Sam-Son Productions has produced a 60 minute video documentary on Angela Park.
DVD order price – $24.99
Mountain Eagle Story – BY ANDREA O’NEILL / PUBLISHED: WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2018
Fond Memories Of Angela Park Last A Lifetime For Many Locals
“As a kid, you may remember hearing the adults around you reminisce about the “good ‘ole days”. You may have rolled your eyes or scoffed at the wistfulness in their voices and the perceived condemnation of the present as somehow inferior. Sometimes, however, small pieces of the “good ‘ole days you heard about as a child bleed into your own adult version. Around the mountain, one of those small pieces is Angela Park.
Angela Park was open by the Barletta family of Hazleton along 309 in Drums, just north of where the Beech Mountain Lakes development now sits. Today, an overgrown lot of high weeds, cracked pavement, and minute traces of wooden poles and light posts mark what was once a thriving community center of music and laughter; first jobs and first loves.
Before it was the site of company and school outings, Fred Barletta’s grandparents hosted family picnics on that land along the Nescopeck Creek in the 1940s and 50s. Barletta explained how his grandmother, Angela always wanted to see a park at that site. Trolley Parks such as Rocky Glen were well known at the time and had been operating in the US since the turn of the 20th century, so while Angela’s concept wasn’t new, Hazleton was missing such a place, and Angela Barletta wanted to change that.
“There were lots of food and people and they would go there and spend their Sundays,” explained Barletta. “They would argue and laugh and just be together. She wanted that for other families in Hazleton, too.”
Angela Barletta passed away unexpectedly in 1952 at the age 56, without ever seeing the little park along the creek materialize. Upon her death, however, her husband and children quickly decided to open the park in her honor. They prepared the family grove with a concession stand, restroom, picnic tables and grills along the creek with a few kiddie rides sprinkled in along route 309. Angela Park officially opened on Mother’s Day, 1957.
“It was very special place for us as kids,” remarked Barletta. “For as fondly as people remember it, we knew the park in ways nobody else did. It was family.”
Angela Park evolved over the years from a picnic grove to a modern amusement park with an old time feel; satisfying the youthful desire for an adrenaline rush and the social needs of a community before in-home entertainment. The park became popular so quickly that they decided to expand it and add the iconic pool and later, the roller coaster. The pool was the largest in Luzerne County and became the place of many memories over the next few decades.
“We went there as a kid with my parents,” related Sam Lesante Jr., whose documentary film about the park premiered in 2017. “My dad had his employee picnics there and we would play baseball and ride the rides and enjoy a full day. I remember our babysitter took us to the pool and it was my first time off the high dive. “
“After all our chores were done, we hopped in my car and went to the pool almost every day,” said Debbie Martin in a comment on the Facebook fan page. “I can still smell the chlorine mixed in with the tantalizing aroma of the best pizza around while listening to the screams and laughter from the coaster, the snap of the diving boards and the top 100 tunes over the PA.”
Barletta mused about the popularity of such a gathering place, complete with Thursday night “swim parties” and live bands every weekend; From where local radio station WAZO did a live broadcast every Saturday night and community businesses, schools and scout troops hosted “ride all day” passes for their members.
“When you were in high school it was the place to be in the area. I can’t describe to you how popular this was for kids,” said Barletta.
In an era without internet, video games, back decks and in-home entertainment, people were more connected to each other. Barletta explained that with one black and white TV with sometimes only three channels, people spent more time outside with neighbors.
“It was a different time,” he reminisced. “The basketball courts and ball fields were packed back then, and amusement parks were part of that.”
Jim Fichter is the moderator of an Angela Park fan page on Facebook that is approaching 6000 members. He also feels the park encompassed forgotten sense of community.
“Angela Park was small enough that you could pop in and wander around and maybe watch the fireworks,” said Fichter. “It’s just an era that’s gone. It was simpler; things were easier. I think that’s what people really miss.”
That need for a community connection was part of the reason places like Angela Park were so popular at the time. Ask anyone who had a childhood in the 50s or 60s about San Souci in Hanover (1893), Hanson’s in Harveys Lake (1935), Rocky Glen in Moosic (1886), Knoebels Grove in Elysburg (1926) or Nay Aug in Scranton (1931). All continued just long enough for those born in the 70’s and 80’s to have caught the community flavor the parks represented. Today, only Knoebels still has amusement rides, and the park now caters to a much larger clientele.
