2020: V – April A to Z… Family Stories: Visiting Savin Rock

2020: V – April A to Z… Family Stories

I’m back in 2020 for my fifth year of participating in the yearly April A to Z challenge… and as usual I’ve racked my brain scribbling ideas on paper since the end of last April. It wasn’t until January, that the light bulb finally went off in scrolling through the 85+ of unfinished blog posts in my draft folder. Bingo… there was my A to Z topic…

Family Stories as told to me… mostly by my husband!

From the moment I married into this Italian family… I fell in love with their stories… their memories… and the family. My husband grew up in West Haven, Connecticut… where there was so much to enjoy as a young boy… especially a place known as Savin Rock… although long gone now. It somewhat once resembled Coney Island… and even larger when his parents, aunts and uncles grew up. They had stories… and I was always an eager listener whenever they told those stories…  remembering, and scribbling down to preserve, just as I did with the family recipes that had once only been in their heads. 2020 has became the year I’m telling many of those stories… along with my husband’s memories to preserve for the generations to come. Many of those who told me their stories, are no longer with us… and I hope to keep their memory alive in these stories… as they are now my family also… and I love them all!

My previous years of A to Z Challenges are:

Come sit a spell and enjoy!


savin rock card

map of savin rock 1 FIX

From this map you can see the hundreds of attractions and rides that were at Savin Rock… a park beginning in the late 19th century… but sadly closed in 1966. It first began with the construction of the Sea View Hotel… a Victorian mansion built by George R. Kelsey for housing his anticipation of over 150 wealthy guests… as they were the only ones able to afford and enjoy. Kelsey later began building a park alongside his hotel to provide entertainment for his guest. He later encouraged local businessmen to come and build amusements on his property… for his guests to enjoy. It all began to grow… soon there were gardens, a fountain, a bandstand, food stands, and souvenir stands… and all becoming very prosperous… soon known as Connecticut’s Coney Island!

New Death Valley

Visiting Savin Rock

“I was lucky enough in my generation to have grown up with some of the old Savin Rock sites and rides still standing. My father sometimes took me down to ride the bumper cars… as a friend of his from Armstrong operated the ride. The bumper cars were always my favorite… they were the one ride which didn’t make me sick. I couldn’t ride anything that went round and round or I’d get dizzy and sick. I also enjoyed going in the Fun House. I even still remember the food stand Uncle Mikey (DeTulio) and Uncle Frankie (Cambino) operated at the Rock… they sold clam puffs. It was Uncle Mikey’s recipe and they were the best I’ve ever eaten… too bad no one in the family seems to have the recipe today. The stand was not near where most of the older Savin Rock site was, it was further down near the pier where the bait store is… just past Stowe’s Seafood on Beach St., and across from where the small trailer park was… where Aunt Catherine first lived when she and Uncle Jimmy married.”

“One of the candy shops at Savin Rock pulled Taffy in their front window. I enjoyed standing to watch the big metal paddle pull and pull… then stretching it over and over. My favorite part was watching when it was pulled… funny, but I never liked to eat it… just to watch… I’ve always enjoyed watching things made. I did like to eat the custard ice-cream made at Savin Rock and so did my mother.”

 “Uncle Johnny (Cambino) always said to me when I was young… “you better enjoy Savin Rock every day, as you never know when it’s gonna end.” He said he’d heard they were getting rid of it even when he was young.”

I learned many things from Uncle Johnny. He lived life to the fullest, living his dream and passion of racing for many years. He began racing at Savin Rock as a young man of 18, and even after giving it up when The Rock closed, he later made a come-back at the age of 62… driving just as fierce as he did in his youth. He was well-known at Savin Rock and well liked. When he did lose, which wasn’t often… he lost graciously with a smile. I always wanted to be there on Saturday nights when he raced. It was exciting as I stood at the fence rooting for him. He was known as “King Cams” driving the “Flying 5.” He was a Legend!

Aunt Nancy (Cambino) Cavalaro: “The earliest car I remember of my father’s was a 1936 green Buick… it was that car in which he took us to Savin Rock. Mama loved going to Savin Rock, but not for any foods or rides… it was to hear the famous “laughing lady.” Daddy would park in front of the Death Valley building so she could see and hear her – and I can still remember Mama laughing  along as she listened to the laughing lady… who continuously laughed; Daddy would take us for an ice cream cone while she waited in the car… enjoying the laughing lady.”

Celia (Cambino) Insalaco): “My father had an older car with a rumble seat and I loved riding in it when he took us  to Savin Rock. He often took us on Sunday afternoons to get ice cream… and Mama would sit, listening to the laugh of the “laughing lady” at the Death Valley attraction. I remember how I’d cry whenever daddy tried to make me ride the “flying horses” on the carousel. Why I was afraid, I don’t know, but I’d cry when my brothers made me climb up on those painted horses that went up and down. I wonder where they all are today… probably worth a lot of money now wherever they are.”

