The Darker Side of Manchester NH’s Pine Island Park

Pine Island Park Gate, circa 1953, photograph by Peter Caikauskas. Manchester Historical Association Photoprint Collection. Used with permission.

Pine Island Park Gate, circa 1953, photograph by Peter Caikauskas. Manchester Historical Association Photoprint Collection. Used with permission.

There are people alive today who have fond, happy memories of Pine Island Park. This amusement area was located in Manchester, New Hampshire, in the vicinity of the current Pine Island Park.

During the 61 years of its existence, at varying times it hosted recreations including swimming, dancing (with live bands), skating (ice and roller), boating, bowling, a restaurant, amusements and rides, summer theater plays, a drive-in theater, and a giant Moxie bottle.  Often there were evening fireworks displays.

Pine Island Park pond watermarkThis pond did not always exist — it was formed by the placement of a dam on Cohas Brook as it flowed toward the Merrimack River [This occurred between 1892 and 1902, as the pond is missing in this 1892 map].  The park was located on what is now and area between the Manchester Airport, Brown Avenue and the Anthem facility on Goffs Falls Road next to the current Pine Island Pond park.

The park opened in 1902, built by the Traction, Light and Power Company (forerunner of Public Service Company of New Hampshire) on 135 acres that it owned in the Goffs Falls section of Manchester NH.  After 58 years of operation, the park officially closed in May or June of 1963. It had been owned by Shea-Chain Inc., and the  Nashua Telegraph newspaper of 18 May 1963 announced its imminent closure.

Despite all the fun and frolic to be had back then, the park, and the pond associated it had a dark underbelly of death and bad luck. At first the reports seem like isolated incidents.  But if you combine them, as I have here, it would seem as though the spot was haunted or cursed.  Read on, and you be the judge.

 Pine Island Park Ticket, circa 1951, Manchester Historic Society Collection. Used with permission

Pine Island Park Ticket, circa 1951, Manchester Historic Society Collection. Used with permission

25 July 1909–An accident seven years after the park’s opening appears to be the beginning of its negative events.  On Monday, July 26, 1909 the Boston Journal touted these headlines: “PAVILION COLLAPSE VICTIMS IMPROVE–Young Women of Manchester, N.H. Hurt at Pine Island Park, Rapidly Recovering.  The article goes on to describe that the day before Manchester, N.H. July 25.–“The three women who were injured by the collapse of a pavilion at Pine Island Park, a pleasure resort near here, last night were all reported to be rapidly recovering today.  The victims of the accident are Miss Sarah Reagan, dislocated left shoulder; Miss Catherine Connor, wrenched knee and nervous shock, and Miss Bertha Courtemache, fractured rib.  They all reside in Manchester. The accident, which provided not to be as serious as first thought, happened when a veranda on a dancing pavilion gave way under the weight of the crowd, precipitating a score or more of people into the water of an artificial lake.  Besides the three young women, several other people received minor injuries, but all were able to go to their homes.”

28 June 1910–eleven months later, and just barely missing the grim reaper’s scythe, an aeronaut survives. The June 29, 1910 Boston Herald headlines proclaim: “AERONAUT ESCAPES DEATH–Dirigible Balloon Wrecked Near Manchester NH.  They go on to state: “E. J. Parker of Rochester NY driving a Strobel dirigible balloon, crashed into a roller coaster structure at Pine Island Park, near this city, late this afternoon, and the balloon was wrecked. Parker narrowly escaped death by leaving his seat in the ship and clinging to the coaster track. It was the first attempt at flight by a dirigible in New Hampshire.”

Postcard "A Shady Nook," Pine Island Park, John B. Varick Co. Publishers, Manchester Historic Association Collection

Postcard “A Shady Nook,” Pine Island Park, John B. Varick Co. Publishers, Manchester Historic Association Collection. Used with Permission.

21 August 1910–two months later there is a deadly accident.  The Boston Herald of the following day reports: “CANOE OVERTURNING FATAL—Harry Hawker Loses Life in Lake at Manchester, N.H.”  The article reveals the calamitous tale: “Reaching for his paddle, which he had dropped, Harry Hawker, 22 years old of 68 Appleton Street, overturned his canoe on the lake at Pine Island park today and was drowned. With him at the time was a friend Michael McCarthy.  McCarthy would swim, and when the two were thrown into the water, he made an attempt to save Hawker, holding him up for some time, but he was finally obliged to relinquish his hold to save himself, other boats which came to his rescue not arriving in time.”