Because of the intent on the part of the Barlettas to keep Angela Park family friendly, one of the most appreciated aspects about Angela Park was the cost… or lack of. Barletta offered that his family was adamant about keeping it affordable. There was no charge for people to park or use the picnic grove along the creek, and no admission fee. The Barlettas ran a free shuttle from Hazleton city to the park. Kids could ride all day for free as part of their school picnic day, and the park allowed everyone to ride for free between 6 and 6:30pm every Monday through Thursday.
“My aunts ran it, and all agreed this was to be a family park,” explained Barletta. “They wanted to make sure that people could always come to Angela Park and you didn’t have to spend a penny from the concessions if you didn’t want to. I still remember my aunt making the announcement for the start of the free rides.”
“I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but you didn’t have to have a lot of money to go there,” said Fichter.
There is no shortage of these memories. Fichter himself remembers the roof of the coaster littered with coins it from people throwing them from the Skyride. Others remember waiting in line for the coaster and hearing the loud ping they made when they hit the aluminum above them. Still others say they can still taste the legendary pizza – a Barletta family recipe. Even more reminisce about their first jobs and first loves. Barletta said the park didn’t just entertain high school students; it also employed them and not just those from Hazleton.
“We had a lot of people from Mountaintop come to the park,” added Barletta. “When I was a kid working down there I had no idea Crestwood High School was Mountaintop but we had so many kids from there working.”
Tony Malikowski reminisced about his “school days” when a lucky opportunity sometimes was too good to pass up.“[I remember] Going on a school day when I was 14 and running into an older girl who was way out of my league,” commented Malikowski. “When I asked her if she wanted to do a few rides together she said yes. Getting mooshed together on the tilt-a-whirl and the scrambler was absolute heaven.”
One memory, however, surfaced more than anyother, and that is Porky the Paper Eater, a vacuum trash can in a house shaped container with a pig’s head sticking out and an opening in his mouth for paper trash. Anyone putting paper in the pig’s mouth would trigger recording, thanking kids for feeding him. The idea was brilliant in that it largely encouraged kids to seek out trash lying around the park,
so they could “feed” the pig. Porky, made by a company in Louisiana, was not, contrary to popular legend, sold to Knoebels according to Fichter. The Last surviving one is in Texas and a recording of the Porky is in the Lesante Jr documentary. The pig does, however, have his own Facebook fan club. “We would dare each other to stick our hands in Porky the Trash Eaters mouth.” said Blank. This author can say for certain that her and her friends weren’t the only ones.
Many people probably wonder why the family would sell such a successful venture that meant so much to the community. By the mid 1980’s, Barletta says the sibling owners ranged in ages from 5070 years old and the day-to–day workload of the park was taking its toll.
Barletta pointed out, “They weren’t getting younger. Hindsight always crystal clear. Knowing what I know now, I could have gotten a few of my cousins to help me take it over.”
What Barletta didn’t know at age 30, with a long teaching career in front of him, was that the new owners wouldn’t put the kind of care into the park that they had.
He recalled, “The intent was never to close it. We had thought that Angela Park would continue on just not under us.”
They were wrong. Within three years, Mirth Master Corporation declared bankruptcy and the park’s assets were sold at auction. Barletta remembers pushing his newborn son around the park in late August 1988, noting how things had fallen into disrepair, but never dreaming it would be the last time he would ever set foot in Angela Park.
“I thought to myself, ‘What’s going on down here?’” he said with disappointment in his voice “Rides were shut down; the roller coaster was operating with half seating. I remember going over to the mini golf course and being so disappointed in the lack of maintenance. It was that winter he declared bankruptcy and the doors never opened again.”
“It broke our hearts to be quite honest,” continued Barletta. “Even though we didn’t own it anymore it was still our community. It wasn’t pleasant to see it deteriorate that quickly.
Angela Park wasn’t the only one with a sad ending to a happy story. By the time Angela Park closed in 1988, San Souci had been closed for 14 years. Hanson’s had closed in 1984 and Rocky Glen the year prior to Angela Park in 1987. Nay Aug would close its coaster in 1989 and sell its rides in 1990. Knoebels continued to expand as an amusement park, but still maintains some of the affordability and community feel of the “good ‘ole days.”
