Lost Dark Rides and Funhouses of Coney Island
By The Prince of Darkrides
|Here are the darkrides and
funhouses that I remember at Coney Island from the late 50's until the present. Please
keep in mind that my memories start at a time when all the land between Steeplechase Park
and the Cyclone, and Stillwell Avenue and the Boardwalk were completely filled with rides
and games. The first darkride that I remember doing was in Steeplechase Park near the Surf
Avenue end. It was called "Shangrila-Ha-Ha". I do not know why, but it was. I
believe that it was a Pretzel darkride. It had high backed cars that traveled sideways
along the track. It was very noisy, having a lot of noise tricks on the track and a
recorded track of screaming and moaning. It also had several large neon stunts. I
distinctively remember a large green Witch stunt. I was also just under six years old. I
was very traumatized by this ride and, since then, have insisted on riding every dark ride
I encounter. The next one that I remember doing was across West 16th. Street from
Steeplechase. It was on The Bowery, directly opposite the large Thunderbolt sign on the
front of the Thunderbolt Roller Coaster. It was called "Tunnel Of Laugh's", and
it had a tunnel themed facade. There were Imps and Nymphs and Trolls on the outside, some
of which turned. It also had very high backed cars that traveled in a forward direction.
It had a strange chugging motion as if it were being pulled by a chain. Several cars
traveled through the ride in a train formation. I do not remember any particular stunts,
but they were all lighted scenes with the same kind of creatures featured on the outside.
The ride was right next door to a walk-through "Magic Carpet", which featured a
Laughing Sal, dark mazes, and ended with a Magic Carpet ride out of the building. Stunt's
from this attraction were used many years later, in an Off-Broadway play, by Harvey
Fierstein called "Spookhouse".
The next Dark ride was also on The Bowery. It was across West 15th. street from the Thunderbolt. It was called "Dragon's Cave". It was opposite a bumper car ride that went through to Surf Ave, and was separated from The Bobsled, a Flying Turns style roller coaster, by an alley. It had a dragons head above the entrance that moved back and forth and had smoke coming from its mouth. The entrance was through a large clown's mouth with swinging doors. The clown had a lot of little red lights on its big red nose. Next to the clown's head was a Laughing Sal', and then the exit doors which looked like the outside of a cave. It was a very long ride that traveled through quite a few swinging sets of doors into 5 or 6 different rooms. The only stunts that I can remember are a large reddish brown bat with huge teeth that swooped over the car, and a large gorilla that reached out for you just before you crashed through the double exit doors at the very end of the ride. Editors Note: This ride was re-themed several times over the years and was even called "Allies And Axis"during world war II. Bill Luca also remembers this rides facade saying Thrilling,"as in nothing to see in here so we hope you brought a girl with you". In the late 70's he remembers riding it again and his car couldn't make it through the exit doors and he had to reach out and pull the car through. Many years later it was taken over and renovated by the now defunct Coney Island Hysterical Society. The outside had a simple haunted house facade and the inside was totally done in very effective phosphorescent paint and black lighting. It had a wonderful 3D Coney Island amusement rides room. It contained a Wonder Wheel, a Cyclone roller coaster and a Parachute Jump featuring Cyndy Lauper climbing it. All of this was done in 3D, day glow colors, lighted by the black light. It was unfortunately forced to close after the tragic fire in a walkthrough attraction at a nearby New Jersey amusement park. The Coney Island Hysterical Society could not afford to install the proper fire extinguishing system, required by law due to the accident in New Jersey. This accident also caused the closing of many other area dark rides and walk-through attractions in the area.
