Living along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, one is presented with a number of unique places to experience. One of them is, to my understanding the only Amusement park of any serious size along the south shore… SeaBreeze Amusement Park, which is just outside Rochester.

The Seabreeze of today is sort of the last man standing.

Rochester had several amusement parks years ago that one thought about spending their time at. 25 years ago, one had Roseland, southeast of Rochester in nearby Canandaguia, and Olympic Amusement Park in the town of Chili (pronounced Cha eye-l-eye, if you’re a local)

Roseland and Seabreeze were by far the older… Olympic was the upstart. Olympic had rides that were designed to travel around to state fairs and whatnot, whereas the other two had a sense of permanency about them.

Seabreeze had a Merry Go Round
built by the Philadelphia Toboggen Company (PCT #36). Inside the Round-House was a Wuriltzer style 165 band organ that was a wonder to listen to. It’s pictured above. That organ and the “round were mated at birth; both having been built and purchased in 1926.

They also have a wooden coaster.. a largish out and back created in 1920, called the Jack Rabbit… an intense ride even for today. It’s pictured here a few years ago. I’ve been on that ride perhaps 100 times over the years… and it still scares the hell out of me.

Roseland was older by a few years, and most of it’s rides and attractions had a somewhat older feel to them. It’s ’round was also created by PTC. Number 18 was built in 1909. Roseland closed nearly 25 years ago, and Olympic closed at more or less the same time. Of the two Roseland was by far the more memorable for most folks; I can’t even find any pictures of Olympic as it was to show you.

Roseland’s ’round currently lives about 60 miles east of it’s original spot, inside the Carousel Mall in Syracuse. Here’s a few pics of it in the new location.

All that’s left of Olympic is a bowling alley.

Someone tried to put a water park on Roseland’s site a few years ago, but it never did work; the owners were always fighting the memory of how grand the place used to be… and the new place could never measure up to that memory. It’s abandoned, as far as I know… what of it wasn’t taken up by high priced apartment complexes filled with people wanting a shoreline view of Canandaguia Lake.

Those closings left Seabreeze all alone in the Rochester Market, which in turn gave rise to the Darien Lake megapark, at Corfu, NY about 20 miles west of Rochester, which is now owned by the Six Flags people.

As for Seabreeze, on March 31, 1994, came the worst. I never thought I’d have a practical use of my recording of Todd Rundgren of “Were you there when the Carousel Burned Down”, but I did, that day. The fire was started about 3 p.m. by contractors who were working to re-tarring a roof. An hour later, PTC 36 and the Wurlitzer, 100 rolls of music and all… nothing of it was left but ashes, and a column of smoke that could be seen for 30 miles. Being positioned directly across the street from the firehouse didn’t help at all; it was gone at the first spark. Local stories said the firemen were crying, some of them, trying unsuccessfully to put the fire out. It took an emotional toll on them, the local news said at the time.

I remember looking out of my downtown office window and wondering what that column of smoke to the north was, and not understanding that one of my memories would now never be anything more than that… And a place of the entire area’s collective consciousness, was dying. Even when told by co-workers what was up, it didn’t hit me.

Until, that is, later that night. I remember driving past the park that night, to get an idea of how bad the damage was. It was dark by the time I got by there.  But I recall being taken back at the sight. I leaned on my horn in a salute to the pile of ashes as I sat in front of the place, my headlights playing on what was left of that ancient frame of PTC36 as I sat on the edge of the park grounds.  In doing so, I happened to catch the eye of someone else, who apparently was there for the same thing… sitting in his car, his young wife with him. He simply nodded at me, and joined in, giving a blast from his horn, as well. He understood, and shared the loss. I’ll never know his name, but it doesn’t matter.

I can think of a number of people that wouldn’t get that kind of reaction. I certainly can’t think that any MegaPark such as Darien Lake would ever attain that kind of status within the community. Perhaps because it’s not been there long enough, but also possibly because as loud, gaudy and intense as it gets, it’s never really as comfortable as some of the older parks this country has to offer… Seabreeze among them.

