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February 2, 2017

Remembering Rutland’s Rotary skating rink

In a recent column I mentioned that Rotary Rink in Rutland was a popular place to ice skate during my youth in the 1950s and 60s. However, its history dates back to the 1930s.
The Rotary Club turned the property over to the city in 1946 and the Recreation Department began using it year round as the years went by. There has not been a skating rink there since the 70s so memories will have to take the place of our fun on the ice.
Perhaps one of the most well known skaters to use the rink was Jennie Haseltine Aldrich, who skated at Rotary in the 1930s. She overcame the adversity of having only one arm and participated in the well known Figure Skating Operetta at Lake Placid in 1938.
In the 1940s there are stories of barrel jumping on the ice rink. One of the best jumpers in that era was Bob Hier. His four-barrel achievement was not an easy feat.
The rink moved from the east side of the Rotary field house to the north side in 1948. It was enlarged two years later.
If you skated at Rotary back “in the day,” you will remember the rather unusual way that you entered the building to warm up. You could skate right up to the door of the basement. However, once you left the actual rink, the ice to the door was rather choppy. That meant that you were not always graceful when you entered. Once inside there was a large furnace that kept you nice and warm.
Of course, all kids want a treat while warming up, such as hot chocolate or a snack of some kind. In order to get either of those you had to take off your skates and go upstairs.  During the 50s you would have found the late Senator James Jeffords running the snack bar during his teenage years.
One of the rink rules was that you skated in only one direction. You would think that would keep things orderly on the ice but young people like some excitement and one way to get it was to play Crack the Whip. A group of skaters held hands and the more people who were involved, the more fun it was. When the pivot person stopped, most of the others ended up in a snow bank.
Obviously, this line had to be formed quickly and dispatched quickly because it could get out of control rather easily. The person who could put a stop to such reckless behavior was Ernie Cameron. He watched over the rink from an upstairs window and over the sound system you would hear, “Behave yourself … or else!” Nobody wanted to get kicked off the rink so the bad behavior stopped!
Some people skated slowly around the rink hand in hand while others sped around. One of the latter was local skater Eddie Lafond. He is remembered as a talented skater who raced around the rink on his long-bladed racing skates.
We always skated to music. Some of the songs were waltzes and others were livelier tunes such as Bobby Darin’s, “Splish Splash.”
In addition to public skating, Rotary Rink was also home to winter carnivals and a few college hockey games over the years. Local skaters also took part in ice shows. As an example of their popularity, the one in 1956 had 1,200 people watching it. It is described in that year’s City Report as “colorful.”
1956 was also the year that a special skating rink was added for small children. I am sure this was welcomed by parents after watching the older kids racing around playing Crack the Whip on the main rink.
I was curious to see how many days of skating there were back in the 50s. The City of Rutland Reports for that decade consistently show the count to be in the thirties. Considering that the rink was open seven days a week, it sounds like the weather was as fickle back then as it is these days. By the mid 50s there was also a neighborhood rink on Meadow Street and between the two places there were 20,000 people who used them over 30 some odd days.
Recreational skating was without doubt a popular way to spend one’s leisure time “back in the day.” I still have my white figure skates … just in case I want to wobble around the rink!

Casella

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