Happily Ever After & the Crystal Ballroom

Real-life romance at Buckeye Lake’s old amusement park

5/7/20243 min read

I’m a sucker for a good love story. I think that’s what captured my imagination all those years ago when I was covering news at Buckeye Lake and first started learning the history of the place. Big strands of lights, big band music, big energy, big crowds … it was a backdrop I knew must have brought hearts together.

I was right.

The other day, I was blessed to get to sit down with one of those old love stories still going strong. So, I want to tell you a story, and unlike my novel Pressed Together, this one’s not fiction.

Once upon a time, a little girl named Elizabeth and a boy named John grew up on the same street in the south end of Columbus. They went to the same grade school. Liz’s family bought a cottage on Buckeye Lake when she was very small (in 1945, just a year before my novel takes place), and they spent long, lovely summers there. Her father traveled back and forth to Columbus to work each day (when he was young, her dad also laid bricks in the Crystal Pool for a wage of 25 cents a day).

John Hoermle’s family had a place at Buckeye Lake’s Shell Beach, where they spent weekends.

Young John’s and Liz’s lives took place almost side by side for years before they ever noticed one another, and that first notice was interesting: “He was dating some of my friends,” Liz remembers stoically, noting they eventually just fell into dating one another with other couples.

Though their families had Chris-Craft boats like the one in my book, teenage John also had a very small motorboat of his own with an outboard motor. Their courtship on the lake consisted of days spent in that little boat together. They remember the giant tourist paddleboat making big waves, and they’d get behind it and enjoy a truly wild ride. They'd pull in at swim areas to cool off, or they’d stop in to get something to eat or drink here and there around the lake.

Of course, they went to the amusement park often. They fondly remember that, during the weekdays, people could ride The Dips roller coaster for a quarter and then stay on until they couldn’t afford another ride. [See related post]

“You could take your girl to the park with three bucks and come back with money in your pocket,” John recalls.

My favorite way Buckeye Lake factored into this love story, though, was their engagement. John proposed to Liz at the Crystal Ballroom on July 3. The ballroom was lovely, they said, all lit up at night. Visitors could walk out on the balcony and look out on the pool, also lit. They were there with another couple, sitting at a table between dances. Liz remembers swing jazz musician Les Elgart playing that evening when John “got out the ring and showed it to me, and I was so surprised.”

They would marry the following summer, in 1961. Like their parents, they lived in Columbus and continued to visit the lake on weekends. The Hoermles raised three sons. They moved out to the lake full-time almost twenty years ago, into the cottage Liz’s parents bought when she was barely old enough to attend school.

I like to imagine my invented characters still eating dinner together and watching the sunshine on the lake sixty years after they declare their love, just like the Hoermles. Romance novels don’t usually include that part of the story, but real life sometimes does.

I hope to see John and Liz again - and maybe meet you, too - at the book signing this Saturday, May 11 from 10-2 at the Buckeye Lake Museum!

[Learn more about Pressed Together by visiting the Books tab or clicking HERE]

Liz and John Hoermle on their wedding day in 1961. Courtesy photo.