Paradise Found: Summers in Hershey, Pa.

Pennsylvania Memories is a special series marking the turn of the millennium featuring readers' memories of events, experiences, incidents, individuals, innovations or inventions that profoundly affected them or gave them a deep appreciation of personal history.

Some of my most precious childhood memories are of Hershey Park and, especially, the beautiful swimming pool complex that was adjacent to the Hershey Park Ballroom. We enjoyed them during the 1930s, the era of the big bands.

We would swim in the afternoon and remain until the band began to play in the evening. We would dance on the grass to the music of Woody Herman, Glenn Miller, and Harry James.

We enjoyed them all by the pool without ever setting foot in the ballroom. This was during the Great Depression, but our parents had saved enough money to buy us a special pass so that we could swim almost every day.

I lived in Elizabethtown, in neighboring Lancaster County, and we had a group of six who would hurry to the top of Market Street and Linden Avenue on a nice day to wait for the trolley to take us to Hershey. The trolley ride itself was fun for kids, because we helped the conductor reverse the seats and open windows, and then enjoyed the scenic ride through woods and fields to what was then the square in Hershey near the Hershey Department Store.

We got off the trolley, taking our swimming gear and packed lunches and started our half-mile or so walk to the pool. We walked past the old Hershey Creamery – favorite stop on our way home to buy an Eskimo Pie – then we started to run as the entrance to the pool came into view. We eagerly showed our tickets and received our towel and locker key, which was on an elastic band so you could wear it on your wrist or ankle. We then searched for our locker numbers, changed to our bathing suits and headed for our idea of “summer heaven” at one of the largest pools in the world.

We skirted the baby pool and found a spot for our towels on the grass, and then we jumped into the water and swam and swam. This large pool was edged with a wide walkway and a huge sandy area beyond which was a grassy area where swimmers could sunbathe. Sometimes we would go into the Olympic-style pool that was beside the large pool. We did this by crossing over a large platform in the center of the two pools. A fountain in this area was sometimes turned on.

I remember a great water slide on the other side of the ballroom. We would pick up a wooden sled from the attendant and climb and climb to the top of the slide and ride down into the pool. If you were daring, you would lay down on the sled to hit the water headfirst.

There was a refreshment stand that sold delicious snacks, but we usually went under the roadway through a cool tunnel so that we could eat our packed lunches in the sunken garden. We kept track of the time on a dock mounted on a replica of a lighthouse beside the pool, which today is all that remains of our memorable paradise.

On Sunday evenings, my parents took us to Hershey Park, where we would ride the merry-go-round and watch the young men try to grab the brass ring, which would entitle them to a free ride. We would also ride the roller coaster. Our evening come to a close with a frozen custard, which we ate while watching the soldiers from Fort Indiantown Gap try their skill in the shooting gallery. Last of all was a ride on the red train whose tracks skirted the perimeter of the park and took us back to the parking lot.

I now have a pass to Hershey Park, which I use once or twice a week during the season. As I walk through the entrance, I sometimes pass the lighthouse and I think I hear the happy voices of those long-ago swimmers in what I thought was the most magical place on earth.


Margaret Steever Garber, a resident of Elizabethtown, taught first grade classes at the Maytown Elementary School of Lancaster County’s Donegal School District for twenty-eight years. She is currently active in a program in which she assists a teacher of fifth grade students in the Elizabethtown School District. The author enjoys writing and is working on a narrative designed to teach elementary school students the importance of history. She is the mother of three children and the grandmother of six. She is an avid golfer.