Savin Rock’s Transition
“We Knew the Rock Was Fading”
Savin Rock brought both pleasure and pain–Rosalie DeFeo remembers it this way:
During the 1940s, my mother and father lived in New Haven, near Wooster Square when they got married; but they were intrigued by the thought of living by this beautiful amusement park in West Haven rather than being in the city.
My little white house on Oak Street was all I ever knew. My neighbors–who all spoke with different accents, French, Irish, Swedish, some didn’t speak English at all–were my family. After the park closed, Lenny the Indian had left. When I was growing up, every day he would come home to his apartment next door and call me over to the fence, looking at me under the wide brimmed hat he wore. He always had a little toy or trinket in his pocket for me.
The people who lived upstairs from him barely spoke English while the couple downstairs, Knoxie and Myrtle often told me stories of when they lived in an institution and had shock treatments that were so painful. They both walked with a limp and so did their little black dog. I can still see them walking down Oak Street and doing maintenance in the park and whatever they could to make a few dollars. I often wondered what became of them afterwards, as it had to be so difficult for them to adjust to a new environment and blend in with people they didn’t know—people who couldn’t understand who and what they were, just kind souls trying to survive. It was one big eclectic family. As strange as their ways were, everyone accepted everyone else without question, for it was a true melting pot, filled with unconventional people.
As I walked through the rides almost daily when the park was finally closed to the public, especially that fall when they were covered with dry leaves and I could hear them crunching under each footstep, stirred up so many memories. The acorns would drop from all of the oak trees and hit what remained of the metal structures of the rides. It seemed so eerie.
In my mind I could still hear the calliope of the Flying Horses, the sound of the motors from all of the kiddie rides that my dad would help run. The smell of the grease they used on the rides was still in the air. Total silence, everything so still–just the rustle of leaves as a fond remembrance of my growing up in this play land. That winter, just when the snowfall ended, I would walk by the beach, the sound of walking on freshly fallen snow was mesmerizing, like a rhythm of a favorite song. Before I knew it, I had walked so far it seemed like forever to get back home. Walking those streets, hearing those sounds for the last time was bittersweet. Childhood was gone but the memories are still so vivid. It was an unconventional place.
I remember when we moved from our house after selling it to the redevelopment in 1965. The sale fell through because the rules had changed. The original plan was off the table for the redevelopment, but we had already purchased another house. We rented our house for two years until we could finally sell it to make way for the beautiful park that never came. The high-rise for the elderly sits where my little white house sat. The apple tree in the back yard is gone, although I still look for it every time I drive through.
I think in earlier times, at the turn of the century, the park must have been spectacular. A place to honeymoon, take a vacation or just enjoy a day and marvel at all of its wonders. But by mid-century, it must have become a shadow of its former elegance, still fun with lots to do but not like my mother and father remembered it when they bought this little white house in the 1940’s. Not the breathtaking beauty of the White City, the hotels, the dinners at the shore in all of the restaurants, clean beaches–a lot had changed, but it was still the best place to be!
For me, walking past when the buildings started coming down–that was the toughest. The food stands, the Midway, the rides my dad would let me enjoy every single night, so many memories came flooding back until it was hard to breathe. I couldn’t sleep nights without the sound of the Sky Blazer clicking its cars to the very top of the rickety structure and the screams of delight on the way down. The sound of the stock cars on Saturday night were so loud, they would rattle our windows Those sounds were our bedtime sounds, not the soft music other kids in other neighborhoods went to sleep to.
I think, when most families move to a new home, in a new neighborhood, it’s different. The streets are the same, the houses are the same—it’s just a different address. But when you move from Savin Rock, this magical place, it’s like moving from another dimension. Nowhere else was like Savin Rock. The racetrack across the street, rides, amusements of all kinds–everything a kid could ever dream of. Then you move to a more typical neighborhood, with rows of homes, picket fences and flowers, garages for your car, families where moms and dads both worked and kids had nice clothes and shiny shoes. Nowhere to go every night as families gathered around their dinner table with stories of their days. It was a culture shock to say the least. Living in Savin Rock wasn’t exactly like living next door to Ozzie and Harriet. We just didn’t drive there on promotion day or on weekends, we lived it every day like others could never understand.
We all mourn the loss of our coming of age at Savin Rock, nowhere to look back on to see our initials carved in a tree or where we had our first kiss. Everyone was just trying to survive among unconventional people, in an unconventional place, in an unconventional way–and we called it home.
To Be Continued-