4 July 1916–6 years later, a murder occurs. Reinholt Thumbloom aka Reinholt Schink is found, stabbed in the throat near the entrance to Pine Island Park.  He dies a short time later while being taken to Sacred Heart Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire.  There appears to be conflicting accounts of who stabbed him. Despite his protests of innocence, Peter St. Denis is convicted.  He was paroled early (after 11 years) for good behavior.  See the accounts below.

Boston Post, of July 9, 1916: CHARGED WITH MANSLAUGHTER–Lamey Held for Death of Companion. MANCHESTER N.H. July 8–Albert Lamey, 20, was held without bail following a preliminary hearing in the police court here today, charged with manslaughter. He is accused of having caused the death of Reinholt Thumbloom, generally known by the name of Reinholt Schink, at Pine Island Park on the morning of July 4. Thumbloom and companions spent the “night before” at the park celebrating. At 3 o’clock in the morning Thumbloom was stabbed in the throat and died while being taken to the Sacred Heart Hospital. His companions were arrested on suspicion, but today the case apparently sifted down to Lamey. The others, Malcolm Gilmartin and Louis Somers, both under 20, are held in bonds of $1000 as witnesses. Both secured bondsmen. The State is not prepared to prosecute the case as yet, and Chief Healy asked for a continuation until July 22. Lamey will be confined in the Hillsborough county jail until this date.

MANCHESTER NH Police Detain Peter St. Denis.  Manchester NH July 11–Peter St. Denis a former prize fighter, 32 years of age is detained at the police station in connection with the stabbing and death of Reinholt Thumbloom, at Pine Island Park, just before dawn the morning of July 4. The contradictory stories told by St. Denis regarding his movements the night of the murder are said to give additional weight to the evidence which the local police claim to have gathered. St. Denis makes a denial of the charge that he was nearer the scene of the stabbing than the intersection of South Beech street and Calef road, which is nearly a mile away. On the other hand the police have three young men, one a resident of Goff’s Falls, and the others living in Manchester, who assert that they met him on the night of the stabbing just north of the park entrance, and hardly 61 feet from where Thumbloom was killed.

July 15, 1927 Boston Herald (Boston MA); PAROLED AFTER 11 YEARS OF JAIL TERM
Manchester NH July 14 — Peter St. Denis of Manchester was freed from state prison after serving 11 years of a minimum sentence of 15 years. St. Denis was sentenced for the killing of Reinhold Tumbion at Pine Island Park on the morning of July 4, 1916. According to the warden, St. Denis has been a model prisoner. Under the state law he must report regularly to the authorities during his parole.

12 August 1917–1 year later, a young women tragically drowns. The August 13, 1917 edition of the Boston Herald (Boston, MA) proclaims: DROWNS AT MANCHESTER–
Manchester, N.H. Aug 12–Annie Pouliot, 16, was drowned at Pine Island Park this afternoon, and Arthur Valliancourt, her young companion, came near death; when the two were swimming near the bath-house. Neither could swim well. They became exhausted when about 25 yards from shore. The girl sank before aid could reach her.

1918–One wonders what was in the atmosphere to draw the depressed to this spot.  On 26 August 1918 George Henry Cronin, son of Maurice & Mary (Moynihan) Cronin drowned at Pine Island Pond.  The medical examiner determined it was  probably a suicide drowning:  “From history man was evidently melancholic & possibly demented. Duration at least 6 months.

Postcard, Canoeing at Pine Island, published by Graves & Ramsdell, Manchester Historical Association Collection. Used with Permission

Postcard, Canoeing at Pine Island, published by Graves & Ramsdell, Manchester Historical Association Collection. Used with Permission

 1924–the dark elements of Pine Island Park seems to take a break.  It was 7 years until the next incident.  But it was just the calm before the storm, for the multiple, unsettling events of 1924 and 1925 made up for lull. In 1924 the ferris wheel collapsed injuring several including Katheryn Frear (as shown below).  In 1925 several people drowned in the pond, and there was a fatal car crash close by that left two dead and several injured.

The Thursday March 25, 1926 edition of the Springfield Republican (Springifield MA) announced: Manchester, N.H. March 19–Miss Katheryn Frear, 19, of Schenectady, N.Y. has been awarded $25,000 damages by a jury here for injuries received August 23, 1924, when a Ferris wheel collapsed at Pine Island park. The suit was filed by the young woman’s uncle against the Manchester Traction Light and Power Company, and others, controllers of the amusement park.

