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BANGOR, Maine — The Carmel Auto Rest Park, which closed in the late 1950s, was resurrected and in full swing in downtown Bangor Saturday, marking the 72nd anniversary of the Central Street shooting of crime boss Al Brady and the 175th anniversary of the founding of the city of Bangor.
The Skyliners, a local band, played stylish jazz and swing-time favorites from a portable stage set up in West Market Square, enticing a few dancers to try out their moves. Juggler Zachary Field, on loan from The Ground Round restaurant, dazzled onlookers with his skill. Prohibition-era automobiles were parked at the curb, while costumed rumrunners, mobsters, and molls strolled through the sparse crowd.
The Carmel Auto Rest Park, a popular attraction from the 1920s through the 1950s, featured swing, jazz and country music, dancing, animal acts, rides and arcade games. The Brady Gang spent one night there before the shootout on Central Street that killed famed gangster Al Brady and his associate Clarence Lee Shaffer Jr. on Oct. 12, 1937. Pictures of the shootout were captured by a Bangor Daily News photographer and splashed onto the front pages of newspapers across the country, thrusting the city briefly into the national spotlight.
“Not many people still remember the Carmel Auto Rest Park, so we thought the next best thing was to bring it to Bangor,” said Bangor Mayor Gerry Palmer. Palmer said reviving the roadside entertainment spot in Bangor would enrich the historical context of the Brady Gang shootout.
In October 2007, to mark the 70th anniversary of the shootout, Palmer and others staged an elaborate re-enactment of the event, attracting about 4,000 spectators to Central Street.
“You have to do different aspects,” Palmer said of Sunday’s lower-profile event, “and they don’t all have to be violent.”
Saturday’s crowd, though small, was enthusiastic. Among them were a few area residents with happy memories of the Carmel Auto Rest Park.
“We used to go every Sunday,” said Cecil Ross, 72, of Levant. “My cousin Roland Maloon had a ton-and-a-half truck with a rack body. He’d round up all the kids and we’d go off.”
“People would have a heart attack if anyone did that now,” observed Ross’ longtime friend Guy Baker, 65, of Brewer.
Ross and Baker said they spent many happy afternoons at the roadside spot in the 1950s — “the good years,” Ross said. “Elvis Presley and all that.”
Elvis is not known to have headlined at the Carmel Auto Rest Park, but country musicians such as Smilin’ Bill Waters, Curly O’Brian, and Yodelin’ Slim Clark did, Baker said.
Ross recalled a penny arcade, a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round and animal attractions, including a black bear and monkeys.
“They’d give the monkey a cigarette and he’d suck on it just like that,” he said, laughing as he demonstrated.
“We used to come down from Aroostook County to go roller skating,” said Ross’ wife, Mary, 65. “We were all related, anyway.”
“Everyone from all the little towns was at the auto park,” Cecil Ross said. “They had a lot of fun. I wish they’d do it all again.”
The celebration of Bangor’s 175th birthday and the Brady Gang shootout continued on Sunday with a downtown vintage auto parade beginning at 2 p.m. in Pickering Square.