Crystal Beach History Volumes

Numerous encapsulations about the origins and evolution of Crystal Beach Park started to appear in Western New York and Southern Ontario newspapers during the 1930s. Except for a very few, each purport that Crystal Beach Park was a re-invention of a religious retreat founded 1888 by John E. Rebstock. Between the religious programs, the retreat offered diversions in the form of swimming at the beach and sundry “side-show” attractions.

Although people flocked to the retreat it foundered after two years having failed to draw paying patrons away from the retreat’s diversions that were attracting the flocks. Beginning in 1890, Rebstock abandoned the religious retreat and focussed his energies on developing the retreat’s diversions and Crystal Beach was born.  

To learn more about those early years, research began during the mid 1990s by combing through the City of Buffalo newspapers starting from 1887. Intrigued by the articles about Crystal Beach in the press and the information they contained (and did not contain), research continued. Research was not limited to newspapers but expanded to census records, real estate transaction records, amusement industry journals and periodicals, city directories and other primary and secondary reference materials.

Crystal Beach also had a nautical component that was an integral part of the park for nearly seventy years. Its rich history was painstakingly revealed through searching Great Lakes maritime historical records contained at such institutions as the Lower Lakes Marine Historical Society in Buffalo, and the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes at Bowling Green State University.

A forgotten element of the Crystal Beach midway is the decades of live entertainment that ran the gamut from Vaudeville to thrill shows. While most recaps of live entertainment at the park consist a brief mention of the national and international bands like Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey; Crystal Beach has a long forgotten and very rich musical entertainment history of local and regional bands and orchestras.

The accumulated information after ten years of research contained a comprehensive history of Crystal Beach that needed to be told - the real history based on period research not on local folklore.

Initial drafts of an all encompassing book were in excess of 1,000 pages. Presentation of all the content areas coherently and interestingly in a single book did not work well. Although the content areas have Crystal Beach Park as a common denominator, they are not interrelated and attempts to blend well. Even if one of draft proved satisfactory, the production cost of a 1,000-page book was prohibitive. To make a single volume affordable would have forced an abridged history and omission of many photos, and printing on low grade paper. The history of Crystal Beach deserves a better.

A history of Crystal Beach presented in three volumes preserved the desired comprehensive telling of Crystal Beach history with hundreds of photos in each book. The three volume approach reduced the cost, while providing the reader the opportunity to purchase the set over time, or strictly by interest in the content. The fourth volume, published in June 2014, completes the project

“Steamers of the Crystal Beach Line”
is the first volume of the series published in 2007. The Crystal Beach Line, under the auspices of the Crystal Beach Steamboat and Ferry Company, the Lake Erie Excursion Company, and others, operated the boats and steamers between the City of Buffalo and the Park. Boats were the primary means to reach the park even after the opening of the Peace Bridge made automobile crossing considerably faster than the car ferries that operated on the Niagara River. Over twenty-five boats worked the Crystal Beach Line with incidents and near incidents that mirror an Irwin Allen disaster movie.

The second volume, “Crystal Beach Live: Entertainers from Buffalo and Toronto and More” was published in 2009. Many of the recent nostalgia books and videos recall the names of a few big time orchestras that played there during the big band era but this is a mere scratch on the surface of the history of the live entertainment offered at the park. There were a wide variety of different acrobatic and daredevil stunt shows that were all but forgotten. Music and dancing was a daily offering up through the 1950s, but the big names were only one-night stands. Local and regional talent provided the music. Biographies of many of these local bands and orchestras had been unrecorded until this project and in danger of being lost.

The third and final volume, “Crystal Beach Park ~ A Century of Screams” (2011) is a historical tour through the midway that details the events that shaped and changed it through 100 summer seasons. Among the rides covered include Hey Dey, Caterpillar, Laff in the Dark, Magic Carpet, Jungle Land, Tumble Bug, and of course, its legendary roller coasters: Cyclone, Comet, Wild Mouse, Giant Coaster, and Backety-Back Scenic Railway and many more. A fresh review of the factors that led to the demise of the park follow. The book concludes with an analysis "romantic" origins that purports Crystal Beach began as a religious retreat.

Crystal Beach in Color (2014) is a companion book to Screams that is filled with color images of the park not available at the time the Volume III went to press in. Unlike the previous three volumes that are comprehensive historical texts accompanied with illustrations, and photos, Crystal Beach in Color is not a historical work of similar timbre.
It is a photographic record of the park. Historians could consider this volume an appendix to Volume 3. But for Crystal Beach Park fans, it is a stand alone photo book - a tribute to this lost summer entertainment nexus that created heartwarming memories for millions of residents of Southern Ontario and Western New York.

The color images span more than 35 years from the mid 1950s through 1989. Approximately 85% of over 250 photos are color that are supplemented with black and white images before the advent and widespread use of color film technology.

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