From 1949 to April 1986, many different rides and attractions came and went at Rocky Point Park. But there was one main fixture in the park over those decades, and that was the late Conrad Ferla. You didn’t need to look very far to see Mr. Ferla; in fact he seemed to be one step ahead of you everywhere you went at Rocky Point. There he was picking up an empty soda cup in front of the Flume, checking in with a game operator on the midway and at the end of the day, asking you how you were enjoying your clam cakes and chowder in the Shore Dinner Hall. Was it his motor bike that got him there? Or was it magic?
A World World II veteran (Italian Army), Mr. Ferla came to Rocky Point from Italy in 1949 to work for his older brother Vincent. He worked his way up through the organization and in doing so, he became of the face of Rocky Point. He was the person that everyone associated with the park, again, being pretty much everywhere throughout the day. After his brother Vincent retired and sold the park in 1969, Conrad Ferla stayed on through two different owners, serving as president and general manager for the last 14 years until his retirement. An expert in food preparation, Mr. Ferla did his magic at the Shore Dinner Hall. He once told a reporter that he planned the food supplies by instinct and that all worked out amazingly given the number of diners, including massive group outings, that ate in the Hall. So while we saw Mr. Ferla at work on the midway and in the Hall, much of the incredible work he did was behind the scenes, long before we arrived that day, and into the night after we left.
While I only had three encounters with Conrad Ferla over the years, the one in 1968 was the most memorable. It was just after school ended in June that year, and I took buses to the park for the first time, travelling from East Providence to the former Outlet Company in downtown Providence, and from there to Rocky Point. Once I arrived at the park, I joined a group of my junior high school classmates who had been dropped off by their parents. Surprisingly, only two of us, me and my classmate Marie, had any interest in the rides; the rest went off to the Arcade. After Marie and I finished riding the Wildcat coaster, three older (and much bigger) male teens approached us and started making disparaging remarks about Marie, who was several inches taller than me. I led Marie away by the hand, but the teens followed and continued taunting her about her height. Instinctively I did what any gentleman does in that situation, regardless of anybody’s size – I defended Marie’s honor.
I didn’t hear Mr. Ferla’s motor bike approaching; perhaps it masked by the noise from the Wildcat, or maybe I was too focused on the task at hand. But I heard a friendly voice say, “Easy there champ!” The teens, who had formed a tight circle around me, scattered like cotton candy in the wind. Mr. Ferla’s presence struck fear into their hearts.
“So,” Mr. Ferla asked me with a warm smile and Old World accent, “I take it you were sticking up for this young lady?”
“Yes.” I replied, somewhat embarrassed.
“And your name is?”
“It’s George, sir,” I replied timidly, not sure if I was in more trouble.
“Well Giorgio, I like what you did, but do me a big favor. If these kids or anybody else causes trouble in the park, just let anybody who works here know about it. They know how to reach me. I’m always around. I never leave the place!”
“Ok?,” he asked with a wink.
No doubt, I replied affirmatively. And with that, Mr. Ferla was off on his bike towards the Palladium.
Much has been written about Mr. Ferla. He has been honored by many organizations, including the New England Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions, who in 2010, inducted him into its Hall of Fame.
He has rubbed elbows with many celebrities, but for those of us who love Rocky Point Park, Mr. Ferla is THE celebrity!
Mr. Ferla passed away on October 22, 1996. He is survived by his wife Anita and their grandchildren. Anita, who is a huge contributor to the Rocky Point Park Remembered! Facebook group, sharing park photos and fascinating memories.
I’m sure that Conrad Ferla’s family, friends and former employees have recollections more fascinating that mine. If you’re reading this, please share them in the comments below!
So, regardless of where you are in Rocky Point State Park, you can rest assured, Conrad Ferla was there.
When I’m at the state park, I always remember what Mr. Ferla told me in June 1968.
I’m always around. I never leave the place!
(Photo credits: NBC10, Anita Cerri Ferla, You Must Be This Tall, Warwick Beacon, George LaCross)