Riders then left the bar and headed down Bourbon Street where an embracing, costumed couple shared a kiss on a balcony. As the car made its way down the “street,” riders heard the cheers of Mardi Gras revealers, and they could reach out and pop bubbles that floated past them.
Below: Mardi Gras couple scene and Gorilla stunt as photographed in Crescent Park Riverboat.
Mardi Gras Crescent Park Bill Tracy
The bubbles were created by a hidden machine that ride operators had to keep filled with soap and water; another Tracy gimmick that may have been exclusive to the Crescent Park dark ride. “What a mess those bubbles made!” Serowik recalled. “They were activated when the car went by – they weren’t being created all the time – but when they popped up against the walls they left a sticky coating.” While riders were distracted by the smooching couple and the bubbles, they weren’t prepared for the next stunt: an attacking gorilla. Seems the voodoo
curse had transported them from the Mardi Gras to the jungle where an eight-foot gorilla lurched forward, its outstretched arm within inches of riders’ heads. It was one of the most deceptive set-ups ever devised by Tracy. Unfortunately, riders eventually caught onto the trick and some vandalized the gorilla to the point that it had to be replaced by another ape with its arms by its side.

Without the opportunity to catch their breaths, riders made a sharp turn to the left where they were confronted by a native tribe. “Nice scene,” laughed Serowik, “but the woman was bare-chested so we had to cover her up with a veil.”

Leaving the jungle, riders could see what appeared to simple a-frame home, giving them the impression that their horrific journey was over and they were returning home. But as they approached and entered “their” house, it began to shake under the force of howling winds (industrial strength fans) as objects and furniture rattled about. The house was being ravaged by a hurricane! And just before their escape to the safety of the midway, they had a close encounter with a spinning chair positioned just over the exit doors.

The climatic hurricane scene, another possible Tracy original, almost didn’t happen.

“When the frames came, they were bigger than the doors,” said Serowik. “Somehow we figured out a way to get them in.”

“The sides of the house came in as four foot panels,” he continued. “There were some household objects attached to them, but we added more. The sides were on springs and hung there, moving up and down naturally. The larger a-frame section had an eccentric that made it go up and down.”

I first rode the Riverboat with my father on my eighth birthday, August 9, 1962. From the day the park opened on Easter Sunday and throughout the spring and mid-summer, I had heard from the neighborhood kids that the ride was so loud and freighting that they blocked their ears and closed their eyes through the entire trek, so they had nothing to report to me. Having ridden my first dark ride several years earlier, I knew I was going to love this ride, regardless of my peers’ frightening recollections. Waiting until early August to experience it was pure torture. Now, some 50 years later, I recall my first ride like it was yesterday, including my dad accidently pushing me halfway out of the car when he was startled by the gorilla.

Most Tracy dark rides of the early 1960s had sound cartridge players at the individual scenes. The Riverboat had two large stack units in attic cabinets supplying the individual sound hits to scene speakers via shielded wires. Looked like a good idea at the time, having the sound system centrally located in the ride’s attic. But when the attic’s heat melted and expanded the sound cartridges, it was time for evasive action.

“We went to the back-up tapes, but we didn’t want anything to happen to them too and see the ride operate without any sound,” recalled Serowik. “So went drove out to Arthur’s home, took out his air conditioner, and reinstalled it in the Riverboat attic.”