Crossing Stillwell Avenue brought you to Three more darkrides, and another walk-through. The first dark ride was at the boardwalk end of the Tornado, a Bobs style roller coaster, on Stillwell Ave. I believe it was just called" Dark Ride",that is pretty much what it was too. It consisted of a ride around in a very dark room with the roller coaster roaring above your head. Up at the Bowery end of the Tornado was a two-story walk-through attraction called "The Haunted House". It featured mazes and live performers in monster makeup. On the Bowery, directly next to the Tornado, was a small dark ride called "The Devil's Pit". It was very long and narrow. Its facade contained a painting of the devil with a pitchfork in his hand. It was also a ride with only two or three stunts. Its unique feature was that it reeked of roller coaster grease and you could hear the chain lift of the Tornado while riding in it. It ran directly along side the tunnel to the Tornado's lift hill. Across the Bowery, and several feet to the right of "The Devil's Pit" was another dark ride called "Thirteen Ghosts". It had a flat front with a poorly painted cemetery on it. It actually had quite a few stunts of the quick lighting nature. You would come up to a stunt and the light would flash on revealing some three dimensional display covered by chicken wire to preserve it from vandals. Making a left on West 12th. Street and walking up to Surf Avenue would bring you to the "Crazy Ghosts" dark ride. It was underneath the Stillwell Avenue elevated train station and between a particularly wild Whip ride and Philip's Salt Water Taffy stand. It was a very small, disorienting ride with a lot of noisy stunts. it was probably another Pretzel since it constantly turned and crossed over itself. It had an unusual sign outside that read: "In God We Trust, But You Must Pay Cash" Even as a small child I thought that was hilarious. Both the Whip and Crazy Ghosts are gone, but Philip's Salt Water Taffy is still in it's same location under the train station.
Back across Surf Avenue and facing the end of The Bowery was "Spook-A-Rama", "The Longest Ride on Coney Island". I believe that this too was a Pretzel. It was back to back with Feltman's Restaurant and across the alley from the Virginia Reel. It lasted about 10 minutes with 5 minutes of the ride outdoors. You entered the ride at The Bowery end of it. You sat in high backed cars that traveled sideways. You entered the first dark part of the ride through a pair of swinging doors and passed underneath a blood red waterfall. You made a U-turn and proceeded up a long, dark corridor with cob webs brushing your head. You suddenly emerged back outside with the bright, natural light disorienting you. Next, you zig-zagged back and forth down an alley passing glass enclosed stunts that were only lit in the evening. You next entered the second, bigger building at the Wonder Wheel end of the alley. This building was underneath a kiddy park on the boardwalk that is now known as Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. It had quite a few rooms that you entered through swinging doors. There was an abundance of both still and moving black lighted stunts. Many stunts featured movie monsters such as Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula and the Mummy. It also featured one eyed monsters from outer space and very silly things like a man tipping his hat and removing his head. Editors Note: The first building in the ride was turned into an arcade about 12 years ago with all the alley track removed. The second building still exists, this was a classic Pretzel with 360 spinning cars so fondly remembered!
In the early 1960's, a dark ride appeared on the boardwalk with a fairy tale theme. It was in the building that currently houses Side Shows By The Seashore. The ride was designed to attract children and their parents and lasted for two seasons. It had typical dark ride cars and tracks but went through elaborately painted scenes from children's stories. I do not recall the name of it but it was very popular since it was right next door to a kiddy park. The last permanent dark ride installed at Coney Island opened in 1964 with Astroland Park. "Flight To Mars" was a standard built European import, two level dark ride. It had brightly painted, flying saucer shaped cars that resembled M&M's. The ride had an outer space theme complete with Martians and an outside roller coaster type dip about a third of the way through its course. It was similar to the" Flight To Mars "at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. This ride lasted for about 6 years and was then replaced with a similar, European imported dark ride called "Dante's Inferno". This ride featured a trip to hell. Although "Dante's Inferno" still exists, it no longer has the same theming. In fact, it does not seem to have ANY theming at all. It is just a dark ride with several stunts and the dip, one third of the way through. Of the ten dark rides and two walk-throughs mentioned here, only two still exist at Coney Island. They are "Spook-A-Rama" at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and "Dante's Inferno" at Astroland Park.
|For this article I wish to
thank: The Prince of Darkrides, for going so very back in time to tell us of his memories
of these classic, lost rides, Bill Luca, who contributed much information and the great
black & white photos from his personal collection, and, finally, to Seth Kaufman and
Coney Island U.S.A., Seth spent hour upon hour searching through thousands of photos to
bring us the incredible color photos, a BIG Thank You to you all! All black & white
photos in this article ©1999, The Bill Luca Collection, all color photos, tickets ©1999
by Seth Kaufman and Coney Island U.S.A. except center Spook-A-Rama photo ©1999 the
"Laff" collection. All are used with permission.
This article is © 1999 by The Prince of Darkrides and is used with permission.
Contents © 1999 Laff In
The Dark unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.
Laff In The Dark is not affiliated in any way with the Amusement Parks listed at this site
This page was last updated Sunday, April 11, 1999