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The highlight of my summer vacation in the late ’60s and early ’70s was our annual family trip to Crystal Beach, an amusement park unlike any other. I remember the anticipation, the sleepless nights, and the building excitement as the days drew nearer for us to go. Mom would pack up the station wagon with all seven kids for the ride from our home in Buffalo, New York to Ontario, Canada. Sometimes an extra cousin or friend would join the group. The more the merrier, we always thought.

From our home about a half hour from the Canadian border, Mom would steer the bogged down station wagon with determination along the 190 expressway. As we rode along the shore of the Niagara River, we could see pleasure boats and an occasional ship carrying cargo to its next destination. Dad always seemed to have to work that day. I don’t think he ever made it to the park with us by car. He used to take us by boat to spend time with the Schultz family who lived in a cottage at Crystal Beach near the amusement park. I thought they were the luckiest family on earth to live within sight distance of the park.

Mom would pay the 25-cent fee to take us over the Peace Bridge into Canada. A favorite moment of mine was seeing the American and Canadian flags flying side by side at the apex of the bridge. As soon as we passed the flags flying high over the Niagara River, we knew we were in Canada. The next event wasn’t as much fun. We had to sit in silence as Mom ever so gently steered the car into the next available slot to be drilled by the Canadian border police. One peep out of us would have led to a total car search. “What is your citizenship?” the border policeman would utter, followed by “Anything to declare?” Mom would reply the same way each and every time, “United States and No.” We remained mute for about a mile after the line of questioning about citizenship and the nature of our business to ensure no delays that day.

Up the Queen Elizabeth Way Mom would steadily drive the Chevy wagon. I was amazed how clean and beautiful Canada was with colorful flowers lining the highway. We would keep ourselves busy with Auto Bingo or comic books for the next hour or so. On occasion, the trip was delayed for a bathroom break, or an upset stomach with the need to heave as soon as possible. We would all say “ewwwww” in harmony when
that happened.

I remember watching the signs along the road and counting down the miles to the park. It seemed as though the billboards grew larger and brighter as we neared the park. My stomach would be full of butterflies.
The road leading to the entrance of the park was bumpy and full of small stones. Vehicles filled the parking lot in uniform fashion similar to the rows at a Sunday church service. Per Mom’s instruction, we all held hands as we crossed the lot to the ticket booth. “One adult and a load of children,” Mom would recite into the silver face plate that amplified her voice to the ticket seller inside the booth. Magically, the ride tickets appeared through the tiny slit at the bottom of the window moments later. We all jumped with glee, sweat pouring off our brows waiting for Mom to tear off tickets for each one of us. “What ride will you go on first?” I remember asking my brothers and sisters.

One of my favorite adventures at the park was the “Magic Carpet.” It was a house full of rooms including an odd-shaped mirror room that made me look tall and thin one minute, then short and fat the next. One room had floors that were so slanted that it had rails for people to hold onto to get to the other side of the room. All the while I remember laughing so hard that I would almost fall over. There were areas on the walkway between the rooms of the magic carpet ride where air would pump out of a hole in the floor like a gust of wind under an umbrella, blowing ladies’ dresses up. Fortunately, I never wore a dress to the Crystal Beach Amusement Park. There was also a wooden bench one could sit on to rest. Little did one know until they sat on it that it shocked you to your feet. As I got older, I figured out there was a park employee in a little secret room in that house that used mirrors to see if someone sat on that bench. I know he had the time of his life as he saw people yelling at the top of their lungs after getting shocked silly. The house also had a set of rubber “lily pads” that wobbled as they were stepped on. There was water under the pads where some people slipped in to when they lost control of their footing. It was fun to walk across them while trying to maintain some sort of balance.

At the end of this adventurous house-like experience was the “magic carpet” itself. The carpet was dark red about 10 feet wide and 40 feet long. I remember holding onto the metal bar waiting my turn to let go and travel bumpety-bump down the conveyor belt over the various rollers that were hidden under the carpet. There was a 10-foot long rubber-like area on rollers that helped to slow one down at the end of the ride. It was so much fun; I wanted to go on the adventure over and over again.

There were numerous other rides at the park including the “Loff” in the Dark, Giant Ferris Wheel, Comet wooden roller coaster, Wild Mouse, Bumper Cars, Sky Ride, Antique Car Ride, Carousel, and the Scrambler to name a few. There was also a roller rink, dance hall, and kiddie rides on the grounds. A favorite treat at the park were the Hall’s suckers, especially the cinnamon flavored ones, and the sugar waffles. The sight of caramel apples and cotton candy always made me drool.

When it was time to go home after dark, Mom would call us all together for the ride back. I can recall letting Mom know that the day at the park was the best and how nice it was of her to take us all there. The ride home always seemed shorter because my brothers and sisters would all fall fast asleep as soon after the car was headed back to Buffalo.

Years later when it was time to take our daughters, Jenny and Katie, to Crystal Beach, the “Americana” ferry was back in service. The Americana provided a scenic transport from Buffalo across Lake Erie to the dock at Crystal Beach. I remember the excitement of our daughters as they saw the “Comet,” the immense wooden roller coaster come into view. We could hear echoes of people screaming at the top of their lungs as the roller coaster traveled on its downward path from the top of the giant hill. We had some great family pictures taken while riding on the ferry. I remember the black billowing smoke rolling out of the smokestack as the Americana pulled away from the dock at the Buffalo Marina. We returned to the park every summer for a number of years until the announcement was made that the park was closing down for good in September 1989 due to financial concerns. The park had been in operation since 1888.

The land where the park was located is now a private residential community. Rides from the park were sold to various other parks in Canada and the United States. Although Crystal Beach Amusement Park no longer exists, it still lives on vividly and fondly in my memory.

Monica Sleap
October 6, 2007