Fortunate, that the owners of Seabreeze understand that factor, and take such pride in their park. and the idea that they’ve been there for 125 years this year, and plan to be there for many years to come. They rebuilt the ride, and the organ, all to the original specs, from the original drawings, all with handcrafted care.  The cost must have been several million dollars. The ‘Round of today… well, all you can say is, it’s a real beauty.

OK, I know it’s a long lead in, over half this column, in fact…but I say all of this because you need to understand the background, to understand where I’m going with this.

You see, I had the chance yesterday to take part in the company picnic, which, as it has been for the last few years, was at Seabreeze.

Now, I’ve been going to Seabreeze (yes, along with the other parks, too) for the last 40 years and more. So, in many ways, it’s attained the status of an old friend. It did my heart good to see my old friend looking well, and fit, and well cared for. After all, I’d seen a couple friends like this wither and die away, already. The Seabreeze folks obviously take pride in caring for my old friend.

One of the first places the boys wanted to stop was the newly rebuilt ‘Round. I found myself being a little sad going into the new ’round. I had to sit and think about why, though.

A Merry Go Round, particularly as beautiful as this rebuild is, making me sad? Rather an unexpected response. I found myself having to stop and think about why this was. The result of that thinking is the reason I’m writing all of this today.

You see, yesterday, in all the activity, I re-discovered the emotions surrounding my seeing my two boys’ delighted smiles, as they discovered and enjoyed the very same rides I enjoyed as a child of their ages. The reaction, the feeling, the emotions surrounding that event are as powerful as any I’ve ever had. There’s something of a feeling of, well… of permanency, of a continuance of sorts… And for just that brief, powerful moment, I found myself, looking at myself, 40 years ago. I now understand a bit more of my own parents.  Heady stuff, this.

But for the ’round, as nearly perfect as it’s replacement is, that emotion is gone. In some ways, it’s like a first love; You never quite love a woman the same way again, as you did your first. You can marry, and find that one true love and yet, in many ways you’re always affected by the memory of the first. Sadly, it can never be again.

It’s all that and more; and understand, please, I don’t mean at all to slight the efforts of the Seabreeze folks; they’ve done the best anyone could ever have done. I and the remainder of the community are forever grateful to their efforts in rebuilding 36, and the organ.

Thing is, though, I’ll always feel a twinge of sadness when entering the new structure, for the one that was lost, because I can’t tell my kids “I rode on this when I was your age”. I’m sorry, gang, I can’t help it. I find myself shocked at how important that one point is to me.

I know things happen, and changes come. But I think I begin to understand what places like that mean to a soul, and what preservation of our landmarks means to us both individually, and as a community.

At least Seabreeze’s ownership was thoughtful and foresighted enough to understand that new memories count nearly as much as old ones, and then providing for them, by rebuilding.

They understand that old memories, precious as they are, cannot die when the edifices involved in those memories do. and new memories need a place to be made, as well. This new ’round, Lord willing, will be around for my boys to watch THEIR kids on, 20 years hence.

I had a passing thought as I watched my youngest on his last turn of the day on the Bear Trax, the kiddie sized Coaster….. I wonder if those Islamofacists seeking our destruction, will ever care about, much less understand, that emotion.

I doubt it. What exact connection that has with the future of America, in light of our current struggle with terrorism, is not fully clear to me. But I can’t help but feel strangely reassured tonight as I write this, about our future. It’s not just our armies, our police and our financial institutions they’re fighting against. They certainly tried to hobble us by attacking these.

What they fail to reckon with, however, is it’s our Amusment parks as well, and the emotions we experience inside them, and for that matter, all the places, everywhere we get a sense of our cultures and our families, continuing. Those are an enemy which in my view, they will never understand, much less defeat.