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Chamber planning display, sale of old Seaway souvenirs

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MASSENA - In the summer of 1959 the St. Lawrence Seaway was opening its gates to vessels for the first time and souvenirs were heralding its arrival.

Now, more than 50 years later, some of those souvenirs are in the hands of the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce, which plans to display them - and also sell them - at their Eisenhower Lock Gift Shop, which opened for the season on Friday.

The vintage mementoes of years gone by include items such as shot glasses, ash trays, mugs, spoon rests, salt and pepper shakers and more, all emblazoned with the Seaway’s Eisenhower Lock logo and, in some cases, a logo of Snell Lock, which is no longer open to the public.

Chamber Director Kathleen Kelly-Ori said the souvenirs came from Pete Darling, who had been hanging on to them for many years, packed delicately in boxes to keep them looking brand new.

Mr. Darling said back in the early ‘60, Kiddieland stood at the intersection of state Route 131 and Massena Center Road in the Massena Center area for two or three years.

“They had animals and everything,” he said.

There was also a souvenir shop, where the Seaway souvenirs were for sale.

“It was in the red building where the motel is now. There was a souvenir shop back in the ‘60s. They had all kinds of stuff. The front part was a gift shop,” he said.

They included souvenirs that appealed to children, including one with the likeness of Popeye the Sailor Man, Mr. Darling said.

They weren’t the only place where souvenirs were sold, he said.

“The Vista House (at the Eisenhower Lock) had their stuff, too,” according to Mr. Darling.

After Kiddieland closed, the property was turned over to Clarkson University, he said, and four partners bought it from Clarkson in 1973 and built a motel.

Soon after, the souvenirs, which were still in the red building, came into Mr. Darling’s possession when the younger Bob Willer offered them to him.

“He says, ‘I gotta get rid of this stuff’ and he approached me,” Mr. Darling said.

They made a deal, and Mr. Darling ended up taking “truckload after truckload of this stuff” off Mr. Willer’s hands.

“I accumulated this (collection) from Bob Willer. We put it all in the trailer,” he said.

Mr. Darling, who rented the motel for for a year and bought it in 1981, is now selling the property, and he said that drove his decision to find a new home for the souvenirs.

“Since we’ve sold the property, I have to get of all of it,” he said.

And the chamber is more than happy to take it. Mr. Darling had brought items by for former chamber Executive Director Michael Gleason to look at.

“I told Mike, ‘Pick out what you want,’” he said.

The items have been in the basement of the chamber offices.

“We have about four cases of stuff in the basement. It’s assorted. It not any one thing. It’s all in boxes. They are pristine. The condition is phenomenal for the age of them. We’re going to put it in the Locks store,” she said.

Mrs. Kelly-Ori suggested the souvenirs will bring back memories for older folks, and offer a look back for younger people.

“It appeals to the older people and to the younger people it’s really cool,” she said.

Scott Coupal, chair of the chamber’s Marketing Committee, said the souvenirs could serve as an inspiration for people to visit the region. The salt and pepper shakers, for instance, could be used by someone 1,000 miles away and, as they pick them up and look at the logo, it may inspire them to make a visit to see the Eisenhower Lock first-hand, he said.

“We’re trying to take Massena to a new level of tourism. We have some things up our sleeve for the future,” Mr. Coupal said.

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