Available on DVD from Drawbridge Puppet Productions
Photo copyright Drawbridge Puppet Productions.
A Sentimental Journey for Whalom Park Puppeteer Paul L’Ecuyer
Interview by Ted Ollikkala
Paul L’Ecuyer, former Entertainment Director at Whalom Park from 1980-1989, still drives past the place where he helped create thousands of happy family memories. In fact, few people realize that Paul, owner of the successful ‘Drawbridge Puppet Theater’, on Mass. Ave. in Lunenburg, was the man behind Whalom Park’s image in the 1980’s.
Paul was a one-man show; he was originally hired in 1980 by the late Wilfred Fregeau, General Manager of the park for many years, to do caricatures in the park. Patrons would sit and have their caricature done as a fun souvenir from their visit to Whalom. The next year, he applied and was hired as the park puppeteer, to which the use of the old ticket booth in Kiddieland was refurbished to become 'The Kiddie-Land' Puppet Place.
Based on that success, he was then asked to direct the Character mascots in shows, hire and manage the people who wore the costumes, etc. Later, as needed - he was employed full-time as the park’s official artist and worked through the off season. One year he had the task of repainting all the horses and other animals on the carousel, the carts on the Bouncer ride, signage throughout the park, even the great big clown heads that hung on buildings, as well as 'Porky, the Paper Eater' and 'Leo The Lion' garbage disposals. He told me that he even restored the laughing clown that sat outside the Fun House in the glass case.
The vintage amusement park in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, in continuous operation since 1893, sadly closed forever on Labor Day weekend 2000 and is now being demolished to make way for the development of a condominium project, managed by Global Property Development of Bridgewater, Mass.
How has the recent demolition work affected you?
"Driving by daily, I could see the tractors and bulldozers entering the park and it was very depressing to me. Even though the knowledge of Whalom Park being sold to a developer had finally sunk in, to actually see the over 100 year old park being demolished in a matter of weeks was extremely difficult."
"The Flea Market/Roller Rink building was the first prominent structure to be destroyed...and that was particularly hard to watch as my office was located in that building, along with the Whalom character mascot dressing rooms, and all the storage for the puppet shows and entertainment."
Memories of old days
The new developer has said that Emerald Place, a luxury $80 million to $100 million gated community condominium project with 240 units, will open in phases starting in the spring of 2007 (Global Property Development has a similar project in nearby Fitchburg on the Nashua River, 'The Falls at Arden Mills'.)
"Once that building was gone, from the street one could see directly into the midway, which also gave me a view of the old marionette theater building which also vanished within a couple more weeks."
Paul remembers one day in the mid-1980’s, on a Monday when the park was closed, that he carefully shot video footage of each ride, game, and attraction. This was done, based on job requirement needs to document these things for the illustration aspect of his work. However – he is so glad now to have taken these videos. He simply wants to share with anyone else who loved Whalom Park as he did, as he says,
“to see it as I had”.
An Intimate 'Insider’s View'
Like many of the local employees who worked at the park, Paul has seen the good, the bad, the ugly - and everything in between! And I mean this literally, for he has witnessed it from the inside-out! You see, Paul L’Ecuyer not only designed and directed the three mascots that represented Whalom Park (Super Chick, Silly Savage and Simon Looney Bear) he played them as the three mascots would roam through the park greeting children and adding extra value to a patron’s experience.
Paul remembers one particular incident during his second year at the park, a day of mixed emotion;
"I was wearing the 'Super Chick' costume in the park on opening day "Easter Weekend". (at the time, there was no Easter Bunny costume, until I created one later). So, Super Chick was the character that handed out the Easter eggs which held prizes inside."
"Well, as I strolled unattended holding a big basket of eggs, which really should have been given to small kids who were unable to find any of the hidden eggs throughout the park, I was soon engulfed and surrounded by screaming and yelling patrons who demanded an egg for their child!"
