Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More from October FUNWORLD …

For our October issue, I was able to talk with the co-founders of, a dark ride enthusiast web site which features articles and a ride directory. George Lacross and Bill Luca both have a true passion for the rides, and it comes through in their immense historical knowledge and excitement. (“Laff, Cackle, and Scream,” Quick Hits Oct. 28, p6). Here is an extended interview with LaCross and Luca.

FUNWORLD: What draws you to dark rides and fun houses?

Bill: The interest for me is rooted in my childhood, riding the "Treasure Island" dark ride at Revere Beach, Massachusetts, when I was around 6 years old. I like all types of rides, but the idea of being plunged into a dark and mysterious world and subjected to a sequential assault on the senses really amps up the excitement level beyond simply being shaken, rattled and rolled.

On an open ride, you know where you're going. In a dark ride, you don't know what it plans to do to you. Fun houses—especially the old ones—were furnished with devices to test your composure, agility, dignity, and sense of humor in the most fiendish ways. I was overwhelmed by the creativity that went into these rides.

Even as a youngster, I wasn't really scared. I was too fixated on how the tricks were done—how the Laughing Lady would keep cackling at everyone before her. George and I spent decades researching these rides individually before our chance meeting, which eventually led to Laff In The Dark.

FW: What kind of memories do these attractions evoke from your childhood, and have you always loved these attractions more than others?

George: I rode my first dark ride at age 3 in mid-August 1957 at the former Crescent Park in East Providence, Rhode Island. The park was about four miles down the street from my childhood home. The dark ride was a Pretzel, installed in the park in 1935. By 1957, when I first spotted it, it had been renamed “Laff In The Dark” and it had “laughing” animal busts on the facade as well as clown illustrations in the loading platform area. It really caught my eye and I begged my grandparents to ride it. They tried to talk me out of it but they eventually gave in and rode with me. The ride featured a combination of original Pretzel stunts and some purchased from the former Animated Display Creators in the early 1950s. The stunts weren't frightening but when each one lit up in total darkness, I have to admit, I was startled.

I loved the experience and from that day on I was hooked on dark rides. I developed this thirst for knowledge to know how they operate. I must have ridden “Laff In The Dark” about 50 times before it closed after the 1963 season. The reason I love dark rides is that I admire the creativity that goes into installing them—the timing, the lights, the sound effects, the placement of stunts … the list goes on and on. It's a multifaceted challenge for a designer and it involves thinking way out of the box.

FW: What are some of the unique features you have seen in dark rides that made a specific attraction really stand out?

Bill: I guess the appeal would be in the design creativity and its purpose of manipulating your senses. I love the surreal painting, glowing colors, and sculptural fabrication, inside and out. These rides had façades that took visual ballyhoo to the nth degree. Among amusement rides, it was unique that dark rides were built by artists who created bizarre and sinister environments.

Comedy was also an element, even if the line between the two was quite fine. It's not just about fright; we always try to keep aware of the “laff” in the dark. When I began working in professional design as an adult, exploring the visual concepts of the rides that affected me as a child became fascinating on a whole new level.

FW: Do you have a favorite theme or feature for dark rides?

George: Bill and I are on the same page with this one. The best dark ride is one with no theme—a dark ride with an eclectic succession of stunts with no apparent storyline. You ride from a torture chamber to jungle scene, then you're in total darkness and a clown head lights up and laughs at you. There's no comfort zone for you, the rider, in that situation because you never know what's coming next.
However, if we had to pick a theme for a dark ride, we'd select a pirate theme. There's lots you can do with it—pirates, sharks, storms, and mythical sea creatures, among other images. The late designer Bill Tracy did that with his “Pirates Cove” walkthroughs at Trimpers Rides in Ocean City, Maryland, and at Waldameer Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. Tracy also used the same elements in his former “Bucket of Blood” dark ride at Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

FW: What does the Laff In The Dark community share besides a love of dark rides?

Bill: Although we're not a membership-based organization, we're constantly in touch with an ever-widening circle of fans (and owners) of dark rides from all over the world. Since we focus on the history and nostalgia of the earlier pioneering rides, hardly a week goes by that we don't hear from someone who's always loved dark rides and is overjoyed to discover our site. As it was with George and me, people seem to want to reconnect with their childhood experiences, and our articles allow them to do that.

FW: Anything you want readers to know about

Bill: We've recently branched into video and have just released a DVD featuring a behind-the-scenes tour of the Haunted House ride at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. It's been well received and can be purchased on our web site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was nice to hear more about this story! The dark ride provides a blank creative space that allows designers to craft themes and adventure without limitations: especially spook, which can serve as a crucial element in rides, but often appears to be an afterthought. Thanks for keying us into more resources about this.