When Buster Crabbe Came to Coopersburg

The Olympic gold medalist and movie star was the celebrity ribbon-cutter at the grand opening of the Southern Lehigh Community Pool on May 30, 1963.

Sitting in the dark was quite different from age eight to 18, especially at the "Sauconia Theater" (later known as The Movies) on Main Street in Hellertown. In 1953, we boys would sit together much closer to the screen than in 1963. In '63, the last row next to a certain person of the opposite sex was much more comfortable. I can still sense the extreme difference in excitement in 2013 and the vast environmental shift.

In '53 often a serial featuring film star and previously a 1932 Olympic Gold Medal swimmer, Buster Crabbe, highlighted the pre-feature film. He played action roles like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Tarzan and several cowboy parts, namely Capt. Gallant of the Foreign Legion, Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp. I particularly recall Flash Gordon, who traveled with his crew by spaceship to the planet Mango where the Imperial Ruler, Ming, had declared war on Earth. At the end of each episode, Flash, the hero, would be placed in a precarious position.

I believe that this role is more memorable because Flash Gordon attracted the new TV audience as well as the old-timers who viewed the video from the balcony or the main floor at Hellertown's American Legion, where the first movies were shown compliments of audio-visual expert Robert Hoppes (and years later at the Sauconia). Until recently, I had never heard of Crabbe's nearby personal appearance.

On Memorial Day, May 30, 1963, Buster Crabbe was the ribbon-cutter at the Grand Opening of the Southern Lehigh Community Pool at Southern Lehigh Living Memorial Park in Coopersburg, Pa.

This ribbon-cutting followed the Prelude played by the Southern Lehigh Band under the direction of Benjamin Evans. Opening remarks were made by the ever-popular Ernie Stiegler, a Lehigh Valley radio personality at the time. Then the Invocation was delivered by Rev. Ernest Hawk, Pastor at St. John's UCC, Coopersburg. Next, Atty. Robert K. Young was the guest speaker, followed by remarks given by Thomas W. Watkins. For me, the highlight of the program would have been the ribbon-cutting by our childhood hero, i.e. the teens' Buster Crabbe, whose autograph we would have sought after his featured speech, "The Evolution of Swimming."

This autograph will forever be valuable to those who grew up watching this star on the big screen, especially if they had been lucky enough to pull a one-cent trade card from a machine at Dorney Park's Penny Arcade back in the 1950s and still had it for his real signature.

Why did I just purchase a bronze miniature carousel horse at a local antique emporium? Memories! In those days of yore, all the serials featuring Crabbe and fellow actors on screen and early TV were all black and white. Color was left to the viewers' imagination, and these films were never HD nor were they boring. Clarence Linden "Buster" Crabbe ruled in his time on screen and during the 400-meter freestyle.


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