“Uncle Johnny drove my father’s ‘56 red and white Rocket Oldsmobile in a demotion race at Savin Rock. That was the 1st new car my father bought. Although it only had about 65 or 70 thousand miles on it, it was becoming too expensive to keep repairing the engine anymore, so he let Johnny drive it in the race. He didn’t get too far as the motor died about halfway through. I never liked demolition derby racing… I found them boring.”

This morning Steve asked if I saw the FaceBook post of people asking about bulk pickup, and quickly said… “I wrote today on my Facebook page… just dump it off on Marginal Drive as a joke! I wrote that because of all the dumping there years ago… that’s why it’s closed now. I still remember the New Haven Register story where the mayor said, “If I find one more piece dumped there, I’m closing it!” The very next day the paper ran a story that it was closing.” A friend online answered my quirky answer with… “they even dumped some of the old Savin Rock rides in the swamp down there.” “Whenever I rode my bike through there, I remember seeing old rides sticking up out of the marsh like the ones with the high backs, such as the Tilt a Whirl. I never even gave it another thought then, that they might have come from Savin Rock… if I had, I probably would have tried to pull them out.”

When I first came to Connecticut in 1971, after marrying Steve, I was intrigued by all the stories I heard about Savin Rock… and often I feel like I experienced them myself from all the many times I’ve heard them. One of the first attractions, that peaked my interest, was the many stories of the “famous” Laughing Lady. Anytime that “lady” was mentioned at Grandma Minnie’s kitchen table, you’d hear her famous “ohhh”, and Grandma Minnie would tell you how she loved listening to her laugh. From all the stories I’ve heard from others… it seems Grandma Minnie was the only one who loved to listen to that voice!

laughing Lady

The famous “Laughing Lady”

From asking, badgering my husband with constant questions of what was actually inside the Death Valley Fun House… “The laugh followed you into a darkened hallway of faces that lit up, laughing at you as you walked into a mirrored fun house room and maze. From there you walked into the “tilt room” where you could not walk straight across, no matter how hard you tried… the slanted floor made you struggle to even walk. Often jets of air blew up at you from various jets in the floor, and if the girls wore a dress, it was a constant struggle in keeping their dresses from flying up… with every step they took!

laughing lady voice Frank cosenza

It was actually a “man” who was the voice of the Laughing Lady!

While everyone always thought “Laffing Sal’s” voice was a woman, and the “one” original record may have been when she was first purchased in 1938…  the voice you remember was actually of Frank Cosenza. He and his partner, Joe Marcucci, were a comedy team around the New Haven area and often performed a skit about the laughing lady; and from that skit,  Frank was asked to record Sal’s famous laugh when the original record began wearing out. To read more on the Fun House, click HERE.

Franks at summer and Beach

If Peter Franke’s Fun House was still there… this is where it would be sitting on the boardwalk in West Haven. (Photo used with permission from James Holt) Read the “now and then” story with lots of photos over HERE.

Another favorite of Steve’s at Savin Rock was Peter Franke’s Fun House. In 1966, Peter Franke’s was still standing… all closed and boarded up. If only I had arrived in West Haven a few years earlier, I could have seen it with my own eyes! I’m sure kids snuck in there and enjoyed a few “free” last slide before being discovered. I can’t blame them… I would have too! As the “statute of limitations” has run out now… feel free to comment below if you were one of those kids! Read the complete story on Peter Franke at Savin Rock HERE.

colonnade panorama

Bishop’s Colonnade was an attraction long gone before my husband was born, but was well known at Savin Rock… and you can read my extensive post on it over HERE.


One of my favorite postcards depicting the attractions of Savin Rock on Beach St. Skooter’s was my husbands favorite “bumper car” ride. (How lucky he was to have grown up enjoying even a small part of Savin Rock)

Savin Rock sadly closed its doors on what attractions were left in 1966. All the white-washed building were boarded up and closed… roller coaster sat silent… the merry go ride sat motionless… no more up and down for those beautiful carved horse… no more Peter Franke’s honeydew popcorn… no more smells and sounds you could hear through your windows in the still of the summer nights. It was all gone… sadly to never return,

You can only “visit” Savin Rock now in your mind…

Bait and Tackle

The only remaining, standing structure of Savin Rock, was originally known as Joanne’s Hot Dog Stand! This structure has withstood many hurricanes through the years… and several businesses… and if it could talk… boy would we have stories!

2020 AtoZ Thank You Reading

Continue reading 2020: April A to Z: Family Stories… click HERE
To read more Family Stories… click HERE

To read and see more photos on Savin Rock… click HERE.

© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved


About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

My blog is at: https://everyonehasafamilystorytotell.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in 2020: April A to Z: Family Stories, Daily Writings and funnies..., Family Stories, Husbands Family Stories:, Savin Rock and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 2020: V – April A to Z… Family Stories: Visiting Savin Rock

  1. I was so excited to see your theme – I did the same one a couple of years back. And it is so great that you treasure those stories while there is someone left to tell them and flesh them out. I love it!
    Visiting from A to Z http://www.shirleyjdietz.com/a-to-z-challenge-vagus/

    Liked by 2 people

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