Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Brief Film of Lakeside in Its Better Days

The Shooting Star scared the bejabbers out of many of us. For good reason.
This brief film, posted on Facebook by Derrick Mayhew, gives you a soundless view of Lakeside Amusement Park in 1971 during its salad days on earth. This is a remarkable home movie shot at a time when as Sean Tubbs said, "They didn't have a recording studio in [their] pockets" and films were much more rare than they are now.

Lakeside was an iconic attraction in the Roanoke Valley, dating back to 1920 when parks and swimming pools (it had a large one) were segregated. Each summer the pool at Lakeside was open to African-Americas (called "Negroes" and other less flattering terms in those days) for one day. My guess is the rides were open to them upon occasion, as well, but never for "race mixing." In 1967, desegration led the owners of the park to close the pool, fill it in with concrete and build the popular "Shooting Star" roller coaster ride on top of it.

My late friend Bessie Kent of Vinton often talked fondly of serving as a lifeguard at Lakeside during the 1920s. Bessie was in her mid-90s when I knew her in the 1980s and had been a Red Cross nurse during the flu epidemic of 1918. "We stacked the bodies like cordwood," she once said. (I once told somebody, in Bessie's presence, that she was 96 and she said indignantly, "I beg your pardon. I'm 95. Let's get these things right, young man. They're important.")

During Lakeside's latter days (it closed in 1986), while I was writing features for the local daily paper in Roanoke, I covered a lot of music shows at the pavillion and interviewed some fairly prominent people there. I interviewed Eddie Rabbitt in his bus one evening and he excused himself twice in order to snort a bit of white substance (I watched) and a couple of weeks later I sat in a big road bus with Porter Wagoner as he tried to sit down in one of those spangled, tight suits he wore.

Gene Watson, the estimable country crooner, and I sat down to talk one chilly spring evening and he talked about having to "run to KMart to get me a coat" because he hadn't brought one. Gene wasn't far from his auto repair shop at that time, even though he had the No. 1 song in the country.

My daughter was on the chair lift pictured in this clip during one visit by the family to the park in the 1970s when the chair got stuck. People were upset and scared, though there was no real danger, and among those who were terrified was my son Evan, who was maybe 3 or 4 at the time. "I want my sister," he cried. "Don't let them hurt my sister." We didn't. 

I will also relate that during that visit, my daughter and I rode the the Shooting Star. Now that was terrifying. The damn thing was always about a hair's breadth from falling into a pile.

Nice to visit Lakeside again. My guess is that 45 years from now, nobody will be talking about the strip mall that replaced it.

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