June 22, 1925 Boston Herald (Boston MA) Special Dispatch to the Herald proclaimed:
“MANCHESTER, N.H. June 21–Robert Kerton, 19 years old, of 46 Poplar Street, Lawrence, Mass, was instantly killed early today when a car in which he and eight others were riding, overturned after striking a telegraph pole and crashing into a fence near Pine island Park. The driver of the car, Garrett Murphy, 22, of 176 Walnut Street, Lawrence was taken to the Sacred Heart Hospital here, so seriously injured that he is not expected to live. All the other occupants of the car, including three women, were injured and were treated at the hospital.  FORCED INTO DITCH– County and local officers investigated the accident, were told that Murphy, after sounding his horn, had started to pass a car ahead of him which suddenly and without warning veered to the left, forcing him into a ditch. His car hit the pole and then shot across into a fence, overturned and was completely wrecked. All the occupants were stunned for a few moments. Paul Golden of 25 Whitman Street, Lawrence, was the first to recover. He dragged Murphy from under the car and then raised it sufficiently to allow him to pull out the body of Kerton. The others had been thrown from the automobile as it turned over. They were George Hogan of 436 Hampshire street, Lawrence; Stephen O’Connor of 14 Willoughby Street, Lawrence; Henry P. Mead, 367 Wilson Street, Manchester; Margaret Keefe, 48 Claremont avenue, Manchester; Mrs. Ellen Manning, 111 Kidder Street, Manchester, and Miss Florence Manning, her daughter. [Editor’s note: the two men dead from this accident were Robert Curtin, of a fractured skull, and Garrett K. Murphy who died soon after being transferred to a Boston, Massachusetts hospital.] OTHER CAR VANISHES–Murphy and his party were returning to Lawrence from Pine Island Park and planned to drop Mead, Miss Keefe, and Mrs Manning and her daughter in Manchester.The car responsible for the accident sped on after the crash. Help was a long time coming for the road was almost deserted at the house the accident occurred. Eventually a Mr. and Mrs. Mead of Haverhill drove by in their car. They stopped and with other motorists who had come up, removed the injured to the hospital.Kerton was employed as an orderly at Grasslands Hospital, Valhalla, NY and came home about three weeks ago for his summer vacation. Murphy is an employee of the city of Lawrence. The other members of the party were allowed to go home after being treated for cuts and bruises and shock, at the hospital.

July 29, 1925 Boston Herald, headlined: “CHANGING SEATS IN CANOE COSTS LIFE–One Man Drowned at Manchester, N.H.–Two Others Near Death When Rescued.” Manchester, N.H. June 28–One man was drowned and two others narrowly escaped the same fat tonight when a canoe, containing the tree, tipped over as they were attempted to changed seats off Pine Island Park. The name of the dead man is Leblanc of an address on Cedar street. Neither his first name or his street number had been learned up to a late hour. His companions were Romeo Cote of 283 Laurel Street and Lucien Trudeau of 294 Auburn Street. According to the story of witnesses, the shouts of the men floudering in the water attracted the attention of Raymond Labelle, Jere Sullivan and Emil Soucy, the latter of 231 Belmont Street. All three dove and swam to the struggling men and managed to bring Cote and Trudeau to shore. Cote, who could not swim, was unconscious but was revived by Sullivan, who is a swimming instructor. He was later removed to the Sacred Heart Hospital. The body of Leblanc was not recovered.  [Editor’s note: the drowned man was 22-year old Francois Leblanc of Manchester, NH who drowned 28 June 1925 .]

Photograph of Irene Melanson who perished in Pine Island Pond in xxxx.

Photograph of Irene Melanson who perished in Pine Island Pond in 1925. From the Boston Herald newspaper.

Less than a  month later, on 9 August of 1925, the pond claimed more victims.  The newspapers were full of stories about the strange drowning of lovely 25-year old Irene Melanson, whose body had washed up on the shore at the mouth of Cohas brook, near Pine Island park bathing beach.  It appeared her father was convinced that she had been murdered by her companion of the evening, Chester F. Breslin.  This theory was ruled out when her companion’s body was also found, and accidental death by drowning was the decided cause of death for both.

