would have parked in his driveway. They were small and agile and powered by an electric motor which got its juice via a contact in the grid on the ceiling. You drove it as if you were in a demolition derby – t-boning cars around you was the most fun, and the cars were slow enough to be safe and built to take the impacts. It was just great, nearly out of control, chaotic fun with all the hard-hitting fender-benders.
Next on the journey after The Bumper Cars, we happened to “bump” into three other kids from our group. They were Paul Nyren, Lee DeSorgher, and John Miner. We all gathered over at what was called The High Striker or The Strongman Game – not a ride, but test of strength event. We’d smash the heavy wooden mallet down on a lever that would propel a large puck up a 20-foot pole to ring the bell. Each of us paid one dollar for three chances of ringing the bell. Paul Nyren had the best technique. His alley-oop swing was practically a 360-degree motion that sent the puck to the very top of the pole, hitting the bell. Paul won a kewpie doll and proudly mentioned he was going to give the doll to his young sister, Gail.
Next it was the very first time for each of us to ride on the Giant Coaster, once the biggest coaster in the USA. John Miner and I sat in the same seat and braced ourselves. Bobby and Lee took their seats as well with Father Gaudett seated with Paul. The coaster was off and climbing. The descent from the top felt like a mad vertical dash straight down. Then there were more ups and downs – thrills a-plenty – but it was all over in a minute! With extra tickets in our pockets we all decided to go on the giant coaster again and again.
By then it was time for lunch. The pizza and soda pop sold at the Food-Oh-Rama tasted good. Some of us ordered hot dogs and fries. The young kid with a big grin working at the lunch stand cheerfully reminded all of us that he didn’t have any “hot dogs” – or any “cats” for that matter. Although he did tell us he did have grilled franks on the menu. And we all thought the entertainment was taking place inside the park!
Another fantastic ride at Paragon Park was The Tunnel of Love, later re-named Congo Cruise. The ride featured a slender boat sailing through a lengthy, dark tunnel with scary monsters, and wild animals along with horrific sounds coming from all directions. It was not only popular with kids but was also a great ride for a guy who wanted to impress and hold onto his girlfriend. The thrill of this ride came at the end when the boat slid down a slope and landed in the water, lightly spraying everyone.
Paragon Park also had many fun rides for children like small, cute railroad cars that ran on delightful, mini tracks. Perhaps the most beautiful and memorable ride for children was the Carousel Merry Go Round. The wooden horses featured on this ride were all hand crafted and painted.
There were small flashy go-carts at the junior Indy 500 down at the far end of the park on the right side. Nestled in the middle of the park were Skee Ball and The Foul Line, later renamed to In the Paint. You’d try to shoot basketballs through the hoop from the foul line, but the basketballs were slightly larger –and the hoops slightly smaller –than what the pros used. If a player was good enough to sink three basketballs out of five, he’d win a giant teddy bear. Long odds, but many played anyway.
Up on the boardwalk there was the arcade. John Miner and I walked along the many gambling tables with colorful roulette wheels. John tried his hand at rolling dice, but after losing about five dollars, he decided to confront the operator. John thought the game was rigged and told the man, insisting fraud several times. When the man had heard enough he turned to his one-man goon squad, and the enraged thug gave us a look that could have killed. With that, it was time for the both of us to turn around and leave in a hurry.
It was nearly 4 pm and time for everyone to meet over at the food emporium to head home to Medfield. On the way, John saw some black and white postcards with three famous actresses and pin-up girls, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Virginia Mayo. He put 75 cents into the machine, and out popped the three postcards. They were fashionable and innocent enough for the times and not at all suggestive, looking very genuine. John put them into his shirt pocket to keep them from getting bent and wrinkled.
While we were returning to meet the others, we approached a very large picture window. Much to our surprise we saw how salt water taffy was being made on a large, shiny machine that was stretching the taffy horizontally. That twisting shape looked like the biblical sign for eternity, looking very much like an elongated number eight sideways. So maybe the salt water taffy was sanctified and holy, as well as sweet?
When we reached the food stand, John went right over to Father Gaudett and told him about how he thought the man running the roulette wheel had cheated him. But what got Father Gaudett’s attention were the postcards in John’s shirt pocket; he asked to see them. John handed them. Father Gaudett looked at them and ripped in half and dumped them in the nearest trash barrel. Father Gaudett then looked at John and told him that he shouldn’t have been gambling in the first place, and he discouraged John from buying any more “girly” postcards.
It was 4 pm and time to get back to Medfield while hopefully avoiding any traffic jams on what was then the new route 128. Father Gaudett and all the dads did a headcount with all accounted for and all the cars were loaded up. As kids no more than 12 years old, we thought a place like Paragon Park would never close or end. We never even gave it a second thought. But then again we were all too young to ponder or entertain the thought of anything ever ending.
Somehow the bounty of Paragon Park was revealed in the future. That same Carousel mentioned earlier before remains nostalgic while it still stands and operates near the former entrance of Paragon Park. In further reminiscence, the Giant Coaster was sold to an amusement park in Maryland. It is also comforting to know that after Paragon Park closed, many of its treasured relics were auctioned off as souvenirs to the many who cherished their memories of this once famous amusement park.
Somehow life has the chance to re-invent itself, to later become our legacy. We return to what was the beginning of this story. When land and water meet, wonderful things happen! The experience of Paragon Park will always present an opportunity. We shouldn’t try to bring back what was. Let’s consider it a cutting edge to what the future might hold. That combination of sand and water remains beautifully different and assimilating, symbolizing the very commanding, and inventive inspirations in all of us.