July 29, 1980 was a dark day for Salem, NH. Early that morning a devastating fire tore through the Rockingham Park grandstands. It would be four years before “The Track” would open again, and some would say it was never the same.
From age 10 on, I lived very close to Rockingham Park and have lots of memories of it from before and after the fire.When we were kids, we used to sell sandwiches and lemonade outside the main gate during the busy summer thoroughbred meet. In the winte,r (the trotters season) we would climb through the mountains of snow that were created from plowing the enormous parking lots.
Years later, and after the fire, we would occasionally sneak out of work to place a few bets on a friend’s horse, Maguru (later nicknamed Maglueru). I also had a friend who was married at the park.
I didn’t know it at the time, but when we were selling lemonade, my future father-in-law was out front with his taxi. When guys had a good day betting, they would ride home in style in his Crown Victoria, rather than take the bus.
My mother worked in the clubhouse and it’s also where a lot of my friends held their first jobs.
In my world, there were endless connections to Rockingham Park, so when I heard there was a fire at the track I grabbed my camera and ran over and captured these pictures.
But this post is really about all my memories from before and after the fire. Looking through my pictures just got me thinking about all my connections and memories from Rockingham Park…
The track kitchen was a dining hall down in the stables where trainers, jockeys, owners and gamblers looking for an edge would go for breakfast and lunch. It really was an interesting place with great food and lots of character and characters. The gamblers were called clockers, always looking for some inside info or hoping to overhear something that would help them out at the betting windows.
Fight night was a unique Rockingham Park event. One night a week, during the summer meet, a boxing ring was set up by the stables for a night of boxing. I don’t remember how they matched up people—maybe some stable grudges were settled there—but it was entertaining with an almost carnival-like atmosphere.
These days the trotters are still around but the live thoroughbred racing is gone, except for simulcasts from other tracks. I would guess that unless they get some sort of slot machines or other gambling, Rockingham Park might not be long for this world, given the size of the property. If I were a betting man (and I am), I would say that unless things change we will probably see something like an Ikea in its place someday. I like Ikea, but that would be a shame.
For now, I share more of my photos taken that horrible day in 1980…
Do you have memories of Rockingham Park? Chime in…