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Hershey Park:

A Look Back To The "Dark" Ages

By Stephen Oxenrider

 

Hershey Park, in Hershey PA, at one time had many different darkrides and funhouses. Today though, all of these classic attractions are gone. Here are my memories of them circa the early and mid - 1960's.

 

Hershey Park

 

The Mill Chute

First up is quite possibly my favorite ride of all time! The Mill Chute was an old PTC built water type of ride located adjacent to the left of the Comet Rollercoaster and toward the back of the park, near the small creek that runs through the park. A Bug ride was nearby as well as twin Ferris Wheels. Admission to this ride was 20 cents back then, and I would ride and ride. The entrance to the ride as well as the tunnel section were both painted a pale green and the neon letteringMill Chute on the rides sign lit up in a beautiful pink color in the evening. The tunnel was well hidden by the backs of the other attractions. The Chute, as I called it, had several 4 passenger boats which, upon leaving the station, would enter the damp and musty smelling tunnel. There were 3 or 4 rather simple dioramas during the course of the tunnel section. They all had a Pinocchio style theme. I vividly recall a plaster facial portrait of Geopetto immediately upon entering the tunnel. There was also a Pinocchio head that bobbed up and down. There was also a peaceful, almost soothing piece of music score that played as the boats silently glided through the tunnel, making one almost totally oblivious to the outside world! The tunnel part (Ahh- with its wonderful musty smel!) lasted about 2 1/2 minutes before ending at the lift hill for the big climax, complete with its "Hold Onto Your Hats" sign atop. Drop Into WaterThe boats crested the top, then plunged down the hill into the water with a big splash, soaking riders who by now were laughing very hard. In 1964, the Mill Chute was renovated by the renowned darkride and funhouse master Bill Tracey and his Amusement Display Company. The new ride was now called The Lost River, and featured a fiberglass elephant which stood guard atop the rides entrance along with a volcano as part of its Jungle theme. Some of the new interior stunts now included an animated Swamp Ghost, Bat and a now famous scene of a Hippo-Girl who had a heaving bosom. She sat upon a hippo and sang "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles". This newly refurbished ride was very popular.

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The Pretzel

Hershey Park also had a fun, old time type of darkride made by the defunct Pretzel Ride Company. The building in which it sat was painted a light tan with navy blue trim. In 1959,The Pretzel admission was 10 cents. The Pretzel had classic, stock factory cars painted a fire engine red with golden counterweight Pretzels made of cast iron on the sides. The boarding area featured painted white ghosts with a sign that read:  "Fun, Thrills, and Chills". The slat floor ride had classic, original black-boxed Pretzel stunts, among them a monkey's face. The Pretzel was The Gold Nuggetrenovated in 1964, also by Bill Tracey and Amusement Display into the new "Gold Nugget" darkride, complete with a 2 level western theme with fake western town storefronts. The ride cars now had a "Mine Train" look to them. About halfway through this ride, riders would emerge briefly on the second floor outside the building on a patio style porch, only to return to the darkness inside. Some of the new scenes included: an Indian who jumped from behind a rock to startle patrons as well as a Skeleton that tried to set off dynamite and a Beauty In Bed who sat up in surprise from a bed as a car passed by!

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Funland

In the 1960's, there were also two other funhouses at HersheyFunland Park. The first, Funland, had a front that featured a laffing clown (although I recall that it was anything but funny to me!). The interior was very big and had two levels with a vast complex of floorboards that shifted back and forth with other floor sections that rattled, as if hit with a rivet from below. It also had classic air holes to blow up the ladies skirts and to embarrass the gents, and two large polished revolving barrels, two polished spinning floor Funlanddiscs that held as many as 10 people each and a large bowl shaped wooden tub. All of this was located on the first floor alone! The second floor contained a bridge that passed through a revolving barrel and around 20 different distortion mirrors, (Much Fun!). A walkway led to the outdoors onto a patio and a nice view overlooking the park, between the sculptured devil and the bearded man on the facade, just below the Funland sign. This section had demonic swirling toad stool type pedestals that guests had to maneuver carefully, or risk stepping down into a surrounding pool of water!

 


Laugh Land

This was the name of the second walkthrough funhouse atLaugh Land Hershey. It was a classic PTC built Magic Carpet and had a facade featuring a Laffin' Sal located to the right of the entrance in a glass enclosed case. The facade was painted in yellow, with greens and reds mixed in, too. This walkthrough was very black and dark with a gradual incline at the beginning that led to a slanted room, which then led to the outside balcony. You would then go back inside to yet another room and here you sat on a Stunt From Laugh Landlarge padded cushion which started a conveyor belt. The cushion would drop you onto the conveyor belt and you were then carried down a dim corridor to the exit. Throughout this walkthrough, there were very few tricks or stunts that operated, although I do vividly remember a Caveman holding a knife stunt. (Have you ever seen the "Simpsons" episode where Bart and Lisa go through a Haunted House with nothing happening except an old spring popping out of a coffin?!? Much of the same here!).

 


The Later Years

By the late 1960's, all 4 attractions, Laugh Land, Funland, The Lost River and The Gold Nugget were removed to make room for newer, white knuckle rides as the park began to modernize. Only the building which housed the Gold Nugget was retained, and today is used as the roof for the bumper cars. Today......I only have fond memories of all these past Darkrides and Funhouses, but I still miss the musty old smell of the Mill Chute, and will never forget it!

Editor's Note:
  It has been said that, at one time, Hershey Park featured at least 6 or 7 animated "Laffing'" Characters made by the defunct Old King Cole Company and marketed by PTC.


Addendum

"Laugh Land" was the first fun house removed, sometime in the early 1960ís. "The Lost River" was fine until 1972 when Hurricane Agnes came along and cleaned it out. "Funland" survived into the early 1970ís, with its final demolition taking place circa: 1973-74. "The Gold Nugget" was the last to go, making it to the mid 1970ís. The building's structure had deteriorated and vandalism had taken its toll on many of the stunts. It was dismantled and some of the stunts and scenery were moved to the "Dry Gulch Railroad" ghost town where they still exist today. The building was torn down and a completely new structure was built to house the "Lusse Skooters". A Very Special Thanks to Rich Sitler for this new information and corrections.


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This Article ©2000 Stephen Oxenrider And Used With Permission.
All Photos ©2000 Stephen Oxenrider Except Where Noted.
©2000 Laff In The Dark, the website of
The Darkride and Funhouse Preservation and Historical Society.

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