On a early Spring night in 2002, my friend Kevin and I drove around Latham aimlessly before deciding that we would determine where the heart of Latham is. We found ourselves in the parking lot of Hoffman's Playland.

In search of the heart of Latham, Kevin and I asked, "What is something that Latham has that no other town does?"

We thought of the Latham Circle at first, but we dismissed the idea because Latham can't be the only town with an annoying traffic circle.

"How about the water tower or the mall?" I asked Kevin.

"Other towns have those too, and the mall is too sad to be the heart of Latham," Kevin answered.

"I got it," I said, as I drove down 9. "Hoffman's! What other town has its own little amusement park?"

Hoffman's Playland was nothing spectacular compared to any amusement park. It could barely pass for a midway at a carnival, but what made Hoffman's special was that it was there, in the middle of a small suburban village on Route 9 in Latham.

When I was a kid, going to Hoffman's was a big deal. It was either a reward, a day out where we did not have to go too far, or it was a gathering of friends and family. Not one of the rides were too scary, they had all the snacks that made the small park smell like a carnival and at night everything lit up.

When we would drive by Hoffman's during the late fall and winter, I wanted it to be open, and when we drove by it when it was open my eyes would light up at all the fun.

I can still smell the weird little area where they used to keep deer that you could hand-feed through a fence. It smelled like wood chips and animal poop and it made me happy because that's where that smell lived.

I had cotton candy for the first time at Hoffman's. When I passed the second grade, my neighbor who ran a daycare took all the neighborhood kids to Hoffman's as a graduation present. I felt like a big shot because I was old enough to ride the big kid rides without an adult.

When I was a teenager my friends and I would return to Hoffman's and relive my childhood. We went on all the old rides, even the lame little train that went in a circle around the park. You could hear the crossing bell from anywhere in the park and down the street, as lame as that little train ride was, the sound of it's crossing bell always made me feel at home.

Hoffman's was a always a magical little pocket of fun on the side of the road to me. Even when friends that took a summer job there would tell me how much they hated it and how much most of the staff didn't care, it did not ruin it for me.

All of these memories came flooding back to me as Kevin and I stood in the empty parking lot at night, looking up at the big tacky "Hoffman's Playland" sign with the goofy clown on it that lit up when the place was open. Kevin and I decided that the sign itself was the heart of Latham and that the park was the soul.

Hoffman's Playland closed in 2014, the rides were bought and now they sit on the side of the highway next to a toxic coal tar waste dumb.

The last time I went to Hoffman's was during it's final season. My parents and I took my son. We went on the Tea Cups and the lame little train. Although I was happy that I could experience taking my son to a place that was so important to my childhood before it was gone, I was also sad because I could never ride the Ferris Wheel to the top and look all over Latham again, while thinking "this is my home."

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