The August 10, 1925 Boston Herald stated: “Manchester, N.H. Aug 9.– Floating fully clad, even to her hat, the body of Irene Melanson, 24, owner of Irene’s Beauty shop, Winthrop Centre, Mass., was found today at the mouth of Cohas brook, near the Pine Island park bathing beach. The girl had not been dead many hours. The police say that ever indication points to murder, for when the girl’s hat was removed, a wound over the eyes bled freely. Chester Breslin, of Malden, Mass, with whom she was seen at a dance last night has disappeared. DISCOVERY OF BODY. Although neither the police nor medical examiner would comment on the mystery tonight, it was intimated that some of the officials thought it was a possibility that the body of the Malden man might also be found in the brook, and that the case might be one of a double drowning. Discovery of the girl’s body was made by Mrs. Albert Desruisseaux, who with her three small children, was on her way to mass. The body was in deep water just at the edge of the bathing beach. She called her husband, who summoned police, and they with Leon Lavoie and Alphonse Doncause went out in a boat and brought the body ashore. It was taken in charge by Medical Examiner James J. Powers, who had it taken to Manchester and immediately prepared for an autopsy. Manchester police investigating the case, in charge of Capt. Martin Rourke, learned that the girl had been spending her vacation at The Elms, Goffs Falls, with an aunt, Katherine Melanson, also of Winthrop. According to the police the dead girl was seen last night at Pine Island Park with Breslin. They were unable to find him anywhere today, but his automobile was found abandoned at the park.. At 11:30 tonight at the end of a three-hour autopsy it was announced that no verdict could be rendered at that time. It was said, however, that parts of the girl’s body would be sent to State Chemist Charles Howard at Concord. Those who took part in the autopsy were Meidcal Referee James J. Powers, Dr. Wilson Russell, and State Pathologist Dr. Charles Duncan. Members of both Miss Melanson’s and Breslin’s families arrived here today, but they were unable to throw the slightest light on the mystery. Breslin’s brother, Arthur J. Breslin, an undertaker of Pleasant street, Malden and the father of the girl, Joseph Melanson, 23 Waldemar Avenue, Winthrop, were the first arrivals. Mr. Melanson was at a loss to account for the tragedy, and said that the last news they had had of the girl was a letter sent to Francis McKeough, 96 Marshall street, Winthrop, a close friend. In that letter she spoke of her intention of attending a dance her last night with a “fellow” whose name she did not mention. The father was nearly overcome with grief. He said that his daughter opened her beauty shop about a year ago near the Winthrop Centre station of the Narrow Guage railroad, a venture which she had just succeeded in getting on a paying basis. She left on her vacation about two weeks ago. Chester Breslin, it was learned from his brother, is 26 years old, and was an inspector with the Malden division of the N.E. Telphone & Telegraph Company. He made his home with a married sister, Mrs. Mary Crosby, 53 Poole street, Medford. Chester left home yesterday afternoon, announcing that he was going to Manchester to attend a dance. He said nothing of taking anyone with him, and told his family that they need not look for him until today. His family does not know Miss Melanson, and it is their opinion that the young couple met in Manchester.” 

