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About the Program


 

First-Ever Retrospective of the Former Holyoke Fun Spot

Some places live in people's hearts long after they disappear from the landscape. Mountain Park is one of those places. Closed in 1987 after almost 100 years in operation, the Holyoke, Mass., fun spot is the subject of the WGBY retrospective. Producer Dave Fraser ("Eddie Shore and the Springfield Indians") not only brings back "Mountain Park Memories," but also preserves a slice of Americana for the annals of history.

"As far as I know, this is the first full-length documentary about Mountain Park," Fraser said, "and I hope viewers will be reminded of a lot of happy times." Elizabeth and Steve Wilda of Hadley, who started researching the park's history a decade ago, served as consultants on the 40-minute program. The Wildas also provided the Mountain Park posters, pins and other memorabilia seen in the documentary.
Elizabeth Wilda observed, "Mountain Park was unique in that a lot of of its original 'Trolley Park' charm was left intact over the years as the park evolved and was reinvented to serve the entertainment needs of different eras."

Thrills, chills, romance, fun, a gathering place for friends and family. "Mountain Park was different things to different people," says Fraser, who focuses the nostalgia on the park's three big attractions: the theater, the Stardust ballroom and the rides. Old film footage and archival photos are part of the program, along with the reminiscences of park employees and regulars, including longtime disc jockey Phil Dee, the park's "polka king" Larry Chesky, and former radio personality George Murphy, who worked backstage at the Mountain Park Playhouse in the 1960s.

Mountain Park Playhouse - a "beautiful little theater on the hill," Murphy recalls - hosted many well-known celebrities, among them Hal Holbrook, who is seen talking about his stint at the theater. The actor first performed his one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight, at Mountain Park in the 1950s. Twain would become Holbrook's signature role.

The ballroom burned down the night of the Holyoke High School prom in 1971. But in its heyday, audiences could see the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison, some at a ticket price of $1.50. Dee remembers spinning the hits at his "record hops," a Mountain Park staple from 1960 to 1969.

Then, of course, there is the amusement park, with its beloved carousel, and Mountain Park Flyer coaster ride. For Murphy (and surely countless others), the aromas along the midway were the park as he remembers it. "Cotton candy…popcorn…hotdogs…all of this stuff got together and made a fragrance up there that if you ever smelled it anyplace else, you'd think of Mountain Park."

Unfortunately, some Mountain Park memories will always be sad ones. As Fraser recounts, the park's sudden closing in 1987 sparked a failed effort to save it from ruin. A successful campaign to save the carousel, now housed at Holyoke's Heritage State Park, is the only bright spot left from the park's demise.

The Wildas' mission as amateur historians began with a visit to the old site five years after the park closed. Elizabeth Wilda recalled, "Steve and I were shocked to see the old park in ruins, remembering what a vibrant place it used to be. We shot some video footage and the imagery held such poignancy. It literally haunted me and I knew there was a story here that needed telling. We were excited about helping producer Dave Fraser in any way we could."

 


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Major funding for Mountain Park Memories provided by:

Additional funding provided by: Commonwealth Registry of Nurses, Inc., Holyoke Gas & Electric Department, Holyoke Hospital, The Lathrop Retirement Communities of Easthampton & orthampton.

Photo Credits:  
Wisteriahurst Museum (HolyokeMassachusetts); Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division; Detroit Publishing Company Collection; 
Holyoke Public Library