"It was truly horrible really because there were little kids who were actually trying to get an egg from me when this huge group ‘attacked’ and the kids started getting crushed by all the pushing and shoving! I myself could not even move as I was surrounded by all sides - I was not allowed to take my ‘head’ off to plead for help (the characters were sworn to secrecy and silence as to the fact that a human was inside)!"
"It was not until the Lunenburg policeman who was on duty, Officer Paul Porter arrived, that the unruly crowd was broken up and 'Super Chick' (me) was rescued! From then on, Officer Porter was called every time that the characters needed an 'armed escort'."
Museum of Whalom Park Memorabilia
In fact, visitors to Drawbridge Puppet Theater can still meet the three mascots! Paul has several items of Whalom Park memorabilia now on display at the Mass. Ave theatre (one mile from the center of Lunenburg) and plans for a future museum.
As one enters the theatre lobby, there are three 24" marionettes that greet his guests; the three mascots! Paul built and used these puppets daily in his marionette shows held at Whalom Park three times a day. They are in great condition still and the kids and families who visit enjoy shaking their hands - just as they did the real characters.
He also has on display an architectural replica of the "Kiddie-land" puppet theatre, which is recognised by older visitors.
Paul has carefully saved much of the 2D artwork from Whalom Park, such as the B/W graphic art of the rides and signage, advertisements and even the fold out map of the park that was used in the park brochures for many years. There are plans to have them matted and displayed in the future museum.
Why it is important to remember Whalom Park
Paul hopes that a museum or memorial to the park will exist on the site of Whalom Park and be open to the public at no charge, and that he would be willing to offer assistance if asked. Paul has noted that the Carousel building would be perfect for use as a museum, or perhaps the old 'Lufkin' house which also has been protected from destruction.
Carl Pearson, Vice-President of Global Property Developers Corporation has stated that the design of the upscale, resort-style community on the lakefront site will reflect its early days as an English park with interconnecting walking paths and a lakefront beach house, and that the company is sensitive about preserving the park’s heritage.
Paul has been so overwhelmed recently by many wonderful memories triggered by his daily drive past the park that he told me why he has made this special DVD:
“I absolutely must put this DVD together not only for myself, but for all Whalom Park enthusiasts who might also like to remember the park when it was open and was such a nice place to take the family! So many people have such fond memories of it.“
“I had seen the recent release of the Fitchburg State College student's "Whalom Park, Reflection?" and was disturbed by it really. Yes, it is very disturbing to know that another New England amusement park is defunct, but as a documentary it would have been nice to show what a wonderful place it once was - when the rides were operating, the games were running, the shows were going.“
Photo copyright Drawbridge Puppet Productions.
Paul’s DVD shows the early history of the park, the rides and games, the shows, even the fireworks.
The first orders of his DVD will also receive a copy of his rendition and illustration of a proposed new 'dark ride' for the park. It was to be called ‘The Witch House’ and the use of an old building behind the Lufkin house was being considered for this purpose. Instead, a Museum was planned for its use, and the Witch House idea was abandoned.
Paul L’Ecuyer, the man who created lasting images for Whalom Park has accumulated a cherished list of inside secrets, anecdotes, and little known items about Whalom Park; truly unique experiences! We are so lucky to be able to share these precious memories with him.
Paul has taken lots of the video clips and photos that he has saved, and still more that he has acquired from others to create a one hour DVD – entitled
"Whalom Park - For a Whale of a Time" A Personal View by Paul L'Ecuyer.
It is available for order right now at Drawbridge Puppet Productions.
Hey! More about Paul L'Ecuyer here!
ORDER YOURS TODAY
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Technorati Tag(s): Whalom , Whalom Park , amusement park , Emerald Place , Lunenburg , Lunenburg Mass , puppet , puppet theater , puppet theatre , marionette , Paul L'Ecuyer , DrawBridgePuppets.com , DrawBridge Puppets , DrawBridge Puppet Productions , Whalom DVD , Whalom Park DVD.
Article by Ted Ollikkala, TEDUCATION.com, Singapore
Photos by Paul L'Ecuyer, www.drawbridgepuppets.com, Lunenburg, Massachusetts
(this article may be freely reprinted)