Shrieks wafted across the water as the wooden roller coaster rumbled down the track.
It was the last ride on opening weekend at Springfield Lake Park in May 1930. It also was the beginning of the end for the summer resort.
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The Radio Streak, a top attraction at the park, was a high-speed thriller with three large hills, four smaller dips and two sharp curves. More than 50 feet tall, the coaster featured a three-car train that barreled along at more than 60 mph.
Akron rubber worker John F. Johnson, 28, didn’t want to ride it. He had gone to the park Sunday, May 11, with his wife, Olga, 21, and two friends, but he balked when they suggested the coaster.
“Oh, come on,” his wife coaxed. “Don’t be such a coward.”
Johnson had been a witness in May 1924 when a woman fell to her death from a coaster at Summit Beach Park.
He was staying on the ground.
The Radio Streak had room for 24 passengers. The only seat that was empty was the one that Johnson had refused.
The train left the loading platform, reached the chain lift and slowly climbed the first hill.
Famed builder Jack Kaster, who designed every coaster at Summit Beach, had installed the Springfield Lake ride in 1923 for $30,000 — more than $487,000 today.
Touted as “one of the largest and fastest pleasure rides in any eastern Ohio resort,” the Radio Streak propelled the Lakemore park to new heights.
The Canton-Akron Railway had opened the resort in 1903 with a dance pavilion, carousel, dining room, bowling alley, ice cream parlor, swimming beach, boat livery and other attractions. In 1905, Akron attorney William A. Martin purchased a 25-acre grove along the lakefront and developed a settlement of private cottages.
Interurban cars filled with picnickers from as far away as Cleveland swarmed to Springfield Lake. Annual attendance soared to more than 400,000 in the early 20th century.
The park added a scenic railway, a 400-seat excursion boat, a baseball diamond, fun house, shooting gallery, caterpillar ride, pony track, aerial swings and dodgem cars.
Park Manager Foster Crawford hailed the resort as: “Nature’s Own Joyland.”
The Starlight Ballroom welcomed such big-name entertainers as Rudy Vallee, Ted Weems and Sammy Kaye.
Orchestras played music as dancers glided around the ballroom. Families splashed in the water at the bathing beach. Young lovers paddled canoes around the lake.
And thrill seekers climbed aboard the Radio Streak.
Johnson watched as the train crested the giant hill. The riders screamed with delight as gravity took effect and the cars thundered down the slope.
Up and down. Up and down. The coaster quickly traveled the length of the serpentine structure and rounded a curve for the return trip.
The Radio Streak required a park worker to apply brakes when the train got within 40 feet of the platform and then to hit the brakes again at the platform to bring the cars to a stop.
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Ride operator Lawrence Burke, 30, on the job for only two days, apparently lost track of what he was doing. When the train raced back to the ground-level platform, he was away from his station.
“As the car came rocking around the curve on the home stretch of the ride, spectators noticed that the employe assigned to apply the brakes was not at the controls,” the Beacon Journal reported. “Several of them thought that the train would turn and go out the other way.
“Panic struck them when they saw the operator make a dash for the switch. He was too late.”
Passengers and onlookers screamed as the train plowed into a guardrail and lurched upward. Everyone in the front car was thrown violently to the ground.
Johnson, the guy who had refused to go on the coaster, watched in horror as the cars crashed at 60 mph. As he scrambled to help his wife, he stopped to punch the ride operator in the jaw.
Then he loaded Olga and their friends into an automobile and drove to an Akron hospital.
• Olga M. Johnson, 21, of Kenmore, a stenographer in an architect’s office. Spinal injury, fractured wrist, concussion, torn ligaments.
• Clara L. McLaughlin, 17, of Kenmore. Fractured skull, two broken ribs, internal injuries and a shattered kneecap.
• Margaret Bishoff, 18, of Springfield Township. Fractured leg, broken teeth and facial injuries.
• Hazel Marsh, 20, of Middlebury. Fractured nose and concussion.
• Sara Bolich, 24, a Latin teacher from Alliance. Broken leg and concussion.
• Cecilia M. Harwell, 19, a phone operator from North Hill. Fractured wrist.
• Betty Wills, 19, of Goodyear Heights. Facial injuries.
• Donna Myers, 22, education major at the University of Akron. Cuts, bruises and a concussion.
• Harry McLaughlin, 26, of Kenmore, Akron. Fractured wrist.
• Robert Lembright, 18, of Alliance. Torn knee ligaments.
• Hamilton Hardgrove, 24, a hardware store clerk in South Akron. Back injuries.
• Alton Hill, 20, of Alliance. Unspecified injuries.
• Joseph Jewell, 20, of Ellet. Unspecified injuries.
Ten lucky riders walked away from the coaster without injuries.
Park Manager Crawford told Summit County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeptha Butcher that the Radio Streak’s brakes had been recently tested and would have worked properly if applied. It was the only accident in the coaster’s seven-year history.
Crawford blamed the operator for negligence, saying Burke was hired under the pretense that he had worked on similar rides.
Miraculously, no one was killed in the crash, but some of those hurt were bedridden for months and some suffered permanent injuries.
Clara McLaughlin sued for $25,000. Olga Johnson sued for $25,000. Margaret Bishoff sued for $15,000. In today’s dollars, the lawsuits would amount to more than $1 million.
The park reopened without the Radio Streak as a major attraction. Receipts plunged at the worst possible time.
Within two years, the Springfield Lake Park Co. filed for bankruptcy. U.S. District Judge Harry L. Snyder ordered the sale of its holdings May 6, 1932.
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Among the items auctioned were a merry-go-round, pipe organ, shooting gallery, canoes, popcorn equipment, soda fountains, picnic tables, bathing suits, animal cages, dodgem cars, skee ball alleys, teeter-totters, cash registers and ticket machines.
The property was appraised at nearly $15,500 but the sale collected only $2,000.
The Radio Streak, which cost $30,000 to build, sold for $100.
Bucyrus businessman Ralph Jolly bought the coaster for parts, believing the cars and lumber might come in handy at Seccaium Park in Crawford County.
Springfield Lake Park was all but finished.
The Starlight Ballroom operated for several more years during the Great Depression before converting into a roller rink.
Springfield Lake Roller Rink at 1220 Main St. in Lakemore has served generations of skaters and continues to draw families and young people.
“Rated the #1 Roller Rink in Akron!!!” it advertises. “We offer a HUGE skate floor, and an overall great skating experience! Come check us out today.”
On any given night, the sounds of joy and laughter fill the building.
Not all is lost at the old amusement park.
Mark J. Price can be reached at email@example.com.
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