From 1886, when its plot of land was purchased for $15, to 1987 when it closed, Rocky Glen Park was a source of joy and entertainment for generations of people in NEPA. Those old enough to have appreciated its amusements tell stories of its granduer.
Bob Savakinus, of Carbondale, and Shannon C. Keith, of Honesdale, co-directed a film about the fondly-remembered amusement park in 2009, and “Rocky Glen Park,” was so well received that the pair was motivated to continue their documentary work. The sequel to their first film, “Return to Rocky Glen” will premier at 1 p.m. Aug. 8 at Steamtown National Historic Site’s theater in Scranton. The film displays rarely seen images and video footage of the park, and includes interviews with people linked to the park as employees, patrons or relatives of owners, who elaborate on the original documentary.
Savakinus grew up in the late 1970s and remembers going to the park with his family and during school picnics. As he got older, and even after the park closed, he frequently heard people tell stories of the park, corroborating his positive recollections. However, it occurred to him the park’s oral history might be the only thing preserving its memory.
“I started thinking, you know, somebody really needs to do a film or a documentary about this history of Rlocky Glen,” Savakinus said.
Fearing one generation of Rocky Glen lovers would not be around much longer, Savakinus began work on the first film in 2008 with the intention of ushering its legacy into the minds and hearts of future generations.
In that same year, the history buff who was also president of the Anthracite Heritage Museum, worked with the Lackawanna Historical Society to secure a state marker honoring Rocky Glen Park as an important part of Pennsylvania history, especially that of blue-collar communities, as many industrial workers spent down time at the amusement park.
It was at the dedication for the marker that Savakinus, the researcher and networker for the films, met Keith, who would become the experienced film-producer and director with whom he would complete the first film and engage in the next.
Keith remembers being at Rocky Glen as a child, which she recalls as a magical place to which her Old Forge Elementary band director Bob Luhmkuhl introduced her. Taken there on a band trip, she said she remembers thinking, “Wow, this is so cool. I’m in the band, and we should be in school, but we’re here.”
The 2009 premier of “Rocky Glen Park” drew more people than the Historic Site’s 250-seat theater could hold, prompting several other showings and the directorial duo sold more than 3,000 copies of the film.
Since that success, they have been working on the second installment and are excited about the new insights it will provide, via old film reels and new interviews, as well as the production improvements they have made in accordance with feedback from the first documentary.
Savakinus said one outstanding source of information for the new film was Gretchen Sterling-Frey, the granddaughter of Ben Sterling, a park developer in the 1940s and owner of the park from 1951 to 1970. He was responsible for the building of the Million Dollar Roller Coaster, the construction of the Crystal Palace, which brought acts like Benny Goodman to the park and the conception of Ethnic Days, which celebrated the cultures represented in NEPA.
Sterling-Frey provided a more intimate insight into the family who owned the park for a period of time, including one picture that shows Sterling relaxing on a sofa in his office. In addition, Savakinus calls her testimony a legacy of the family and of the park.
Keith said the second film will have a bigger visual impact on the audience.
“You see less of what people say are the ‘talking heads,’ the people being interviewed, and more of this incredible footage that we’ve had the luxury of finding.”
Both Keith and Savakinus are passionate about the importance of preserving the history of Rocky Glen. Savakinus, who works in education, said, “I just love the idea that we’re telling a story to those generations that have missed out on Rocky Glen and now they have a chance to experience and live what Rocky Glen meant for over 100 years.”
After the premier, both directors will hold a short Q&A at a reception at the Lackawanna County Electric City Trolley Museum on the NHS grounds. Both are free and merchandise, including copies of the documentary, will be available for purchase.