Sylvan Beach, NY-1

This is the first in a new series–pictures taken in upstate NY last Fall posted here in combination with installments of a personal essay on a small amusement park I have powerful memories of from childhood. I hope you enjoy it.

The place wasn’t like I remembered it at all—well, a few bits and pieces maybe. At some point since the 1950s it had become Disney-fied, G-rated and wholesome. Wandering around the deserted midway with camera in hand I was doing something I’d been thinking about for years—a photographic exploration of Sylvan Beach—a small amusement park that looms large in my childhood—a serious chunk of personal mythology. Wind rippled puddles of water stood on wet pavement from the rain last night—gray clouds above, everything closed below—locked up, boarded up and put away in anticipation of the coming winter.

Season’s end.

When I was a kid it was great trashy, scary fun—silly and light-hearted but at the same time there was that sinister, dark edge–an intuitive sense of something vaguely dirty in a thrilling, spooky kind of way—a bit like hiding behind a shed wolfing down a couple of chocolate bars that you’d traded your little brother’s cap gun for—without his knowledge—or—being under the blankets at night with a flashlight leering at a playboy centerfold that you’d liberated from the drug store. Sylvan Beach was not just scary-fun rides, there were shadows there that you could peer into and divine all the stuff that adults knew about but didn’t tell you because you were “too young.” Maybe even some stuff that the adults in your life did not know about themselves.

A little geography first.

Sylvan Beach, NY is a little poor-man’s resort town on the eastern edge of Lake Oneida in Central New York—Aspen for the Budweiser and baloney sandwich crowd. Even today it falls somewhere between culturally non-descript and a demographic fart-joke. Driving down the drab little asphalt main street you see the lake over there on the left, visible as a flat gray line meeting a flat, gray sky glimpsed between scattered trees and so-called “camps.” These “camps” were (and still are I think) bungalows and cabins with bare-dirt-and-mud-puddle-front yards and clever little routed signs hanging out on the front porch with names like “Dun-Roamin,” “Trail’s end,” “Ed & Mable’s Sanctuary,” The Last Resort, Belly Acres, Seldom Inn, Costa-lotta-lodge.

It’s an Upstate NY blue-collar thing.

To be continued…

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