Palisades Park

A little known fact — in 1962 twelve women became engaged on the Ferris wheel in Palisades Park. Lulu Lilac let Chuck Garbinski slip a half-carat diamond on the ring finger of her left hand and became one of the twelve lucky, mostly young, ladies who wore an engagement ring at the end of the ride. How do I know the number of about-to-be-wed? I’m Dante and was the wheel operator and the first person to know. First, of course, after the young lady.  I could tell just by looking at the couple — engagement in the sky and sometimes under the stars. A hundred feet off the ground in a swinging seat, slip on a ring, and a kiss seals the deal.   “You got engaged up there?” I asked pointing my chin skyward as the seat came to its resting place on the concrete pad.

“Yes, we did.”

After running the wheel for fifteen summers, I could tell what went on. “Ya know, not all of them rides was happy ones.”

“How about signing my book?  I keep the names of people who get engaged on the wheel. You’re making history.”

“I was afraid he’d drop the ring. His hands were shaking,” said Lulu. “We were so high up. It was beautiful. All the lights from the rides, and the light of the moon. Look!” Lulu stuck out her hand and a silvery sparkle caught the lights of the wheel.

Twinkle, twinkle. Diamond bright.

* * *

Lulu met Chuck three years before their engagement. She worked at Sears, Roebuck on Elizabeth Avenue and walked home after work, even in the rain. She passed the A&P and the J&G Auto Parts store. Chuck was a driver for the parts place and began to notice Lulu long before she noticed him. On no particular Wednesday afternoon when Chuck stopped her to say something like “hello,” Lulu did not know she would become part of Palisades Park history. She also did not anticipate that when the engagement was broken, a clerk from Abelson’s would call to say the ring had a balance due and, therefore, must be paid for or returned.

Since she didn’t make history with a first novel at age sixteen, the wheel was good enough for now. How do I know? She drove up to the park last Saturday and said that the engagement went bust. The romance was over. He told her had been married and divorced. He also told her he was married twice and divorced twice.  “Show me your divorce certificate!” That what I said to him. “Prove it!   “You know what that jerk did? He had a printer friend make a certificate. It had the gold seal of New Jersey glued in the left-hand corner. Looked official enough to me.

“Dante, I wouldn’t be telling you the story, except my name in is your log-book. We did not have a marriage. He left me a letter and concert tickets he bought for my birthday. Fr. John called from St. Michael’s and said I needed to get down to the church immediately. Chuck went to the priest and spilled the story of his not yet being divorced and how awful he felt. So, Ferris wheel operator, not every engagement made under the stars sparkles on the ground.”

 * * *

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