Macabre Memories of the SouthCoast’s Haunted Amusement Park
One of Dartmouth’s most iconic spots was also one of its most haunted.
For decades, generations of SouthCoast families spent the day at Lincoln Park, riding the roller coaster and other rides without a care in the world, unaware of the paranormal power that lay beneath the park.
In 1894, the Union Street Railway Company was operating a line from New Bedford to Providence, Rhode Island. Disappointed with lagging sales on the weekends, the company purchased some lands around an old dance hall near the Dartmouth-Westport line, and invested about $150,000 to build an amusement park that would be a destination point for city residents right along the Union Street line.
For nearly 100 years, Lincoln Park was exactly what the company had hoped it would be, bringing families from miles around to enjoy its splendor.
In 1946, the park added the Comet, a 3,000-foot-long wooden roller coaster that featured top speeds of fifty-five miles per hour.
Baby boomers flocked to Lincoln Park in the summers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but by the mid-80s, the park’s attendance figures were in serious decline. Smaller, independently owned amusement parks like Lincoln Park or Rocky Point Park in nearby Warwick, Rhode Island, were often overlooked, as bigger theme parks and destination points such as Six Flags overtook the business.
People no longer looked to Lincoln Park as a place to for fun, and perhaps the park itself decided to instead become a place of fear in retaliation.
Safety issues began to plague the nearly century-old park. According to the website RideAccidents.com, a 27-year-old park employee was killed when he fell from atop the Comet on August 17, 1986.
A year later, on September 29, 1987, the Comet again was in the news when the brakes failed and one of the cars jackknifed on the track. No one died as a result of that incident, but it was enough for the park management to realize they were taking too big of a risk by letting patrons ride it. The roller coaster never ran again, left in that jackknifed position as the park closed permanently in December of that year.
Park owner Jay Hoffman sold off many of the rides and attractions to pay off debts, and what little remained of the park burned to the ground in subsequent fires around the eventually-abandoned property. It soon became a haven for thrill-seeking teenagers and drug addicts until they found out that even though the rides are gone, the ghosts remain.
The spirit of the park employee who fell from the Comet was often seen walking the tracks, making his usual daily inspection round. As the story goes, each time he got to the top of the steepest hill, he’d disappear--perhaps a residual haunt replaying to the point of the worker’s fatal fall.
Other reports included the faint sounds of carousel music and the smell of Lincoln Park’s famous clam cakes wafting through the air. These are common reports from abandoned amusement parks, and considering the high amount of energy exerted in these places--screaming, laughing, running children and strong feelings of joy, exuberance and adrenaline--it’s no surprise that an imprint of that energy could remain behind.
Now that Lincoln Park has been demolished and the land has been repurposed as new homes, one has to wonder: are the spirits at rest, or are they just biding their time and waiting for their chance to haunt the new residents, for the ghosts’ own amusement?
*A portion of this piece comes from the author's book Ghosts of the SouthCoast, History Press, 2010.