Crystal Ballroom remembered 50 years after devastating fire

 

Fifty years ago, before the Antietam Valley Recreation Center stood in its spot, the Crystal Ballroom, known for music and dancing, stood grand, despite being a shell of its former self.

"The building closest to it, the lake, was all windows, which 90 percent were smashed out," said Richard Gerhart, Lower Alsace Township's fire marshal.

Even so, there was still something to be admired, until early one morning in late August 1968, when a fire broke out, reducing the building to a charred heap.

"Turns out it was an arson," said Gerhart, who was 13 years old when his dad was called to fight the fire.

Gerhart now responds to fires, and the Crystal Ballroom fire sticks with him.

"It's like the flames were 100 feet in the air," he recalled.

The Crystal Ballroom fire was massive. The wooden building and barrels of tar in the basement helped keep the fire burning. People who remember it said even modern-day firefighting equipment couldn't have saved the building.

"I was really bummed out," said Paul Druzba, who wrote a book about Carsonia Park and dedicated part of it to the Crystal Ballroom. "The place was beautiful."

Druzba was 18 when the fire destroyed it, but only in recent years did its story grab his attention again.

"Experience those things now while you can. Talk to the people who knew about it now before they are gone," Druzba said.

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