pays homage to a Rhode Island treasure
By S. ROBERT CHIAPPINELLI
Journal Staff Writer
WARWICK - Frank Galasso remembers being borne in his father's arms through
Rocky Point during a Frank Sinatra Jr. concert in the mid-1960s. Bright
flashes lit the sky, forging an indelible first image of the venerable
Galasso, who was about 4 at the time, remembers asking who was taking all
those photographs. He didn't realize at first that the flashes were
lightning bolts from an approaching storm that soon sent the family
scurrying for cover.
Now, the park is gone, its rides auctioned, its thrills mere memories.
But Galasso, who regularly contributes sports cartoons to The Providence
Journal, has, after a fashion, revived the long-dormant midway with a
holiday cartoon that salutes "Rocky Point, New England's Most Beautiful
From the Corkscrew, the last great Rocky Point roller coaster, that
climbed and dived from 1984 to 1995, to a 250-foot tall observation tower
built in 1865, Galasso depicts highlights of the area where steamboat
Capt. William Winslow, the park's founder, first landed with day trippers
Thirty years later, President Rutherford B. Hayes visited Rocky Point and
received a phone call from Alexander Graham Bell in Providence, marking
the first time a U.S. president had used the telephone.
Galasso depicts the bearded president saying to the telephone inventor:
"What's that, Bell? You'd like a dozen clam cakes and some chowder?"
Chowder and clam cakes, of course, were park staples, dispensed over the
years from three different shore dining halls. Hurricanes in 1938 and 1954
destroyed the first two. The third hall featured hurricane-proof windows,
brick-and-stone construction and a sign boasting that it was the world's
largest shore dinner hall. Galasso recreates all three, plus more
From the late 1940s, Galasso tells beholders, the Palladium ballroom
hosted weddings, proms, big bands, dances and various large political and
community functions. In the early 1960s the Windjammer was added.
Imaginary poster patrons ride the Tumblebug, grope through the darkened
House of Horrors and enjoy the wonderful Sky Liner vista. Galasso loved
that most of all, thrilling to the spectacular view as the high-wire cars
made their turn and the beauty of Narragansett Bay unfolded before him.
The cartoonist also included his least favorite ride, The Flume. "I
thought it was a dumb ride," he said. "You know you're going to get
drenched." Whenever he was cajoled aboard and prepared for the concluding
descent, he said, he thought, "why the heck am I on this thing."
The timid probably repeated that question on the Enterprise, the Cyclone
and the Skydiver that Galasso's pen resurrects. Some tossed their chowder
and clambakes on the spinning Music Express and the Spider. But most just
enjoyed the ambiance - one part tacky, many parts traditional - that
marked the place.
They bashed into each other in the Italian scooter cars, also known as
bumper cars or Dodge 'Ems, and whirled on the Looff ferris wheel that
Galasso recreates. Until 1941 many perched their youngsters atop Leo the
Lion that Galasso depicts and snapped pictures. Vandals sank that
tradition in 1941 when they attacked the cast-iron lion and dumped parts
of it into the water.
The artist also included the Whip, one of his childhood favorites, and the
carousel. He rode that numerous times but had no idea for most of his 39
years that its animals were originals, masterpieces dating back to 1912,
that fetched handsome sums when they were finally sold, in 1989.
Caricatures of owner Vincent Ferla and his brother, Conrad, whom Vincent
appointed park general manager in 1949, dot the poster, which might become
part of a tradition for Galasso. Last year he featured the old Rhode
Island Reds hockey team and that sold very well, prompting him to think of
He thought back to his childhood and memories of Rocky Point surfaced like
divers at the park's salt-water swimming pool. He recalled how many people
say that they wish the park was still open.
Since his work usually tells a story in an old-fashioned style, he decided
that the park would be a perfect subject and began researching old Journal
photos. "I couldn't believe the amount of photos and information we had
back from the 1800s," he said.
Off and on he worked on the project over eight months and concluded around
Thanksgiving. The 2-foot-by-3-foot posters are available for sale at
$19.95 at locations such as Benny's, Apex, and Rhode Island and Warwick
Galasso was disappointed that he couldn't include everything, relieved
that the work was complete but a little sad that the project was over. "It
was sort of like having a friend with you for eight months," he said.
Copyright © 2001
The Providence Journal Company