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Big Chuck

June 17, 2013

Upstate theme parks offered affordable thrills


Ever so slowly the bear would take one of his paws and pull the wire up close to him. With his other paw, he would trap the wire. Then he’d repeat the motion, pulling and trapping. Finally the bear would pull the tin can all the way to the top where he’d devour the treats and send the can back down the wire for another kid to step up and “feed the giant beast of the forest.”

This childhood favorite was in existence for 73 years, closing in 2006. At its peak it was drawing a half million visitors a year. Admission to Catskill Game Farm in the early 1960s was $2 for adults and $1 for children.

And parking was free.

Gaslight Village in Lake George was another favorite. This was a different kind of theme park, one with an eye on the adults as well as the children.

The theme of Gaslight Village was the “Gay Nineties,” a decidedly adult era. Beer was sold. There was an old Opera House where follies and vaudeville reviews aimed at adults were held (“OK, everybody, join in: Heart of my heart, brings back old memories …”). The park also stayed open longer than any of the others throughout the Adirondacks. It closed at 10:30 p.m.

My greatest memory here was that it was the first place where I ever drove a car. Sure, it was a gas engine-powered Tin Lizzy riding along a walled-in half-mile track, but you didn’t need a parent in the car with you. I remember the first time I did this. I felt that great rush of freedom on the road!

I was 10 years old.

I actually have an old pamphlet from Gaslight Village. It had odd admission prices — adults were $5.95, and children (younger than 16) were $4.77!

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Big Chuck

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