An enduring symbol of summer
The story behind the family that runs Rochester's historic Seabreeze Amusement Park
Genevieve Norris, like many twentysomething girls, loves collecting Hello Kitty merchandise, finding a great deal shopping at the mall, and riding roller coasters—but it’s a spin on a classic carousel that excites her most. “I don’t like seeing ostriches and tigers on carousels, and I would never in my life sit on a fiberglass horse at some mall,” says Genevieve, who has good reason to be a connoisseur.
Norris is director of human resources and attractions at Seabreeze Amusement Park in Irondequoit. She’s also being groomed to be the next park president by her father, Rob. One of Genevieve’s goals is to keep Seabreeze relevant in the twenty-first century while maintaining its rich ties to the past. You can tell she is up to that task by the passion she exudes for the park’s most cherished attraction. “I mean, what other family besides ours has a wooden carousel horse in their foyer?”
Likewise, if you mention the ride to Rob’s father—or any of Rob’s three siblings who have kept the Gyrosphere jamming, the Yo-Yo flying, and the Jack Rabbit jumping over the past four decades—be prepared to listen to a fascinating story of how the whole park revolves around this one key attraction.
An enduring symbol of summer
Until it was ravaged by fire in 1994, the original carousel, with its Wurlitzer band organ playing staccato standards of the day, was a source of nostalgia and comfort to lifelong Rochesterians. Genevieve’s great-grandfather George Long carved the ornate horses and other intricate details. Those majestic steeds, galloping in circles, took older patrons back to days gone by—a time before Seabreeze, or any park, had waterslides or video arcades. The carousel was a jewel on the shore of Lake Ontario, an enduring symbol of summer.
It was only natural that on the evening of March 31, 1994, WOKR’s Don Alhart consoled a region mourning the loss of the carousel in a segment that featured a little girl crying in the arms of a loved one. “This is the best place in the whole universe, and now it’s all gone,” the child says in a video clip from that day. Alhart’s voice then continues over horrific images of billowing smoke and flames: “In some small way, a piece of each of us was carried skyward. Memories breaking out of the smolder, flames that showed no respect for what we all hold so dear.” The fire was caused by gusts of wind during a maintenance job involving shingles.
Seabreeze also lost historical artifacts, an arcade, a shooting gallery, a funhouse, and maintenance buildings. Only six of the carousel’s wooden horses survived. Genevieve was only eight years old then and was kept away from the park until firefighters extinguished the devastating blaze. “We camped out in the park office, and the power was out. The whole thing was so scary and sad. That day was the first time I’d ever seen my whole family so heartbroken.”
A new carousel opened in 1996, and this is where Genevieve literally made her first mark at Seabreeze, painting a red border along the carousel’s base. It’s a moment she counts among her most sentimental. As woodworking was not a trade passed onto George Long’s descendants, the family hired Ed Roth, a California-based sculptor who also chiseled exotic figures inspired by Disney’s Aladdin for the Caravan Carousel at Tokyo DisneySea.
“It’s amazing how little Seabreeze on Lake Ontario can be represented in a worldwide setting and still be respected as much as Disney or Six Flags,” says Genevieve, who remained dedicated to the family business throughout her teens.
A vision shaped by an unusual childhood
Genevieve has worn many hats, including straightening and stacking cash and operating games on the midway. Through these jobs, a once-shy girl found her voice with her family’s encouragement. “Kids in school would make fun of me and say things like ‘I’d rather go to Darien Lake,’ but I live and breathe and die for this place. I want to be here.”
As Genevieve’s father passes down his generation’s legacy to her, both Rob and his daughter share appreciation for each other’s different management styles. “It’s a fantastic privilege to work forty years together and still get along [with my siblings],” he says. The soft-spoken engineer, however, will always know what to expect from his daughter, who isn’t afraid to speak up on behalf of what she feels is best for the park and its cultural sustainability.
Someday she hopes to create a family-friendly Halloween celebration at the park, one idea that has yet to pass her elder’s approv- al. “I would like to keep rein- venting what we have and keep with the times. Since we are landlocked, it would be hard to purchase other land around here, so we want to keep that nostalgic feeling, keeping classic rides like the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Sea Dragon but mixing it up with newer roller coasters like the Whirlwind and Revolution 360,” says Genevieve. It’s a vision shared by her father and the park leaders who came before him.
“We’re caretakers of this insti- tution that’s much bigger than we are. We’ll continue on as long as we are the best people to run the park.”
Stephanie Layne Williams is a Rochester-based media gadfly and the owner of a bespoke copywriting studio called Words with Steph.