With summer upon us, it's amusement park time again. One of Kentucky's most historic parks is Bowling Green's Beech Bend, the subject of a recent book by Robert Dickey.
Dickey spoke with the Herald-Leader about his book, Charles Garvin's Dynasty of Dimes, on the history of the park, its dime admission price and lovingly eccentric owner, Garvin.
Among Dickey's favorite anecdotes from the book is the enduring legend of buried treasure at Beech Bend.
"The rumor was back when dimes and quarters were silver that (Garvin) buried them in milk cans," he said.
To this day, folks talk, too, about legends of Confederate gold at the park, he says.
So how would a myth of buried treasure stay alive more than 60 years after Garvin first bought the park? It had to do with Garvin's cash-only financial philosophy, Dickey says. He spent nearly $13,000, all cash, to buy the 171-acre "glorified picnic ground" in 1942, Dickey says.
"He was always believer in cash money," he says. "He graduated from high school in 1930, so he caught the Great Depression full force. ... He thought it was safer hidden under his bed than in the bank."
"Some of the folks today could take a lesson from Garvin," Dickey adds. "In the early development of the park, he never bought, let's say, a merry-go-round, unless he could pay cash for it."
"He got his best price that way," and, of course, avoided credit problems, too, Dickey says.
So how did a kid of the Depression come up with nearly $13,000 cash to buy the "picnic ground"?
Garvin farmed full-time while also working as a court clerk and would also hop a freight train down to Nashville every so often and box in the Golden Gloves program down there.
"He had the most energy I ever witnessed," said Dickey, who did publicity for the park and then became Garvin's attorney after graduating from Vanderbilt.
Garvin was pretty much a business genius, and people knew it, Dickey says.
In 1956, fisherman captured a few full-grown alligators out of the Barren River that everyone suspected came from Beech Bend's animal exhibits.
Folks thought Garvin might have turned them loose because he began operating a paid swimming pool in 1951 but continued to let people swim in the river for free.
"Some wags around town thought this was a not-so-subtle Garvin marketing scheme to get people out of the river and into the swimming pool," Dickey says.
After Garvin's death in 1980, the park changed hands and fell into disrepair for a time, but it's now owned and operated by Dallas and Alfreda Jones.
It's slightly different from Garvin's park, Dickey writes, but "it preserves much of the old flavor and continues to be Joe Everyman's — and his family's — refuge from the cares of the real world, a place where families and friends still can have fun on a budget."