Time Town

I’m fascinated by time and memory and how they wind round each other. That’s probably why I’m writing a historical mystery series set in the mid-Seventies, and why I’ve got a middle-grade time travel story in the works.

Earlier this summer, I visited the Lake George area of upstate New York for the first time since I was child. Several stops along the way gave me the feeling I was visiting the past—or at least bits and pieces of it.

burleighsDowntown Ticonderoga has its fair share of boarded up shops and closed buildings. The present day reality for the town is the recession hasn’t been very good for the tourist grade. But it also has Burleigh’s Luncheonette, a place that truly deserves to be called luncheonette, emphasis on “ette.” Half of Burleigh’s is taken up by the classic luncheonette counter, really two U-shaped counters built to maximize seating. One row of booths runs along the wall opposite. The place is what it always has been, but also recognizes that it is retro. There are old bikes hanging from the ceiling, copies of hand-typed menus from decades ago and a jukebox loaded with singles. Unlike restaurants dressed up to play the old-time part, Burleigh’s has been presiding over downtown Ti (as locals call it) for a very long time.

Oh, and the food was as good as you’d expect.

Outside the town, Fort Ticonderoga represents the typical time travel available to mere mortals—a fort preserved from the era of the French and Indian Wars, with warriors in replica gear firing muskets and narrating the story of the place. We never visited the fort when I was a kid, though it was in my collection of brochures back then. “I really want to go dad.” I finally got there this summer and discovered my own odd temporal link with the fort. I live in the Town of Pelham next to the Bronx. Thomas Pell founded the town in the 1650s. Almost two hundred years later, the Pell family, with a summer home on Lake George, acquired the fort, which had fallen into ruin. It would be another hundred years before the Pells could begin real reconstruction work in 1909. That is why the huge star-shaped fort is now in excellent condition, run not by the National Park Service but a non-profit foundation.

Why fuss about such an obscure connection? I don’t know. It’s these little ties across time and space that interest me. I live in a town founded by a man whose family saved a place that has fascinated me since I was a kid.

storytownThe last stop on this trip was Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom, a Great Adventures theme park outside the Village of Lake George. This was like visiting an archeological dig of my own childhood. You see, Great Escape was built on top of Storytown USA, which, in turn, was a homely little amusement park opened in 1954 (pre-dating Disneyland by a year). My family visited Storytown during the seventies. It was our trip to Disney. If you look carefully under the roller coasters and other new rides, you’ll see signs and scenes from the original park left in place to keep the connection. I took the steam train ride—it also looked unchanged—and chugged by a storybook house, vintage Storytown USA signs and  a smiling purple dragon.

I headlined this post “Time Town” not just for its topic, but in memory of a Lake George amusement park that is long gone. The area once had a number of other parks besides Storytown: Frontier Town, Gaslight Village. One of the last to be built when I was a kid was Time Town, essentially a knock-off of Epcot offering attractions on the space and the future. Damn the brochures looked good. I so badly wanted to go there. And was so baldy disappointed when we did. Real-life mosquitos big enough to have traveled forward in time from the Jurassic era were the feature I best remember. The book Amusement Parks of New York mentions it just once, on a list of “gone but not forgotten” parks.

It wasn’t forgotten by me, time and memory winding round each other.

4 Responses to “Time Town”

  1. Sharon Struth

    I visited Lake George as a child and took my kids there when they were little for many summers. It’s an underrated tourist destination, but I love the place. I may have to go back for a visit. Thanks for the memories 🙂

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  2. Sally J. Smith

    My parents were both from Oklahoma, and when I was a kid our summer sojourns to Oklahoma City always included a trip to an amusement park and family fun area called Spring Lake. While it wasn’t nearly as wonderful as the area around Lake George, your blog brought it to mind. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Betsy Ashton

    I love Lake George and Ti. My husband took me there often after I moved East. One quibble: When did the Seventies become history? For me, THEY ARE CURRENT EVENTS. Sorry to shout.

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  4. rich

    Thanks Sharon, Sally and Betsy. Sally, in my ideas file is a mystery/thriller set in the early Sixties and taking place at several of the little amusement parks that existed in this part of the world. I’d start in Coney Island (which was past its heyday then, but in better shape than today) and finish in Lake George. I’m with you Betsy. My head spun a bit when I was told my book was a “historical” mystery.

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