WILKES-BARRE - At one time, several amusement parks were within a short drive for Wyoming Valley residents. Now, it takes at least an hour to reach a roller coaster, and the local parks are just memories.
Local enthusiasts and historians are working to make sure those memories - of days spent at Angela Park in southern Luzerne County, Hanson's Amusement Park in Harveys Lake, and others - are preserved.
Jim Fichter has mint-condition Angela Park memorabilia that he sells to those looking to hold on to a piece of history.
Robert Savakinus, Gary Looker, and F. Charles Petrillo preserve memories with photos, presentations, and websites where fellow fans can share their memories.
"I had the good fortune of enjoying Angela Park in the '60s and '70s as a child," Fichter said. "My first job as a teenager was at Angela Park operating several of the rides, and I was also able to enjoy the park as a parent when I took my son there in the mid-80s before it closed for good. I realized other people were as enthusiastic and wanted to bring memories back."
For Fichter, it started with a few pieces of Angela Park memorabilia he had and a fluorescent orange sign he spray-painted with "AngelaParkStore.com."
"I was going to sell what I had around Christmastime , and shut down after," Fichter said. "I decided to keep it up after I discovered this year marks the 55th anniversary of the opening of the park and next year will mark the 25th anniversary of its closing."
Fichter said he began coming into contact with other people who were interested and who had memorabilia, and so he began adding merchandise to his website.
Along Route 309 in Butler Township, Angela Park opened in 1957 and closed in 1988. It was owned by the Barletta family, and originally had six rides, including an out-and-back junior-style wooden roller coaster, Fichter said.
The park had an Olympic-size swimming pool, wooden slide, bumper cars, and a boat ride.
"The pizza was delicious," Fichter said. "And Porky the Paper Eater . . . [was] a garbage can with a vacuum in it that would suck garbage out of your hand and had different sayings."
Fichter's website has sold out of its most popular pieces of Angela Park history – yo-yos, sun visors, and collectible spoons.
But Fichter said he still had a Velcro wallet, ride tickets, sewing kits, and even an ashtray - all in mint condition.
"I'm constantly looking for stuff to add," he said. "The best way people can remember it is to have a little piece of it."
Pittsburgh resident Looker said the last time he was at Hanson's Amusement Park at Harveys Lake was in the early 1980s with his children.
He can remember it vividly: the bumper cars, the train, and his favorite - the penny arcade.
"When the weather gets nice, I start thinking about that place," Looker said.
Looker has contributed many photos to websites dedicated to defunct amusement parks and is in the early stages of starting his own website of collections dedicated solely to Hanson's.
Hanson's opened in 1891 and closed in 1984, the longest-running amusement park in Luzerne County. It had a Speed Hound roller coaster, carousel, and bumper cars.
"For 93 years, it was a very beloved place," said Petrillo, a lawyer and historian.
A miniature train that operated at the park is still giving rides at the Bonham Nursing Home in Stillwater. Roger Griffith of Shavertown is a founding member of the Brass Ring Foundation, which has been working to bring the park's original carousel back to Harveys Lake.
Griffith, who once performed on stage at the park in the band the Star Fires and with Chubby Checker, said the 1909 carousel was shipped from Florida to Harveys Lake two years ago and was being housed in a storage facility - but said he can't reveal where.
The Rocky Glen amusement park in Moosic opened in the late 1800s and operated for nearly 100 years before closing in 1987.
Some say it was the longest-running amusement park in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The park was sold in 1970 to National Recreation, which changed the name to Ghost Town in the Glen. It was sold again in 1979, and the park regained its original name in 1982.
Sans Souci Park in Hanover Township operated from 1905 to 1970. The park had at least four roller coasters.
Its octagonal dance pavilion lured crowds each weekend and even featured Sonny and Cher.
A Ferris wheel at Sans Souci was eventually moved to Hanson's, Petrillo said.