August 11, 1925 Boston Herald (Boston MA) stated: MYSTERIOUS DROWNING–
Searchers Drag N.H. Pond All Day for Breslin, Girl’s Companion–EXAMINER FINDS VICTIM ASPHYXIATED. Miss Melanson’s Father Views Body–Clings to Foul Play Theory, by Charles Drury. MANCHESTER, N.H., Aug 10. — Irene Melanson, Winthrop girl whose body was found in Pine Island pond at Goff’s Falls yesterday, died of asphyxia by drowning, according to the findings of the state pathologist and medical referee, reported to County Solicitor George I. Hazlton this afternoon, but the Manchester police are continuing their search for Chester Breslin, Malden telephone installer, who was the last person seen in the dead girl’s company. A corps of grapplers is working tonight under the glare of the Pine Island Park lights, seeking the youth’s body, but the police of Everett and Malden are on the lookout for him to reappear there, alive. POLICE STATEMENT. Tonight the police issued this statement: “We are working on the established fact that Irene Melanson was found dead, from drowning, and that Chester Breslin was the last person seen in her company. We wish to find Breslin, dead in the pond if his body is there, or wherver else he may appear.” They would not commit themselves to any theory of accident or foul play, but the girl’s father is vehement in his assertion that the girl met her death because of someone else’s responsibility. Breslin’s brother declares that both the girl and his brother were victims of another person’s jealousy. All day the father of the girl patrolled the shores of Pine Island pond, waiting for the recovery of Breslin’s body, to reassure himself that his daughter had not died alone. Breslin’s relatives, too, watched the grappling operations, with fear that the young telephone man’s body would be found.
COTTAGERS HEARD GIRL’S SCREAM AND MOANING. Capt. Martin Rourke, in charge of the detective department, reported back to Chief M.J. Healey tonight that there had been no new developments but that he had detailed police officers to supervise the continued efforts of scores of volunteers who are searching for the missing youth’s body. The captain also said, “We have no theory to work out. We are searching for Breslin. If he is in the pond his body will tell one story–if he turns up alive he will tell another.”
SO far as could be learned tonight, Breslin and the girl were last seen near the rustic bridge leading to the canoe house at 8:30 o’clock Saturday night. At 2:30 o’clock Sunday morning cottagers heard a girl’s scream and also heard a girl moaning. This report strengthens a belief that both boy and girl were thrown into the shallow water and that Breslin, though a strong swimmer, was unable to aid his companion, who was not able to swim and who would probably become hysterical through the sudden danger which confronted her. The canoe house management reported to the police that no canoes were away from the float after midnight. Every one of the 26 was at the landing, after one had been found pulled up on shore across the lake at 11 o’clock. ONE CANOE OUT LATE. But tonight further information was received that one canoe was out on the lake as late as 2 o’clock but it was in charge of a clerk and was property accounted for. The clerk was not able to state that there were no other boats on the water, but he was positive that none of the concession craft was afloat. The medical evidence failed to show any injuries which would have contributed to Miss Melanson’s death. One bruise on her left elbow was explained as the result of a fall on a skating rink floor several days prior to Saturday. A slight abrasion over he left eye was a mere scrape which might have resulted from contact with the side of a canoe, if the girl fell from one, or from a small force of collision with a tree stump in the lake. The state chemist has retained organs from the girls body for the purpose of checking up and probably eliminating possible poison evidence. COTTAGER HEARD SHARP REPORT LIKE PISTOL SHOT. The entire case now seems to depend on Breslin’s reappearance. In an effort to fix the time of Miss Melanson’s death, police inspectors questioned cottagers this afternoon. Mrs. Priscilla Page, whose cottage is nearly opposite the point of land off which the girls body was floating, said that she had been awake nearly all night and that she was out on her piazza several times during that time and heard no sounds of anyone on the lake or the opposite shore. Because of the stillness of the night she believes she would have heard any such sounds.
Mrs. Josephine Lavoie whose husband aided in taking the body from the water, declared that she heard a moaning sound from the direction of the water near the point. She was sleeping on the porch and the moans were sufficiently loud to wake her. She roused her husband, and told him of them and they both listened to hear a repetition, but there were none.James Todd, whose place is on Cottage road, also directly across the pond from the point, said that he returned home about 2:30 and heard a woman scream. He thought it was some reveler and shouter across the pond for whoever it was to “shut up,” but there was no response. Fifteen minutes later he heard a sharp report which he described as either a pistol shot or the backfire of an automobile. Breslin’s automobile was found at the park parking grounds. FATHER NOT SATISFIED– Tonight, Joseph S. Melanson, father of the girl, visited the undertaking rooms where the body was about to be prepared for transfer to Winthrop, and after seeing the body, he reiterated his opinion that his daughter did not come to her death through simple accident. He said he had heard that there were marks of violence on the body and that blood oozed from her breast but it was discovered that the supposed blood stains were made by the crimson dye which came from Miss Melanson’s scapular. But the father was not satisfied. He said he wished to satisfy himself that there were no wounds, but even their absence did not prove that she had not been foully dealt with, and he added, “but she gave her assailant a pretty battle before he overpowered her This talk about her accidental death may be correct, but after looking at my poor girl, that doesn’t look to me to be the situation. I’m not a doctor, but it appears to me that she has gone through more than is generally admitted, and I’ll not be satisfied until they find that fellow Breslin either in or out of the water.” Arthur Breslin, brother of the missing youth, expressed his fear that Chester’s body is in the lake. He said: “Chester’s body is in that pond and right now its my opinion that both he and Miss Melanson were victims of a jealous suitor of the girl. I feel that if Chester had done any wrong, and if he is not in the pond, he’d have gotten in touch with us, if he didn’t go to the police first. Also, if anything happened to the girl he’d do everything possible to aid her. He was a mighty good swimmer and under ordinary circumstances he’d be able to give a pretty good account of himself against a single assailant.” GIRL’S BODY GIVEN TO FATHER AND BROTHER–  The girl’s body was delivered to her father and brother tonight, after the New Hampshire health authorities directed that it be embalmed before it was permitted to leave the state. All police activity now awaits the report of the grapplers from Pine Island pond that Breslin’s body has been found, or from the Massachusetts police that he has appeared there.GIRL MAY HAVE FALLEN IN–There is a belief that Breslin and the girl were at the promontory and the girl fell into the water and that Breslin was unable to rescue her, and through fear of criticism or blame, cut across through the woods on to the Londonderry road, leaving his automobile at the park. They had known each other only a few days. Breslin had been a summer visitor at Goff’s Falls for several years, and has been there several times this season on week-end parties. This girl was on her first visit to the summer colony and was in an apparent happy frame of mind Saturday night when she returned to the Green cottage, annex of the Elms, to make ready to rejoin Breslin for a ride to Pine Island Park, only a quarter of a mile away. At that time she met Miss Elsie and Josephine Londregan, Everett girl friends of the same cottage community, friends to whom she confided that she was “keeping a date with a nice boy.” That was Breslin, as the couple appeared in the hotel dance hall a short time afterward, and were seen together at Pine Island that same evening. No witnesses have been found who saw them dancing at Pine Island or who recall seeing them at the canoe house, though they were approaching the canoes when last seen. If Breslin’s body is not found tonight, permission will be sought of the American Woolen Company to drain the pond. To do this will necessitate a several day’s shut-down of the mills at Goff’s Falls as the water comes from Lake Massabesic through the company’s riparian ways and empties into the Merrimack river. The pond bottom is muddy and overgrown with weeds which makes the grappling difficult and the draining may have to be resorted to on orders from state authorities.

