I am lucky enough to come into possession one of the original Fun House mirrors, said to be haunted, from the Crystal Beach Amusement Park, located hearth the northern shore of Lake Erie, near Niagara Falls & Ft. Erie, Ontario. The following is a fascinating summary of the history of the Crystal Beach Amusement Park, which itself has been said to be haunted. Now gone, but not forgotten.
I certainly can’t forget. That mirror stares back at me!
Crystal Beach, located on the Northern (Canadian) shore of Lake Erie near the cities of Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, Ontario operated from 1880 until 1989. During its peak days in the 1940’s and early 1950’s about 20,000 visitors walked through it gates every day in the summer. Ferry service ran between Buffalo, New York and the park at many times ensuring easy access for customers from the US. In 1989 when the park closed due to financial issues we lost of our great amusement parks and treasured piece of history.
Crystal Beach began as a campground complete with an auditorium, tenting and a picnic ground. The campground became so popular that over 150,000 people visited the site every year. A group of investors began to see an opportunity emerging and began to install amusements and a pier. The first ferry service between the park and Buffalo began on July 16th 1888 with the first ferry being called “The Dove”. The park was to have opened four days earlier but ferry required 4 days of work on its side paddle before service could commence.
The park’s investors also built the Assembly House Hotel, which was later renamed The Royal. This first hotel on site burned to the ground in 1923.
The ferry company which began with regular service with The Dove (500 passengers) would later start another service with The Superior (1,200 passengers) beginning the 1890 season. They would then buy The Pearl (800 passengers) which would later be re-named The Crystal in 1891 to meet the ongoing demand of Americans wanting to visit the park.
Other ferries used in the first years of the park’s existence were The Gazelle, The Pilgrim, The State of New York, The AJ Timon, The Garden City, The Darius Cole and the Puritan which burned to the water in 1901.
Ferry service to the park continued until 1956. By this time the main ferries were the Americana and the Candiana; both were capable of carrying 3,000 passengers.
In 1896 the Ontario Southern Railroad decided to complete with the bustling ferry service and built an electrical railway from Ridgeway to the north to the park. It consisted of a center running rail between 2 guide rails and was mounted on posts 3 to 9 meters above the ground. The railway earned the nicknames Peg-Leg and Bicycle railway. The railway only operated for 3 seasons.
The first roller coaster was installed by TM Harton in either 1902 or 1905 in shape of a figure 8. This coaster was in the park until 1918. Another coaster was installed in the park called The Giant. The original figure 8 coaster was rumored to have been sold to Erie Beach Park.
In 1908 as profits began to seriously climb the park was sold to The Lake Erie Excursion Company, another ferry company. They introduced a water system to the park and also built another hotel, The Bon Air, and completely revamped the midway expanding it to four times its previous size.
In 1909 the Backety-Back rollercoaster was added to the park at a cost of $50,000.00. It had two cars with 10 double seats and was in the park until 1926.
Amusements advertised for the 1909-1910 season under the new ownership included: the aerial swing, an athletic field and track, Backety-Back coaster, a bathing area, boating, bowling and box ball alleys, bump the bumps, a cake walk, the dance pavilion, an electric theatre, a gypsy camp, the house that Jack built, a Japanese ball game, a penny arcade, a photo studio, a roller rink, rivers of the world, a shooting gallery, a theatre trip to the North Pole and the figure 8 roller coaster.
The park was made famous by the construction of The Cyclone roller coaster which was built in 1927. A full time nurse was kept on staff due to so many passengers passing out on the intense ride. In 1948 The Comet replaced The Cyclone and was built using many of the parts of The Cyclone. The Comet would run until the park’s closure.
By 1983 the park was having serious financial problems due to high interest loans and poor weather. The park would pass into receivership with the accounting firm Peat, Marwick, Thorne and the Canadian Imperial Back of Commerce (CIBC) becoming the official owners. During the next 6 years attempts would be made to rejuvenate the park that would ultimately fail leading to the park’s complete closure in 1989.
The reasons given for the park’s closure was its inability to compete with the new and more modern amusement parks being built in New York State(Darien Lake), Toronto (Canada’s Wonderland) and most especially in Niagara Falls (Marineland) with its brand new ultra-modern steel roller coaster.
When the park closed The Comet was moved to The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom in Queensbury, New York where it still operates today. The park’s Ferris wheel was moved to Centreville Amusement on the Toronto Islands in Toronto and also still operates to this day. By its closure in 1989 the park covered between 18 and 28 hectares.
After its closure the grounds were re-designated as residential and the area is now covered by private homes. All that remains of the once grand park is a hill that was once part of a ride and a shattered ferry dock.
Legends and Paranormal Activity
Well it would be most interesting to talk to the people who now live on the grounds of what was once the park. As with most amusement parks in the late 19th and early 20th century the park had a safety record that would appall anyone in the modern age with more than a few deaths rumored to have occurred. Activity reported at the old site include: feeling of being watched, light anomalies, disembodied voices and the occasional phantom prowling.
The loss of Crystal Beach ended yet another tie we had with a more innocent time. As people’s needs have changed in this fast paced and stressful world the rides had to become more modern and intense. It is perhaps a lesson for us all that we need to be twisted upside down in a corkscrew or dropped a 100 feet straight down in order to be thrilled these days. No longer are most people content with a wooden coaster, ferris wheel or a simple merry-go-round.
Good-bye to one of the last grand old amusement parks; good-bye to Crystal Beach you will be missed.