DARTMOUTH — The Comet roller coaster, which provided countless thrills for riders from the 1940s to the 1980s, was demolished here Wednesday as fans looked on, remembering the bygone excitement and joy of the former Lincoln Park amusement park.
“It was like your childhood got ripped down to the ground,” said Debbie Gabriel, 60, of New Bedford, as she stood by the rubble.
Gabriel came with her husband, Steve, also 60, to collect a few pieces of wood from the coaster for their oldest daughter, whom they brought to the park when she was a child.
“It’s pretty sad,” said Steve Gabriel.
The roller coaster sat on the park’s 42 acres near Route 6 and Beeden Road. Midway Realty LLC, a real estate firm, now has control of the property, which is expected eventually to become residential.
The 3,000-foot-long wooden coaster was designed by Edward Leis and Vernon Keenan of the National Amusement Device Co. and built in 1947 for $80,000. The ride climbed to 65 feet and had a top speed of 55 miles per hour.
Scott Almond, 52, of New Bedford, remembered Wednesday operating the coaster in the 1970s and the daily opening routine, which included greasing the track to ensure that the coaster would run properly.
“Once we did that, our boss would come down, and he would ride the coaster as a test run,” Almond said. “And then we would bring the people in, and we would ride the coaster, and [it was] a lot of fun.”
The park itself was opened in 1894 by the Union Street Railway Co. as a picnic ground. It closed in 1987, after suffering from low attendance and tax problems. Safety concerns did not help.
During the Comet’s final run, in 1987, faulty brakes caused the last car of the train to derail, leaving passengers dangling and injuring four. A private electrical contractor had died on the ride a year before.
In 1988, the owner put Lincoln Park up for sale for $3.5 million; three other New England amusement parks closed that same year. A series of owners and proposals for Lincoln Park followed until Midway bought it in 2002.
Some rides were auctioned off after the closure, and the park was hit by multiple arson fires throughout the 1990s that destroyed the remaining buildings, including a bowling alley, skating rink, and a ballroom that in its heyday hosted the likes of Buddy Holly and the Three Stooges. The park was also once frequented by President John F. Kennedy and his children.
Alan Souza, 68, of Westport, stood near the rubble and shook his head, unable to fathom that a landmark from his youth was gone.
“It’s like watching your childhood go to hell,” he said.
Souza said his fondest memories included clam bakes and roller skating at the park. He said he sometimes ventured onto the Comet.
“You were going up the hill and click by click on the chain there, and when you got to the top it was scream time,” Souza said. “Even just watching people go up and down that thing was a lot of fun. . . . Especially the first-timers, you know, they scream all the way down, come off of there, they’re all panting. . . . Yeah, it was quite a thing.”
The demolition came six years after crews tore down the wooden Flying Comet roller coaster at Whalom Park in Lunenburg, which closed in 2000 after more than a century in business.
Other iconic parks in the state that closed in recent decades included Paragon Park in Hull, which boasted a 98-foot-high, 4,000-foot-long Giant Coaster and closed in 1985; and King’s Castle Land in Whitman, which catered to younger children and shut down in 1994.
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