Burial Vault, 1930-1945, postcard by The Tichnor Brothers, Boston Public Libary, Print Collection.

Burial Vault, 1930-1945, postcard by The Tichnor Brothers, Boston Public Library, Print Collection.

August 14, 1925 Boston Herald reported: BURIALS FOR 2 VICTIMS OF CANOEING TRAGEDY–“Funerals of Breslin and Miss Melanson Held at Same Hour. Friends and relatives in large numbers paid their last tributes yesterday at funeral services held at the same hour for Miss Irene Melanson, Winthrop hairdresser, and her friend, Chester F. Breslin, Malden telephone inspector, who were drowned in Pine Island pond, Manchester, N.H. as the result of a mishap while canoeing. Services for Miss Melanson were held at 9 AM yesterday at the Church of St. John the Evangelist Winthrop. The Rev. John T. O’Brien officiated. Burial was in Holy Cross cemetery. Services for Mr. Breslin took place at 9 A.M. in Malden. Burial was in Holy Cross cemetery at the same hour as that of Miss Melanson.”

1934–A whopping nine years will pass, before the phantasm of destruction again rears its head at Pine Island Park.  This time it is a near-death by a woman at Pine Island, though earlier in the day a man drowns in nearby Crystal Lake.

August 26, 1934 Boston Herald–Attempt to Swim Across Manchester, N.H. Pond Costs His Life. MANCHESTER, N.H. Aug. 25–An unemployed shoe worker, Nassas [Nassaf] S. Skaff, 24 of Tobey avenue, Methuen, Mass., who was given the privilege of accompanying the employees of a shoe factory on their annual outing here today, was drowned when he attempted to swim across Crystal Lake.  The body was not recovered. Identification was made by clothing which was unclaimed at the bath house. Earlier in the day Miss Beatrice Lucier, 21, of Haverhill, Mass. narrowly escaped drowning in the Piscataquog river, near Pine Island Park, while she was bathing. Another bather rescued her, and when policemen arrived in response to a telephone call, they found she had been revived by artificial respiration.

June 14, 1936–only two years later, the pond’s murky waters claim another victim, Edward Murphy.  June 14, 1936 Boston Herald (Boston MA). MAN DROWNED. MANCHESTER, N.H. June 13–A man believed to be Edward Murphy of this city was drowned in the river off Pine Island Park early tonight when a boat in which he, another man and three young women were said to have been occupants, was overturned. The woman and the other man, Edward Morganster, 134 Kidder street, were rescued. Police failed to recover the body. [Editor’s note: the drowned man was 27-year old Edward F. Murphy of 365 Shasta Street, Manchester NH.

