The amusement parks are long gone.

But the memories of Chippewa Lake and Geauga Lake are alive and well.

A professor is helping folks relive the memories of those parks, along with others like Euclid Beach Park and waterparks like Dover Lake, through a noncredit course he teaches at Cuyahoga Community College.

Gerry Nemeth is quick to point out that he is by no means an expert on the bygone parks, but rather a facilitator for others to share their own memories.

He's a full-time math instructor, but loves to teach one of the community college's noncredit classes, where there's no homework and attendance is not taken.

Nemeth said he's always touched by the personal stories shared by participants, from first dates at the parks to those whose job was to keep the coasters running or making sure the popcorn was hot and fresh.

Although he visited both Geauga Lake and Chippewa Lake in his lifetime, his very personal amusement park memory is from Cedar Point.

It was his eighth-grade class outing to Sandusky in 1972 and everyone was looking forward to riding the newest attraction, the Jumbo Jet steel roller coaster, but Nemeth discovered he was 2 inches shy of the height requirement.

"I was the only kid in the class who wanted to ride it but couldn't," he said. "I was vertically challenged."

Nemeth will offer a very condensed version of the course as a free program at the Lodi Library, 635 Wooster St., from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Because of the library's close proximity to Chippewa Lake Park, he plans to spend a good portion of his time talking about the lakefront amusement park that opened in 1878 and closed in 1978.

What remains of the park's approximately 95 acres — the rides and structures have either been removed or burned down by vandals — is now for sale with an asking price of $2.9 million.

The park's location right on the lake, with its own water ski team and surrounded by cottages and cabins, made it special. It also hosted concerts from big bands to rock groups.

"It was like a family there," he said.

Another place where family memories were made was Geauga Lake, founded in 1887, and its more contemporary neighbor across the lake, Sea World Ohio.

The two were combined to become a mega-park run by Six Flags, billed as the largest amusement park in the world by acreage, only to unceremoniously close in 2007. Parts of the land are now occupied by retail developments and a car dealership.

Like Chippewa Lake, the heart of the park and its shoreline now sit empty, overgrown by weeds and trees.

Nemeth said he believes there is a continuing curiosity about these old parks because they played such an important social role in the region. He said he loves Cedar Point, but it is much different now than these smaller regional parks.

There was a time when you could be "flat broke" but still afford to go to a park like Euclid Beach in Cleveland, because it was free to get in and the individual ride tickets were relatively inexpensive. So unlike a place like Kings Island, where a family will save up and visit just once a year, Nemeth said, one would visit an Idora Park in Youngstown countless times over the span of a summer.

"A trip to an amusement park was a way to escape the worries of the day," he said. "You could get away from it all.

"Who doesn't love an amusement park?"

 

Craig Webb, whose escape park as a kid was Conneaut Lake Park, can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com.