The lost but beloved amusement park that once stood in Chester where Route 30 now leads travelers across the country is set to be immortalized in a collection of facts and photographs next year.
Former Chester resident Joseph Comm, currently a teacher and resident of Greensburg, Pa., will publish a book early in the summer of 2010 which will feature a timeline of the history of Rock Springs Park. The book's publication will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the last year the park was in operation, 1970.
Comm moved to Chester with his parents when he was three-years-old and grew up with the silent skeleton of the Cyclone as the setting for four years of his time at school.
Shown is the cover of Joseph Comm’s book, “Images of America: Rock Springs Park.” It will be available in 2010.
"The park was next to the junior high when it was grades four through nine, so I remember seeing the park in town, but it was closed during that time," Comm said. "I always had a fantasy there on the playground of being able to crawl under the Cyclone and sneak in, but I never had the nerve to do that."
Comm's childhood imaginings of what the park must have been like during its most popular years was rekindled last spring, when he assigned his students to read several historical fiction novels.
"I wondered if I could write one about Chester using the amusement park as a backdrop," he said. "It took me a year to do that, and I was looking at the beginning of this past summer to start revising the story."
Comm chose to change the style of his book when Cassie Hand, the niece of the third and final park owner Robert Hand, left a comment on his blog, which focused on the history of Rock Springs Park.
"It was actually her message to me on my Web site, that said 'you should write that book!' that got me started writing the (historical) book," Comm said.
Comm began his in-depth research when he contacted the regional president of the American Coaster Enthusiast (ACE) group, who connected him with another group member who collected photographs and postcards of the park.
"He said 'One of our ACE members who lives in the North Hills in Pittsburgh has seven or eight albums of pictures and postcards of the park,'" Comm said.
That man was Richard Bowker, one of the earliest members of ACE. Comm contacted Bowker by letter and later made trip after trip to his home to scan images of Rock Springs Park.
"He was there the last night the park was open, on Labor Day of 1970, and he rode the roller coaster as they were turning the lights out," Comm said. "Some of the ride operators even jumped onto the ride, but they didn't realize that that would be the last season the park was open."
In October of that same year, owner Robert Hand passed away, and the park was never reopened.
In addition to a historical timeline of the park, Comm's book will include more than 200 images and investigate how the memory of the park is kept alive today, through stories, collections, and souvenirs.
"One of the things that has been neat in doing the research, I've been able to get in touch with some of the families that used to run the park," Comm said. "I spoke to R.Z. Mcdonald, the youngest son of (second owner) C.C. Mcdonald, and he's always been gracious enough to answer as best he could."
Comm also credited Cassie Hand, who once lived with her husband in the park office, only feet from the Cyclone.
"She told me one time that in the log house, which is still in Chester, there was a big six-foot iron chandelier that her husband, when he was a little boy, used to jump from and swing on like he was some kind of movie actor," Comm said.
Comm stated that he still plans to publish his novel of Chester during the time the park was open someday.
Though he did not experience the park firsthand, Comm said, the stories and images that he gathered in his research for the book helped him answer many questions about the park that he had since he was a child going to school near the Cyclone.
"I'm really excited about this book and it was sort of a 'hey, I wonder if...' thing, and it just took off,'" Comm said. "It's really been a neat kind of adventure since July of last year."