July 11, 1936 Pine Island Ad in Boston Herald (Boston MA) page 16

July 11, 1936 Pine Island Ad in Boston Herald (Boston MA) page 16

Just two years later, a natural disaster struck. In  September 1938, the Great Hurricane aka The Yankee Clipper roared through New Hampshire. Pine Island was greatly affected with  more than 3,000 pine trees in the park knocked down, and damaging  the roller coaster, bath house, Ferris wheel, and several other buildings.

Ten years later, on 8 August 1948, death reaped another bit of humanity. On 9 August 1948 Monday Nashua Telegraph (Nashua NH) reported: “William McGuiness, 17, Manchester shoe worker, struck by an automobile while walking with a companion early Sunday near Pine Island Park in Manchester.”Pine Iland Pond 3 watermark

Thirteen years pass, seemingly without incidence. The mayhem of the past is mostly forgotten.  Then a series of strange events once again occur, starting on September 30 1961, when and unexplained fire burns two of the major amusement rides and the popular arcade.  October 1, 1961, Boston Record American (Boston MA)–MANCHESTER ARCADE BURNS. Manchester, N.H. (AP)–Fire destroyed two amusement rides and a penny arcade at Pine Island Park yesterday. The amusement center was closed for the season. Fire Chief Edward Grady said the fire started in the Dodgem ride and spread to a merry-go-round and the arcade. Firefighters were hampered by strong winds and low water pressure.

In 1964 after the notorious disappearance of Pamela Mason, the park became the focus of the investigation.  On 18 January 1964 the Portsmouth Herald stated, “Police searched unsuccessfully through snow and boarded-up buildings at an abandoned amusement park Friday for some trace of Pamela Mason, 14, missing since Monday night. The young, five-foot-three inch brunette was reported last seen getting into a car driven by a man who had hired her for what was to have been a baby sitting assignment. The search of the former Pine Island Amusement Park area was made after a mailman, Fred Brockway, found an empty, unstamped envelope in a mailbox on which the following words were written: “P. Mason, Pine Island Park.” The former amusement park is on the outskirts of Manchester.

The following year on 4 July 1965, the Pine Island Dance Hall goes up in flames! Tuesday, 6 July 1965 Nashua Telegraph ( Nashua NH) BLAZE DESTROYS OLD DANCE HALL — Manchester NH (AP)–Fire Sunday night destroyed the dance hall at Pine Island Park in Goffs Falls, once a popular local entertainment spot. The cause of the blaze was not immediately determined. The building had not been used for three years.

pine island park pavilion watermarkDuring the early 1960s the reputation of horror faded from the minds of local residents, and Pine Island Park was often the site of family reunions and company outings.  When it closed in 1963, the State of New Hampshire even thought of purchasing the land for a state-owned park, but the idea never became reality.

Today the City of Manchester maintains a small park, called Pine Island Park on 8.3 acres of land. Some see signs of new life on the lake, both wild and human.  Perhaps its curse is finally over. Other think that time, and even the closing of the amusement park, hasn’t  put an end  to the locale’s  bad mojo.  As recently as 2014 Pine Island Park was the location of an assault where a man punched another while he sat in his parked vehicle. A patrolling Manchester police officer observed the incident and a man was charged with assault.

Was it simply coincidence, or is there something sinister in the park’s location that makes it a magnet for tragedy.  You be the judge.

(For those who want to know the details of the park’s “good-side” history)

Pine Island, Manchester, New Hampshire (a brief history)

Pine Island Amusement Park (another brief history) from Planet Retro

Pine Island Park – the current site of the Park, now a Manchester city recreation area

NHFGD Inland Fisheries Division Map of Pine Island Pond and Vicinity – PDF file

Manchester’s Urban Ponds (including Pine Island Pond) – good Manchester

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29 Responses to The Darker Side of Manchester NH’s Pine Island Park

  1. Theresa Drury says:

    omg …i absolutely remember pine island park,,,,,so much fun there,,my brother ray worked there i believe as the engineer

    on the little train,,..teen age years,,sweet hearts ,,first dates,,rollar skateink,,and greasey french fries,,,and the drive in ,,,feels like it was yesterday…

  2. Norma Kittredge says:

    I so remember Pine Island Park in the 50s. So many memories going there with my cousins and aunts and uncles.

