Author of "Palisades Amusement Park: A Century of Fond Memories," Gargiulo will give a presentation on the history of the park, which once rivaled New York's Coney Island.
Park atop the Palisades
Nestled between the boroughs of Cliffside Park and Fort Lee along the historical Palisade Cliffs, the Palisades Amusement Park was once the home of the world's largest salt water wave pool and the famous Cyclone Rollercoaster, which was one of three known as the "terrible trio" designed by Harry Traver in the late 1920s. These three rollercoasters were regarded as some of the most extreme and vicious ever made.
However the amusement park actually started out as a trolley park, known as The Park on the Palisades, which first opened in 1898.
"In 1898, it was what was called a trolley park," said Vincent Gargiulo. "Around that period of time many of the trolley companies needed a way to get people to ride them on the weekend, not just for work."
On the weekends the trolleys would take passengers up to the park area, which was a simple picnic ground with tables benches and refreshment concession stands. People would come to spend a day and take in the breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline.
"They took a 38 acre parcel of land and made a simple little park, where families could hop on the trolley and go there on the weekend," said Gargiulo.
By 1908 it was a full-fledged amusement park and gained further popularity with the addition of rides such as the carousel and a Wild West Show among other attractions. Amusement park's heyday and downfall
By 1910 the property was purchased by brothers Nicholas and Joseph Schenk, who were very influential in the motion picture industry at the time, and turned Palisades Amusement Park into a destination that rivaled New York's Coney Island.
The Schenk brothers introduced various new rides to the park including the construction of the world's largest outdoor salt water pool in 1913 and the addition of Traver's Cyclone Rollercoaster in 1928.
"I grew up in Cliffside Park, so I could walk to the park," said Gargiulo. "It was 15 blocks from my house. On a summer night you could hear the people screaming on the rollercoaster."
"It was our Disneyland right here in Bergen County," said Gargiulo. "It was such a great part of my [childhood]."
The park continued to flourish for nearly 25 years, and even had national recognition through the song "Palisades Park" by Freddie Cannon.
By 1934 the Schenk brothers sold the property to brothers Irving and Jack Rosenthal, who brought the park to new heights of popularity and hosted top performers of the day from Chubby Checker and Tony Bennett to the Jackson Five and Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Palisades Amusement Park also became the site for competitions like the Little Miss America Pageant and The Miss American Teenager contest.
"There were times when it was huge," said Gargiulo. "It certainly made a leap in popularity when the George Washington Bridge was built, which led to a lot of cars coming into the area and the park got bigger and bigger."
However, the park's immense attraction and growth is what also ultimately led to its demise.
"That was really its downfall because by 1967 the residents of those towns were getting fed up with the park and how many people were coming into the area," said Gargiulo. The towns rezoned the park for high rise development and developers came flocking from all over the country. Palisades Amusement Park officially closed its doors on Sept. 12, 1971 after almost 73 years.
Years after the park closed, Gargiulo and a friend put together a map with the locations of every ride in the park. Gargiulo went to the Cliffside Public Library to compare it to an original map of the park.
However, much to his surprise not only was there no map, but there was hardly any information at all - with the exception of a few newspaper clippings. Gargiulo said he thought it was sad that there was so little information about a place that brought joy to so many people.
"So that became my passion, finding information," he said.
In the 70s, Gargiulo began gathering every photograph and article he could find on the Palisades Amusement Park. He found many in the New York Times newspaper archives and began researching the history of the park.
"[After that] I put it away for a while and then in 1991 I found all the articles [I gathered] and I was still fascinated by it, so I began thinking about writing a documentary," said Gargiulo.
However, making the documentary was becoming very expensive, so Gargiulo turned his research into a book with over 200 photos of the park. The book was submitted to the Rutgers University Press and in 1995 they published 12,000 hardcover copies in three printings.
"There are still plenty of people who know about the park, which is why so many people were interested when the book came out," said Gargiulo. "For so many people, [Palisades Amusement Park] was such an important part of their lives. Many people met their spouses there."
Gargiulo titled the book "A Century of Fond Memories" for that very reason. Ultimately, the book spawned a documentary that was produced by PBS, and aired in April 1998.
Since then Gargiulo has republished a soft cover edition of "Palisades Amusement Park: A Century of Fond Memories" in 2006 through LULU press. The soft cover edition includes new information and photographs and is currently available on Amazon.com or on the website www.palisadespark.com.
This coming Monday at the Weehawken Library, located at 49 Hauxhurst Ave., Gargiulo will give a presentation on the history of the park, which includes photos, as well as audio and even video clips from the documentary.
In addition, copies of the book and DVDs of the documentary will be on hand at the library following the presentation. Comments can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.