The Springfield Lake roller coaster crash was a disaster for the amusement park

Screams floated across the water as the wooden roller coaster raced down the track.

It was the last ride of the opening weekend at Springfield Lake Park in May 1930. It was also the beginning of the end for the resort town.

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The Radio Streak, one of the park’s main attractions, was a high-speed thriller with three large hills, four smaller dips, and two sharp turns. Over 50 feet tall, the coaster featured a three-car train that traveled at over 60 mph.

Akron rubber worker John F. Johnson, 28, wouldn’t ride it. He had been to the park on Sunday May 11, with his wife, Olga, 21, and two friends, but balked when they suggested the coaster.

“Oh, come on,” his wife persuaded. “Don’t be so cowardly.”

Nothing to do.

Johnson had witnessed in May 1924 when a woman fell fatally from a coaster at Summit Beach Park.

He stayed on the ground.

The Radio Streak had room for 24 passengers. The only seat that was empty was the one Johnson had declined.

The train left the loading dock, reached the chain elevator and slowly climbed the first hill.

Click, click, click, click.

Propelled to new heights

Famed builder Jack Kaster, who designed all of the Summit Beach roller coasters, installed the Springfield Lake ride in 1923 for $30,000, or more than $487,000 today.

Considered “one of the biggest and fastest rides in any Eastern Ohio resort,” the Radio Streak has taken Lakemore Park to new heights.

Springfield Lake Park advertises its new $30,000 Radio Streak roller coaster in May 1923.

The Canton-Akron Railroad had opened the station in 1903 with a dancing pavilion, carousel, dining hall, bowling alley, ice cream parlor, swimming beach, boat livery, and other attractions. In 1905, Akron attorney William A. Martin purchased a 25-acre grove along the lake and developed a private cottage colony.

Intercity cars filled with picnickers from as far away as Cleveland swarmed Springfield Lake. Annual attendance soared to over 400,000 by the start of the 20th century.

The park added a scenic railway, 400-seat tour boat, baseball field, entertainment house, shooting gallery, caterpillar ride, pony track, aerial swings and cars bumper cars.

Park Superintendent Foster Crawford called the resort “Nature’s Own Joyland”.

Boaters enjoy a beautiful day in front of the Springfield Lake Park Pavilion in the early 20th century.

The Starlight Ballroom has hosted renowned artists such as Rudy Vallee, Ted Weems and Sammy Kaye.

Orchestras played music as dancers glided through the ballroom. Families dove into the water at the bathing beach. The young lovers were paddling canoes around the lake.

And thrill seekers climbed aboard the Radio Streak.

Click, click, click, click.

Ride operator makes a mistake

Johnson watched the train roll over the giant hill. Riders cheered as gravity kicked in and the cars raced down the hill.

Up and down. Up and down. The coaster quickly traveled the length of the winding structure and rounded a curve for the return trip.

The Radio Streak required a park employee to apply the brakes when the train came within 40 feet of the platform, then brake again on the platform to stop the cars.

Ride operator Lawrence Burke, 30, on the job for just two days, apparently lost track of what he was doing. When the train returned to the platform at ground level, it was far from its station.

“As the car swung around the curve on the home straight of the course, onlookers noticed that the employee responsible for applying the brakes was not at the controls,” the Beacon Journal reported. “Several of them thought the train was going to turn and go the other way.

“They were panicked when they saw the operator rush to the switch. It was too late.

Passengers and onlookers screamed as the train rammed into a guardrail and tipped upwards. Everyone in the lead car was violently thrown to the ground.

Johnson, the guy who had refused to ride the roller coaster, watched in horror as the cars crashed at 60mph. As he rushed to help his wife, he stopped to punch the ride operator in the jaw.

Then he loaded Olga and their friends into an automobile and drove to a hospital in Akron.

The Beacon Journal identifies six of the 13 people who were injured on May 11, 1930 on the Radio Streak roller coaster in Springfield Lake Park.  Pictured left are Donna Myers, 22, Olga Johnson, 21, Margaret Bishoff, 18, Clara McLaughlin, 17, Hazel Marsh, 20 and Cecilia Harwell, 19.

Victims in a roller coaster crash

Are seriously injured:

• Olga M. Johnson, 21, of Kenmore, stenographer in an architect’s office. Spinal injury, fractured wrist, concussion, torn ligaments.

• Clara L. McLaughlin, 17, of Kenmore. Fractured skull, two broken ribs, internal injuries and a broken kneecap.

• Margaret Bishoff, 18, of Springfield Township. Fractured leg, broken teeth and facial injuries.

• Hazel Marsh, 20, from Middlebury. Fractured nose and concussion.

• Sara Bolich, 24, Latin teacher at Alliance. Broken leg and concussion.

Other injured were:

• Cecilia M. Harwell, 19, telephone operator from North Hill. Fractured wrist.

• Betty Wills, 19, of Goodyear Heights. Facial injuries.

• Donna Myers, 22, major in education at the University of Akron. Cuts, bruises and a concussion.

• Harry McLaughlin, 26, of Kenmore, Akron. Fractured wrist.

• Robert Lembright, 18, from Alliance. Torn knee ligaments.

• Hamilton Hardgrove, 24, hardware store employee in South Akron. Back injuries.

• Alton Hill, 20, from Alliance. Unspecified injuries.

• Joseph Jewell, 20, from Ellet. Unspecified injuries.

Ten lucky riders walked away from the roller coaster uninjured.

Aftermath of the accident

Park Superintendent Crawford told Summit County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeptha Butcher that the Radio Streak’s brakes were recently tested and would have worked properly had they been applied. It was the only accident in the coaster’s seven-year history.

Crawford accused the operator of negligence, saying Burke was hired on the pretext that he had worked on similar rides.

Miraculously, no one was killed in the crash, but some of the injured were bedridden for months and some suffered permanent injuries.

Clara McLaughlin sued for $25,000. Olga Johnson sued for $25,000. Margaret Bishoff sued for $15,000. In today’s dollars, the lawsuits would amount to more than $1 million.

The park reopened without the Radio Streak as a major attraction. Revenues plunged at the worst possible time.

Within two years, the Springfield Lake Park Co. filed for bankruptcy. U.S. District Judge Harry L. Snyder ordered the sale of his holdings on May 6, 1932.

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Among the items auctioned were an amusement ride, a pipe organ, a shooting gallery, canoes, popcorn equipment, soda fountains, picnic tables, bathing suits, cages for Animals, Bumper Cars, Skee Ball Tracks, Swings, Cash Registers and Ticket Machines.

The property was appraised at nearly $15,500 but the sale only brought in $2,000.

The Radio Streak, which cost $30,000 to build, sold for $100.

Bucyrus businessman Ralph Jolly bought the coaster for parts, believing the cars and lumber might come in handy at Seccaium Park in County Crawford.

Springfield Lake Park was almost complete.

The Starlight Ballroom operated for several years during the Great Depression before being transformed into a roller skating rink.

He is always there.

The Lakemore entrance to Springfield Lake Roller Rink is pictured in 1973. The sign originally said "Springfield Lake Park," but the last word has been changed.

Springfield Lake Roller Rink at 1220 Main Street in Lakemore has served generations of skaters and continues to attract families and young people.

“Rated the #1 ice rink in Akron!!!” it advertises. “We offer a HUGE skate floor and an overall great skating experience! Come see us today.

Every night, sounds of joy and laughter fill the building.

All is not lost in the former amusement park.

Mark J. Price can be reached at [email protected]

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