  3. Patty Dominick Mason says:

    Remember the crooked house ride in the lower park, I was left stranded on the little Ferris wheel while the operator had lunch, Patty Dominick Mason

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  5. Theresa Labrecque says:

    I used to go to Pine Island Park as a child. Many good times there . Back in the 1920 & 1930 My father swam there and entertained people as one of the Super Brownies, They went swimming and diving in the pond in the winter time.Feb. 28th 1932 Manchester Winter Carnival Pine Park. Super Brownie
    Napoleon Goudreault. The Brownies also swam at the Amoskeag Ledge Mid night swim on New Years Eve 1930
    We as a family went to see the fire works on fourth of July. at Pine Island Park .Theresa (Goudreault) Labrecque Daughter of Napoleon Goudreault. July 1, 2016

  6. armand says:

    anybody know who lit the fire

  7. Herman c says:

    I remember my first ride on a roller-coaster I was nine years old with my mother scared the hell outof me we used to go there a lot it was 1959 we lived in golf balls right across the street on the banks of the Merrimack River my dad was the Provo Marshall At Grenier Air Force Base down the road it was nice growing up in New Hampshire as a child

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  9. Joseph G LaFrance says:

    Eerie is the term for this chronicle of Pine Island Park, another well done account of Times gone by.

  10. JOHN LESSARD says:

    I lived on goofs falls road. My oldest brother and sister used to work there. My brother, no longer with us first ran the train among other things, and ended up hanging off the back oiling the rollercoaster, can you bereave that. My sister also worked in the rollerskating rink. I used to go there, and go on the planes, boats, and race cars, and even after it closed. If any one remembers, I’m the one that used to ride an English bike, with the thin tires across the glare ice of pine island pond in 64 65. 66, around then. Funny, I hardly ever fell. That place is good history for me, and my family, just say n. A little dangerous, but fun.

  11. JOHN LESSARD says:

    That was goffs. I hate spell chi. Think n back, what about the little dipper. And the fun house, loosing your ballence, looking at that mirror, walking across that bridge when u first walked in. Just found this sight, I will think of much more

  12. Kevin Burke says:

    I work there in 1963 before joining the army

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  14. Many of the drownings were probably senceless. People in the Victorian era were afraid to go swimming due to the threat of polio, and never learned to swim. They also did not wear life jackets when boating

    • Heather says:

      I didn’t know the details but was wondering why so many people did not know how to swim back then. Thanks for the info.

      • Janice Brown says:

        Arthur, first thank you for reading my blog and commenting. In earlier history there were many more people who did not know how to swim. Organized swimming lessons are real a modern invention. Swimming was not even added to the Olympic Games until 1896. The creation of the Y.M.C.A. did a great deal for people learning to swim, but even if you know how accidents do happen.

      • Dave Keough says:

        It could have been the large and bulky clothes they wore back then. The women wore those huge dresses. Hard to swim in them.

    • JLorian says:

      Not to mention that women’s swimming costumes were prohibitively heavy when wet…

  15. JLorian says:

    One of the incidents refers to a man attempting to swim across Crystal Lake…that isn’t Pine Island Park that’s on the other side of town nearer Derry.

  16. David Keough says:

    I remember going there in the 50s. One day when we were there while they were taking application. The line was very long I was 7 then and remember asking if I could work there. A kids dream. They told me to come back in 10 years.We lived in Raymond so that was out of the question.

  17. Donna says:

    Hi…I think it was a milk bottle (Hood?) Not a Moxie bottle. Saw a segment on Chronicle a year or two ago and they showed a pic of the bottle.

  18. Joe Casci says:

    Lord that was a long time ago as a kid I went there many time in the late 50s. During summer vacation the Concord YMCA would take us there every few weeks as I remember and on a few occasions my parents took myself and sister there. I have a great many good memories of the park and like one of the others that left comments here I got my first roller coaster ride there and it scared the hell out of me also I was probably around 7or 8 years old at the time. This articsl brought back a host of memories. Thanks!

  19. Richard Pare says:

    After it closed a few friends and I went in to the park area and tried to push one of the roller coaster cars up the hill. It was really heavy but we managed to get it up some. Then we watched as it rolled down not being brave enough to get in. Good thing!

  20. Armand says:

    there are a few older folks near 70 that lived in goffs falls and know who lit the fire BOTH times and the “reason” why it was lit by the same person . That person never was prosecuted on Pine island case, no one spoke up but that individual did do time for different crime later Arson too

  21. Melissa Gash says:

    My parents would give me money to ride the small roller coaster. I would sneak away and ride the big one. They never knew. I fessed up as an adult. I have such fond memories of pine island

  22. Terry LeMasurier says:

    Got my first kiss on the small ferris wheel at Pine Island Park. I was 8 years old. It was a great family place to go.

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