Serowik and company had to make another move just three weeks after the ride’s opening – jettison a politically incorrect façade piece. Tracy had delivered a figure of a young African American man stealing watermelons. The man juggled a melon on his head and one on his shoulder, while enjoying a slice. The piece was mounted on a trolley on the façade’s overhang, moving along a track from right to left, the length of the facade, vanishing behind double doors and reappearing again on the other side.

“At the time, with everything else going on with the ride, we didn’t give it much thought.” Serowik recalled. “But after the ride opened and the more we watched it making circuits over the façade, we realized it was not appropriate. It only ran out there for three weeks, actually a few weekends, before we pulled it. Arthur called Tracy and ordered a pirate carrying a treasure chest to replace it.”

Left: Original watermelon facade figure on Crescent Park Riverboat.

Below: Replacement pirate figure.

The new façade pirate played perfectly into the ride’s storyline as it resembled the pirate walking the plank inside, possibly created by the same mold. It became apparent to repeat riders that this pirate stole a treasure chest, was executed by his crew, then reunited with his treasure on the ocean’s floor.

 

The façade pirate was the only hint of something amiss. After all, it wasn’t as if pirates were regular passengers on riverboats. The roving pirate also gave riders, at first glance, the impression that the ride had a second deck.

 

While waiting in line for my first ride in August 1962, I was expecting to see the pirate chasing a car across the upper deck. But the ride operator told my dad and I that the actual ride was confined to the first floor and that the pirate rode alone above.

 

Pirate facade Riverboat Bill Tracy Crescent park
When it debuted in 1962, a Riverboat ride was three tickets (30 cents). On Thursday’s Kiddie Days, when all tickets were half-price, you could ride it for 15 cents. Weigh that against the price of some of Tracy’s stunts. For instance, the New Orleans Jazz Band offered on Tracy’s 1962 price list at $2, 650. The Victorian Bar scene was $3,250. Even the Swamp Ghost stunt was pricy for 1962 at $940.

While Simmons and McCusker probably received a price break from Tracy for buying in bulk, Serowik isn’t sure that they ever recouped their investment in the dark ride. The partnership broke off several years later and new owners took control of the park.

The Riverboat continued on an unsteady course under new ownership. The emphasis seemed more on bringing popular music and dance to the nearby Alhambra Ballroom rather than the upkeep of this popular Tracy ride. Still, Serowik and his staff did their best to keep the boat afloat, repairing the figures and even recreating the often-vandalized gorilla. For the 1966 season, the Victorian Bar was moved to the façade of the park’s western funhouse (aka the Hotel).

At one point the ride’s façade was repainted and renamed Showboat. In the park’s final years there the paddlewheel bore no name at all. One day the music suddenly stopped in the bandshell of New Orleans Jazz Band, the Hi-Fi’s. The musicians continued to perform, but in silence.

Left: Repainted Showboat facade.

Below left: Catalog image of jazz band.

Below right: Jazz band scene located in facade of Crescent Park Riverboat.

Inside the ride, Len Minor’s original reworking of Tracy’s train gag was retooled again, probably due to wear and tear on the locomotive-themed double doors. Those doors were removed and flush mounted up against the wall where the warning light once stood.


Left: A ticket sign once attached to the Riverboat/Showboat, now on display in the carousel pavilion.

With Photoelectric sensors and digital sound years away from being dark ride staples, the Riverboat continued to rely on its 1962 equipment. The park staff did its best to retrofit and jury rig, but sometimes the tricks worked, sometimes they didn’t. Still, the ride endured right up to the day the park closed in fall 1977; a major accomplishment for a ride that almost never was.