In the years following 1961, information began trickling into my life about Paragon Park. Bear in mind that I grew up in Rhode Island, so the park didn’t do any print or broadcast advertising in our market. And back then, as is the case today, Rhode Islanders prefer not to take long day trips. So it was rare that I’d hear of somebody from my neighborhood going there, and when I did, it was usually an older teen that was reluctant to share much about the park with me other than boast about his riding the Giant Coaster, then rattle off tall tales about rides that toss you into the ocean…obviously to tease me.

My grandfather, a regular reader of the Boston Globe, did tell me about the 1963 fire but assured me the park planned to rebuild the damaged rides which of course was documented in a later Globe article he shared with me. Every so often one of those now-famous yellow Paragon matchbooks somehow found a place on a neighborhood sidewalk or in a local restaurant booth. That spiked my curiosity to the point that it hurt. Finally, in the summer of 1966, a kid I served with as an altar boy at St. Martha’s Church told me after 10:30 a.m. Mass one Sunday that 24-hours earlier, his family made an impromptu visit to Paragon.
He told me of a jungle ride, a haunted castle and a coaster that seemed too high and steep to possibly ride. Based on his description of the jungle ride, I was able to deduce that the Red Mill was still up and running, but now with a different theme. Based on the location he gave me of the castle, I knew it replaced the JigSaw.

Finally getting some credible information about Paragon, I longed to go back there. So, in the spring of 1967, when my grandfather asked me what I wanted for my 13th birthday, you know what my answer was.

Thank goodness for the Red Sox Impossible Dream pennant run. Being a baseball player and a Sox fan, playing ball and following the Sox on radio and TV was a distraction from the excitement of my impending trip to Paragon.


1967: A Pennant and Paragon!

 

In June 1967, we planned a Sunday, July 23 day trip to Paragon Park. That day was about two weeks before my birthday, but my grandfather suggested it, so as far as I was concerned, the sooner the better. I recall the June and July weather being hotter than usual and there weren’t any prolonged periods of precipitation. I was hoping Mother Nature wouldn’t make up for lost time on July 23, hence I was relieved to tune into a Boston TV station four days prior to our trip and hear the words “dry spell.”
 
I served 7 a.m. Mass at St. Martha’s that Sunday morning. It was always a quick Mass, so I was home and into my t-shirt, shorts and sneakers by 8 a.m. As promised, my grandfather treated me to breakfast at my favorite restaurant, Howard Johnson’s. Just before we left HoJo’s, he gave me a New England AAA map on which he'd marked his planned route in red pen. He told me he wanted to travel on the roads he was familiar with in his younger days, not Routes 95 and 93. So yes, it was going to be a longer trip, but he assured me we’d still get there before the park opened.
The routes we took were 44 to 3 to 3A. I have to admit, it was fun being his navigator and having him point out old landmarks along the way. We also discussed the Sox being in the pennant race and their upcoming doubleheader against the Indians in Cleveland that day. My grandfather admitted that he’d have to take some “Sox Breaks” while we were at the park – meaning that he’d be checking on the Sox in his car radio that afternoon. Time flew by. And before I knew it, I was seeing that famous first glimpse of the Giant Coaster that all who’ve been to Paragon so fondly recall.
Despite taking the scenic route, we did arrive at Paragon a good hour before opening. We parked across the street facing the beach. As I expected, the park’s main entrance was locked with a sliding chain link fence, but an elderly security guard would slowly rise from his chair and slide it open just enough to let in arriving employees.

Scanning the street, I noticed lots of games and arcades. As we stopped in front of Joseph’s restaurant, a burly man with the largest collection of key’s I’ve ever seen hanging from his belt, approached my grandfather asking for “a light.” The man was holding the breakfast of champions: a cup of coffee in his left hand and a cigarette in his right. Before my grandfather could pull out his lighter, a seagull swept in out of nowhere and snatched the man’s cigarette in his beak. It was surreal seeing the gull ascend then circle around us, chomping on the cigarette as if he was smoking it for about 30-seconds when he finally came to his senses and released it over the street. I couldn’t help but chuckle, but the victim of the theft wasn’t amused…or surprised. He angrily pulled out another cigarette and presented it to my grandfather to light. Then he lumbered off to open his game stand a few buildings down. I deduced that wasn’t the first time a gull stole something in Nantasket.