Barletta said that on a recent visit to the site he was still able to make out where the rail bed was for the train that circled the grove along the creek. “Angela Park was summer to me, as I’m sure it was for so many others.”
Judging by the local film, the Facebook page and its huge response for comments, Porky The Paper Eater’s fan club and all the memorabilia bought and sold on eBay, Mr. Barletta is correct.
Special thanks to Joe Kubic of the Mountaintop Historical Society for the photos, Frank Barletta for the personal story, and Sam Lesante, Jr., Jim Fichter and all the folks who provided comments on the Angela Park and You Know You Were the First Ones to Live in Mountaintop When… Facebook pages for sharing your memories and passion for the park.
Standard Speaker Story – BY JILL WHALEN / PUBLISHED: APRIL 17, 2017
Angela Park back in action … in new video
HAZLETON — While researching the history of Angela Park for a documentary, Sam Lesante Jr. became intrigued by the story behind the facility’s roller coaster.
“There were some cool things about how the roller coaster was designed and who designed it,” said Lesante, of SamSon Productions, Hazleton.
Lesante said the coaster’s history and other stories will be featured in the hour-plus documentary about the once-popular Drums park.
Producers will also include never-before-seen footage, such as photographs and films provided by folks who visited the park between its May 1957 opening and its 1988 closure. They’re hoping the public will support the documentary and are taking pre-orders at www.ssptv.com.
Lesante said his father, Sam Lesante Sr., interviewed the park’s founders — members of the Barletta family —in the mid-1990s.
“The years went on, social media came out and now there is a Facebook page about Angela Park,” Lesante Jr. said. “We were like, ‘Hey, we did a show on that.’”
Seeing the interest on Facebook, SamSon officials decided it was time to begin work on a documentary.
“We went on to the Angela park Facebook page and asked people if they could submit photos and if they had any videos,” he said.
“We have a lot of footage that probably no one has ever seen before.”
Employee Tim Novotney researched rides and other parts of the park, and staffers interviewed members of the Barletta family, including Fred Barletta and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton.
“(Lou Barletta) stopped by the studio while we were working on the documentary and he just started reminiscing,” Lesante Jr. said.
The deadline to order is April 28. DVDs are tentatively set to ship by late June.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-501-3592
Standard Speaker Story – BY JILL WHALEN / PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 24, 2017
Angela Park doc to screen at Cinema & Drafthouse
A documentary about a much-loved former amusement park will premiere Oct. 7 at noon at Cinema & Drafthouse in West Hazleton.
“Angela Park: The Documentary” will be screened for free, according to Sam Lesante Jr., of SamSon Productions, Hazleton.
“Depending on how many people arrive, we might have another showing right after it,” said Lesante, one of the documentary’s producers.
Soon after an hour-plus DVD on the Drums park was released in June, SamSon officials began planning for the public debut.
“When we talked about doing the documentary we talked about having a local premiere,” he said.
The event is a way to thank those who helped with the production, including members of the Barletta family, the park’s founders and others who helped provide memories, photos or film clips.
Attendees will receive free brochures that include rare photos, history and fun facts about the park, Lesante said. Copies of the DVD will also be available for purchase at the venue until 2 p.m. on premiere day.
They are also available at SamSon/SSPTV office at Laurel Mall. Lesante said he’s been talking with other businesses to see if they’ll also carry it.
Lesante noted that those who have watched the documentary are pleased with it.
“Everybody who has commented has said they love it,” he said.
The video contains rare footage from the park’s 1957 opening day through its 1988 closing. It also explores the rides it had, as well as its pool — and even “Porky the Paper Eater,” a trash receptacle that asked park-goers for their garbage.
While SamSon employee Tim Novotney researched rides and other parts of the park, community members were also invited to submit their own photos and videos.
Doors will open at 11:15 a.m. Depending on the reception, SamSon may schedule additional showings at different venues.
For more information or to order a DVD, visit www .ssptv.com.
Sponsorship opportunities are still available. To advertise in the brochure, contact Jeannine Mazurkiwecz at Jeannine@ssptv.com or 570-956-3393